- - July 1st, 2015
Hi Louisa, and welcome to the Orbit team! Can you tell us a bit about SPEAK?
Sure! SPEAK is the story of five characters who are involved in creating an artificially intelligent doll. After these “babybots” are banned, gathered up, and shipped off to the desert, the children who loved them start to stutter and freeze. SPEAK tells the story of the babybots and their creators, from Alan Turing to a traumatized girl in the near future who gives her bot new language. These and other characters are all racing toward a world populated by lifelike machines, in which it’s difficult to decide who’s actually living, and who has real intelligence.
SPEAK has already been featured in Oprah magazine, raved about by Emily St. John Mandel, chosen by Wired and Huffington Post as one of their big books this summer, and is an IndieNext pick too. How does it feel for the book to be getting this much attention?
It seems to be an auspicious time for creative depictions of artificial intelligence. Just recently, all kinds of interesting books and films involving the topic have come out: Ex Machina, Chappie, Channel Four’s Humans, and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Technology has radically challenged the ways we understand ourselves as humans: we reveal our secret traumas to artificially intelligent therapists; we relinquish our most personal information to data-mining software; we’re developing robotic soldiers to fight wars in place of humans. Fiction that questions the differences between humans and machines seems particularly important in this historical moment.
At its heart, SPEAK is about the very human need to be listened to, about having a voice, with characters from different times, different places, united by a very singular narrator. How difficult was it to bring this variety of voices to the page?
I actually find it easier to write in many voices than to settle into a single character. I discover so much of my characters in what they don’t see, what they’re unaware of, what they miss about the world around them. Writing in different voices allows me to set up those misunderstandings, and to see characters from new perspectives other than their own.
Some of Alan Turing’s chapters are the most touching and interesting in the book – what sort of research did you do to bring Turing and the other characters to life?
I read five or six biographies of Alan Turing, including Andrew Hodges’ excellent The Enigma, which contains long excerpts from Turing’s letters. That was helpful to me in getting Turing’s voice—his grammar, his diction, etc. The most challenging part of wrapping my head around his character was understanding his theories of computing and mathematics, which were essential to understanding his approach to the world. He couldn’t fully believe in an abstract idea such as the soul unless he’d found a mathematical way to prove its existence, or at least the possibility that it might exist.
Your first novel, the Waterstones Book Club title THE CARRIAGE HOUSE, is a contemporary family drama inspired by your time as a professional squash player. What first got you thinking about artificial intelligence as a subject for your second book?
In THE CARRIAGE HOUSE, I wanted to create a world small enough to control. I limited the novel to a single neighbourhood that was claustrophobic in its self-containment. For my second novel, I wanted to go to the furthest frontiers I could imagine, from religious dissidents in the seventeenth-century to AI inventors in the near future. I wanted to find what was human in foreign situations: robot dolls dying in hangars, a scientist undergoing hormonal manipulation. In the end, most of the book isn’t that far-fetched. Many of the characters are based on real people, and most of the science is closely related to science that already exists. But the book sprang up on the edges of what I understand and what I’ve actually experienced. Sometimes I think that if THE CARRIAGE HOUSE was centripetal, SPEAK is centrifugal. It always seemed to spin a little out of my control.
Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking both recently discussed their anxiety about AI and superintelligent machines. What is turning such giants of the science and technology world against AI, and do you share their concerns?
I tend to be more optimistic about the future of AI, though I realize that Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking are more qualified to make predictions about computers than I am. But their concerns about the future of AI are equally valid when applied to the future of the human race. In reference to autonomous killing machines, for instance, this article asks the following questions: “how will they tell friend from foe? Combatant from civilian? Who will be held accountable?” But the same questions can be asked about human soldiers. Ideally, robots would be able to perform certain tasks better than we can because they won’t be programmed for fear, anger, or vengeance. And because we have those emotions, we’ll be able to perform other tasks better than robots. Of course it’s always possible that some evil empire could program a fleet of maniacal robots, but the same evil empire could also get its hands on nuclear weapons. Our primary anxiety, in my mind, should be less about preventing the development of robots and more about preventing the ascent of unchecked evil empires. That said, I do think it’s worth being hyper-vigilant about the effects AI will have on our economy and the uneven distribution of wealth.
Are there any stories about artificial intelligence that really stand out to you, or inspired you in creating SPEAK?
There are so many recent stories about AI that inspire me. My friend just sent me a story about Aibos, robot dogs that people have adopted as pets. At one point, these robot pets could be repaired if they were damaged, but now they’ve been discontinued. Soon, their replacement parts will be nonexistent. Suddenly the owners of these robot dogs are facing the idea of robot dog mortality. I also recently heard a story about a computer scientist in Wyoming who’s teaching robots how to adjust to injuries by giving them ‘simulated childhoods,’ a period devoted to play in which they learn creative ways of using their bodies. We keep robots as pets; we give our robots childhoods. Stories such as these ones beg so many interesting questions about what it actually means to be living.
