I’m most passionate about writing when I’m annoyed with something. For Drakenfeld, I had become a bit annoyed with various discussions of fantasy books. I had noticed a trend, in very broad and casual terms, that people were beginning to associate the level of violence and ‘grit’ in a fantasy novel with how good a book it was. That dialogue in certain quarters, subconsciously or otherwise, was being dismissive of fiction that did not have much in the way of visceral action. ‘Grimdark’ characters could rape, murder, and revel in it - and that was being deemed as mature fiction. As grown up.
Which is plainly crap.
Grimdark – itself a term unconsciously borrowed from a Warhammer 40,000 tagline – had become the latest trend and the dominant expression of fantasy fiction. (Actually, that’s a bit of a lie - it’s the dominant expression of fantasy fiction discussion, not necessarily in terms of the books that are sold.) Violence, in itself, is something I don’t have an issue with in fiction. It’s inert - neither good nor bad, clever nor dumb. But when it was being held up as fiction to aspire to, it made me just a tad grumpy. Now I’d written a fair bit of violent fiction myself in the past, so I’m not offering a critique of books or authors with any of this. The books are simply the books. It was the developing attitude that surrounded them that I felt was strange. I mean, death and rape? Not so good. If such things happen in the real world, you wouldn’t not like the people who committed that act and you certainly wouldn’t revel in it. You would also see how lives are genuinely ruined; how people are scarred long after the event; how families and communities are shattered. Grimdark, even if touched upon in my own fiction, began to no longer sit well with me.
I don’t buy that grimdark is really realism either, because (a) this is fantasy and (b) good people exist in the real world just as much as the bad; it’s just that our minds latch on to the bad people, especially when we’re hammered by negative news stories every day. (That sites like Upworthy exist is a response to that kind of negative attitude online, I suspect.) I get that fantasy had to do something different in response to the gentle, innocent, magical quests of the 80s, and that happened in 1996 with the publication of A Games of Thrones, but there have been hundreds of grimdark books since then.
A lot can be written about the whys and hows of the rise of grimdark, whether it’s cultural, driven by images of war or computer games or whatever; but that’s another blog post. My concern at the time was: had an initial effort for realism become hyper-realism? Had book discussions mistaken that macho over-the-topness for all that’s good about the fantasy genre?
So I had become annoyed, which is a good sign for me when it comes to writing. I wanted to take on that discussion in some way. The options ahead of me were to: bash out another blog post, which would get lost in the aether of constant online rage. To hang around arguing on forums or comments threads, because people always listen to what’s said in comments threads. Or another option entirely, which was to use a different platform: the book.
That’s how Drakenfeld began.
I wanted to write about a good character, Lucan Drakenfeld, and make him interesting. I wanted to drop a good character in bad, awful situations, to see how he might react. I wanted to write about a mature character, dealing with mature themes, without making him thirst for blood. I wanted him to look at women as if they were, you know, actual people too and not (a) heaving bosoms (b) people to be saved (c) rape victims. It’s not to say there’s no toughness or violence in his world, but that the violence is not where the glory lies. Also, I found it far more interesting for a character of good morals to engage with negative situations, because there pain of a different kind to be found. By toning down the violence in my own fiction, I also began to enjoy other senses and emotions a lot more, because they weren’t in the shadow of something visceral.
Whether or not Drakenfeld worked, it’s not for me to decide. All I can say is that it was a conscious attempt to do a few things for readers. For those who enjoyed grimdark fiction, it was a chance to say, maybe try this and see what you think. For those who were sick of endless death and rape in their fiction, it was a chance to say there was something else. There was a whole bunch of other stuff too - attempts at cross-overs for crime fans, for historical readers and so forth, but it wasn’t what kicked off the novel. Drakenfeld came from me being annoyed, and hopefully some good came of that.
Mark Charan Newton
Order Drakenfeld here:
All too often in fantasy and even history, authors write and readers read about either the rise or fall of great empires… or about what happens in great empires. But what happens after the fall of a great empire? There’s an unspoken assumption of total chaos and a lack of any continuity. But is that really so? In the Saga of Recluce, one of the greatest empires is that of Cyador, created by colonists from the Rational Stars marooned not just on a strange planet, but in an entirely different universe. Yet they built a powerful empire, governed from Cyad, the City of Light, the most glorious metropolis that ever graced the planet. For nearly 800 years, the holders of the Malachite Throne have ruled the west of Candar, and then, literally in a single day, Cyador falls, as told in The Chaos Balance.
