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Interviewing Karen Lord for Literatura Fantastica RBA

ProgramacionliteraturafantasticaRBARecently, I reviewed Karen Lord‘s highly enjoyable novel Redemption in Indigo, a rural fantasy that successfully mixing a modern sensibility and a tradition arising from oral narrative. Next week the spanish edition of her The Best of All Possible Worlds will be published, a very interesting science fiction novel that will soon be reviewed here at the Ilium’s Library. It’s a very different novel from Redemption in Indigo, a science fiction story exploring issues such as the formation of social networks and the interaction between cultures in a universe filled with life and mistery. I have been given the opportunity of interviewing Karen Lord for the Literatura Fantastica RBA imprint’s blog, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, so I’m really happy to share the english version of the interview with all the international readers here at this internet thingy.

You can find the spanish version of the interview at the Literatura Fantastica RBA blog. There, you will also find the first chapter of the Spanish edition of the novel .

Ladies and gentlement, behold… Karen Lord!

Karen Lord, photo, 2012Your novel has been published in a moment in which science fiction is increasingly paying attention to the work of writers with origins other than the United States and England. What are your views on this apparent trend to make of science fiction (and fantastic literature as a whole) a more internationally inclusive genre?

It benefits everyone. Readers in the US and the UK are not monocultural. Global literature and art is built from sharing, borrowing and blending the experiences of many. Science fiction is supposed to take us to the farthest reaches of the universe, to the end (and sometimes the beginning) of time. How authentic can all that invented diversity be if we can’t even acknowledge the diversity on our own planet?

On a related note, how does your Caribbean origin influence your novel, both in terms of content and of narrative approach?

I may be too close to my own work to answer that accurately, but I believe the style of my writing, and possibly even the structure of my novels, has been influenced by an oral tradition and also by that peculiar kind of British English that you unconsciously absorb from theology, politics and comedy. The Caribbean region is a place of many nations and peoples, and that too has enriched the content of my stories.

Redemption in Indigo was very well received both by readers and critics, and it is a very different book than The Best of Possible Worlds. What did you learn writing it and what new grounds did you set to explore with The Best of Possible Worlds?

untitledThe best thing I learned from Redemption in Indigo is that a complex narrative can be organic, that you can grow a story rather than plan a story, that pruning (editing) and grafting (rewriting) are key skills that make the final result so much more than a wild thing or a lifeless construct.

I used The Best of All Possible Worlds to experiment with a voice that was informal and occasionally unreliable rather than the voice of a trained storyteller who knows everything and withholds intentionally. Because the narrator doesn’t know, the reader doesn’t know or is forced to guess from other clues. I played with non-linear plots, connected mini-arcs, and most of all pacing – finding that balance between the highly dramatic and the reassuringly domestic, and sometimes purposely mixing the two in order to unsettle the reader.

This novel has been compared with the Ekumen books by Ursula K. Le Guin and it certainly seems to share several themes with them. Where do you see your science fiction in relation with the work of Le Guin or other science fiction writers more interested in the anthropological sciences than in the physical ones?

I am still in the process of understanding my work in the context of the genre, and I think that a critic or academic would answer this better than I could. Some believe that because the physical sciences are called ‘hard science’ that means the ‘soft sciences’ – anthropology, sociology, psychology – cannot produce hard SF. But, in my opinion, anthropological knowledge is what makes a created world, fantasy or science-based, feel real. I suspect that writers who like worldbuilding tend to write SF based on anthropology, whether or not they also include a physical science component. It’s just another kind of thought experiment, but with people and societies as the key variables.

The Best of Possible Worlds is delivered almost through a series of vignettes. This gives a feeling of a “fragmented” world, almost a fantasy land (it even has fairies!) in which races exist with almost no knowledge of each other. It certainly is an intriguing setting and I have the feeling (though I might be wrong) that you have just begun to tap its potential. Could you describe this world to our readers?

untitledCygnus Beta is a a frontier planet populated by refugees and pioneers. There are big urban centres with the latest in galactic tech and small rural settlements that preserve the old ways. Its peoples create and maintain community with a balance of assimilation, adaptation, preservation and participation.