SPEAK is released in digital and ANZ export edition this July, with a UK paperback to follow in Feb 2016 – preorder your copy today.
- - April 14th, 2015
A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER (US | UK |AUS) is a particularly special new epic fantasy, and we’re thrilled to be releasing it today in hardcover, e-book and audio formats. NPR Books published a glowing review this morning, saying “It’s a vibrant book, and a generously lush one…A Crown for Cold Silver drags epic fantasy through the mud — but it does so with wit, wonder, and wisdom.”
A Crown for Cold Silver will grab you from its first bloody pages and surprise you many times over as unconventional hero and supreme badass Cold Zosia embarks on her quest to destroy those who have taken everything from her. To celebrate the release of this spectacular story, we’d like you to meet the author, Alex Marshall!
How did the idea for A CROWN FOR COLD SILVER form – was it a particular scene or character that occurred to you, or was there a particular moment when you knew that this was the book you were going to write?
I work in a very linear fashion, so the first things that came to me became the first scenes in the book: the classic fantasy set-up of a bloodthirsty horde descending on a tranquil hamlet, but with an older woman as the sole survivor of the assault, instead of a young hero.
Is that something that appeals to you, subverting the tropes of the genre?
I’d say my chief concern is always to create interesting characters and present them with interesting problems. I do my best to let the characters determine the plot, whether that means subverting the conventions of the genre or playing along with them. That said, I’m trying to tell new stories here instead of just retelling old ones, so Crom help any innocent tropes that might get in the way.
There are so many formidable and fantastic characters in this book – a barbarian addicted to intoxicating insects, a shaman who eats demons for breakfast, a retired warrior queen who faked her own death – do you have favourites?
My favourite may be Zosia, the former warrior queen with the devilish canine companion, Choplicker – she’s the lynchpin to the whole novel, a very conflicted character, and writing her scenes was always intense and illuminating.
Read the full interview here.
- - November 7th, 2014
We’re delighted to introduce Rob Boffard, author of the upcoming TRACER, a heart-stopping SF novel set in space which will be released next summer.
As a newbie to the Orbit list, we asked Rob a few questions about what we can expect from him in 2015 . . .
– Tell us a bit about yourself!
I come from Johannesburg, and can speak enough Zulu to prove it. I have glasses, terrible hair, and exceptionally long arms. I’m 29, obsessed with hip-hop, tattoos, plane tickets, snowboarding, and the Chicago Bulls. And good stories. Both telling them, and reading them.
For the majority of my adult life, I’ve worked as a journalist, being paid specifically to not make stuff up. The fact that I can now do the exact opposite at a place like Orbit is both weird and amazing.
– What can readers expect from your new book TRACER?
I wanted to make this the baddest, fastest, craziest, most intense scifi thriller you’re going to read next year, or any year after it. It’s set on a massive space station, Outer Earth, which holds the last humans in the universe. The station’s been there for a while – everything is broken, rusted, falling apart. Nothing works anymore. Read the rest of this entry »
- - October 9th, 2014
The much-anticipated graphic novel of THE WAY OF SHADOWS, the New York Times bestselling epic fantasy of thieves and assassins by Brent Weeks, comes out this week from Yen Press and Orbit UK.
We interviewed Brent about the process of turning his classic fantasy tale into a comic book, and asked him all about his favorite examples of the medium:
JH: Was there anything that surprised you about having your work adapted into comic book form?
BW: The first time I saw Andy’s depiction of the Gyre estate, I had to stop for a second. The rest of the process had been pretty gradual—when we did character sketches, we went through a lot of emails, and a couple iterations of drawings, so they didn’t have the same surprise factor for me—but when I saw the Gyre estate, it hit me all at once. I’d described all these details; this was what I’d written about, but I’d never seen it as a whole. When your artist is talented, there are things about seeing a place that are simply better than reading about it.
The other thing that surprised me was how much little things can matter. Andy does great work with characters’ expressions, hitting just the right tone. That little extra extension on that line turns that grin from amused to sarcastic, or what have you. Similarly, something like how tight an alleyway is, can suddenly be important, because a character in a tight alley feels trapped, and acts differently than in a wide open street.
JH: Which particular character do you think has been captured most perfectly by Andy Macdonald’s art?
BW: I’ll go for a less obvious one. Roth is just the right balance of handsome and creepy.
JH: Was it a strange experience, going back so closely over THE WAY OF SHADOWS, or do you often reread and re-examine your older books?
