Author Archive for Nora Jemisin



01
Oct
09

Sidelines

One of the things writers realize, when they try to figure out whether this whole full time thing can work, is that alternate sources of income are crucial. You don’t know when you’re going to sell a book; if you sell one, you don’t know how long it’ll be before the advance check comes; and once the advance is done, you don’t know if you’ll get any royalties. The advance check might look nice, but it’s 50% less nice than you think because of taxes and agent fees, and if you’re paying for your own health insurance you can kiss another 30% of it goodbye, and… well. Multiple income streams are the way to go. (This is true for anybody, really; best way to recession-proof yourself. But since writers are kind of in a constant personal recession…)

Since I have a Masters’ degree (albeit in counseling) and some teaching experience, I’m hoping to make the transition to teaching writing. I’ve run some writing workshops, been in some intensive and prestigious writing groups, so I reconfigured my resume to highlight these things — but thus far I’ve had no dice in getting a teaching job. It seems to me you need either an MFA to do this, or some noteworthy publications, or a friend who works in a university English department. Or some combination of the above. I’ve got the friends, don’t have the rest, so I’m hoping my prospects there will improve once 100K comes out. (Have considered the MFA, note; I know lots of folks who swear by Stonecoast. But I just can’t bring myself to go and get a second Masters’ degree when I may not need it. I’ll wait a few years and see.)

I do still have my career as a career counselor, which I’m continuing to keep active by working part-time while I finish the trilogy. I’ll probably keep doing that, because I really enjoy it. But having tasted a different lifestyle in the past year, I’m feeling the urge to explore new things too.

Including creatively. Although I’m primarily a fantasy writer, I’ve always dabbled in other genres — science fiction most notably, but also erotica. Yes, erotica. I’ve written some short stories in that field, but I’ll be blunt: there’s not much money in the short story field for erotica, any more than there is for SF&F. The way to go is a novel, which I’ve actually got an idea for. Just need to find the time to write it down.

Here’s the thing, though — these days, authors are encouraged to think of themselves as brands, and their books as products. When they switch the product, they’re supposed to switch the brand. Thus historically we have writers like Anne Rice doing her vampire and other books under her own name, but publishing her hardcore BDSM erotica under A. N. Roquelaure. I suspect, back in Rice’s heyday, that this was necessary not just for marketing purposes, but also to protect her from prudish bookburny types who might pillory her for eroticizing a popular children’s tale. (Though really, the original version of Sleeping Beauty was never anywhere near G-rated, with that whole rape-cannibalism schtick.) Still, her “Sleeping Beauty” books sold phenomenally well — better than her first Vampire Chronicles book. Not entirely surprising, given that the erotica/romance industry is a financial powerhouse, even moreso today than 20 years ago. So A. N. Roquelaure ended up being a great sideline for her… but if the books had crashed and burned, or worse yet triggered some kind of backlash, she could have readily discarded that “brand” and continued to sell her grocery lists as Anne Rice.

Conversely I’ve been following the career of a more modern writer of gorgeous prose, fantasist Catherynne Valente. I loved her The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden, though I am woefully behind on reading the rest of her stuff. But I note that she’s got a very erotic novel out now, Palimpsest, with the cool concept of a magic city passing from person to person as a sexually-transmitted tattoo. She’s selling that under her own name, possibly because her work is already sensual and erotic even when she’s not writing about sex, and possibly because cities-as-STDs isn’t nearly as potentially offensive to the prudeyfolk as Sleeping Beauty on a rocking horse. (And no, I don’t mean the kind for kids.) Valente seems to be building one big brand of lush, juicy fiction, into which an explicitly erotic book fits like a hand in a glove. (Carefully avoiding other metaphors here.) I’m watching to see how that works out for her.

Anyway, so these are the sorts of things I’ve been contemplating lately, as I progress steadily on Book 3 and realize that soon, the Inheritance Trilogy will be finished. Inevitable that I would look around here and suddenly wonder, “What’s next?” and face the daunting answer: “I have no idea.” But I thought I’d share what’s going through my head now, for those of you who think pro writer life is enviable and easy — if you still do after having read this site for the past few months! I’ll keep you posted on my future as it unfolds.