But let me give a little background. I live on a small island, and I once thought that people who lived on continents with boundaries beyond the horizon were naturally immune to both the joys and sorrows of insularity. After I’d travelled around for a bit, I realised that whatever the size of the city, the country or the continent, there are some people who will create a village for themselves defined by boundaries of class, religion, ethnicity or any combination of factors, and they will stay in that village of a few thousand people. Some villages overlap geographically but the human networks rarely connect.

The Sadiri are like that. They travel throughout the galaxy, but they carry their village with them. They never really mix because they’re convinced of their superiority and self-sufficiency. It was interesting to take that kind of society and put it through a series of ‘what ifs’ by looking at the encounter between present-day Sadiri and the descendants of previous Sadiri migrants to Cygnus Beta. Few things challenge the identity as much as people who you expect to be like you, but aren’t. They meet people who look like pure Sadiri but prove to be genetically varied and lack telepathic abilities. They find others who have the mental abilities but frame it in a different morality. They find a group who share the same the genetic heritage but have completely discarded the cultural heritage. This kind of drift and variation is common in Cygnus Beta, but for the Sadiri it is a new experience.

Speaking of untapped potential: Is there any chance of you writing about Naraldi previous adventures? That would really be something to behold. Or more broadly: are you planning to revisit this universe?

I have thought about writing short stories based on Naraldi’s travels, but that might be a bit too much like Doctor Who meets Quantum Leap. Don’t worry, though – I’m working on the sequel to Best right now and we will definitely be exploring the galaxy.

I can’t help to think that the approach to love and the search for life partners depicted in the novel is somewhat cold. Granted, the Sadiri have an enormous “esprit de corps” and they are under extreme circumstances, but even for other Cygnian societies the search for partners seem to be… too checklist-based. Would you like to comment on that?

That’s a very good observation about the Sadiri. My reasoning is that the two elder species of humanity, Sadiri and Ntshune, use their superior brain power in two quite different areas. The Sadiri excel at law, mathematics, physics and philosophy, which can be solitary and theoretical pursuits. Even their work as judges and diplomats puts them in social situations where they are expected to stand a little apart from the rest of the crowd. Their social skills are rather basic, and that is why their family networks are so structured and planned, including the simplification of mate selection.

The Ntshune, on the other hand, are highly social. They understand complex, organic systems. They have complicated family networks and several variants of marriage and adoption. They can remember and recognise more names, faces and histories than any of the other human species. They are known for their expertise in sociology, anthropology and network AI. Their modes of mate selection would be quite different from the Sadiri approach.

El mejor de los mundos posiblesOne of the more intriguing issues in the setting of the novel is the relation between the four main races depicted, particularly regarding the standing of Earth (Terra) among the other races. Some hints are given that the Sadiri have visited Earth in the past and that some Earthlings may have abandoned Earth. In fact, even though references to art from Terra are plentiful, I’m not sure that the story is set in so far a future. I would very much like to know more of this, if it’s something you are willing to disclose.

 

I’d rather not reveal the time in which the book is set, at least not yet, but I will say that the evidence is contradictory because some Cygnians come from different times and parallel Earths. However, with respect to the rest of the galaxy, Terra is very much the junior sibling.

Recently, several writers have suggested that science fiction may be “exhausted”, that it has ceased to be socially relevant. Do you thing this is the case?

That’s a very broad statement. I might be able to make that criticism of some science fiction, but I have also seen works that are very relevant. Part of the problem is lack of agreement on the definition of science fiction. Some might argue that the works I find relevant are literary rather than SF.

Where do you see science fiction literature going in the coming years?

I don’t know, and that’s as it should be. You would have to be a dual-prophet, predicting not only how the literature will evolve, but also how science will develop.

Can you tell us what are your next literary projects?

I’ve already mentioned the sequel for The Best of All Possible Worlds. There is also a sequel to Redemption in Indigo and a handful of short stories, some related to Cygnus Beta.

Are there any words that you would like to address to your Spanish readers?

My apologies for naming my main character Delarua and not de la Rúa! Her heritage does include Spanish ancestry but that was generations ago and names change. Her family’s homestead is in Montserrat, which was inspired by Monserrate (Bogotá, Colombia) and Montserrat (the island in the West Indies).