BW: As little as possible! I always want to edit my old books. Hmm, that sentence could be tightened, couldn’t it? It was very challenging. One of the pleasures of reading my books is that there’s a ton of foreshadowing that looks like throwaway world-building on a first read that ends up being important two thousand pages later. So I had to not only load three books into my brain, but I had to anticipate how each necessary change of adapting the first novel into graphic novel form would ripple through the second and third books. “Okay, this doesn’t happen any more, and that was going to pay off in book 2 when this happens, so now, in graphic novel 2, we’re going to have to do this other thing instead… But does that cause problems in book 3?” Oh, and I was finishing a not-so-simple little novel called THE BROKEN EYE. My assistant, Elisa, was invaluable in the process of keeping everything straight.
JH: Comics and graphic novels are an essentially collaborative medium, requiring a lot of co-operation between the artist and writer. Have you ever worked on something that involved this much collaboration?
BW: Never to this degree. We made a book trailer for THE BLACK PRISM, and I wrote lots of emails and script ideas back and forth (far more than you would think necessary for a two minute trailer, I guarantee!), but that was over about a month. This was a different level entirely.
I should point out, too, that it isn’t just collaboration between artist and writer! The original script adaptation was by Ivan Brandon, and throughout my editor JuYoun Lee was invaluable in the process, not only in feedback and scripting, but also in allowing me to be the difficult artist from time to time. I mean, editors have to make the business work, so a few times I wrote to her, “Look I just added a page to this chapter. I know we’re already over, but we need a full page for this reveal, or it will lack punch. Here’s the new script.” I’m sure she knew exactly how much that was going to cost—art costs, printing costs, extra thickness to the book, possibly fewer books per box which can hurt ordering, and so forth if you do it more than a couple times—and she let me get away with it when we needed to.
That said, I try not to play the diva, especially when it’s a medium I’ve got little experience in. I was lucky to be joined in the journey by people who know a lot more than I do.
JH: Who are your favourite heroes from comics and graphic novels?
BW: Can I confess something? I’ve always enjoyed comic books, but for a long time I had a fundamental reservation about them as art. I thought they were bad art. Partly this is the fault of the whole Death of Superman debacle. Since then (if not before, I’m not an expert), but since then they’ve felt like the ultimate playground for Plot Armor. No character will ever die. No character will ever settle down with one girl, and that’s it for all time. There’s no final story, no closure, even though they pretend there is constantly. And the reason there can be no final story is because money. You can’t kill Wolverine for good, because no matter how many copies of that final plot arc you could sell, you’d be killing the goose who lays the golden eggs. Wolverine is your year-in, year-out steady earner, and he will be for fifty years. A hundred if Marvel has its way. So the story has to account for reboots, and refreshes, memory-losses and reunions. (In some cases, they do that far better than others.)
So, to purist, younger me, comics in the Marvel vein were the biggest examples of art prostituted to money I could imagine. And yet they got a pass somehow—because it’s fun and well-done, I guess.
But I had an idea recently of Wolverine (a favorite since I was young), as a mythic character, rather than as a disjointed franchise. When you read Homer’s Odysseus, he’s a complete man, perhaps the ideal man in the Greek understanding of virtue. When you read Virgil’s treatment of the same character (Latinized to Ulysses, but ostensibly the same character), you realize they have very little in common. Virgil is trotting out the Greek hero to make him look tawdry next to the real stud, Aeneas. (Who just so happened to play for the home team, Rome.) They aren’t the same character—when Virgil handles Odysseus, he handles him as a mythic type, there to be useful in setting up the story that Virgil really wants to tell.
So when you ask “Who is your favorite character?” I have to politely say I don’t believe Wolverine as Wolverine is really a character anymore. Mark Millar’s Wolverine isn’t my favorite, but the idea of Wolverine is.
That said, things are simpler where we have only one writer and artist: I really like Bode and Tyler Locke of Locke and Key by Joe Hill (amazing art by Gabriel Rodriguez).
JH: Can you recommend any comic books which are ideal for fantasy fans?
BW: If you’ve never read a graphic novel and are skeptical about the kind of stories they can tell, check out I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly, which features a fifth-grader named Barbara.
Marvel’s 1602 is a fun re-visiting of the Marvel characters if they’d appeared in Elizabethan times (and goes nicely with my thesis above!). Locke and Key is a little more on the horror side, and though I don’t enjoy horror, I thought it was amazing. Literally the best graphic novels I’ve ever read. Peter V. Brett (of The Warded Man fame) has done a 6 comic book arc for Red Sonja. As for others… well, I’m always looking!
JH: The ultimate comic book question: who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?
BW: I think Batman would know better than get in a simple fistfight with a bulletproof flying alien, so I like to think he’d change the rules of the engagement—a fight over who makes a tux look the best, perhaps, or who can destroy a villain first. Then I’d give an edge to the subtle thinker of the two.
- - October 8th, 2014
Next week sees the publication of THE FREE by Brian Ruckley, and marks the return of one of epic fantasy’s prodigal sons.
