Writing Dystopian Fantasy with Peng Shepherd, author of THE BOOK OF M
My guest this episode is Peng Shepherd, author of THE BOOK OF M. This debut speculative fiction novel examines a near future world, fallen to an inexplicable epidemic called The Forgetting.
All around the world, people have lost their shadows, and soon after, their memories incurably erode as well. Society has collapsed as the Shadowless spread, and their Forgetting warps aspects of reality in alarming and unexplainable ways.
Hidden away at a secluded resort hotel, Ory and his wife, Max, have survived several years on scavenged scraps and fickle luck. But when Max’s shadow disappears, the couple are divided, racing across the dangerous urban wasteland — Max chasing her fleeing memories, Ory chasing his fleeing wife.
Meanwhile, the Olympic hopeful archer Naz shelters in Boston, on the verge of starving, separated by an ocean from her Iranian family, when she is drawn from hiding to traverse America — with only a bow and arrow to protect herself and a beloved companion.
Beyond them all is Patient RA, victim of an accident that left him with total retrograde amnesia, his memory wiped even before the Forgetting could steal it from him. After exposure to the first discovered shadowless, the Amnesiac — a man with a middle but no beginning — gains unique insight into the Forgetting and its true nature.
But as Naz, Ory, and Max’s paths spiral towards conflict and upheaval, what role will the Amnesiac play, as “the One Who Gathers”?
THE BOOK OF M is out now from William Morrow (HarperCollins) and available at:
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Listen to this interview on YouTube
About Peng Shepherd
Peng was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet, and has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York.
Her first novel, The Book of M, won the 2019 Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction, and was chosen as a best book of the year by Amazon, Elle, Refinery29, and The Verge, as well as a best book of the summer by the Today Show and NPR On Point.
A graduate of the NYU MFA program, Peng is the recipient of a 2020 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Elizabeth George Foundation’s emerging writers 2016 grant.
Her second novel, The Cartographers, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in summer 2021.
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About THE BOOK OF M
Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.
One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.
Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.
As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.
Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.