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Interviewing Christopher Priest for Literatura Fantastica RBA

Recently, Francisco García Lorenzana, director of the Literatura Fantastica RBA imprint, interviewed Christopher Priest as a sort of appetizer before the publication, next week, of the spanish translation of his novel The Space Machine in the imprint, with the title La Máquina Espacial and a wonderful cover by Alejandro Colucci. It was a really interesting interview and García Lorenzana has been so kind as to allow me share with all of you the english version of the interview. I am really happy and I hope that all of you enjoy the interview as much as I did.

 You can find the spanish version of the interview at the Literatura Fantastica RBA blog. I also encourage you to read the introduction to the Spanish edition of the novel written by one of our main fantasists, Javier Negrete.

 I’m very happy to introduce… Cristopher Priest!

 

Cover-La-maquina-espacial

 

In 1976, Christopher Priest was a young author who had published three novels very well received by audiences and critics, and had just won the BSFA in 1974 with The Inverted World and suddenly dares with two of the most important works of the British literature, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, posing an unauthorized sequel linking both storylines, in a clear tribute to HG Wells. Viewed from 2013, was it a stroke of genius, a daring or a youthful folly?

I think it was more youthful folly than genius. I just had the idea that maybe the Martians had a point of view that Wells had not described, and that the only existing description of the invasion was Mr Wells’s book, which I treated as a journalistic account. But as I wrote the drafts I gained a real respect for Wells, and his skilful writing, so my book quickly became what I hoped would be recognized as homage to a great writer.

Which role plays The Space Machine in your literary career?

The three books that had preceded it were all in different ways serious novels, and I wanted to show that I could also write in a more light-hearted vein. For a long time, The Space Machine was my personal favourite amongst my novels, but as time went on and I wrote more books that did change. But I am still fond of it.

Why Wells and not another British author of his generation, or from the Golden Age of American science fiction, or Verne, to give some examples?

There is no one else to match Wells, in my opinion. He is not only an “early” writer of science fiction, he is still one of the best. The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, in particular, do not look like period pieces. But as well as his SF, Wells was a major writer – social novels, political journalism, campaigning journalism, comedies, satires, etc. Anyway, from my point of view when I wrote The Space Machine, no one else had written those two classic novels, so it had to be Wells.

priestIn Literatura Fantastica we have just published an omnibus edition of four major novels by Wells, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau, do you think that his work is still relevant today? And if the answer is yes, do you think The Space Machine is still interesting and can bring something to the modern reader?

Yes, I would say those are the four “best” SF novels by Wells, although you could add First Men in the Moon and perhaps In the Days of the Comet, plus many of his short stories. All of Wells’s early work is still of great interest to modern readers. With his later books you have to be a bit more selective, because he wrote a huge number of novels and some of those are a bit, well, out of date. But Kipps, Tono-Bungay, Ann Veronica, Christina Alberta’s Father and The Croquet Player are still excellent books by any standard.

As for The Space Machine – I don’t know. I hope readers will enjoy the plot, the relationship between the two main characters, the amusing events, and the various small insights into what Wells was writing about. One of the main motives for writing it was that there have been many dramatic adaptations of The War of the Worlds (from Orson Welles’s radio play in 1939 onwards), some good, some not so good, but they all have one thing in common: they have invariably “up-dated” the story. But this has always seemed to me to miss the unique pleasure of the novel: the vastly superior military technology of the Martians was fought by ordinary soldiers using rifles, artillery hauled by horses, communications using heliography, and all the general materiel of the 19th Century. There was real charm in that … so in one sense The Space Machine was a sort of dramatic adaptation set in the correct period.

Besides borrowing from the two storylines, The Space Machine is a conscious exercise to reproduce the literary style of the Victorian era, was it hard to imbibe the Victorian spirit?

I tried to write The Space Machine as a modern novel, not as an imitation of a past form, but within that modern ethos I wanted to try to re-create the mood, the environment, the comparative innocence of a past time. It was largely a question of choosing the characters and how they would behave, and the locations they would move about in, and the technology they would use … the vocabulary and style of the novel followed quite naturally from that.