Brian Ruckley burst upon the fantasy scene back in 2006 with WINTERBIRTH [UK / USA / ANZ], a novel that encapsulated the gritty, visceral style of storytelling that would become so popular in the fantasy genre a few years later.
WINTERBIRTH – along with its sequels, BLOODHEIR [UK / USA / ANZ] and FALL OF THANES [UK / USA / ANZ] – spun an epic tale of ancient feuds, deadly politics and devastating battles. These novels are notable for many qualities, not least their deep characterisation, absorbing worldbuilding and a highly evocative atmosphere.
After his brilliant and bloody tale had concluded, Brian delved into dark historical fantasy with THE EDINBURGH DEAD [UK / USA / ANZ] – a chilling supernatural crime novel set in Victorian-era Edinburgh.
Now, with THE FREE, Brian has returned to his epic fantasy roots and delivered an exhilarating novel full of desperate battles, terrifying magic, and a host of memorable characters.
We sat down with Brian – well, in a digital sense – and asked him about his return to epic fantasy.
Welcome Brian! THE FREE marks your return to writing heroic fantasy, after you dipped your toes into dark historical fantasy with THE EDINBURGH DEAD – how does it feel to be writing in this genre again, and what tempted you to return to it?
It feels pretty good to be swimming in the heroic fantasy sea again. It’s a fun genre that gives you plenty of freedom to let your imagination run loose for a while, plenty of scope to go heavy on the action and the drama. THE EDINBURGH DEAD was always kind of a specific project for me: it’s a dark fantasy, but one very specifically set in my home city and tied to a specific, almost surreally horrible, bit of its real world history that I’ve always been interested in. THE FREE is just what it says in the title: it’s me being free again to do whatever I want, in terms of plot, world, characters, magic. All that good stuff. A couple of reviewers have already described it as ‘a blast to read’ and ‘a lot of fun to read’, which counts as job done to me, and just goes to show that if you’re having fun on the writing side, the readers can often tell.
Your Godless World trilogy was a sprawling fantasy epic in a similar vein to Game of Thrones, with a large cast-list and a healthy dose of political intrigue (not to mention plenty of bloody battles). THE FREE retains the same gritty quality of storytelling, but feels far more reminiscent of David Gemmell or Fritz Lieber, focusing on fewer characters and with an emphasis on fast-paced action. How and why did this stylistic change occur?
There are lots and lots of reasons for the change. Here’s a few, all mixed up. You don’t always get to choose what story idea is at the forefront of your mind, ready to be written. THE FREE was that idea a couple of years back, and it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t a sprawling epic; it just didn’t need thousands of pages to get to the very particular ending that was built in to the idea. I’d be lying if I pretended to be disappointed about that. Sprawling fantasy epics are all well and good – they’re what made me a fan of the genre, after all, back in my younger days – but it’s a pretty demanding and draining business to write one. Anyway, the older I get as a reader the more I find I like my fiction to-the-point, with momentum. It takes slightly different writing muscles than the epic does, and for whatever reason I had a sense that I needed to give those different muscles a work-out.
Also, it’s partly because: movies. But we’ll get to that in the next question. Read the rest of this entry »
- - June 23rd, 2014
To celebrate the release of the seventh book in the Iron Druid chronicles, SHATTERED (UK | ANZ), we asked you to come up with your best questions for author Kevin Hearne (or Oberon). We had some absolutely fantastic responses, and Kevin has answered a selection of the best below.
Q. How did you get interested in Druids and how have you collected your information of how Atticus understands his magic?
KH: I got interested in Druids because I’m a tree hugger. The modern-day Druids, of course, are revivalists who are basing their ceremonies on nineteenth-century guesswork. The ancient Druids never wrote anything down except for things like property boundaries on stones marked with Ogham. Atticus’s magic system, therefore, is almost entirely my fabrication. His abilities are suggested by legends, however: multiple accounts speak of shape-shifting, divination, and even of teleportation (which I presented as a shifting between planes). There are also accounts of weather manipulation, which Atticus has used in a small way in the first two books. I unified those legendary Druidic abilities under the system of binding.
Q. Which super villain do you think Atticus would have a tough time defeating?
KH: Going to go a bit obscure on you: Cyclone, an old opponent of Spider-Man’s that I always found to be quite scary as a kid. He controls the wind in a hundred-foot radius around his body and can pluck the very air out of your lungs, preventing you from taking another breath. He can also create tornado-force whirlwinds about himself, which he can use defensively (any strike with Fragarach would be deflected) or offensively, lifting Atticus off the ground and cutting him off from the earth. I’m sure there are other super villains who could also succeed but that’s the first one that came to mind.
Q. What is Atticus’ favourite pop culture tshirt?
KH: He has one that says WHAT THE FRAK in really large letters and then, in a much smaller font underneath, “happened in Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica?” Because it was a mess.