Were there any survivors? Who were they? What happened to them? Do they have any impact on the future of the world of Recluce? Those are questions I wanted to answer, and those answers, or at least some of them, lie in Cyador’s Heirs and in Heritage of Cyador, which will be published this coming November. Because I did not write the Saga of Recluce in chronological order, readers who have read all the books published so far know that there is a link between Cyador and the later Empire of Hamor, located on an entirely different continent, but there are only hints, pieces of a great historical puzzle, such as the fact that the legal code of Hamor is remarkably similar in many respects to that of Cyador. And then there is the ring worn by an Emperor of Cyador that is gifted, centuries later, to the son of a mage-guard of Hamor… or the question of the golden chains… or the source of shimmercloth.
One of my other reasons for writing these two books, and indeed, for writing the entire Saga of Recluce in the way that I have, is that too many fantasy empires and kingdoms exist in a historical void. Oh, if the writer is good, and most do their homework, the structure is sound and the empire would work, at least in the way the writer intended. But few ask the question of how that empire came to be, how in functioned and impacted the world, how it declined and what that meant, and what happened after that. Each Recluce book tells a story, one about people, what happened to them, who triumphed and who failed, and why, but each is set in a far larger historical context, and each culture and land has its heroes and villains, and more than a few times, who is villain and who is hero is determined by the viewpoint of who is telling the tale – even when the facts of what happened are exactly the same.
In the Recluce Saga, I am telling history not from the top down, but from the bottom up. Even when a character is well-connected, talented, or has a position in society, he or she only knows, and the reader only sees what that character knows or can discover. Every book in the saga has events and facts that relate to other times, places, and events… because in real life, that’s the way it is, and that’s the way I try to tell it in my fiction. So, while a historian might see Lerial as the second son of the Duke, and therefore privileged, the reader gets to know him as the younger brother who struggles not to get black and blue in sparring with his older brother, as the young man with unruly red hair and freckles, and as a man whose opportunities in love and marriage will always be considered after those of his older brother.Cyador’s Heirs begins with the meeting of a red-headed boy with a girl several years younger in a town that did not exist fifteen years earlier, a town clawed from barren land purchased by… but for the details, you’ll have to read the book.
L. E. Modesitt
Order "Cyador's Heirs" here:
In this giveaway you can win one copy of The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, published by Tor UK. Giveaway is open for EU and lasts until 21th January, 2014.
You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line EMPERORS to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or Facebook post related to giveaway will each give you an additional entry - please send us an e-mail with a link to tweet or Facebook entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.
Thanks to Tor UK for providing us with the copy!
I realized one night while drinking vodka in a Mongolian ger that if I were going to write a book, I needed to spend more time in Asia. That trip to Mongolia had nothing to do with books or writing. It was a vacation, pure and simple – horseback riding, getting lost, eating lots and lots of goat – but while there, I realized that the cost of living in Mongolia (and places like it) was so low that if I saved scrupulously for a year, I could quit my teaching job and move there to write. The dollars necessary for a year in Asia would have lasted about forty-five minutes in Boston or New York. So I saved, I quit, and I went.
The great thing about living in countries where you don’t speak the language and don’t know anyone is that there is very little to distract from the task at hand. Whether I was in Laos or Cambodia, China or Vietnam, the routine was pretty similar: get up in the morning, eat a fifty cent breakfast of noodles or rice, read for an hour, write until lunch, dawdle over tea and soup (again, fifty cents or so), write until afternoon, then go for a very long run.
The writing drove me crazy; the running made me sane again. After hours hunched over a keyboard trying to come up with names for immortal generals, calculating how many miles a giant, man-eating bird might reasonably cover in a day of flying, struggling to map out continents and palaces, secret training islands and long-dead cities, I could feel my dry eyes bulging, the muscles in my back starting to cramp, and so I’d save everything, drink half a liter of water, and run.