Our edition of The Time Machine has a foreword by Javier Negrete which highlights the eroticism that distils the relationship between the two protagonists. Obviously this is a perfectly gentlemanly Victorian erotica, far from the current boom, but deep down, could we speak of this book as a “romance” and a “scientific novel”?

Oh yes! The subtitle of the English-language editions of The Space Machine was “a scientific romance”. This was Wells’s own description of his work at the time. I saw my novel as including a romance between two characters which a modern reader would enjoy, even though the characters would be properly restrained by the customs and social pressures of their time.

If now you had the idea for a similar tribute to HG Wells, would you write the same novel or it would be completely different?

I wouldn’t write The Space Machine again, or anything like it. I try to make all my books noticeably different from each other, and I wouldn’t want to “go back” to that sort of novel. However, my new novel, called in English The Adjacent, has a definite Wellsian theme, and explicit references to the great man: H. G. Wells himself. But what happens in the book is for the time being a secret!

Now a look at the immediate future, what are your next projects? Are you writing right now? Is there any prospect of your works adapted to film or television?

The Adjacent will be published in the UK in June 2013. I’m at present working on the next novel, which will probably be called The Mariners.

 My novel from 1984, The Glamour, is about to be filmed in the UK, directed by Gerald McMorrow, who a few years ago made a film called Franklyn. This film disappeared almost as soon as it came out, but it is easily one of the very best SF films made in Britain in the last 20 years. It is an amazing film, and starred Eva Green, Ryan Philippe, Susannah York, and others. Check it out on DVD if you can! After I saw Franklyn I made contact with Gerald, we became friends, and he decided he wanted to make The Glamour. We are hoping it will go into production this summer. I also have a stage play based on The Prestige, which is planned to open in the West End of London just before Christmas this year. (It is also being staged as a musical in Russia, but that is likely to be two years in the future.)

One last question: you have been very critical of the selection of the shortlist for the 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award, which are your ideas about science fiction and literature in the last years?

The Arthur C. Clarke Award suffered from incompetent judging last year. I don’t know what the judging panel were thinking, but for some reason they ignored most of the genuinely interesting or ambitious novels published in 2011, and chose one decent novel (The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, which in the end was the rightful winner), a mediocre novel from China Miéville (Embassytown), and four others of the most unimaginative and familiar kinds of traditional SF. There were many other novels that were better or more stimulating or just more adventurous in their subjects, but the judges seemed unaware of them. As I consider the Clarke Award to be one of the best and most reliable literary awards, one which has supported good or ambitious writing many times in the past, I felt the 2012 judges had failed horribly and embarrassingly. I said so in print, and got into trouble for doing so. But in the end I think it focused people’s minds on what modern SF should be doing, and how writers should be encouraged to try new or difficult material.

As for this year: some of the same judges are still there, so we can only HOPE for the best, but we should fear a return of their tame and conservative values. (There are a couple of new judges this year, so maybe they will improve things. Let’s hope so.) As for me – I have spent the last 12 months researching my next novel, so have not read any of this year’s SF books, and therefore have no plans to say anything about whatever happens …

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Her Fingers, by Tamara Romero. A New Weird novel

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for any possible mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I’d really appreciate it.)

The New Weird – A Controversial Label

The New Weird is an odd trend among speculative fiction genres. As it’s often the case with subgenres -fortunately, if you ask me-, it’s almost impossible to come up with a perfect definition that allows the unambiguous classification of a given story. As I understand it, the concept of genre -and please, feel free to add as many subs- as you want- serves little purpose beyond that of allowing to group a set of aesthetic, thematic or formal concerns that may contribute, more or less deliberately, to the interpretation of a particular work in a context populated with several other works that, allegedly, share something with it. I agree with China Miéville when he states about genre that “a label is only a tool, and only as useful as its ability to generate debate and assist understanding”. When dogmatically adhered to, those values linked to the genre labels are damaging to a work in as much a degree as thoughtlessly is the author conforming to them. Nobody receives more help from labels than those in charge of arranging the shelves in the libraries or programming recommendation algorithms for online retailers. That is not to say that the concepts of genre and subgenre are meaningless, but that the unquestioned application of their parameters leads to the stagnation of the imagination and to the riskless conservatism so often observed in mainstream fantastika.

