Thursday, March 4, 2021

Premium Virtual Tour: Chandelier

CHANDELIER is the genre-bending follow-up of Michael Leon’s 2019 fantasy-romance novel, PHANTOMS. 

Set a hundred years into the future, AI has achieved super intelligence and surpassed human knowledge, and yes humanity’s existence had been challenged. However, AI developed a solution, residing in their own ‘Virtual Earth’, leaving humans, now a minority, to share an environmentally damaged Earth with post-humans, technologically enhanced humans who are the dominant species. 

This uneasy alliance is governed under the watchful eye of AI. AI sentients, near perfect human replicas, have been developed as a method of better understanding humans. They possess only some of the vast cognitive powers of AI’s residing in Virtual Earth. Unaware of their origins, they believe they are human. 

This is the story of one such sentient, Benny, a talented musician, who is hired by a famous opera singer, Madame D’Arenberg (Diva), to help fulfill her final performance at the Garnier. Benny initially welcomes the opportunity, before he is swept up in the Phantom’s world, exposing him to the deadly web cast over two centuries and the awful truth about Diva’s life.

Blog 1 - Chapter Reveal

This week we provide an excerpt from Chapter One of Chandelier, Benny and the Diva.

A century has passed since the fabled Phantom ruled the Garnier Opera House. Multiple generations of patrons have felt his wrath, including Madame D’Arenberg, referred to as Diva, a famous French opera singer who is now a centenarian post-human. (humans with technological implants)

She prepares for her final appearance at the Garnier for the 2121AD opening night of Verdi’s La Traviata. Her greatest love has long passed and she is now cared for by Peri (a human) and Dr Flynn (a humanoid). On Peri’s recommendation, Diva attends a performance by Benny, a musician who scrapes out a living as a pianist in a nightclub. Diva is affected by his unique musicianship and hires him to write a song for her final concert.

Excerpt from Chapter One

Hotel patrons streamed in from all corners of Paris SC (Super City) into Benny's world. The high-level retreat filled with an atmospheric fog, not from long-banned substances, but personal coms, permanently activated by the long-haulers, post-humans who congregated after a fifty straight hours shift. Some welcomed Benny's music but most preferred the personalised entertainment from their com. A few humans, 'old gen's' were scattered around the room, mostly aids accompanying wealthy post-humans, the new elite. 

Benny practised scales masquerading as background music before turning his talents to playing neoclassical noir in an attempt to break through their digital wall of indifference. Halfway into the musical arrangement, he scaled up the digital accompaniment, unable to play the piano's challenging set. The loss of control baffled him. What was usually easy could become an alarming challenge as his mind struggled to connect the paper's voluminous notes with his hand coordination. He played the more straightforward accompaniment with his good right hand. No one seemed to notice his struggle. He glanced across to the best tables, lining the panoramic view of the whirlpool of districts spiking web-like across the super city, housing the vast majority of the French population. They weren't even interested in Paris's most lovely view. Why should they care about his music?

The views that evening offered a special treat. Stars momentarily appeared in the sky, a rare event as the permanently thick cumulus layers choked the Earth's post-industrial stratosphere. A clearer view lay below. Climate roads cut green lines between a vast sea of regenerated buildings. Their cloud scraper fronted a 'farmlane', the largest of the old highways approved for farming under artificial 'sunstrips' where autonomous croppers tended to the super-city's food chain. 

Benny was the only unaccompanied human in the house. He relished the challenge of drawing post-humans attention from their virtual lives, but most nights, he failed, playing his heart out to phantoms, no longer fascinated by the natural world. Surprisingly, one table was taking an interest. 

Chapter One Podcast 

Like the excerpt? Listen to the podcast of Chapter One, Benny and Diva, and hear the song that motivated the chapter.

Blog 2 - World Build

This week we look at the world of one of the characters from Chandelier. The story line crosses two centuries, the 21st and 22nd. There is the world of Erik, the modern day Phantom of the Opera (2021AD) and Benny’s world one hundred years in the future. Benny is a humanoid who finds himself drawn into The Phantom’s realm as he tries to help the famous diva, Madame D’Arenberg, whose life was fatefully entangled with the Phantom’s a century earlier.

Today we examine Benny and the Diva’s 22nd century civilization, a future world I developed in a previous novel, Sentient.

Earth 2121AD

A century on and Earth’s population has peaked to nine billion. The human species has been relegated to minority status as post-humans become the dominant race on Earth. A century of rampant unchecked climate and technological change and subsequent catastrophic global pandemics, has laid claim to the very young, accelerating post-human development. Humans are mostly assigned to repairing the environmental damage they perpetrated on Earth. Nearly all new born are assigned post-human surgery as their only route to long term survival. Whereas post-humans, with superior technological and robotic enhancements and a 200 year life span, develop interplanetary and interstellar exploration and habitation. 

Artificial Intelligence achieved singularity and were willingly handed governance over a troubled Earth. While they govern Earth, most AI sentients reside in a virtual Earth known as the sensorium, but a small number are assigned to android hosts on Earth, known as humanoids, human-looking, with sentient capabilities undetectable so that they can go about their assigned programs on Earth, to better human/post-human/AI relations. Their intelligence is limited to particular skills and they are purposely programmed to be unaware of their sentient heritage and believe they are humans.

