Welcome to the Belonging ’Verse re-release blog tour with Aleksandr Voinov and Rachel Haimowitz! We’re very excited to be bringing you edited second editions of our Belonging stories, ANCHORED and COUNTERPUNCH (in the case of Anchored, very edited, with over ten thousand new words and a completely different beginning and ending!), which are finally under the same roof and back in print after about a year out of circulation.
We’ll be touring for about two weeks, Aleks discussing his slave boxer and the barrister who tries to free him, and Rachel talking about her slave news anchor and the talk show host who covets him, and both of us discussing the world of Belonging at large—which, as you’ve probably guessed, is not a particularly pretty place. But good things can and do happen in this world, and we hope you’ll stick with us to find out what!
Speaking of good things, don’t forget to comment on this post for your chance to win a $25 gift certificate to the Riptide store! Each new post you comment on earns you an entry into the drawing, so be sure to check out the rest of the tour schedule too!
COUNTERPUNCH – the backstory
Wow, it’s hard to believe that the first version of COUNTERPUNCH is already three years old. In Internet terms, that could just as well be three decades, so it feels both like more and less than that. Anyway. How did COUNTERPUNCH happen?
Two idea particles smashed together in the somewhat smaller and somewhat untidier version of the Large Hadron Collider that I call my brain. The first was Rachel Haimowitz’s book ANCHORED, at that time published with a now defunct publishing house that had also done a couple of my short stories (since reverted). Rachel’s vision of a modern world where slavery was never abolished seemed singularly grim and horrible to me—fascinating in a way that studying a major low point of human history can be fascinating. It’s part horror, part intrigue. As I’d studied slavery in antiquity at university, I was intrigued—was it really something you can buy into if you’re a modern human being?
But then, the Romans saw themselves as “modern”, too. They were an advanced civilisation and thought nothing of slavery.
Basically, every civilisation, however horrible its customs, thinks it’s the pinnacle of evolution. Of course we’re civilised—look at how technically difficult it is to bomb cities half the globe away.
Well, opening the newspaper or any news website these days, you could be forgiven for a sad, horrified laugh at the concept that humanity always thinks its current state is the top or end point. I sure hope there’s a higher state after this, but I’m an optimist.
The other idea particle that got smashed into tiny pieces of words and phrases and images was that my partner went to a “white collar” boxing event and trained quite seriously with boxers in a South London gym. His stories and his interest in boxing soon took hold, and we spent some happy hours watching fights and discussing fighters.
With my brain saturated with boxing, “Anchored” hit a fertile place when both smashed together. I remember talking to Rachel about her creation in a chat window, and at some point, I said, “I’d really like to write about a slave fighter who’s never given himself up”.
And from that sprung, fully formed, Brooklyn Marshall. He can be defiant because breaking him entirely would likely destroy his fighting spirit—and that’s his worth. Here’s a man who’s caught in a Catch-22. He can’t be broken, but even unbroken, he’s still enslaved. I wanted to examine how he copes and deals with his situation, and that’s COUNTERPUNCH.
The book itself came fast and easy—the writing was smooth, but pretty intense emotionally. For several weeks, I had to believe slavery like that could be real and that even good people could believe it’s justified—that took some doing. The Ancient Romans helped a bit, but it was an interesting exercise to write a world that’s so morally reprehensible and still have characters in there that people care about. I’m glad I did it, but after some chapters, all I wanted was a shower and a hug.
Network news anchor Daniel Halstrom is at the top of his field, but being at the bottom of the social ladder—being a slave—makes that hard to enjoy. Especially when NewWorld Media, the company that’s owned him since childhood, decides to lease him privately on evenings and weekends to boost their flagging profits.
Daniel’s not stupid; he knows there’s only one reason someone would pay so much for what little free time he has. But dark memories of past sexual service leave him certain he won’t survive it again with his sanity intact.
He finds himself in the home of Carl Whitman, a talk show host whose words fail him when it comes to ordering Daniel into his bed. Carl can’t seem to take what he must want, and Daniel’s not willing to give it freely. His recalcitrance costs him dearly, but with patience and some hard-won understanding, affection just might flourish over fear and pain. Carl holds the power to be an anchor in Daniel’s turbulent life, but if he isn’t careful, he’ll end up the weight that sinks his slave for good.
Fight like a man, or die like a slave.
Two years ago, Brooklyn Marshall was a happily married London policeman and amateur boxer with a promising future. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose powerful father had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the prison system, the state sold Brooklyn into slavery. Now he’s the “Mean Machine,” competing on the slave prizefighting circuit for the entertainment of freemen, and being rented out for sexual service to his wealthier fans.
When barrister Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn’s services for a night, Brooklyn braces himself for yet another round of humiliation and pain. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it love—such feelings can’t truly exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to get Brooklyn’s conviction overturned, Brooklyn dares to hope.
Until an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he’s worked so hard for. With the law on his tail and Nathaniel in his corner, he must prepare for the most important fight of his life: the fight for his freedom.