The Etched City

The New Weird has been charged, in fact, with a certain degree of vagueness and with claiming for itself peculiarities that were not really its invention nor belong exclusively to it. It’s advocates claim that its origins go back to pulp fiction authors such as H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, while the consolidation of its aesthetic values owe much to Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine, but even that has been called into question by its detractors. When M. John Harrison, who has himself been considered a New Weird author by other parties, posed his questions, controversy arose:

“The New Weird. Who does it? What is it? Is it even anything? Is it even New? Is it, as some think, not only a better slogan than The Next Wave, but also incalculably more fun to do? Should we just call it Pick’n’Mix instead?”

M. John Harrison, April 29, 2003

While Tim Maughan discredited the genre in one fell swoop:

“The only problem with The Weird is that nobody actually knows what the fuck it is, apart from perhaps a handful of writers and critics who don’t want their more literary colleagues to think they like sci-fi.”

-Tim Maughan, July 30, 2012

What, then, is The New Weird according to its advocates? In the introduction to the anthology The New Weird, its coeditors Jeff and Ann Vandermeer proposed the following definition:

 “Type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping-off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy.”

-The New Weird, Tachyon Publications, 2008

Steph Swainton, author of The Year of the War, considered one of the main texts of the New Weird, answered Harrison’s questions by describing this subgenre as being “vivid”, “clever”, “eclectic”, “secular, and very politically informed”. More important, she declared that:

 “Its most important theme [is] detail. The details are jewel-bright, hallucinatory, carefully described…These details…are what makes New Weird worlds so much like ours, as recognizable and as well-described. It is visual, and every scene is packed with baroque detail”

Steph Swainston, April 29, 2003

pse These definitions are sort of vague, indeed, but the truth is that when I think back to those few New Weird key novels I have read, like China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, K.J. Bishop’s The Etched City or the aforementioned anthology The New Weird, I can’t help to perceive how they share a baroque aesthetic and some values that, in turn, are reflected at different levels, from the excessive nature of their texts to their twisted characters or an effort to distort scenarios and scenes that sometimes gets to oust the plot as key element of the narrative. Self-declared New Weird authors (very active in their defense of the subgenre) share a taste for the grotesque, provocation and a willingness to incite political or social reflection. That may not be new; it may not be weirder that a multitude of previous or contemporary works; it may be an unnecessary label (more so than others? More so than cyberpunk? Space opera? Zombie genre!?) as posturing as arrogant when claiming merits whose invention lays elsewhere. Be that as it may, it is hard to argue that behind the New Weird a real movement exists with a sufficiently grounded tradition as to unite around it a clique of authors with highly fertile imaginations who, challenged by the conventionalism of mainstream fantastika, are producing a body of work which would be a mistake to ignore. One of the last additions to this group comes from Barcelona, Spain: Tamara Romero and her novel Her Fingers.

Her Fingers, by Tamara Romero. A review

Her Fingers With its scant sixty pages, Her Fingers endeavors to stretch the constraints imposed by its brevity by densely packing so many good ideas as to pay tribute to the fertility of the imagination of its author. Such richness of imagination is both the main virtue and the main risk of the text, that manages not to drown in shallowness by adopting a non-linear approach to world building, a perfect control of its pace and a touch of social criticism that greatly benefit the novel. In the pages of Her Fingers metaphors abound dealing with gender issues, the disintegration of personality caused by drugs, a denunciation of state control over the individual and a warning of the risks of acritically accepting labels and giving up control over the own life. While its length hinders the ability of the novel of exploring in depth some of the questions it raises, which perhaps are excessive in number given its shortness. Romero, though, is successful in using the weird as an echo chamber that elicits situations that remind us of our world and increase the relevance of the text without the need to go into precise details, such as those adolescents hinted at in the novel that use cybernetic implants as a form of rebellion against their parents, who, in turn, pay for their tattoos in a hollow attempt to quell their wish for transgression. While several passages in Her Fingers can be read as a sort of manifesto of the New Weird or a defense of the love of the strange for its own sake, none of the elements in the narrative is gratuitous; all of them serving a story that tastes like a nightmare and leads to a dazzling awakening.