Benny is a humanoid, his specialist capability, music. He has worked the bars and night clubs of Paris Super City for all of his programmed life until a post-human walks in on one of his performances. He is offered a job to develop music for the diva’s final performance at the Garnier, the opera house she ruled as the world’s best opera singer a century earlier. Benny believes he has found his true calling as he assists the diva. However, as events unfold, Benny is increasingly drawn into worlds he could never have imagined, as another humanoid, Flynn, shows him the true extent of his powers, exploring other dimensions and time itself, where he observes the Diva’s life when she was the toast of France and came under the spell of the Phantom’s deadly web.

I enjoyed blurring the past with the future in this genre bending tale. It's impossible to predict what that world will be, but like the current tech revolution was unimaginable to our forefathers, so too the next hundred years would appear more as a magical fantasy world to us. 

Blog 3 - Author Interview

This week we ask the author what is the importance of research in novel writing?

Research is a very important component of the writing process. Given Chandelier is a follow up novel of my 2019 book, Phantoms, much of the background research was already done.

There are two levels of research, secondary and primary. In my previous career in international business, I’d research as much as I could about the country and its markets before travelling there to carry out field interviews with business operators. I use much the same process for fictional writing.

Secondary Research: To write Phantoms, I researched and read the many adaptions of the famous tale, as well as the original novel, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Like many books, there are film and theatre versions as well, and Phantom of the Opera is more widely known from the stunning success of the musical adaption. After watching the theatre version, reading the original book falls flat compared to the high drama of the musical, but Leroux’s work remains a uniquely creative work.

I also use Verdi’s opera as the backdrop of my novels so I had to research Verdi’s work before deciding on the appropriate operas. I used Macbeth in Phantoms and decided on La Traviata in Chandelier, as the story revolves around the sacrifice of the female lead, Violetta. 

Primary Research: This was the fun bit! Long before writing Phantoms, I lived in France for three months spending equal time in Bordeaux, Lyon and Paris. As a francophile, I enjoyed living among the French and experiencing their unique culture. I was invited to an opera at the Garnier in Paris and never forgot the experience. It is a stunning opera house filled with history, stunning architecture and of course the stories of the famed opera ghost, making for an unforgettable experience. It left an indelible mark on my life, so much so, I co-wrote Phantoms as a tribute to the experience. I also have a picture of that visit containing the Phantom’s signature. I believe he appeared with me in a photo taken of me in the Garnier, but I’ll let you decide! Can you see the shape of the Phantom’s face on my shirt?

Blog 4 - Chapter Reveal

This week’s blog provides an excerpt from Chapter 10 of Chandelier, Philippe and Viola.

Philippe is the older brother of Raoul, descendants of wealthy aristocratic parents. Unlike his brother, Philippe has squandered his inheritance from an addiction to gambling. Living in Italy and beholden to the mafia who funded his gambling debts, Philippe runs a mafia owned jazz club as a way of repaying his debts. There, he meets a promising singer, Viola, who wants one day to perform opera. Secretly, they become lovers and Philippe begins to hatch a plan to return to the Garnier and with the mafia’s support, manage the Garnier Opera company and help Viola achieve her dream.

Excerpt from Chapter 10

"I do it mainly for you," Viola replied, seemingly hurt by Philippe's slight.

"Let's get this straight, Viola. We work for Capo. Reggi reports to Capo. You do nothing to raise his suspicions, including fraternising with any of the family’s clientele."

"Reggi doesn't have any interest in my singing. Why should I care or even bother helping him or you?" she replied, noticeably hurt.

"Because you want to be a diva. Remember?"

Viola let go of her warm embrace, any desires she had for him spent. She brushed her long hair over her shoulders, and adjusted her top, walking toward the entry, not caring to look back, and pronouncing defiantly, "more than anything or anyone," before disappearing into the night club, her musical home.

Philippe watched her walk to the entry. Viola had the voice of an angel and the curvy body to match. He didn't hold back, showing his new performer that she had the appeal of a diva with the alluring charms of a goddess, but their relationship remained playful even though he lusted for her. If not for Reggi, he would have taken her on their first day together. Viola had Christine's voice and Carlotta’s body, a charismatic force that would take them to the Garnier. He just had to persuade Capo.

The lights faded in the club as the stage lit up, revealing Viola at the front, her band jamming in the background. Philippe rejoined Reggi, two cutty sark whiskies in hand, one for his overly intoxicated companion. Mercifully, alcohol brought out Reggi's brighter side, allowing both to enjoy Viola's soothing tones and her backing band. He cast an eye across the audience, primarily enamoured men, studying Viola's amply filled black dress. She played to them with all the skill of a woman who'd learnt to seduce to overcome a meagre past. He believed that to be the single biggest reason for her succeeding in the most challenging and demanding industry in the world, opera.

Chapter 10 Podcast 

Like the excerpt? Listen to the podcast of Chapter 10, Philippe and Viola.

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