Q. How is it that a Druid who has had so much grief from the Fae, came to name his dog after Shakespeare’s King of the Fairies?
KH: Atticus thinks of it as wry jest. He knows very well that the Fae are actually ruled by women – Brighid, the Morrigan, etc. – and Oberon & Titania were merely Shakespeare’s creations.
Q. Does Oberon have an accent when he ‘talks’?
KH: Great question! He has the standard Western American accent – in other words, not anything southern or northeastern – mixed with the slightly manic tone of an excited, hungry, and horny hound. Atticus adopted him when he had been living in America for a while and of course Oberon’s pop culture diet in the States included plenty of American movies and TV.
- - June 5th, 2014
On 17th June, we release SHATTERED, the brand new Iron Druid Chronicles book by Kevin Hearne. It’s urban fantasy at its most exciting, fast-paced and just darn witty.
To celebrate the release, we wanted to ask Kevin what it was like writing the new book, what fans can expect from it, and what he and Oberon the adorable Irish Wolfhound are up to in general.
But then we thought – WAIT!! – there are thousands of fans out there who might love to ask Kevin (or Oberon) something themselves.
So we’re giving fans in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand the chance to submit your own interview questions to one of the loveliest authors on the planet (FACT). You can do so by filling in the form below before next Friday. Then Kevin (or Oberon!!) will answer the best ones right here on the Orbit site in a week or two.
We’ll also randomly select one winner from all those who send us questions. This winner will receive five free copies of their favourite Iron Druid Chronicles book. These will be perfect to gift to your friends, neighbours and local occult practitioners, helping to spread the love of Atticus O’Sullivan even further . . .
Fill out the form below with your question:
Don’t forget to read our terms and conditions before entering.
- - May 21st, 2014
What happens when two writers from different genres come together to talk about science fiction, fantasy, and story crafting? Find out in part two of our SFF interview swap between Rachel Bach and Elizabeth Moon!
Elizabeth Moon has degrees in history and biology, and served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. CROWN OF RENEWAL (UK | AUS) is the final installment of her Paladin’s Legacy series. This gripping epic should be on every fantasy reader’s To Read List. Expect it to be hitting bookshelves on May 27th, or you can start at the beginning with OATH OF FEALTY.
Rachel Bach grew up wanting to be an author and a super villain. Unfortunately, super villainy proved surprisingly difficult to break into, so she stuck to writing and everything worked out great. Her current project, the Paradox series, is a high-octane SF adventure across many fascinating alien worlds. Look for the third novel, HEAVEN’S QUEEN (US | UK | AUS), online and in stores on April 22nd or start at the beginning with FORTUNE’S PAWN.
Rachel: First off, let me say what an amazing honor it is to get to do anything with Elizabeth Moon. I’ve been a fan of yours since my early teens when I took my mom’s DEED OF PAKSENARRION omnibus to school and nearly flunked out of 8th grade due to the constant class skipping reading sessions. In defense of my juvenile delinquency, I’d never encountered anything like Paks before. Her adventures, and the fact that she was the one having them, completely overturned my ideas of what was possible in Fantasy, and it’s hard for me to overstate the influence your books had on my writing. I can draw a straight line from my own stories, especially my Devi books, right back to Paks, and so my first question for you is, was that ever in your mind? While writing Paks, did you ever think ‘I’m writing a strong female character that young women will look up to,’ or was she just who she was?
Elizabeth: (First I dig my toe in the dirt, writhe a bit, and blush, muttering ‘Oh, shucks.’ Followed by ‘Wait – you skipped class in 8th grade? I never dared do that, and I hated most of 8th grade.’ OK, now that’s out of the way . . . )
The short answer is: ‘Not really.’ Like many first books, Paks was partly rebellion against books that didn’t give me what I wanted as a reader . . . including women who were more like real women I knew: women with agency, with intelligence and drive, with both physical and moral courage, and with interests beyond home and sex. And as someone who’d been fascinated with military history since childhood (legacy of WWII vets, including women vets) and a veteran myself, I wanted more realistic women in science fiction and fantasy military stories.
With the exception of Joe Haldeman’s THE FOREVER WAR, male writers who depicted female soldiers at all depicted them as cartoonish cigar-smoking butch lesbians with no military ability except looking butch and acting mean. (To be fair, a lot of the male soldier characters were equally cartoonish.) Female writers were writing women warriors by then, some of them with obvious knowledge of sword-fighting (for instance) but the female characters seemed always outsiders – not integrated into a military organization from recruit to commander, with characters of both sexes showing a range of skills. Yet in real history, some women had fought alongside men without being detected as women until badly wounded or dead. Others were known to be women and also fought well. I wanted to explore ‘the natural soldier’ as a woman. And it was mostly for my own satisfaction, though as my alpha-readers began to respond, it was also for them.
