Whew. It took a bit to get to this post. I felt there were more important topics to write about with Main Squeeze versus the playlist. That means, like usual, some of you have already read the book.
(I mean … you could always go back and … re-read it, right? No, don’t do that—my writing probably doesn’t hold up to that much scrutiny.)
At any rate, music is an incredibly important part of my creative process. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to soundtrack scenes in particular, but characters will have themes. Sometimes, a song will inspire several scenes or seem to speak to an overall theme in the book.
Putting a Playlist Together after the Fact
I drafted Main Squeeze in July 2019, as a Camp NaNo project. I didn’t put a soundtrack together at that point, actually. Instead, I appropriated a couple of other playlists I had kicking around. As a result, the playlist for Main Squeeze closely resembles the playlist for A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale.
What I put together is also short, because some of the tracks I might have pulled at the time have been lost. (As much as I can listen to the same song over and over, I can’t really expect that from others.)
So these are the tracks that seemed to stand out the most. There are one or two new additions, which were prevalent during rewrites, but most of these are throwbacks.
The Sounds of a Strange Landscape
It’s actually fitting that I cribbed a lot of the same tracks from the Fairy Tale playlist for Main Squeeze. Both wrestle with a few intertwined issued: presentations of “strange” or “exotic” landscapes, ethnic “othering,” and colonialism.
In Fairy Tale, the desert landscape is prominent. It echoes the images of “deserts” I saw when I was a kid. Given that I grew up in Canada, a colonial country, the legacy of imperialism played an active role in the formation of these ideas. So as much as the images I have in my mind are attractive, they’re also misrepresentations. We have to be mindful of how we’re portraying our landscapes in light of that.
I think there’s some wiggle room for it in SFF, because we are dealing with magical realms and made-up planets. So the desert landscape as it inhabits the imperial imagination could exist somewhere in these realms—even if it doesn’t actually exist on Earth.
These landscapes are portrayed as exotic, strange, even dangerous—and that’s then used to exoticize and other the people who inhabit these spaces on Earth. With the desert, we see very mixed up, stereotypical imagery about Arabs and Bedouins, among others. They become this kind of vague “other” that inhabits the colonial imagination.
In the case of Arabic cultures and, more particularly, Ottoman Turkish culture, the harem is probably the most misunderstood and commonly invoked imagery. We can see it in Aladdin—the prostitutes appear in brightly coloured garb, invoking stereotypes of belly-dancers, but also appearing all together and ready to service the Arabic man (provided he can pay up). The Western imagination terribly misunderstands the harem—perhaps on purpose. Christian writers from Europe were both fascinated and repulsed by the supposed “sexual extravagance” that the harem represented to them. That interpretation still filters down to us.
Welcome to the Jungle
In Main Squeeze, I’ve invoked another landscape that inhabits the imperial imagination as both exotic and dangerous—the jungle. Here, I think of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which describes all of Africa—but particularly its jungles—as being a “dark continent.”
Conrad’s writing is, to the modern eye, blatantly racist. But there’s little doubt that his legacy and others have informed and shaped how the West tends to imagine Africa. A more explicit example might be Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. This “classic” is about a young boy who is abandoned in the jungle, quite literally left to the wolves.
We have to pause for a moment and think about what this kind of story is telling us. It suggests, perhaps, Indian people are so inhuman or uncivilized as to leave infants to wild animals. It might even suggest all Indian people are “wild,” “raised by wolves”—or at least in close proximity to the jungle.
Mowgli acts as a stand-in for Indian society here. His decision to follow the young girl he meets back to civilization is no coincidence. During the reign of the British Empire and the height of imperialism, women were the great civilizers. They needed to be protected from “brutish” and uncouth men, but they could also tame and civilize, through their gentle and tender love.
It’s a ridiculous notion, but it allowed for emphasis on feminine fragility and concerns around purity, particularly white women’s purity. Women are, in this line of logic, “protectors of the race,” since they become mothers.