I tried to pick towns that would accommodate my habits. Luang Prabang is a wonderful spot in northern Laos where you can run for miles along the Mekong, but my suffering of choice was a small hill in the center of town with a little monastery on top. It was 247 steps up (if memory serves), and I’d run them over and over. Sometimes a little crowd of monks would gather at the summit. At first they looked at me with a baffled wariness usually reserved for creatures dying of brainworm, but, as the days passed, they moved from confusion to good-natured taunting. “Faster!” they would shout as I approached the top each time. “Faster!” It was the only English word I ever heard them say, except for one time when I stumbled on the steps. “Not smart,” said an old monk, shaking his head.
The mountains outside Lijiang, a Chinese town on the border of the Tibetan plateau, are considerably larger, higher, and colder. There were no monks at the top of the nearest peak, a rocky promontory above Black Dragon Pool, but the gorgeous view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was best appreciated in solitude.
I tried to run in Beijing, but the air on a good day had the consistency and color of ash, and the traffic made any kind of athletic exercise outside a park suicidal. I did find a nice circuit around the Forbidden City, and while I ended every workout with diminished lung capacity, I enjoyed looking up at those towering walls as I ran, imagining them as they might have looked to the eyes of someone from the 15th century. The palace must have seemed like the work of gods.
Likewise, the endless temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, some of which have been meticulously preserved, some of which are claimed by the jungle. The sheer magnificence of the ruins suggests the might of the Khmer Empire and the vision of Suryavarman II, who commissioned the most jaw-dropping of the structures. I would pause in my running, panting and soaked with sweat (Cambodia was as hot as Lijiang was cold), to pore over the reliefs carved into the stone, intricate depictions of battles and worship, daily life and stories of the divine. I could have stayed there for months, had I not been laid low by a little bout with dengue fever. After that, I was determined to get far, far away from mosquitoes for a while.
This is starting to sound like a post about running or living in Asia rather than a post about writing, but the two experiences were inextricable. The Shin monks in The Emperor’s Blades owe much to those saffron-robed Buddhists in Luang Prabang. When Kaden is sent to run the Circuit of Ravens, or when he flees into the high peaks of the Bone Mountains, I think of the frigid Himalayan wind pouring down out of Tibet. When Adare strolls around inside the Dawn Palace, there are spots in the Forbidden City that I can’t get out of my mind. And when I imagine the Annurian Godsway, I picture the sweeping avenues of Angkor Wat, some wide enough for several tractor trailers abreast, flanked by their imposing statues of nagas and gods.
I went to Asia because I could afford to write there, but looking back, it’s impossible for me to imagine having written the book anywhere else.
The main problem with The Emperor's Blades, debut novel by Brian Staveley, is that it is simply a reviewers worst nightmare. The thing is that the year has just started. It is only couple of days young and here I find myself in the position where I have to make some rather bold claims about a book that I've just read. A book by a completely new author. I have to be sure that I'm prepared to swallow my words if I turn out to be wrong. Ah well. So to finally be done with the dramatics and say the conclusion which is usually placed at the end of the review, The Emperor's Blades is probably the best fantasy novel I'll read this year. It's been months, possibly years, since I've enjoyed a fantasy book this much.
So what makes The Emperor's Blades so special? At first glance it may look like your standard fare epic fantasy. Since this is the opening chapter of “The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne” we are quickly thrown into the world filled with murky quasi-medieval politics and there's lot of ground to cover. Emperor of Annur has been killed and it's up to his children to pick up the pieces. Kaden is heir apparent and this unfortunate event catches him during his 8 year long education in a remote mountain monastery. On the other hand his sister Adare is already in the capital investigating the murder. She's already an experienced politician and becomes a Minister of Finance while their brother Valyn is doing his best to join Kettral, a elite warriors unit who fly gigantic birds as their transport of choice.
So far so good but what sets The Emperor's Blades head and shoulders above the competition is the pacing and the glorious writing. The story is so intricately woven together that the process of turning each subsequent page provided me with such pleasure. Staveley avoids the trap of excessive world-building by building and enriching his characters instead. And while Adare is one character that should have been explored more, by the end of the book I learned how the rest of the cast breathes and lives. This is an excellent and refreshing approach and on which pays off in so many way.
To conclude, in my opinion, The Emperor's Blades is one of the most important fantasy books of the year and judging by the storm it is causing around the web I'm not the only one who thinks so.
