- - July 23rd, 2015
Last month we introduced you to HOPE & RED—an upcoming adventure fantasy series we’re incredibly excited about! We’d like you to meet the author, Jon Skovron, and hear a little more about the novel.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m originally from Ohio, although I’ve since lived in Brooklyn, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. Now I live just outside DC, with my two sons and two cats. Rather than going to a regular college, I studied in the theater conservatory at Carnegie Mellon. But after a brief stint as a professional actor, I decided on the much more practical career of author. I started writing short SF&F stories in 2000, several of which were published in now defunct zines and online venues such as Baen’s Universe, where I had the honor of appearing in the same issue as Gene Wolfe. In 2006, my agent suggested I try my hand at this new craze called Young Adult, and my first YA novel was published in 2009. I’ve had two more YA novels published since, and my fourth comes out this August. HOPE & RED will be my first novel for grown-ups.
What is HOPE & RED about?
HOPE & RED takes place in an archipelago of islands called The Empire of Storms, with warrior monks, pirates, gang lords, science mages called biomancers, and a fair amount of monsters, violence, and mayhem. But as the title implies, this is ultimately a story about Hope and Red. They both lose their parents at a young age. Both are taken in by unconventional mentors who encourage them to transgress society, but in very different ways. Red is taught to become a thief and con artist in the urban slums, where he is fiercely loyal to his adopted neighborhood of Paradise Circle. Hope is secretly trained on a remote island as a warrior in an elite order that has specifically banned women. She seeks vengeance against the biomancer who murdered not only her parents, but her entire village.
When the biomancers team up with the gang lord of Paradise Circle to consolidate power, Hope and Red’s worlds come crashing together, resulting in a quest for justice that leads them all the way to the imperial palace.
Why did you decided to write HOPE & RED as an adult novel, rather than YA?
Don’t get me wrong. I adore writing YA, and will continue to do so. YA and adult Fantasy have a lot of similarities. But they also have some key differences. By nature, YA is all about teens. I wanted to write story that took these two characters from age eight all the way into adulthood. Also, YA is intensely story-focused. I love the lean efficiency of it. But this time I wanted to write a book where the world was rich and immersive, with a long, compelling history. Something you couldn’t see the edges of. I wanted characters that were complex and nuanced and broken. And frankly, I just wanted to write something R Rated, and not have to worry about gatekeepers.
There’s an lot of swashbuckling, sea-faring adventure in this book. Do you have any personal experience with sailing?
Quite a lot, actually. My grandfather was passionate about ships and sailing. When I was a boy, he often took me sailing for days on end. He taught me how to sail, of course, as well as all the parts of the ship, and odd little sailor adages that linger in my mind to this day. He was also a musician, so he’d often bring along his accordion, and we’d sing sea chanties once the sun went down.
HOPE & RED will be published next summer. For more news and updates, follow the author on Twitter.
- - 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.