The Jungle as the Site of the “Uncivilized”
But back to the jungle. The jungle is a wild, dangerous place in Kipling’s imagination; it’s inhabited by apes and wolves. Baloo and Baghera are friends, but they’re a bear and a panther, respectively—both predators. Sher Khan, the tiger, and his friend Kaa the boa constrictor are two other lurking dangers.
Clearly, the jungle is wild and dangerous. If we think back to Conrad, this ties back to darkness—fire and light represent civilization; the jungle remains in a sort of primordial darkness.
Darkness and danger, as well as the exotic live in the jungle.
Kipling is hardly the only writer to invoke this kind of imagery. I mentioned Conrad; there’s also Edward Rice Burroughs, who penned Tarzan. These sorts of narratives invoke the jungle as both a place of exploration, but a place of danger and wild. They explore what happens when “civilization” (imagined as the agents of the British Empire) move through this “uncivilized” space.
Walt Disney adapted The Jungle Book as a film in the 1960s. Tarzan got the animated treatment in the late 1990s. Both were recently rebooted as live-action films.
These images—even though they were penned more than a century ago—continue play in our imaginations. We keep rebooting them and passing them down to the next generation, who then forms an idea of what “the jungle” or “the desert” looks like. The imperialist imagination lives on.
What about the Actual Jungle?
Obviously, jungles do actually exist on Earth, and we do know they’re both fascinating and occasionally dangerous places. The jungles of South America are inhabited by anacondas and jaguars. (Of course, the deep forests of North America are inhabited by wolves, bears, and cougars. These “dangers” tend to take a back seat to the “untamed” dangers of a place like “the jungle.”)
We also have stereotypical ways of portraying the people who inhabit these jungle spaces, like the Yanomami of Brazil. We might also invoke the “ancient” Inca empire or the Aztecs (although the Aztecs lived a good deal further north).
Westerners have particular ideas about the peoples who inhabit these spaces—again informed by the imperial imagination and racist ethnographies conducted by outsiders.
It is very easy to distort the information we have about these peoples, to draw on what is reported about them versus actually understanding the people themselves.
Main Squeeze draws on some of my background as an academic editor, working on various ethnographies. It also draws on the imperialist images that have been handed down to me as a Western subject. We could even say it echoes some of those imperialist, colonial writers. The tensions between “civilization” and the “uncivilized” that Kipling, Conrad, and Burroughs draw through their work are present, at least to some degree, in Main Squeeze as well.
The Double-Edged Sword of Portrayal
It’s almost impossible to work around this entirely. Unless you’re part of one of these cultures, it’s difficult not to exoticize—particularly when you’re subject to a tradition that does exoticize these settings.
The best I can do is attempt to be somewhat sensitive to these things in my fiction. When I do invoke these landscapes, and the peoples who inhabit them, I need to be aware of what I’m doing. I need to approach with more sensitivity.
The portrayal of naga culture, particularly in the published novel, will likely make some readers uncomfortable because this tension exists. Marty is a Western explorer who ends up stranded in the jungle. The story ends on a happy enough note, but there’s a tension there too. The potential for Earth colonizing this planet is extremely high.
Throughout the book, Marty exoticizes the naga, sexualizing them. He’s attracted to them, but precisely because they’re “exotic.” That’s typical of imperialist/colonial writing, which is both repulsed by the “other” and finds that same other erotic.
Marty doesn’t ever refer to anyone as an “exotic” beauty, but it wouldn’t seem out of place. In addition to that, there’s the issue of religion. The naga appear to be polytheistic, with an oral cultural tradition. They have traditional medicinal practices, and engage in a sacrifice. They have at least one festival around the harvest.
They’re also hunters and, perhaps, warriors. They have a different conceptualization of family, where children have many fathers. I mentioned the Yanomami of Brazil earlier; encountering their culture was actually one of the first times I’d ever come across that idea at all. It’s fascinating, and it leads to a different understanding of “family.”
Questioning What’s Normal
And that’s really more what I wanted to do with the naga: challenge Western norms. Marty comes crashing in with his cultural baggage, but as the only human on this planet, he’s the weird one. He’s the one with strange or abnormal ideas. While we read Marty’s perspective, the naga surely view Marty as the “weird” one.