As silly and mystic as it sound, the idea for Delia's Shadow started with a dream.
In this dream, a young woman dressed in old-fashioned clothing stood next to a railroad track. Night had fallen, bringing pearly gray fog with it. A satchel sat at her feet and steam from the locomotive billowed around her, swirling and writhing in a very creepy way. Delia was looking over her shoulder, watching for the person following her.
I couldn't get this image out of my head or stop thinking about who was following Delia, and why. Well, it turned out that the person following her was a ghost. Why this particular ghost decided to haunt Delia turned out to be very important. Once I knew why, the whole book fell into my head.
Delia Martin has always seen ghosts, but only as glimpses of faces watching from a corner, or faded haunts walking through walls. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, that changes. The sheer number of spirits seeking her out overwhelms Delia, and she flees to New York hoping to escape ghosts. That works for almost three years.
But one morning she discovers a ghost standing at the foot of her bed, a ghost that refuses to go away. Shadow, as she comes to call this spirit, follows her relentlessly, invades her dreams, and demands things of Delia. Delia finds herself compelled to discover what Shadow wants from her and lay the ghost to rest. She goes home to San Francisco as a result.
At the same time, Lieutenant Gabe Ryan is hunting for a serial killer. This killer treats San Francisco as his own personal hunting ground, picking and choosing his victims at random, and vanishing into the city again. The killer torments Gabe with letters describing how his victims died, and claiming many more victims than the police have found.
Between what Gabe uncovers in the course of his investigation, and what the ghost reveals to Delia, they discover that the killer is the same man who committed a series of murders thirty years before and vanished without a trace.
So I had two major ideas in my head as a result of this dream, two ideas that came together and became one. But ideas are easy. Taking those basic, rough concepts and making them into a novel worth reading is where the real work starts.
Choosing the time period was easy, as was deciding that five of the main characters were women; six if you count the ghost. The women in this book are multi-generational as well. I wanted to write realistic women at different stages in their lives, women with different strengths and weaknesses, but all of whom were determined to make their own choices.
1915 really was at the beginning of what we think of as the modern age. Cars were becoming as common as horse drawn buggies and wagons. Women had already won the vote in California years before and were proud of their independence. Women's roles were changing, attitudes were changing, and the flapper era was just around the corner.
Another early decision was not to let the darkness in this book become the sole focus of the story. Lots of scary, terrible things happen in this book, but the story also revolves around deep friendships and hope, family and love, and the idea that no matter how grim things get, there is always someone there to pick you up and dust you off. That was important to me.
This was both one of the easiest and one of the hardest books I've written. The intense amount of research required meant I spent a lot of time learning about serial killers, how depraved they can be, and what methods for catching a killer were available to a homicide detective in 1915. A lot of what I learned was pretty gruesome.
I had to learn about the different social climate and attitudes of one hundred years ago, clothing styles, and so much more. I love doing that kind of work, and nailing the small details that sink the reader deep into the world I'm building. I also have this ingrained drive to get as much "right" as humanly possible. That required a lot of checking and rechecking details, right down to when certain words came into common usage.
The easy parts of this book were the characters. Gabe and Delia, Jack and Sadie and Dora—I loved them all. I just finished the third book in this series and I still love them.
A writer can't ask for more than that.
In this giveaway you can win one copy of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett, published by Tor Books. Giveaway is open to US and Canada and lasts until 24th October, 2013.
You can enter by sending an e-mail with the subject line MECHANICAL to info @ upcoming4 . me. Also, a tweet or Facebook post related to giveaway will each give you an additional entry - please send us an e-mail with a link to tweet or Facebook entry. Winner will be chosen at random and contacted using submitted e-mail.
Thanks to Tor Books for providing us with the copy!
The story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl came to me as I stood unsteadily in the swaying gondola of an airship buffeted by strong winds as the patchwork fields of England unspooled beneath me and...
No, that’s not right.
The story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical girl was born in the heat of a faraway place, far from familiar shores, a tumble-down jungle temple overgrown with creepers and weeds where certain death awaited the unwary...
Sorry. That’s just an outright lie.
The story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is one of true heroism, that of an ordinary man plunged into extraordinary circumstances and finding hitherto undiscovered reserves of bravery and...
