Heroic Fantasy Part I: A Discussion with Hot New Authors
For awhile now, the heroic fantasy field has been experiencing a revival through the stellar efforts of authors like George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, R. Scott Bakker, and the godfather of modern heroic fantasy, Glen Cook. Now, another wave of re-interpretation and innovation is sweeping across the Fantasy field like an invading army--providing gritty, realistic, and complex storylines and characters, within the wider context of giving readers hours and hours of exciting entertainment. I thought it would be a good idea, then, to interview a few of the most interesting authors from this "next generation": Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself), Karen Miller (The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage), Brian Ruckley (Winterbirth), and Brandon Sanderson (The Final Empire and Well of Ascension). And, over the next year, I'll make sure to feature ever more of the new generation of heroic fantasy writers, including Patrick Rothfuss, K.J. Parker, and Daniel Abraham.
Amazon.com: What makes your take on heroic or epic fantasy different?
Joe Abercrombie: I try to write fantasy (emphasis on try), with all the grit, and cruelty, and humour of real life, where good and evil are a matter of where you stand, just like in the real world. I try to write characters with real contradictions, confusions, complexities, obsessions, and to put the reader right inside their heads. I try to leave world-building in the background and concentrate on the people and the interactions between them.
Karen Miller: My work is predominantly character-driven. Most of the action derives from the internal landscape, desires and psychologies of the characters, rather than huge external set pieces and sweeping vistas, as it were. Those tend to form the backdrop of my novels--what really interests me is the impact of events on a cast of individuals. How the big picture looks through the eyes of the people involved.
Brian Ruckley: The single commonest word used by readers to describe Winterbirth seems to be "gritty," so I guess that might be it. I tried to make my imagined world pretty realistic, in everything from its landscapes to its politics, its characters to its battles. This is fantasy in which no character is safe once the world starts to slip towards chaos, and where even the bad guys think they have good reasons for most of what they do
Brandon Sanderson: I'm the magic guy. (Hum. That sounds a little odd when I write it that way.) How about, "I'm the guy with the cool magic systems." I love the old epic fantasies, but I always felt like I wanted to understand the magic better. What exactly are Gandalf's powers? Why does this hero suddenly gain this ability at this time? I was a chemist my first year in college, and though I jumped ship to English, I retain my love of the sciences. I love magic that feels like a science, and have a distinct love for the old days of alchemy when magic and science blended together.
Amazon.com: What’s your favorite part of writing heroic fantasy?
Joe Abercrombie: Writing heroic fantasy that’s as un-heroic as possible. Trying to apply my black-hearted view of the world to the classic fantasy scenarios. Trying to use the cliches to blindside readers with the unexpected. That and the big-ass fight scenes, of course. You can’t knock a good swording.
Karen Miller: The research, because I pillage human history in order to create the social backgrounds of the places I'm writing about. There's something unbelievably endearing about reading a letter written on clay tablets four thousand years ago, in which a father chastises his son for going through his allowance so fast...And in which a son complains to his father, "How come you send my brother shoes and you don't send me any? You always liked him better than me!" Humans just don't change.
Brian Ruckley: Probably the fact that it allows you to paint on a big canvas, and tie lots of different elements into a single story. You get to do conspiracies and politics, huge battles and one-on-one sword fights, quiet scenes where characters learn about themselves and their world and dramatic scenes where magical powers are unveiled.
Brandon Sanderson: There is so much of this genre that hasn't been explored yet, and it's thrilling to be part of the new wave of fantasy writers. My favorite part of the actual writing would have to be world-building, specifically designing the magic that goes into my books.
Come back Friday for the conclusion to this roundtable discussion! --Jeff