Oh — and if anyone is a reviewer and interested in a review copy of Like Twin Stars, the Circlet Press e-anthology that’s published my short story “The Dancers’ War”, contact me offblog.

24
Sep
09

Why I, Perhaps Stupidly, Continue To Live in New York

Like Rachel, I’ve sought and gotten a lot of sound business advice from established writers in the year or so since my book deal happened. Most of that advice has been excellent — no, essential, and I’m grateful for all of it. But there’s one piece of advice I’ve been hearing again and again from various quarters, and it’s starting to chafe. Namely, that I shouldn’t live in New York.
Continue reading ‘Why I, Perhaps Stupidly, Continue To Live in New York’

17
Sep
09

Formative Fantasy: Ariel

Whoopsie, just realized I didn’t post last week. No excuse; I just forgot. Will try not to do it again, sorry.

This week, though, I’ve been re-reading the fantasy novel that had the most significant influence on my tween writing career: Steven R. Boyett’s Ariel. It’s been re-released recently, after decades out of print; it was originally published in 1983. I would’ve been eleven at that time, though I don’t think I read it ’til I was 13. Probably just as well.

See, when I was thirteen, I actually didn’t like fantasy. I’d tried Tolkien at the time, and bounced off it; too old-fashioned, too British. I’d absorbed the science fiction genre’s disdain for “that made-up stuff”; fantasy wasn’t about Real Science ™, it was about silly impossibilities like wizards and fairies. (But my favorite books at the time, in my smug superiority, were Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern”.) There was a gendered element to it too; as a self-avowed tomboy who’d internalized a whole lotta sexism, I wasn’t interested in anything girly, which I at the time perceived fantasy to be. (McCaffrey wasn’t girly. Her dragons were big muscular COMBAT STEEDS. With FIRE. Andsomeromancebutnotmuchsothatwasokay. Plus, FIRE.) So when I finally decided to give fantasy another shot, naturally it was going to be something I perceived as rough, tough, macho stuff. Hard core, with explosions and stuff. And maybe a fairy. As the mascot.

So I picked up Ariel. All the crucial signs of toughness were there: written by a man (grunt), starring a man (grunt), about hard-core stuff like survival after an apocalyptic event (grunt grunt). There were swords! A showdown with a necromancer! Stuff! Blowing!! Up!!!1! It helped that the story was at least partially set in New York, which held a kind of mythical power for me at the time; yeah, bankrupt crumbling NYC of the 1980s was my Camelot back then. What can I say? Growing up in the ‘burbs had bored me to tears. So I was willing to overlook the presence of a unicorn on the then cover. All these macho characters needed something to ride, right? And unicorns could probably kick serious ass with those horns, in battle.

(OK, look, everybody’s a little messed-up at thirteen, a’ight? I grew out of all this, thank every god in creation.)

Alas, the marketing completely fooled me. Sure, there were explosions and stuff, but the book turned out to be the most beautiful love story I’d ever read. All that action was sandwiched between poignant human dramas: people just trying to get by after a traumatic event, children growing up in a hurry, loss and grief. There was a ton of magic in the book, but the best was the kind that isn’t “made up” — the magic of eerily beautiful landscapes and surreal cityscapes; of lonely people and hopeless dreams. I finished the book and cried. Then I read it again. And again, and again, until my copy literally fell apart. Then I taped it together and read it some more.

I had begun writing by that point, so as a further sign of my admiration, I tried to incorporate what I’d learned from the book into my own work. I started chapters with quotes from poetry or Shakespeare, as Boyett had done. (This, of course, forced me to read poetry and Shakespeare, which I then grew to love. Sneaky, Boyett. Sneaky.) I made my characters angsty and gave them snappy dialogue. (If I’d been born ten years later, I’d probably have written Buffy fanfic. Thank goodness I’m a Seventies child.) I — cautiously — began adding romance and female characters to my stories, as an experiment (because at the time I’d somehow absorbed the notion that girls couldn’t be heroes in SF/F). I started trying to subvert the tropes of fantasy that had so repelled me; Boyett had given me a unicorn who swore like a sailor, so maybe I could write freaky fairies and monster angels and so on. I realized fantasy can be set anywhere; modern-day America works just as well as medieval Europe, and it can incorporate elements of SF. And I realized the best story elements aren’t necessarily the explosions, but the quiet moments of people just being people.

