If I were to be completely honest with myself, I'd admit that because Necessary Evil is the final volume of a trilogy, the story behind it is, technically, the story of its preceding volume, The Coldest War. And the story behind that is the story behind the first book of the trilogy, Bitter Seeds. . . Meaning the story behind Necessary Evil is the story behind the entire Milkweed Triptych.
In Joseph D'Lacey's description of the story behind Black Feathers, he describes how a collision of several unrelated ideas sometimes gives rise to something bigger than the sum of the parts. I formulate novels in a similar fashion. (Or, in this case, a trilogy. But more on that in a moment.)
The first seed for what eventually became the Milkweed books was planted in my imagination when I read about a truly bizarre piece of World War II trivia called Project Habakkuk. It was born during the darkest days of the Battle of the Atlantic when German wolf packs were wreaking havoc on British shipping. The Admiralty, perhaps somewhat desperately, contemplated building ships from ice. Alas, the project never made it past the prototype stage. But in my imagination I saw vast bergships plying the North Atlantic. And I wondered just how the Axis might have responded if Habakkuk had been successful.
The answer came to me in a flash: "Obviously, Ian, the Third Reich would have sent a pyrokinetic spy to sabotage the icy shipyards." And in that moment I saw the spy, and his world, and the program that created him. I played with this fictional setting, and populated it with jaded British magicians and superpowered German agents. Including a woman named Gretel.
Gretel grew directly from a second seed, which was planted in my imagination by -- of all things -- the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. It features a scene where the hero is on the run but just happens to be accompanied by a woman who can see the future. Her prescient advice keeps them 30 seconds ahead of their pursuers, enabling their escape. I thought that was magnificent! But later, I thought, "Hmmm. 30 seconds isn't bad. But a really good precog would be 30 years ahead of everybody else."
As I thought about these pieces, I slowly came to the conclusion that this world was too big for a short story, or even a succession of stories.
Meanwhile, the third and fourth seeds of what grew into the Milkweed books were planted by my local writing group. Our group has a "pay to play" rule, meaning that in order to participate in the monthly critique discussions one has to submit their own work for critique as well. (That way nobody gets to take free pot shots at the others!) I'd been in the group about a year, and had spent that time feverishly devising a new short story every month. Eventually I decided that it would be a better use of my time -- that I'd learn more -- if I could spend a year on a single project. A trunk novel was just the thing: something written entirely for practice, never intended for publication, so that I could focus on my craft without worrying about a new plot each month.
So I rummaged the ratty, weed-choked, untended garden of my imagination for a novel-sized idea. And, somewhat reluctantly, I brought my idea for a blood-magic-and-superpowers take on World War II to the writing group. "I know this is a stupid idea, guys, but do you think it would make a decent practice novel?"
They greeted the idea with enthusiasm (to my everlasting shock). But the concept I presented to the group was a single novel set during the 1960s because the concept most interesting me featured retired spies living decades after the events of a fantastical alternate-historical war. To which they said, "Ian, you want to write a novel about the Cold War. But it's predicated on an alternate World War II with superpowers and black magic and alternate history. You cannot fill that in as backstory! Are you nuts?"
Thus they convinced me that in order to write the book I really wanted to write -- which eventually became The Coldest War -- I first had to write an entire novel about the war itself. That became Bitter Seeds. And, of course, as the triptych structure of the story asserted itself, we knew it would require a concluding volume to see it properly finished. Which, of course, is how Necessary Evil came to be.
1n case you don't know, Merchant Princes is six part book series by Charles Stross which was marketed in the US as fantasy but is basically pure alternate history science fiction series. In my opinion, Merchant Princes was one of the most innovative series published in the last ten years or so, but despite the fantastic premise, the latter books were, to the never ending frustration of everyone involved, very uneven. As Charles Stross himself repeatedly explained in numerous posts on his blog, this was partly due to publishers not willing to publish the series in the shape and size in which it was originally planned. Enter Tor UK, and finally we are in position to see Merchant Princes in it's full glory.
As you may have gathered from my lengthy introduction, The Bloodline Feud is not your ordinary, of the shelf, omnibus. Even though the book states that it collects the first two installments of Merchant Princess, the truth is that Stross took upon himself the gargantuan task of re-editing this huge series, in the process making it much more streamlined and enjoyable. So basically, The Bloodline Feud collects The Family Trade and The Hidden Family but better.
