Today on the site we’re welcoming Honni van Rijswijk, author of dystopian thriller Breeder, which just released on Tuesday from Blackstone publishing! Honni’s here to talk about the writing process for their novel, the “dark/bleak” elements that dominate it, and why such fiction can be kinda cheering, actually, regarding both their queer sexuality and nonbinary identity. But before we get to that, here’s a little more on the book:
Will Meadows is a seemingly average fifteen-year-old Westie, who lives and works in Zone F, the run-down outermost ring of the Corporation. In the future state of the Corp, a person’s value comes down to productivity: the right actions win units, the wrong ones lose them. If Will is unlucky and goes into unit debt, there’s only one place to go: the Rator. But for Zone F Breeders, things are much worse–they’re born into debt and can only accrue units through reproduction.
Every day in Zone F is a struggle, especially for Will who is fighting against time for access to an illegal medical drug, Crystal 8. Under the cover of night, Will travels to the Gray Zone, where life is less regulated and drugs–and people–are exchanged for gold. There, Will meets Rob, a corrupt member of the Corporation running a Breeder smuggling operation. Will also meets Alex, another teen whom he quickly recognizes as a Breeder in disguise.
Suddenly, Will has an illicit job and money, access to Crystal, and a real friend. As the pair grows closer, Alex shares her secret: she is part of the Response, an uprising to overthrow the Corporation. Caught up in the new friendship, Will and Alex become careless as the two covertly travel into Zone B for a day of adventure. Nothing goes as planned and Will’s greatest fear is realized. Will his true identity be revealed?
And here’s the post!
My novel Breeder is set in a bleak world. It takes place after a catastrophic environmental apocalypse, where an avaricious corporation has taken control of all resources, and treats all people (except its shareholders) as resources to be used and then discarded. Part of its violence involves the ways it controls people through rigid gender norms–boys/men are only used for labor, and girls/women are only used for reproduction. The main character, a 15-year-old called Will, has to navigate this extreme world and readers witness Will doing so in ways that are often ethically problematic. Why did I want to set up this world, as an author, and what do we gain, as readers, from bleak possibilities and morally gray characters?
I’ve always been drawn to “dark” novels and films–horror, sci-fi, and extreme realism. As readers, we gain a lot from these bleak worlds. Samara Morgan, the vengeful ghost/demon in the horror story THE RING helps us understand the brutal possibilities of the mother/daughter relationship. Serena Joy’s callous upholding of religious and gender norms in The Handmaid’s Tale reveals white women’s complicity in historical oppression. The devastating realist trauma represented in Stone Butch Blues brings home the violence experienced by gender queer people. As a nonbinary person brought up as a girl, I’ve experienced violence based on gender identity and sexuality, and I needed these dark tales as catharsis, recognition and articulation. It has always been a relief to me to see violence I’ve experienced told back to me as stories. Why is this the case? Because these bleak tales offer frameworks of recognition from places that sometimes haven’t been recognised before. They provide us a language of trauma, and also languages of responsibility and accountability–once we have these languages, we can recognise and speak to each other, we can speak back to power. These stories provide ways to call for justice, through the frameworks of revenge, tragedy and revolution.
In Breeder, the main character, Will, is nonbinary, trying to navigate a world that refuses any possibility of gender fluidity and, indeed, any lived experience outside that of being a productive cog within the Corporation. I wanted to explore this extreme world as a way to explore our current world–where we’re absolutely facing environmental collapse, hyper-capitalism and conservative backlash on reproductive freedom as well as LGBTQI rights. Through the character of Will, I wanted to explore what a young person at the intersections of these crisis might do. Will is at the bottom of the class order in the Corp; they are nonbinary, assigned AFAB, and they have no legacy Units. Structurally, everything is against them. I wanted to explore what moral choices a character might make in that situation–will they conform or will they rebel? Will they create alliances with other excluded people, or will they try to make the best of their difficult situation? In Breeder, I set up extreme versions of choices that I, and many LGBTQI people, have had to make throughout our lives. We might not always agree with the choices that Will makes, but hopefully people can empathise with why Will might make these choices. For me, as both a reader and a writer, it’s only in these extreme and bleak worlds that I see versions of my own experience reflected and so I will always seek them out!
Want your own copy of Breeder? The author is giving away two copies, and yes, this giveaway is international! Just comment below with what kind of fiction you gravitate toward for comfort and/or catharsis and we’ll pick two winners on Friday, July 23rd!
Honni van Rijswijk is a writer, lawyer, and academic. Breeder is their debut novel. Their fiction has appeared in Southerly and was short-listed for Zoetrope: All-Story. They are a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, where their research focuses on intersections between law, technology, and culture. They live in Sydney, Australia, with their partner and daughter.