Scroll down for free chapter
The Pacific Northwest border town of the Dominion is soaked in magic. Full moons are a bloody spectacle, local restaurants have unicorn on the menu, and a dragon once burned down City Hall. The excitement makes the Dominion a beacon to tourists… but many of them never make it home. Travel writer Innis Stuart and his photographer, Karsten Roth, are visiting the Dominion to explore its dangers and offer a warning to overconfident tourists. Unfortunately, they may be among that number. Their local guide is an old friend to Innis, but he's not acting like himself. Why does he seem to be working with the biggest crime boss in town? And why did both Innis and Karsten feel such a strong compulsion to enter the Dominion in the first place? It turns out that what they don’t know about the Dominion can hurt them, but it’s not as dangerous as what they don’t know about themselves. Come along for a tour of the city known as “the most magical place on Earth”... and don’t forget to buy travel insurance.
The Dominion 1
I hope you’re not waiting for Seven Leagues Over the Dominion to come out. If you are, you’ll be waiting a long time, and you can blame my editor. Or maybe you can blame me, for bringing an uninvited guest to lunch.
I was meeting my editor for a nice business lunch three months after my trip to the Dominion. We were both enthusiastic about a Seven Leagues book covering the most magical place on Earth. At a certain point, if you’re writing adventure travel guides, there’s no excuse not to go there. The local crime lord will rip your heart from your chest, werewolves can legally eat you, and they had to rebuild City Hall because a dragon burned it down. It’s incredibly dangerous, more so than any war-torn republic or 8,000-metre mountaintop. No tourist should ever go there. That’s why it was unmissable for me.
She was looking forward to hearing about my trip and to helping me decide what parts I should write about. The Seven Leagues books are pretty strictly structured, with sections about travel to and from the destination, travel within the destination, where to stay, what to eat, how to avoid trouble with the law… all the information you’ll need to go places you shouldn’t. I know the formula because I created the formula. I’d even written some of the book before our meeting, knowing what would need to be there.
Still, there’s room to focus on what’s special about a destination, such as the Dominion’s lively college scene, or its hallucinogenic wastelands. That’s the sort of thing we discuss when we get together.
That day I thought it would be a good idea to bring my photographer along. Karsten Roth was new to the Seven Leagues series, and he was a hell of a catch since his photos had been on the covers of everything from National Geographic to The Cryptid. I guarantee you’ve seen his work. You probably don’t recognize his name, and you certainly wouldn’t recognize his face because he likes it that way. My editor was a fan, and even she couldn’t have picked him out of a police line.
She was thrilled to meet him. I told her that would wear off fast, and Karsten hit my arm with his camera bag.
He was polite and dour and funny. He brought her flowers and said he was in awe that she could put up with me. She was charmed.
She insisted we both tell her everything, every detail about our trip, and we stayed so long that we ate dinner at that table too. Over dessert, she declared that Seven Leagues Over the Dominion could wait.
I was shocked to say the least. She’d spent hours enraptured by our story. Why wouldn’t she want the book?
It turned out she wanted a different book. She wanted a travel memoir, not an adventure guide, about me and Karsten and what happened to us in the Dominion. She wanted both of us to tell the story, not just me. I didn’t write that kind of book, and Karsten didn’t write at all, not professionally, but that didn’t matter. She’d hire a memory extractor, one of the best. All memoirs were created that way these days, she said.
Karsten was horrified at first. Everyone gets their minds read all the time—by customs agents and cops and bored telepaths standing next to us on the subway—but memory extraction is more intensive than any of that, and Karsten is a private guy. He refused, first in his proper Oxford English and then in his more colourful German. Miri, my editor, patted his arm and said it was fine. He didn’t have to do it. She’d rather have his perspective and his version of events, but the book could be done without it. Being the evil genius she is, Miri had no doubt guessed what his reaction would be. There was no way he was going to let me tell the story of our trip without his input. He said I was a scoundrel and a fantasist and some word that was long, German, and probably slang, since I didn’t recognize it. My version of anything required a second opinion.
Also, though he didn’t say it to Miri, there were things that had happened between us that even his sophisticated European sensibility might not want spelled out for everyone to read. If he wasn’t part of the book’s creation, he’d have no say in what did or didn’t wind up on the page. The truth is, I wouldn’t have embarrassed him. But he didn’t need to know that right then.
