The following is a guest article by Missy Oveson.
Mankind disrupted the earth nearly a millennium ago, but humanity’s new home is at war because a woman takes the throne. In Johnny Worthen’s new book, Kings, queens and colonies, the United Christian Church prophet supports Prince Brandon in his crusade against Queen Zabel to restore the status quo. The church teaches that the man is above the woman and that God rewards you according to your righteousness in wealth. The story uses multiple perspectives to weave the stories of a queen who must fight for her throne, of a prince who wants to be emperor of the galaxy, of the colonists who seek freedom from persecution as they stand. lead to a new world, a prophet trying to unite the church again, a slave trader turned revolutionary, and a planet colonized by divergent thinkers who have lived their own way for nearly a millennium.
Reading the book I really touched Millie, a girl who is one of the settlers. She begins the book by caring for her ailing family and never really aligns with others about her beliefs. She seems to be ahead of her time in thinking. Between the love she showed for her family, the way she chose her battles, and the determination she showed throughout the book, I couldn’t help but support her. She really helped bring out the themes of the book in stark contrast to Queen Zabel.
Alpin Morgan was also a character that I really connected with. As governor of the settlers, I saw him struggle between his beliefs, his desires and what he thought was best. His struggles got to a point that reminded me of the handicap I struggle with. If you’re interested in another breakdown of this character, check out [my post on it](https://missyoveson.com/alpin-morgan-character-breakdown).
I had the opportunity to interview Johnny Worthen about this book. I highly recommend this book, especially to anyone who enjoys science fiction. you can find it here.
Miss Oveson: What inspired you to write Kings, Queens and Colonies?
Johnny Worthen: I think every author has the dream of writing like this. After reading and worshiping THE FOUNDATION TRILOGY, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE FOUR LORDS OF THE DIAMOND and especially DUNE, it was a goal in my writing career to enter these epic waters. The idea of science fiction had been filtering for decades. I found my first notes for this particular series dating back over twelve years ago. That being said, several currents have rushed on this idea to give it momentum and meaning. A driving force was the general fear of modern life, my witness to the fall of empire and the decline of capitalism. I had an existential desire to investigate the ideas and origins of where we are today. This was further motivated by Ursula K. Le Guin’s haunting appeal to authors to envision a society beyond capitalism. I firmly believe that authors can be more than just a mirror of society, that we can tilt our glass forward and shine towards a better future. It is the promise of science fiction, for good or for bad, a conception of a possible time to come.
MO: The book includes purgers, people who are part of the church to execute some of those who do not believe in the mainstream religion. What inspired the creation of traps in this universe?
JW: My book delves deeply into power structures. Race, gender, and station are all important parts of the social order that I study. This is an order that many people aspire to today, an order that they are building in remote places and striving to impose it on others. It is a credo of intolerance, status quo and power used to maintain power. In order to maintain this flourishing structure, higher authority must be used. Hence the presence of a powerful church. Power without threat is suggestion, so it was natural to give the church a strong arm. The Purgers are akin to the Catholic Inquisition and the story of the Danites of Mormon, which are the two primary sources of the United Christian Church that I have designed in the book. There is the memory of previous civilizations, the lessons of the old earth taken or thrown back into the new worlds. The “civilized” have chosen uniformity of belief and the rapid destruction of dissent as the key lesson, power for the sake of power. The church, through its soldiers and purgers, maintains a strict adherence to the hegemony of the hierarchical distribution structure and total submission to authority. It is part of the stagnant social structure which, although it may once have served to allow new worlds to survive, has long passed its usefulness to the species, but not to the politics of the dominant power. Submission to social order is superior to kings of power. It is this challenge that triggers the book crisis when Enskari puts a woman on her throne. The saved are the people of Coronam who are determined to be saved by God and therefore worthy of a place in society.
MO: Do you believe that you could be among the saved if you lived during this time?