Paks cooperated by being who she was like a laser beam . . . through good times and bad, she was (and remains) one of the most purely focused characters I ever had to deal with, the easiest to write until the end of the book when she . . . rode away and hasn’t come back as a viewpoint character. It wasn’t until later, when I first got feedback from young women, that I realized what she might mean to them.
Read the rest of this entry »
- - April 24th, 2014
Orbit recently acquired a debut epic fantasy trilogy by British author Stephen Aryan. The first book in the series, BATTLEMAGE, tells the story of mages treated as living weapons during a war between empires. It’s chock full of magic, scheming and truly epic battle scenes as these mages fight hard for an army that fears and distrusts them.
We’re sure you’re curious to meet the newest addition to Orbit, so we’ve created a mini-interview here with Stephen where you can get to know each other!
JH: Hi Stephen! Welcome to the Orbit gang!
SA: It’s a gang?
JH: Yep, we hang around on street corners, publishing books and scaring the neighbours. So what can you tell us about BATTLEMAGE, your very first novel?
SA: It’s an epic fantasy story set during a massive war and told from three main points of view; the front line warriors, the Heads of State and Generals conducting the war, and the Battlemages, wizards trained to fight and kill with their magic. Expect chopping off of limbs, political and espionage shenanigans, and black humour.
JH: Magicians, witches, wizards, we’ve read about them before – what’s different about your Battlemages?
SA: They’re a dying breed and are in demand all over the world. The Grey Council, the people in charge of magical training, abandoned their post years ago: the result is the majority of those born with a sensitivity to magic receive no training at all. Some have a little, which makes them unstable and, quite possibly, explosive as they don’t know how to control their power. Accidents happen quite often which has made a lot of people afraid of magic. So Battlemages are both feared and respected because they have immense power that makes them seem superhuman to most people, but they’re also necessary.
JH: Which books and authors influenced you in the writing of this series?
SA: The Earthsea novels by Ursula Le Guin was one early influence, which focus on Ged, a wizard who has several painful events that shape him as an adult. The other series that really made me think about wizards and magic were the Belgariad and the Malloreon novels by David Eddings. In both series there are only a handful of really powerful magic users who are also demi-gods and they walk that fine line between using their power to guide and protect humanity versus letting events run their natural course. LEGEND by David Gemmell was a big influence in terms of characterisation and my approach to story. Also the the work of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, in particular their Dragonlance novels, as they have magic, non-human races and diverse characters which I have in my books as well.
JH: If there’s one reason that readers should be looking forward to BATTLEMAGE, it is:
SA: Only one? Hmm, because it’s a rollicking good story with plenty of action, memorable characters, epic battles and a sense of humour throughout.
BATTLEMAGE will be out in October 2015, with the sequels to follow six months after. If you’d like to hear more from Stephen in the meantime, you can follow him on twitter at @SteveAryan or check out his website.
- - April 9th, 2014
What happens when two writers from different genres come together to talk about science fiction, fantasy, and story crafting? You’re about to find out!
Rachel Bach grew up wanting to be an author and a super villain. Unfortunately, super villainy proved surprisingly difficult to break into, so she stuck to writing and everything worked out great. Her current project, the Paradox series, is a high-octane SF adventure across many fascinating alien worlds. Look for the third novel, HEAVEN’S QUEEN (US | UK | AUS), online and in stores on April 22nd or start at the beginning with FORTUNE’S PAWN.
Elizabeth Moon has degrees in history and biology, and served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. CROWN OF RENEWAL (UK | AUS) is the final installment of her Paladin’s Legacy series. This gripping epic should be on every fantasy reader’s To Read List. Expect it to be hitting bookshelves on May 27th.
Elizabeth: You’re well known as someone who can write very fast without loss of quality, and your recommendations for increasing speed–both in your blog and in your book–make good sense. (In fact, I’d been using only two legs of your “triangle” for years and after adding the third had such good days with a new story that it slowed me down in getting these questions ready.) I’ve had 10K word days in the past, but I’ve also experienced increasing physical difficulty–arthritis in my hands, neck, and back that limited how much I could write in a day. Have you considered expanding your advice to include the ergonomic issues arising from very fast writing? How to generalize the skills to using alternate input methods, such as using a speech input? (I’m waiting for the direct brain-to-page technology. Visualize the scene: boom, it’s in the file or on the page, ready for editing. Hear the conversation between characters: there it is, with all the uh, um, er…but nothing vital missed.
Rachel: I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to hear my writing triangle helped you have a good writing day! Best thing ever.
I’m not at all surprised to hear you’d already figured parts of the triangle out. I’ve heard the same thing from several experienced authors, and I’m starting to think that all I did here was put words to what’s actually a universal writing concept. Can’t stop the signal, Mal!