Basically, I read this book and grew up a little.

Re-reading it now, at 36, has been interesting. Boyett himself acknowledges the weirdness of reading an Eighties novel now, in the Naughties; the Twin Towers still stand in New York, and the characters mention TV but not cellphones or computers. I know a bit of lit theory now, so I know what to call this kind of story: a standard bildungsroman, though beautifully done. I’m a bit more widely-read too, so I can see the works that influenced Boyett in the bones of this tale. I’m noticing the flaws I didn’t back then — a few Handwavium ™ moments in the plot, and I’m laughing my butt off at all the white male characters oh-so-Seriously pretending to be samurai. (Boyett does offer a tongue-in-cheek explanation: after the mysterious Change in this world that causes technology to stop working and medieval-style weapons to make a comeback, all the people in the Society for Creative Anachronism suddenly jump several notches on the socioeconomic scale.)

But these are minor flaws, all things considered. I met Boyett at Worldcon this year; cool guy. He noted that he was 21 (!!) when this book got published, which impressed me even further. When I was 21, I was writing crap. So I’m willing to forgive him a few blips, considering the whole is so timelessly well done.

So I’m wholeheartedly recommending this book once again. And I can’t wait for its sequel, due out soon, called Elegy Beach.

Oh — and this is my own dip into the idea jar, as Diana put it. Periodically I’m going to review fantasies that I read during my “formative years” as a writer, which I’ll be tagging as, duh, “formative fantasy”. I’m curious to know other peoples’ formative fantasies, too, because I kind of get the impression I took a less-traveled road into this genre. Feel free to mention yours in the comments. In the meantime, go buy Ariel.

03
Sep
09

Who’s Afraid of Urban Fantasy?

I’m about to step in it big time with this one. I’m primarily a writer of secondary-world epic fantasies, and here I am opening my mouth about urban fantasy. That’s just asking for a smackdown. But here goes.

Read this article at io9, in which Orbit Books’ Tim Holman (disclosure: my trilogy is coming out from Orbit, not that this has anything to do with anything in this case) notes the phenomenal growth of urban fantasy. To the point that it’s rapidly consuming the whole SF field.

Now, I read some urban fantasy. In fact I read both kinds of urban fantasy: the pre-Anita Blake kind (e.g., China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, the Paper Cities anthology) as well as the post-Blake (e.g., Jim Butcher, Marjorie Liu, and yes Laurell K. Hamilton). I even write a little in short story form, though my stuff veers closer to the pre type than the post. I’m aware of the differences between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, or at least to the degree that the issue has been decided (which is to say, not). So I’m not completely ignorant on the subject. Being here at the Magic District helps, actually, because my UF-inclined fellow Districtians’ books are all on the excellent end of the Urban Fantasy continuum, and I’m being exposed to more through their posts.

Despite all this, I had the same reaction as a number of io9 commenters to the news that UF was growing like the Blob: dismay. Because like them, I’ve seen a lot of stuff from the crap end of the UF continuum, and this phenomenal rate of growth probably means that more crap is forthcoming. It’s not nearly as bad as some people are making it out to be; a lot of the rage I see directed at urban fantasy has to do with the preponderance of girl cooties in it. The spec fic field has never been very welcoming towards that. But we still hit the Sturgeon’s Law problem: with so much urban fantasy out there, how am I ever going to be able to sift out the gold nuggets from the flood?

And what does this mean for me as a writer?