JW: The Saved is a flavor of prosperity theology, a self-congratulating horror of an idea promulgated by Calvin. It is the idea that the rich are blessed by God, that their high status and their comfort is God’s way of showing his favor. So the rich are good people and the poor bad, both worthy of their rank. I’m not a fan of this thinking, as you might have guessed. The Saved in the book are the descendants of lucky or powerful people who just arrived on a ship leaving Old Earth. The super powerful built the ships and selected useful people to serve them. As a specialty of guilt and prosperity theology, they called themselves Saved. I would like to think that if I lived in a civilized world, I would be a rebel, but it wouldn’t be easy. It is only now, a millennium after Unsettling, that new ideas are still present.
MO: What made you decide to tell the story from multiple perspectives?
JW: I love the story of multiple POV. This allows for a lot more depth and insight than a single protagonist. I write about the theme and the immensity of the ideas, the space and the story I wanted to tell would not allow any other means. There are major characters who never know other major characters exist let alone interact with them. The great powers of the book, the political machination, and the wars are vast and frightening, but the intimate field stories of “little people” and their huge and resounding impact interest me more. To see all angles of the bigger idea, it took many pairs of eyes. At the start of each chapter, we get a bit of story or world-building that we couldn’t get in chapters.
MO: What inspired the excerpts at the start of each chapter?
JW: It’s a tribute to DUNE. I’ve used epigrams before, in BEATRYSEL, where I had a lot of contextual information that couldn’t quite fit into the narrator’s flow but had yet to be known. Thus, in KINGS, QUEENS AND COLONIES, much of the history of culture is disclosed. There, I introduce The Unsettling, the mysterious figure of Jareth, the politics behind the scenes, and recent news that everyone knows about the book, but the reader should also know. I also sometimes use the space for thematic elements. These are my favorites. Foreshadows occur, ideas and themes are presented, sometimes to be rejected. The epigram about the system planets from an elementary school book is one of my favorites. It shows the mystery of the system, suggests a positive curious direction for the students to progress, and then the mat is ripped from underneath because it has been censored. It shows a society capable of learning but choosing not to. Andre Bruin is a saved man who was illiterate and spent most of his life involved in the slave trade until he decided he needed to repent and free the slaves.
MO: Why did you choose André Bruin to know the Christmas carol among all the works that exist?
JW: André Bruin is a powerful figure in the book. While most of the characters echo the 16th century, Bruin is surely 19th century. He shows us that people can change and change and must change. The reference to Dickens, beyond his sentiment, is another indication that we are not working in a vacuum. Human history is one thing. We’ve been down this path before, we know where it’s going – we should know, looking back, that we can do better. The saved society has chosen to forget certain things to justify its continuing inequality, but it cannot hide everything and small bits of past culture can still resonate through time and space. Plus, Bruin’s recall of the book is a clue and a step towards its subsequent enlightenment.
MO: What elements do you think you would most like readers to resonate with?
JW: Bruin’s reply: “How big is your family?” Contains the central idea. Who or what do we value enough to help? To fight for? To sacrifice yourself? Why is it so limited? I would like readers to sympathize and understand that much of the pain in this culture is man-made (pun intended probably). There are enough real problems to test us, selfishness and cruelty don’t need to be piled on us elsewhere. We can do things differently and we should try to do things differently. It is a story of love and sacrifice, the highest love, sharing to overcome greed and a necessary step for human evolution.
MO: Which character do you have the most roots in the story?
JW: By far my favorite character, the one I love the most, is Millie. Orphan, woman, poor, betrayed, the world is rising up against her. And yet, his suffering and his enlightenment through this suffering, show the way forward. Sir Nolan is another of my favorites. He does wrong, but his heart is pure. Means and ends clearly play with it. He feels the greatest need for social development, however limited it may be, and acts with a cruelty worthy of his title of “master spy”.
MO: Why did you choose bees to be so important in this book?
JW: Is there an insect nobler in the world than the bee? I do not think so. But more than that, the bee, as a symbol of Coronam’s supernatural promise, comes from the idea of an alien helper. In addition, closer to home and now, the pollinating bee is intimately linked to human survival. Study after study suggests that if this species died, much of humanity would quickly follow behind it. This terrible truth builds on the idea of the alien helper and very clearly suggests a connection between all life that is at the heart of my book.