If you don't know by now, The Bloodline Feud deals with Miriam Beckstein. Miriam is a successful reporter who discovers huge money-laundering operation and loses her job in the process. Suddenly she is burdened with death threats but by accident she escapes all this by going somewhere unimaginable - to alternate timeline where USA is still stuck in medieval times. Miriam discovers that her mother (and in turn, she as well) is part of family whose genetic make-up enables them to travel between timelines using particular type of illustration. Family is using this ability to create huge drug pushing network across the entire present day USA by using medieval world to transport drugs and jumping to and fro to deliver them. To top it all, Miriam learns that she is, in fact, Lady Helge and that she is expected to follow rules and, if possible, give birth to as many children as she can. Miriam, being Miriam, naturally has other ideas, discovers the third timeline where USA is in Victorian time and where another clan of the family lives, and gives her best at establishing trade between different timelines by dealing in technology and patents, instead of drugs.
The first two books in Merchant Princes deal mainly with worldbuilding and setting up the rules for what is to come but what a world it is. Stross deals with even the tinniest details, and it is pleasure to learn mechanics behind everything. Some of the things Miriam does are simply genius, and if ever I end up in alternate timeline I'll be definitely following up some of her ideas.
To conclude The Bloodline Feud finally brings home the fact that we always suspected – that Merchant Princes is probably Stross' finest work. I would recommend it to everyone looking after clever and innovative read.
The really easy, cop out, story behind the book is, well, I said I’d write three in the series…but that’s only part of the story. I wrote Fade to Black because I wanted something a bit dark, a twist cynical, like all my really favourite stories. When that ended, that story was done, but it was clear that there was more to tell, more things that would happen as a result of what occurred in that book.
By the start of Before the Fall, the city’s power source has gone, and it became a thought exercise to an extent. The city has no real natural resources, no wood to burn for heat/cooking/light, no food except what it can trade for and for that it needs power and there isn’t much. Add an influx of refugees with a different outlook on life and, importantly, the shared religion. Stir vigorously. So given this city and these people – what would happen? This was the basis of my proposal, with a few added tensions and plot points.
Then, after I’d sent in my very basic proposal about rising tensions, it happened. The London riots kicked off and spread to, among other places, Croydon which isn’t so very far from me. A few things were planned even for my sleepy little town (though the police got wind of them and managed to shut things down before they started). And while the causes were very different to the ones in my book, it got me thinking….which is usually quite dangerous.
So, boom, it hit me. In-between checking that my London/Croydon mates were okay, I got to thinking about how people will take so much, so much… and then won’t take it, whatever it is, any more, and then all bets are off and anything can and often does happen. And of course, there are always people, as there were in London, who will take advantage of the chaos, stir it up, make it worse for their own agendas. That’s when the what-ifs hit.
Of course, as I am not a planner in my writing by any stretch of the word, I didn’t have much of an end goal in sight so I ran with it during my first draft. What might exacerbate the situation? What might ignite the keg as it were? How about the very real incidences in this world of certain crimes not being investigated quite so thoroughly because of who the victims are? A blind eye here, a prejudice there, a lost file over that way....How about someone who wants that keg to not just catch fire but explode so he or she can use it to further their own ends? What if these riots, these tensions, are what they seem but also something else? From there it just snowballed, as it generally does for me.
The first draft was, as usual, a bit of a mess as I tried to sort out who was doing what and more importantly why, but the images of the riots stayed with me – the furniture shop in Croydon going up in huge flames, the masked rioters, the burnt out cars, the beleaguered police who might have their own feelings about what was going on and use them, the hate which seemed etched everywhere in letters a foot high….the beginning which was overflowing anger and ‘I’m not going to put up with this any more’ that segued into a more cynical ‘What can I make this do for me’ for some people. I think it was that juxtaposition that really got to me in the end. Some people will use anything to further themselves.
So the stresses and strains on Mahala as a city are all her own, unique to her perhaps. But the book was very influenced by what was happening around me in the months before it was born.
Before I've read Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis, it seemed extremely unlikely that I'll ever encounter the situation where I'll be able to use terms like bionic Nazis, Cthulhu-like monsters, supermen, warlocks and world war 2 together in any meaningful context. However, luckily both Ian and his publishers were brave enough to follow through his, without question completely insane, idea and the resulting Milkweed Triptych is an astonishing achievement because, strangely, it all makes sense in the end.
Last part of the triptych, Necessary Evil, ends things on the high. Kicking off almost exactly where The Coldest War ended, Necessary Evil finds Raybould Marsh transported 20 years in the past, trying to change the course of history. Revolving around three separate points of view, Tregillis tells the story using two distinct versions of Marsh and Gretel who can see into the future.
As the story progresses, stories and characters are becoming more disjointed, with the chaotic final chapters revealing unexpected car crash towards which all three books were heading to. I must admit that I was completely surprised by the events and it literary takes a significant effort to stop myself talking about what happened here. Sadly, spoilers would indeed ruin the book.