Don’t worry; I’m not dumb enough to change my writing in order to try and fit this trend. Think about it: by the time I finish Book 3, write another book, hopefully sell that, and then do the 2-year wait for publication, the trend might be over. But as a writer of primarily epic fantasies, does this trend mean I might have trouble selling my books in the future? After all, the last time there was a trend like this — I’ll cite the surge in psychosexual killer-based horror that happened in the Eighties — the rest of “traditional” speculative fiction suffered mightily. Many publishers, as I understand it from folks who were active at the time, were trying to capitalize on the slasher/splatter/supernatural killer film boom (think, “Nightmare on Elm Street”), so a whole slew of novels in the same vein came out around this time. They sold well, too… for awhile. Then the public got really, really tired of their similarity, and the books stopped selling. There was too much of the stuff out there, and too much of it was crap; the market got glutted, and subsequently contracted. Aside from Stephen King and a few notable others, there was a solid spate of years in which horror was functionally dead. (These days it’s rising from the dead, pun intended, largely on the strength of… wait for it… zombie fiction and vampires. And, of course, urban fantasy and paranormal romance.)

During that market contraction, writers in horror and related genres had trouble getting published. (Don’t take my word for it; here’s an interesting 1991 convo between some spec fic writers discussing the matter.) Even some science fiction and fantasy writers suffered — because publisher dollars were being heaped onto the horror pile. And later, when the pile caught fire (to mutilate a metaphor), publisher dollars became scarce as they fought to survive massive financial losses. It’s taken years — decades, literally — for genre and industry to recover.

Now, I’m no expert about the business end of publishing. Frankly I’m a babe in the woods as these things go. But it seems to me that if a trend caused this kind of implosion in one genre market, it could happen here in fantasyland too.

So what am I gonna do about it?

Well, like I said, I’m not going to suddenly start trying to write urban fantasy novels; that way lies danger, Will Robinson, danger! (Though I note with irony that there are substantial urban fantasy elements in Book 2 of the Inheritance Trilogy. Didn’t plan ‘em, they just happened. Can’t talk about that without spoiling Book 1, though, so…) I’m also planning to diversify. My next project on the table is a YA novel, possibly a duology or trilogy. If I can establish myself in another genre — and YA SF really is different from adult SF in many ways — that might insulate me somewhat, should another market contraction hit. Also, since many of my fantasy novels contain core romantic elements, I’m hoping to get the attention of the romance industry. Now there’s a financial juggernaut; to paraphrase Carl Sagan, there’s billions and billions of dollars churning out of that engine. Only smart to try and build an audience there.

IMO, this is how writers have to think, nowadays. Yeah, we’re artists, and craft comes first. Still, I dunno about other artists, and I’m indulging in some wishful thinking here, but I want to reap the financial rewards of my art before I kick off, not after, thanks. At the very least, I’d like to continue paying rent and buying food. That means I need to understand how this business works.

So here we are. What do you guys think of the surge in urban fantasy? Is it a good thing? A bad thing? A good thing for now, bad for later? Bueller?

27
Aug
09

The Research Readers Don’t See

I often get asked — generally by writers from other literary traditions, like creative nonfiction or mystery or thrillers — whether I do research, as a fantasy writer, or whether I just make it all up.

This question flummoxes me, and it also tells me just how (poorly) these people regard fantasy. Or maybe it’s not that they have a poor regard for it; maybe it’s that they have no regard for it, and they’re speaking out of ignorance. Maybe they genuinely don’t understand what goes into writing a typical fantasy novel. So at the risk of stating the obvious for the fantasy writers/readers in our audience, let me answer that question here.

Of course I do research. I do a metric ton of it.
Continue reading ‘The Research Readers Don’t See’

20
Aug
09

It Never Gets Old

As I mentioned here earlier, I went to Worldcon in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. I met lots of folks and had some great conversations, including one with a more-established pro author I couldn’t help fangirling at because I loved her work. Thinking that she was probably sick of people gushing at her, though, I stopped after the initial babble of praise and related my own recent experience with being fangirled, which had happened in the Dealers’ Room a few hours before. Totally floored me; someone gushed at me about one of my short stories. (It ended up happening twice more before Worldcon ended; whee!) I was still a bit dazed in the aftermath. “But you must have gotten used to that,” I said to the more-established pro.