You’re also not the first person to mention the physical difficulty of writing ten thousand words a day. The most extreme example of this was when I did my an annual open Q&A on the NaNoWriMo forums. One of the writers I talked to had stared out as a professional musician, but she had to stop when she injured her hands through repeated stress caused by playing. This injury effected her writing as well. She wasn’t even able to type two thousand words a day before her hands gave out, much less ten. It’s an admittedly extreme example, but it highlights the fact that writing is much more of a physical activity than most people give it credit for, especially if you have a pre-existing injury or ailment, like arthritis.
So, yes, I think this is a very valid point and I will be updating my book and blog to include it. Even with my healthy hands, it is physically exhausting to type that much, and it would be very easy to seriously injure yourself if you’re not careful. That said, though, I don’t actually know what to recommend as a solution. Right now my best advice is to listen to your body and stop if something hurts. Likewise, you should pay attention to your writing position and invest in a keyboard that’s comfortable for your hands over long periords. Speech to text programs have also come a long way in recent history (prolific author Lynn Viehl swears by Dragon Speaking Naturally), but I’ve never personally used them as anything other than a novelty.
Anyway, long story short, you make a very good point and I will be definitely be amending my process to include this issue. After all, my hands might be good now, but I intend to be in this writing business for as long as I can, and at ten thousand words a day, I’ve got a lot of typing in my future.
When can we expect that brain to page interface, science?
Elizabeth: You decided on a writing career early, but then found an English degree not particularly helpful. Writing our kind of fiction demands skills–for worldbuilding, for inventing new technology, for creating invented cultures that “work” in story terms–not taught in English classes. Have you ever wished you majored in something else, and what do you think would be the perfect degree plan for a spec fic writer? What research sources do you like to use when creating the surrounding cultural environment and technology for your invented worlds? What’s been your favorite thing to research in each of your genres? What was hardest to find or understand? Have you had life experiences that you feel were particularly important in expanding your writing scope? Do you schedule specific time for research and general reading, or is it “grab it when you need it?” (Yes, I know, I packed too many questions into one. Pick one or a few…)
Rachel: Actually, I think all of these questions interrelate beautifully! Like a lot of writers, I already knew what I wanted to be when I went to college, and English Major seemed like the most logical choice. How better to learn about writing books than by studying how the best are put together?
The reality of my experience was very different. This is not to disparage the University of Georgia’s English program, which is actually very good, it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. College English programs are excellent at teaching you how to be a good non-fiction writer: how to properly use sources and make solid arguments and write thoughtful essays. But fiction writing is a different beast all together, and even though I took several creative writing classes, they were all focused on literary short story writing, which is about as far from genre novels as it’s possible to get and still be called fiction. Even worse, I was in an environment that actively looked down on the sort of commercial books I enjoyed and wanted to write. So yeah, not a good choice for me in hind sight.
If I had it to do over again, I would have majored in something much broader, like history or sociology, or even Comparative Lit, which focuses on international fiction instead of the Western Euro-centric literary cannon. I would also have taken a lot more electives, because the most useful thing I’ve found as a novelist is having as wide and diverse a base of knowledge and interests as possible. The more you learn about the boarder human experience, the deeper the well of ideas you can draw from becomes.
As to the more specific of your questions about what research or experiences I’ve found most important or difficult, I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you. I’m not dodging the question, I just can’t remember the individual acts, because for me writing has always been a process of running the entire sum of my knowledge and experience through the grinder. The Paradox novels, for example, pull ideas from everything: books I’ve read, jobs I’ve worked, that essay on binary gender I wrote for my one sociology class, a picture I saw on Deviant Art, video games, a role playing game my husband ran in middle school ten years before I even met him. All of these seemingly unrelated experiences and influences get mashed together as I write, and I couldn’t separate them out again if you paid me.
People have actually asked me what degree or life experience they should get in order to become a genre writer before, and my answer to them has always been that writing genre stories makes you a genre writer, nothing else required. But if I had to recommend something, I’d say you’re best off studying whatever you find most interesting. Go wherever your passion leads, whether it’s in formal schooling, a challenging job, or just something you do for fun. Whatever you do, though, make sure you’re paying attention, because it’s these memorable, seemingly random notes of experience that you’re going be drawing from later as a writer. They’re the fuel that will keep your idea furnace blazing bright. All the other stuff—story structure, pacing, characterization, and so forth—is just a matter of practice.
Or, at least, that’s how it’s been for me. Every writer works differently, so your mileage may vary.
Elizabeth: You also commented in an interview that you feel your fantasy is informed by an SF sensibility. After reading Dr. James Gunn on writing science fiction, and the difference he sees between how SF and fantasy are approached differently, I realized that although the two genres feel different to me, I use much the same process in writing both. I want the deep logic in both to be similar–everything links together into one coherent system. What do you mean by having that SF sensibility in your fantasy? That leads to the impossible question of “Where do you see the difference between SF and fantasy?” and the closely related “Is there a line between worldbuilding everything but the “people” part of the story and worldbuilding the cultures the characters come from?” And if there is such a line, is that where the divide between science fiction and fantasy lives?