True power of Tregillis' writing is the fact that, usually, by the middle of one of his books, your conscious brain decides to let go and stop seeing anything weird in the fact that you are just reading about warlocks in second world war. Necessary Evil is no different. Same as the rest of the trilogy, Necessary Evil feels more like alternative history novel than like a far-fetched fantasy and that is a huge accomplishment in itself.
Necessary Evil is great ending to excellent and innovative series. We will be keeping close eye on Tregillis in the future - he probably has thousands more of those insane ideas to tell and we want to read them.
So, what’s behind A DISCOURSE IN STEEL? The ghost of Fritz Leiber, maybe? My unholy love of Fafrhd and the Mouser and Conan and sword and sorcery generally? My even more unholy love of whisky and ales?
Probably all of the above, to a greater or lesser degree. Greater in the case of whiskey, obviously.
More seriously, what’s behind the story are my regular re-reads of Leiber and Howard (with some Brackett and Burroughs thrown in for good measure) and the way they made me want to strap on a loincloth and go out and have adventures, by the Gods! Well, maybe the loincloth is a bit much (maybe), but you get my point.
I first read Lieber and Howard when I was a kid, and they struck me even then as wondrous tales. I appreciate them even more now. They’re unabashed, unselfconscious, non-ironic adventure tales. Ripping yarns. Full stop.
In short, they’re a goddamned blast to read. That doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say, of course. It just means the narrative never loses track of itself as primarily a great adventure story designed to make readers keep flipping the damned pages to see what happens next, grinning wide at the witty dialog the whole time.
And because I loved those stories so much (in an unholy way; I mentioned that, yes?), I wanted to write one. And I did, by Crom, and the result was THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE, which is the first Tale of Egil and Nix. And then THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE got drunk, hooked up with a lovely sword and sorcery yarn that will go unnamed, and the offspring of that one night stand was A DISCOURSE IN STEEL, the second Tale of Egil and Nix.
As it was with HAMMER, so it is with DISCOURSE -- I’m trying to write a story that is, foremost, a ripping yarn, an unabashedly entertaining, goddamned fun adventure story, albeit one with a point to make.
Funny thing is, I pitched A DISCOURSE IN STEEL to Angry Robot with just a couple paragraphs. They read it, liked it (they’re weird that way), and, to my surprise, didn’t require an outline. “We trust you to deliver the goods,” said they. “Awesome,” said, I, immediately followed by, “Oh, shit. I still need an outline.”
Why? Because I always work from an outline. In fact, writers who work without outlines are not to be trusted. NOT TO BE TRUSTED. ;-)
Even more important than the outline, though, was the hook. This is sword and sorcery, baby, and sword and sorcery ain’t sword and sorcery without a great opening hook. What to do? Woe and alack. So I writhed, prayed to dark gods, engaged in the bloody rituals of authorial self-mortification, sacrificed finally the whiskey gods, but just could not come up with what I wanted. And then…bingo.
I was reading THE WEIRD (which is a great anthology, btw) and read one of the many short stories in it. I don’t remember the name of the story, but it was early on in the book, so it must have been a very old tale (the stories are in chronological order, starting with some written in the 19th century). Anyway, this story had a kind of throwaway reference to a magical/mystical street that moved around. I was taken with that idea right away. Hell, I went to sleep thinking about it.
The next day on my drive home, inspired by that magical street, I thought up Blackalley (I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t’ read DISCOURSE, but Blackalley plays an important role in the tale). I dictated all the important facts of Blackalley on a Dragon Diction app for my iPhone.
Sounds easy, yeah? Except that this was not long after having my tonsils torn from the flesh of my throat. So, you know, my diction was terrible (owing to the horrific pain and scarring in my throat, natch). Needless to say, the dictation came out all kinds of fucked up. IT was like a foreign language. For a while, I was sure Dragon Diction was just fucking with me. It is, after all, a Dragon, amirite?
Anyway, I was eventually able to piece together my thoughts and get them dictated and viola: Blackalley came to life. From there, the rest of DISCOURSE just flowed. And that wasn’t a surprise. Once I get started on the Egil and Nix stories, they come pretty easy. They’re just a blast to write, Nix’s voice is enormously compelling, and I just have a ball. Hell, I just hope readers have as much fun reading the book as I did writing it.
Here's latest edition of new science fiction and fantasy releases, this time covering period from 17.6.2013 until 23.6.2013 (third week of June/2013). As always, our list also includes reissues published this week. This week: Max Barry, Adam Baker, Terry Brooks and other fantastic stuff. Enjoy!