I would love to read a novel by Tamara Romero with more room to leisurely develop her ideas, her premises and her characters. Her Fingers works like a charm because her author manages to turn its brevity to virtue and has the skill to chose wise shortcuts to resolve her ambitious world building. I have no qualms about anything the story shows, but I long for all the things it doesn’t unfold. This book, incidentally, was originally written in Spanish and then translated to English by the author herself. I can’t help attributing some lack of fluidity to that, but it’s a really minor issue and it may rather be in the eye of this beholder than in the text itself.

This is a highly recommended novel and I strongly suspect that Her Fingers is not the last that we will hear from her.

[Tamara Romero was kind enough to send me a Review Copy of Her Finger. I thank her this opportunity to get acquainted with her work]
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Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.)

‘I am a storyteller. I travel to collect stories, and I return to tell the stories of one place to the people of another. That is the important part of the trade. You must never tell people their own stories. They have no interest in them, or they think they can tell them better themselves. Give them a stranger’s life and then they’re content.

Redemption in Indigo Sometimes, some books take us back to that territory of the Realm of imagination where our love for fiction was born. We may have preserved some hold on it through our whole life, but I reckon that we tend to impede the accesss to that Realm with no end of obstacles named sophistication, cynicism, realism, avant-gardism, postmodernism, conventionalism, deconstructivism o whatever your favourite group of -isms might be. Far be it from me to deny the virtue in any of those resources when adequately used, and indeed I’m among the firsts to joyously raise my little finger whent the breakthrough writer of the day manages to surprise me with his or her last rethorical pirouette. But when a writer is able to manage that same level of surprise using the exact opposite mechanism, writing a seemingly straightforward -never less than elegant- text, so firmly grounded in the tradition of oral storytelling, as this Redemption in Indigo written by Karen Lord, both my pleasure and my admiration skyrocket.

Redemption in Indigo is a short novel that reminds me, in several ways, of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens in reverse. The novel depicts a world bursting with djombi -more or less benign or malignant spirits of shifting loyalties- whose eternal lives are devoted to help (or to pester) humans. We will follow one of these djombi whose faith in the human kind has withered in his dealing swith Paama, a coraugeous woman who has confronted tradition in order to flee a husband ruled by gluttony. While this is not an indulging novel, it has an undisguised positive attitude and a willingness to convey a moral, though who is the character in the story to whom the lesson is addressed is a curious choice (hence my mention to a reversed “A Christmas Carol”). My guess is that the tone of this story will remind most readers of some well-known fables read in some form or other. The narrative voice of Lord perfectly matches this approach and one of her achievements is to endow her invented world with a complexity that doesn’t condone the folklore character from which some of the uniqueness of the text derives, perhaps (I wouldn’t dare to be categorical about that) arising from the Caribbean origin of Karen Lord. And, as so often happens in the movies, once the credits are complete a little epilogue is found both surprising and enticing, that leaves us asking for more, more, more!

Redemption in Indigo What will you find in Redemption in Indigo? Magical objects, spirits disguised as animals, three (as custom has it) elderly priestesses that in my european tradition would be either good witches or goodfairies, Chaos sticks, ghosts, exotic landscapes, instant teleportation, time travel! What you will realy find is a magnificent tale that will help you remember why imagination is important. Karen Lord writes in a style both straightforward and elegant, chosing a very personal narrative voice that addresses the reader breaking the fourth wall whenever she deems it necessary. I have some minor issues with a character whose appearances throughout the story seem a little bit discordant to me, but I blame my limitations rather than the text itself. Overall, this is a really impressive debut, owing in no small part to its simplicity. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in fantastic literature.

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Interviewing Jim Butcher for Literatura Fantastica RBA

I have always enjoyed the Dresden Files novels written by Jim Butcher. They are a guilty pleasure of mine, particularly in their audiobook edition when read by James Marsters and I have reviewed several of them in Catalan in the previous incarnation of this blog. Thus, when his book The Furies of Calderon was published in Spanish as Las Furias de Alera under the Literatura Fantastica imprint by RBA and I had the chance to interview Butcher for the imprint’s blog I jumped at it. The translated version of the interview was published at Literatura Fantastica several weeks ago and RBA has been kind enough to let me publish the original interview in english, so that all of you can enjoy it.