Look. There isn’t really a story behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. Not an exciting one, anyway. In fact, it’s all rather dull. Not, I hope, like the book itself. Published in the US by Tor and the UK by Snowbooks, this is the first of the Gideon Smith books, to be followed by Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon and Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper. It’s what you might want to call steampunk, or alternate-history, or thumping good adventure. It’s about the titular character, a fisherman, somewhat naive for his years, who goes to enlist the help of his favourite real-life character from the penny dreadful story papers, Captain Lucian Trigger, when Gideon’s father is lost at sea. There are dirigibles and automatons and vampires and villainy. There’s some discourse on the nature of heroism. It’s the sort of book I might want to read myself.
I suppose the Gideon Smith story started back in 2005. I had just had published, through the small presses, my first novel, an urban fantasy sort of thing called Hinterland, which was quite well received critically but sold very few copies. On the back of it I managed to inveigle myself on board with a literary agency run by the esteemed John Jarrold. I imagined that it would not be long before I had a “proper” publishing deal.
So I wrote a book about a fallen angel, set in Prague in both the present day and the 1580s. It didn’t excite many people (though it was later published by the same small press that did Hinterland and got wonderful reviews)
I wrote a book about a cell of pop-cultural terrorist pranksters harbouring a terrible secret in the streets beneath London. It was eventually picked up by another small press.
I wrote a book about a young boy searching for his father in the company of the ghost of Sid Vicious, and featuring a covert department of the British government run by a cranky old woman. I wrote a book about a noirish private detective in a fantasy world drained of colour. I wrote a book about a comic writer who is given an old 1940s character to reboot and starts getting haunted by the fictional creation. I wrote a book about an incursion of fairies into the real world at the height of the First World War, and how the British Government coped (badly).
And none of them attracted the sort of deal that I was really, really hoping would come my way – an acceptance from a big publishing house who would lovingly produce my book, market it, and sell it to hundreds – nay, thousands! – of people.
Just let me go back and count up those books. Six. That’s six novels I wrote before I sat down and wrote Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. One day in December 2011, as we were preparing for my daughter’s seventh birthday party, an email popped into my inbox from my agent, saying that Tor wanted it and two sequels. It was the eighth book I had written, the seventh I had submitted to John Jarrold, in the space of six years.
Sometime after the book about Sid Vicious never sold, I told myself I was no good at the writing lark and resolved to stop. Then I started writing again. When the fantasy noir novel didn’t sell, I decided to stop again. Or maybe I’d write just one more... and this went on until Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was accepted for publication.
So, no blinding flash of inspiration on the bridge of an airship. No temples of doom or anything approaching true heroism. But perhaps there is a story, of sorts, behind Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl after all... dogged determination, perhaps, and while that might not be quite as exciting, it’s the best I’ve got.
We are very happy to present cover art and synopsis for the upcoming book by Hannu Rajaniemi, The Causal Angel. The book is scheduled to come out on 6th May, 2014.
With his infectious love of storytelling in all its forms, his rich characterisation and his unrivalled grasp of thrillingly bizarre cutting-edge science Hannu Rajaniemi has swiftly set a new benchmark for SF in the 21st century. And now with his third novel he completes the tale of his gentleman rogue, the many lives and minds of Jean de Flambeur. Influenced as much by the fin de siecle novels of Maurice leBlanc as he is by the greats of SF Rajaniemi weaves, intricate, warm capers through dazzling science, extraordinary visions of wild future and deep conjecture on the nature of reality and story. And now we find out what will happen to Jean, his employer Miele, the independently minded ship Perhonnen and the rest of a fractured and diverse humanity flung through the solar system.
We are very happy to present cover art and synopsis for the upcoming book by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Life's Lottery. The book is scheduled to come out on 3rd July, 2014.
The Empire stands victorious over its enemies at last. With her chief rival cast into the abyss, Empress Seda now faces the truth of what she has cost the world in order to win the war. The Seal has been shattered, and the Worm stirs towards the light for the first time in a thousand years. Already it is striking at the surface, voraciously consuming everything its questing tendrils touch. Faced with this threat, Seda knows that only the most extreme of solutions can lock the Worm back in the dark once again. But if she will go to such appalling lengths to save the world from the Worm, then who will save the world from her? The last book in the epic critically acclaimed Shadows of the Apt series.