Rachel: I don’t think anyone has ever drawn a line between Science Fiction and Fantasy that we can all agree on. Take Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. Are they Fantasy or SF? On the one hand, you have dragons with mystical psychic bonds to their riders who can blink through space and time, on the other, humans are only on Pern because of space colonization and the Thread they ride dragons to burn is itself a space born spore.
The easy way out of this is to just say “what does it matter? Pern is awesome!” but it does matter to readers. The F and SF parts of SFF attract different audiences with different expectations and tastes. That said, I absolutely agree with you that, from the perspective of a writer looking at her own books, the creation process for each is pretty much the same.
In my own case, I’m a systems oriented, logical sort of person, so when I sat down to write a fantasy series, I took a logical approach to it. I built an internally consistent magic system and a world to contain it, and then I worked out from that framework to determine out how everything else in the story would function. When the time came to write Paradox, I built its universe the same way, only on a much grander scale. Both times, however, I figured out the why of reality first, and then used that to derive the how, who, and what.
This is what I meant when I said I approached my Fantasy with a Science Fiction sensibility, because, as Dr. Gunn says, one of the fundamental elements of Science Fiction is the scientific idea that everything is ultimately knowable and explainable, even if we don’t understand it at the moment. For me, though, this is as true in a fantasy world with an active goddess figure who makes things happen on her whims as with a galaxy that formed by the accidents of nature. Everything is knowable, everything is explainable, everything happens for interlocking reasons, and discovering those reasons is often the whole point of the story.
So at the worldbuilding, story crafting level, I don’t actually think there is a line between Science Fiction and Fantasy, at least not for me. Even when you start talking about characters, both Fantasy and Science Fiction favor larger than life heroes who change the world through significant personal action and sacrifice, be it exploring a new planet and ending up the unlikely champion of the indigenous population against your own corrupt galactic government or journeying to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom. Even the window dressings are somewhat interchangeable, because I’ve read Fantasy with complex machines and written Science Fiction with magic. There are short, lightning paced Fantasies and glacially slow SF epics with thousands of characters. Even the relative perception of time is no guarantee when the most famous Science Fiction story of all time took place long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Personally, I’m inclined to believe the only real, measurable line between Science Fiction and Fantasy is one of flavor and emphasis. Fantasy novels tend to emphasizes the fantastical elements—magic, monsters, fully developed secondary worlds, the sense of being in another place, etc.—while Science Fiction generally places its accent on the products of scientific achievement—gadgets, fast travel, galactic expansion, exploration in the vastness of space, and so forth. Otherwise, the two are so similar as to be almost interchangeable, as evidenced by how easily and often they get lumped together. Both genres tend to be deeply humanist, both reflect and comment on issues present in our own world, both provide a stage for the invention and exploration of alternate cultures, both are given to power fantasies, you get the idea. They’re both wonderful, delicious ice cream, and the only actual question here is which flavor do you prefer in your sundae.
Elizabeth: Thinking ahead, do you imagine yourself delving into each of the various subgenres of our big playground, or do you think you’ll settle into some favorite pair (or quartet) of niches? So far you’ve done witty, rollicking fantasy and hard-edged action-packed SF…what other areas intrigue you and set the writer-vibes going? SF mysteries? Epic fantasy?
Rachel: I freely admit that I’m an agent’s worst nightmare, because I write everything! In addition to my current roster of Fantasy and SF, I’ve finished the first in a near future Urban Fantasy series about dragons that I’ll be using as an experiment in self publishing this July. I also have an alt history mystery novel about magic in the Industrial Revolution set in Manchester complete with necromantic workhouses and a spell breaker detective that’s currently with my agent. And as if that weren’t enough, I’m also planning a darker military fantasy young adult book, another Paradox novel focusing on the secrets of the Sainted King, an epistolary series of shorts chronicling the tragically comedic and unavoidable fall of a Dark Lord called “Speeches to Orcs,” and about a thousand other things that I may or may not actually finish in 2014.
So yeah, you could say I’m running all over our genre playground like that one weird kid who always eats waaaaay too much sugar. But then, what’s the point of writing fast if you don’t also write far and wide?
Elizabeth: Thanks for being part of this–it’s been a lot of fun learning more about you and your work, and thinking about the questions you proposed.
Rachel: Thank you for taking the time and for talking with me! Again, I can’t stress enough what an honor and a delight it’s been to get the chance to talk with you. (When I told my mother I was doing this, her response was “You’re interviewing Elizabeth Moon? Can I touch you?!”) Thank you again, and I can’t wait to get my hands on The Crown of Renewal later this year!!
Rachel and Elizabeth will be back again soon, and next time the tables will be reversed! In the meantime, check out their novels and get ready for their upcoming releases!