As for me, I had mixed feelings. I’d gone to the Dominion planning to write a certain kind of book. I wasn’t sure I wanted to change things up.
But the evil genius reminded me that I’d grown up on memoirs of travel and adventure. She said I’d had the real thing in the Dominion—mysterious deaths, a cunning villain, a monster the size of a city block… even my own near demise. It would be a shame to squeeze a story that big around the edges of a travel guide. Besides, we could still do the travel guide, and then I’d have the chance to get two slots on the bestseller lists.
In case that wasn’t enough, she waited until Karsten had wandered off to the washroom, then leaned forward and said, “You can find out what he really thought of you right from when you met.”
I told her Karsten didn’t exactly leave people in the dark regarding his opinion of them. But you’ll notice I did the book anyway.
—Innis Stuart, writing from Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada
Introduction: A History of Memory
Around the mid-1960s, when most North Americans had become comfortable with magic, some people got the idea that it was ridiculous to have limitations. Old-fashioned, even. If you’d ever been carrying groceries and wished you had a third arm, you didn’t have to just wish for it anymore. You could hire someone to make it happen. Why drag a scuba tank around to explore the ocean? Why study for exams when you could pay to never forget anything you’d seen, heard, or done? It was an exciting time in which it seemed as if we’d all be able to be anything we wanted, provided we had the money. Why not?
Today, we know why not. There were the spells that went wrong and the shady operators who would give you a third arm and then leave town before you discovered you’d be growing an arm a week from then on. More importantly, though, there were things we found we could not change.
Take memory for example. We should have known we wouldn’t be happy remembering everything. We should have known because there were people in the world before magic who could. They hadn’t purchased a spell or potion. They’d simply been born with hoarding brains. You could ask these people what they had eaten for breakfast on a specific day thirty years earlier and they would tell you without hesitation. It’s tough to verify an ordinary breakfast that’s thirty years gone, so the subjects—as these people were known—would be asked about the weather on a certain day or the newspaper headlines. They were never wrong.
They were also unhappy. They felt rootless and detached. Without momentum. They were haunted by a million small things.
Eventually, the people in the ’60s and ’70s who bought perfect memories came to feel the same way. It seems there are things we are not built, in psychology or temperament, to be.
These days if you want to remember everything about a part of your life, you pay for a memory extraction instead. The best extractors in the business will find everything you remember and everything you’d forgotten about for a week or a month or, if you can afford it, a year. No one I know of offers more than a year. It’s too much effort, too much magic, and too much information.
The police were the first to use this service. It was unheard of at first, so it was legal everywhere. Then it was challenged in court after court and became illegal in most places. Then it was necessary in solving a few downright devilish cases, and people started thinking it wasn’t such a bad idea. Now you’ll find it used in most places that allow any magic at all.
If something is used for one thing, people will find a way to use it for a hundred. If you’re well-off and living in a place where magic is used casually, you may even have bought an extraction yourself. Maybe you wanted to present your child with the story of her birth or preserve your wedding day. Everyone has photos and video of these events, but a good memory extractor creates something more personal. It’s your perspective—your memory, your thoughts, in your voice—translated to text. The first extractions read like witness statements, and it was said they’d never replace writing for thoughtful evocation and grace of prose. But the process has developed over the past few decades, and now memory extracts are indistinguishable from the sort of literary works and memoirs that were written two hundred years ago.
Except, of course, that they are accurate. They are coloured by what the subject saw and noticed and by the subject’s way of thinking about these things. They reflect misunderstanding and obliviousness. But they reflect these things honestly and without prejudice.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a romantic pull toward the image of a lone man at his journal or keyboard, trying to capture his memories of travel and adventure before they flew away. Those are the books I read as a boy living on Canada’s boundless prairie. I would read on the porch at my grandmother’s farm, then set the book down, look at the horizon, and itch to go there. I had the idea I would write about what I found.
And I do. I write my Seven Leagues books alone at a keyboard, wrestling with memory and sometimes getting it wrong. Sometimes getting it wrong on purpose because, let’s face it, adventure travel should be an adventure, in life and on the page.
This book, though, has all the adventure it needs without any help from my imagination. It’s about the Dominion and Karsten and me and what happened to us and why and how we’re still alive. I didn’t want it to be a mistake or a lie.
What you are about to read, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help me.