You’re a very prolific author, primarily known for writing big science fiction epics, such as the “Saga of Seven Suns,” the Dune novels with Brian Herbert, and even Star Wars. How does it feel to be writing Fantasy instead of SF?
My mind works in terms of stories rather than genres. I have indeed done historical fantasy before — Captain Nemo, and The Martian War — and even wrote a traditional quest fantasy, the Gamearth Trilogy, early in my career, but readers do tend to think of me as an SF guy.
However, I don’t see “Terra Incognita” as being fundamentally different from the “Saga of Seven Suns” — it’s got a sprawling scope with many storylines, exotic lands (instead of planets), sailing ships instead of starships, sea serpents instead of aliens, a hint of magic instead of exotic technology, continents and religions clashing rather than planets and galactic empires. But although the “stage dressing” looks different, in a world that looks like our Age of Discovery rather than a far-future interstellar society, the characters and politics and dramas that make a grand story are the same.
How is “Terra Incognita” different from other fantasies on the market?
For one thing, you won’t find bearded wizards with pyrotechnic spells, or dragons, or elves or dwarves. You won’t find any enchanted swords, or a monolithic evil force that threatens to destroy all Good in the world. Though my novels take place in a world of my own imagining, “Terra Incognita” is more mainstream than outright fantasy, with only a hint of magic. Yes, I have sea serpents and mysterious unexplored lands, amazing legends that may or may not be true. At its core, these books are about sailing ships and brave explorers, along with a terrible religious war like our Crusades. And while I may have a sea monster or two, they are natural creatures, not magical monsters.
So, more of a millennial, religious-based grand conflict than a traditional fantasy quest?
Some parts of THE EDGE OF THE WORLD are very dark and tragic, as well as very passionate. I’m dealing with clashes of civilizations, intolerance, and fanaticism — as well as genuine faith. The story is certainly something that occurs all too often in real history: a series of stupid actions on both sides that have grave consequences, ratcheting up the violence and hatred beyond any possibility of a peaceful resolution.
But the story also parallels our Age of Discovery, a time of hope and wonder, when people had a sense that there were marvelous things Out There just waiting to be found if only a sea captain sailed far enough and survived enough perils.
As I did thoroughly in the “Seven Suns” novels, I turn the spotlight on all sides of the conflict and really get into the heads of people representing diametrically opposed points of view. There are three major religions in the “Terra Incognita” universe, and I have explored the attitudes of characters ranging from the everyday man on the street to the most powerful leaders.
It sounds unique. What was your inspiration for the series?
These books have lived in my imagination for more than fifteen years, when I first stumbled upon the European legend of Prester John, who ruled a mythical Christian kingdom on a distant, unexplored area of the map. The quest to find Prester John (and to seek an alliance with him against the invading Moorish armies) provided the real impetus for Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator to launch some of history’s greatest voyages of discovery in the 15th century.
Now, after completing a series of successful epic projects — ranging from the colorful universes of Star Wars, Dune, and my own “Saga of Seven Suns” — I finally have the opportunity to write the story that has been whispering in my ear for so long. THE EDGE OF THE WORLD sets the idea of Prester John in a fantasy universe where sea serpents are real, where a little bit of magic works, where the unexplored areas on the map are larger than the known areas.
And though this is a fantasy series, it’s got a direct connection to rock music. Tell us about that.
I’ve always been inspired by the music I listen to, the lyrics of Rush, Kansas, Styx, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists, Shadow Gallery, and many other progressive rock artists. There’s a clear link between the readers of SF/F and the fans of that kind of music.
For THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, we put together a unique synthesis — a new rock CD, where my wife and I wrote the lyrics based on a storyline in the novel, while Erik Norlander (Rocket Scientists) wrote the music, and Shawn Gordon produced the CD for his label ProgRock Records. Some of my favorite vocalists and musicians performed on the album: Lana Lane provided the female vocals for the character of Adrea; Michael Sadler (Saga) sang the part of Criston Vora; James LaBrie (Dream Theater) sang Omra; John Payne (Asia) sang Captain Shay. Kurt Barabas (Under the Sun), one of the founding members of our group, played bass, Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) played guitar, David Ragsdale (Kansas) played violins, and Chris Quirarte (Prymary) laid down the drum tracks. Under the band name “Roswell Six” the CD is “Terra Incognita: Beyond the Horizon” and it works in perfect synergy with the novel.
Now that you have finished the seven volumes in the “Saga of Seven Suns,” will you ever return to that universe?
I planned “Seven Suns” from start to finish as seven volumes, with a very clear story arc that genuinely ended. I wanted to do something practically unheard-of in the genre: write a big epic series where I reliably turned in every volume on time, year after year, and finish the story where it ends, rather than dragging it on and on. I did that, and I’m very pleased with the result.
After spending seven years of my life in that universe, I am thrilled to dive into something completely different but just as fascinating, the fantasy world of “Terra Incognita,” which I plan as a trilogy. That’s what I need to focus on right now. Once I finish those books, however, my “science fiction batteries” will have recharged and I’m thinking of returning to the “Seven Suns” universe. It’s a big landscape with plenty of opportunities for other stories; however, I would do an independent story with some new characters and a few familiar ones, set a decade or two later.