Zippo: Once Upon a Time in the Egg is the first novel of our collective. There will be others and they will also be labelled Once Upon a Time in the Egg. It is the name of our collective project. It is the story of Novo Kahid, a blasé reporter who gets a gig to cover the international Zippo summit, a trade agreement. While he is doing his reporting, he realizes that the summit of the Zippo might be somehow linked with the deaths and kidnapping that are happening throughout Villanueva.
Even tough the story is not a personal account of any of our individual lives; it was inspired by events that we’ve experienced in the past few years.
We are from the generation who've experienced the great protests that shaped the Seattle generation of 99'. For us, it peaked in 2001, in Quebec City. Just months before 9/11. We had great hopes and expectations and could not foresee the dark years of 2001-2011. Maybe things are getting better now; it seems that people are questioning capitalism again. That is a good thing, but in the early 2000s, when we started writing Zippo we were faced with the War, Guantanamo Bay, the Bush presidency and it seemed like we stepped into a horrible vortex of war and apathy. Thus, we wrote, we protested, debated.
Zippo was destined to be an essay. One of us - Mathieu or Joel, does not really matter anyway - contacted the other to start a project of a series of articles on the NAFTA. While writing, narrative writing imposed itself. We then decided to send the thing to Leméac. The editor told us that our writing was “monstrous”. We took it as a compliment. We worked on the manuscript with the help of Jean Barbe, the editor, and voila!
We had multiple drafts. One of us wrote 10 pages and then sent the completed 10 pages to the other. Then, the one who received the text corrected and edited the 10 pages and wrote 10 pages of his own, etc. While we've enjoyed this peculiar way of writing, it created a lot of structural problems in the narration. When we wrote our second book L'Esprit du temps which will be out in Fall 2013, we followed a narrative plan that we brainstormed beforehand. But that's another story.
Every text stems from contributions of previous writers, thinkers, workers, etc. This is why the whole debate about copyrights does not make much sense. Zippo is not an exception. We've had a lot of inspirations. The careful reader will notice that we've tried to hint at them (McCarthy Blvd, Burroughs Street, Thompson, etc.). We could not include them all. We both have specific backgrounds and interests, but while writing Zippo, we have to say that the French Pulp writer, J-B. Pouy, inspired us a lot. If you are not familiar with the novella Plein Tarif, we urge you to read it. We even wrote a version of the book where we claimed that he taught us how to write gonzo journalism. Thompson was also an inspiration for the character of Novo Kahid.
We were mostly inspired by events. We were always emailing Leméac to ad tidbits to the text based on events that were happening while we were writing the novel. When we got the deal with the French edition and the Canadian edition, we've changed the first page to include events like the IMF in Europe and etc. If we could, we would change it again, since the world is changing but we feel that Zippo has the same relevance. For better or worse.
It has been our first collective writing experience and it was great. It was not easy, even if we've known each other for many years. It has been a long friendship; so of course, there are lots of stories to tell. But writing Zippo, being published by Leméac, in France later and now in English with Exile is for us incredible and we are very lucky and grateful. And now, in just a few months, L'Esprit du temps, our new book will be published by Leméac. People are always surprised that we are two authors. But we've built a method and a type of narration that are beyond the individual writers. Even if Mathieu published and will continue to publish poetry and will publish novels by himself, our collective has many projects up ahead. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
We know that many events in the future will continue to inspire us. We write because we believe that there is hope for a better world.
We urge everyone that might be interested in our current or future projects to visit our website at iletaitunefoisdansloeuf.org. An English version is available.
We are very happy to reveal cover art and synopsis for the upcoming Mark T Barnes book, The Obsidian Heart. The book is scheduled to come out on 15th October, 2013.
A plot to overthrow the Shrīanese Federation has been quashed, but the bloody rebellion is far from over...and the struggle to survive is just beginning. Warrior-mage Indris grows weary in his failed attempts to thwart the political machinations of Corajidin, and faces the possibility of imprisonment upon his return to his homeland. Moreover, Indris’s desire for Corajidin’s daughter, Mari, is strong. Can he choose between his duty and his desire…and at what cost? Left alienated from her House, Mari is torn between the opposing forces of her family and her country—especially now that she’s been offered the position of Knight-Colonel of the Feyassin, the elite royal guards whose legacy reaches back to the days of the Awakened Empire. As the tensions rise, she must decide if her future is with Indris, with her family, or in a direction not yet foreseen. As he awaits trial for his crimes, Corajidin confronts the good and evil within himself. Does he seek redemption for his cruel deeds, or does he indebt himself further to the enigmatic forces that have promised him success, and granted him a reprieve from death? What is more important: his ambition, regaining the love stolen from him, or his soul?