I’m very happy to introduce… Jim Butcher!

 

Interviewing Jim Butcher

 

You have explained in several interviews the origin of the Codex Alera series, but most of our readers don’t know how you came with it. Could you explain what led you to write The Furies of Calderon?

The series was born out of a bet I made with a fellow unpublished writer in an online workshop. He bet me that some ideas were so tired and so overused that they simply could not be written into a good story. I thought that even the worst ideas can be made into enjoyable stories with enough originality and work on behalf of the writer. So he bet me that I couldn’t do it if he gave me a bad enough idea. I told him to give me /two/ bad ideas, and I would use them BOTH.

The two themes he challenged me to write with? Lost Roman Legion and Pokemon.

Did it take a lot of research to create the world depicted in Furies of Calderon?

Yes and no. I’ve always had an interest in history, and in the history of empires in particular. I’d been learning things about the Roman Empire for years and years, in my primary schooling and in college and after university on my own, and I incorporated what I knew as part of the background for Alera.

Did you need to carry out any special research in order to invent the Furies-based magic in the novel?

Well. I /did/ play a lot of Pokemon in the 90s. It was something me and my son did together. 🙂

One of the many differences between Furies of Calderon and the Dresden Files novels is that you shed first person narrative in favor of third person and shift between several points of views. Could you explain how that influenced your approach to writing the story?

It is /so/ much easier, in many ways, than writing in the first person. As a creator, writing in the third person gives you so many more options of how you want to tell your story, which means you have a great deal more freedom in terms of setting pace, establishing dramatic tone, and keeping the reader’s attention. Of course, the pitfall of that kind of freedom is the same as in everything else–you’re free to make really stupid mistakes, too. But all in all, I really enjoy the change of pace from the first-person Dresden Files.

As a reader, and comparing again with the Dresden Files (of which I’m a great fan), in the Furies of Calderon novel I got a greater impression of freedom and of enjoyment, though I may be imagining it. Could you explain your experience regarding the process of writing the series?

Oh, I love my work. If you don’t love your work, as a writer, I believe the reader knows it, and that it reduces their enjoyment of the writing. By the time I’m done with a Dresden Files book, I am heartily sick of Harry Dresden, and I’m delighted to shift to other characters and do new and different stories. By the time I was done with an Alera book, I was delighted to be back in the saddle with Dresden again. The change of pace between the two series helps to keep things fresh and fun.

By the time this interview is published Spanish readers will be about to find the first novel in the series, Furies of Calderon, in their bookshops’ shelves, with further volumes to appear in the following months. What can they expect from this series?

Oh, everything you’d expect from storytelling set in, essentially, the Roman Empire–legions, plots, treachery, deception, courage, loyalty, gruesome death, barbarians, super-powerful elemental entities, nine-foot werewolves, hideous alien bug-creatures… wait, I’m pretty sure we departed from the Roman Empire canon somewhere…

The first novel is one of the most thrilling adventures I have read in a long time and it hints to a great number of intriguing subjects that will be covered in further books. Did you have the whole arc planned when you wrote this first novel?

I did indeed! The novels follow the life, mainly of Tavi of Calderon, the one young man in all of Alera who is born without magic, without the use of any elemental furies. The original title of the world was “Shepherdboy’s Fury” to keep in theme with all the rest of the books, but my editors didn’t like that title.

Codex Alera is a finished series consisting in 6 novels. Is there any chance of your revisiting this world again in the future?

I have no plans for it, specifically, but it remains a possibility. It would be great fun to go back in a few centuries after the events of the first series, to see the long-term results of the characters’ actions on their world.

It’s easy to frame the Codex Alera series in a tradition of high fantasy including writers like George R.R. Martin or Brandon Sanderson. Could you tell us something about the kind of books and authors you enjoy the most reading?

My favorite books to read tend to be military SF and military fantasy, including such authors as John Ringo and David Weber. I also love Brandon Sanderson’s work, as well as John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Robert B. Parker, and Benedict Jacka.

This one is hardly unexpected: do you plan to write something else outside of the Dresden Files universe?

Absolutely. I’m currently about a third of the way through my first steampunk novel, an adventure series which is currently titled The Cinder Spires.