And that’s meant to be the doorway to dialog here. Even if we conceive of something as “natural” or “normal,” it may not be for another culture. And, moreover, it might not even be the best way to do things.
Many queer novels take up the idea of “found family,” which echoes some of these concerns—and even some of the differential structures we see outside the Western “ideal” of the nuclear family. Large, intergenerational families are often stigmatized—in part, I think, because they work to support people better, which makes it more difficult for capitalism to isolate individuals and work them to the bone. (A working theory of mine.)
But—the point here isn’t to exoticize or “other” the naga. It’s to ask us to consider what is normal—and if our norms are all that healthy or helpful to living a fulfilling life. Marty comes from the Westernized world, relatively isolated, abandoned, and traumatized. Jasper also has trauma, but the naga conceptualization of family—particularly around choosing your own family—gives him a more robust support network. And, in time, Marty is also able to “choose” a family and incorporate himself into society in a way that makes him less isolated, less alone.
The Sounds of the Jungle
The other reason I decided on a “jungle” setting was that the naga are half-serpents. Green anacondas have some interesting features that make them unique among snakes—aside from being one of the largest species. They tend to be almost aquatic, and they carry their young, undergoing pregnancy like many mammals do.
That seemed to beckon me to write the jungle setting—rife as it is with the dangers of the imperialist imagination.
With that in mind, some of Dutch EDM producer Wiwek’s tracks seemed to fit the bill. I saw Wiwek at a festival in Toronto a few years ago and really enjoyed the vibes, although I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the DJ having built his oeuvre around this sort of “jungle” EDM. It’s an interesting sound, one that sets him apart, but one that invokes that imperialist imagination.
Galantis is one of my favorite EDM artists. Their track “Gold Dust” is one that first seemed to fit Fairy Tale. The East & Young Remix feels more fitting for Main Squeeze, even though the lyrics remain unchanged.
“Kundalini” is another track that seemed to fit Fairy Tale better, evoking more of that “exotic desert” sound. Nonetheless, it was a track that made its way onto the playlist.
“Jetlag” isn’t particularly “jungle-esque” or even evocative of the desert, but there’s something about this one that works for me. Maybe it’s the disorientation that the track seems to evoke, but it felt fitting for Marty.
The Sunburn Music Festival originated in India, so the tunes that have come out of it are more evocative of that landscape. “The Serpent” seems to recall a snake charmer. The king cobra is particularly revered in parts of India (and most naga are depicted as cobras). “Kolkata” has a similar sound and feel, although the name very clearly harks back to the Indian subcontinent.
Insanity, Space Travel, and Loneliness
“Insanity” is a track I have mixed feelings about. I like it, but I’m also not sure I’m comfortable with the use of the word “insanity.” Yet Main Squeeze does show Marty dealing with situations where mental health is up for debate—who is sane, who is insane, and who has the power to determine someone’s sanity. With that in mind, the track seems like a fitting selection.
“Boomerang” doesn’t really fit for any other reason than it sounds cool.
“Islands,” on the other hand, does seem to speak a little bit more to the themes of the book. Marty leaves Earth, off to explore other planets, other worlds—“islands”—and he does so alone. The song is ostensibly about a romantic break-up. Main Squeeze might be about Marty’s break-up with humanity as a whole.
“Go Bang” might seem like a pithy comment on what the characters do at various points in the book (heh). Australian electronica trio PNAU again seems to appropriate the sounds of “otherness.”
We wrap back around to Galantis with “Firebird” and “Spaceship.” “Firebird” in particular feels fitting for Marty. “Spaceship” might be more fitting for Jasper.
The final selection here comes from the Final Fantasy VII Remake soundtrack. That might seem like an odd choice at first. The track is “Scorpion Sentinel.” It plays during the game’s first boss battle against (you guessed it) a giant, mechanical scorpion.
The scorpion in Main Squeeze may not be a robot, but the track captured the frenetic energy of fighting some sort of giant arachnid that can probably murder you with its tail.
So there we have it—the Main Squeeze official playlist. It’s not much, but most of the tracks here speak to the book, its themes, or even its genesis in some way, shape, or form.