Thanks a lot for your time, Mr. Butcher. Would you like to address some words to your readers in Spain?

Over time, I’ve learned that fans of science fiction and fantasy are the same the world over. We love so many of the same movies, television shows, games and books–in many ways, when I meet fans from overseas, it feels like meeting extended family I’ve never encountered before. I hope that readers in Spain will simply settle down and enjoy my work. Some writers try to write something deep and meaningful and profound. That really isn’t me. I just want to write something for the reader to enjoy.

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The Whitefire Crossing, by Courtney Schafer

(As I followed the lead of Sense of Wonder in posting some of my reviews in english, it’s only fair that I borrow Odo‘s disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.)

[Courtney Schafer was kind enough to send me the first two books in her trilogy The Shattered Sigil. I thank her this opportunity to review the first novel in the series]The Whitefire Crossing (Shattered Sigil, #1)

“I regret-so many things. What do you do, when a mistake cannot be undone?

Within the rather monotonous landscape of new fantasy novels, The Whitefire Crossing (Courtney Schafer‘s literary debut and the first installment of The Shattered Sigil trilogy) has enough interesting elements to make it a good choice when compared to a lot of his companions in the bookshop shelves. However, despite its strengths, the book does not fly as high as it could have done it because of it being too predictable, without managing to escape the comfort zone that seems to act as a gravity well for the imagination of many genre authors.

The plot is tight and simple. Dev is an outrider working for commercial caravans traveling the mountain route that goes from Ninavel to Alathia. This work allows him to smuggle magical charms to Alathia, a country in which magic is strictly legislated. His latest smuggling assignment, though, is somewhat different: he is asked to help young Kiran to reach Alathia posing as his apprentice, but the journey will get complicated when Dev discovers that Kiran has lied about his true identity.

The first half of the novel is devoted to Dev and Kiran’s flight through the mountains and the Whitefire crossing, trying to reach the Alathian border while pursued by a virtually omnipotent foe. The relationship between Dev and Kiran is built by continuously jumping from the point of view of Dev to Kiran’s, allowing the reader to stay one step ahead of both characters and getting him to enjoy their mistakes and hesitations. The author has chosen to shift from a first-person narrative when Dev is the main character to third-person in Kiran’s point-of-view. While I’m not totally convinced of this being the more elegant strategy from a narrative standpoint, it certainly leads to an interesting dynamic and stresses contrast between the voices of both protagonists. One of the best executed aspects in the relationship between Dev and Kiran is their gradual discovery of those things they have in common and how these things challenge their prejudices. The part of the novel devoted to the journey through the mountain comes to life thanks to the ability of the writer to convey her passion for mountaineering and climbing and making it into the fabric of the story. This, added to the sense of impending doom from the enemy that persecutes the protagonists from far away and the resulting suspense lead to a first section of the novel that works like a clockwork and oozes personality, owing more to the interaction between the characters and their environment than to the specifics of the plot.

The Tainted City (Shattered Sigil, #2)In the second half, however, the story takes a not completely unexpected turn and shifts its tone from that of a “road movie in the mountain” to a rather mainstream fantasy adventure set in the city of Alathia, losing much of its uniqueness. Where the enemy pursuing Dev and Kiran in the mountains was immense because of his remoteness, their new nemesis in Alathia is like a caricature of a cartoon villain; where the mountain and the Whitefire Crossing were lively and attractive scenarios that challenged the skills of the protagonists, Alathia is a medieval city poorly drawn. Overall, the Alathian arc lacks uncertainty and the reader never begins to doubt the ability of the protagonists to overcome the situation, although some surprises at the end lead to an interesting starting situation for the second novel in the series, The Tainted City.

The Whitefire Crossing is a good debut novel and a good start for an attractive series with some good characters and intriguing elements. The author’s prose is perfectly adequate and does not stand between the reader and the story. Courtney Schaffer does not delve in some of the many interesting ideas raised while worldbuilding (The idea that children in Ninavel are able to practice a kind of magic that goes away when they reach adolescence is a favorite of mine) but they remain as seeds for the next installment of the series. I, for one, am determined to read The Tainted City sooner rather than later.

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