“No,” she said. “You never get used to it. It’s always a surprise, and it always feels strange, and you never really stop loving that reaction. It never gets old. If it does, something’s wrong.” (Paraphrase, but I think I’ve captured it for the most part)

Have been contemplating this for the last 24 hours, as the first couple of reviews of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms have come online in the wake of my ARC giveaway at Worldcon. These aren’t professional reviews, published in big-name markets and full of big words like “deconstruction” and Derrida — so I find them especially heartening, in a way. After all, professional reviewers have reputations to maintain, political considerations, and so on. Not that they can’t be impartial — most can be, and are — but there are still some things they can’t say without in essence damaging themselves. They can’t gush, for example. They can be effusive in their praise, but not giddy. They can trash, but even then they can’t really resort to the kind of language that readers tend to use. (Incoherent rage-frothing probably wouldn’t make it into, say, Publishers’ Weekly.) So, rightly or wrongly, I tend to regard reader/fan reviews as… hmm. I was going to say “purer” expressions of feelings about my work, but that’s not correct. Readers are just as likely to be swayed by peer pressure and other external motivations as pro reviewers. But their expression of those opinions/motivations does tend to be unfiltered, or less so. Yes, I think that word fits better.

Both of these reviews are nicely positive, so naturally my head is in the clouds today. But that does make me wonder about the lattermost part of that pro author’s statement: if it gets old, something’s wrong. Could there ever come a time when this kind of review elicits a “ho-hum” reaction from me? I can’t imagine it. I might not publicly respond to all reviews (in fact, I probably won’t; it’s usually not a good idea for authors to publicly respond to reviews, IMO), but in private? I’m going to giggle and squee and PM my friends to say “Look look look look!” If I ever get to the point where I don’t respond that way, what will it mean? What kind of author will I be when I no longer care how my readers react to my work?

I hope I never find out.

In the meantime, back to squeeage. And hopefully there will be more positive reviews over the next few weeks and months, and I’ll get lots more opportunities to feel delighted and strange.

13
Aug
09

The Map Thing

Seeing this amusing example of “Geography Fail” triggered this post. What’s wrong with this picture?

ur doin it wrong

ur doin it wrong

So as we confront yet another example of how Americans can’t even manage to correctly render maps of our own, very real world, I find myself contemplating the nature of maps in fantasy.

They’ve become a staple of epic fantasy, particularly those of doorstopper size, to the point that Diana Wynne Jones ruthlessly skewered them as a cliche in her seminal The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. (Note: I haven’t seen the revised version, which I’m told has a different parody map; the original was Europe upside down, with names that are anagrams of Our World names.) TV Tropes has a few choice things to say about them too. (Warning — I have never managed to visit TV Tropes without losing several hours of time browsing and laughing my nether regions off. Here there be lulz; click at your peril.)

It’s easy to make fun of fantasy maps — and yet we continue to see them throughout the genre, even when authors don’t want them (e.g., Terry Goodkind). It’s gotten to the point that an epic fantasy sans map doesn’t actually feel like epic fantasy to some readers. I was at Worldcon this past weekend, schmoozing and doing all the usual stuff debut authors need to do to promote their book. I handed one of my Advanced Reader Copies to an author whose work I admired, in hopes that she would read it and offer a favorable review. She thumbed through it, looked impressed by the teaser blurb, but then frowned and said, “I thought this was epic fantasy? There’s no map.” At which point I was obliged to explain that it had all the other tropes of epic fantasy — world-spanning scale, one brave heroine fighting impossible odds, Fate Of The Universe At Stake, the usual. Just no map. She still looked a bit dubious, but said she’d read it. Here’s hoping.

I got anxious enough about this during the early production phase of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that I actually drew a map. This was a mistake, of course, because I know diddlysquat about cartography and plate tectonics and had probably put a continent in the way of some critical Gulf Streamlike current, thus making the whole planet uninhabitable by human beings. But I worried that readers would protest that the story wasn’t Epic enough, despite warring gods and exploding mountains and such, without a map to illustrate the epic-ness. So I finished the map, then asked my editor if she wanted it. Here’s proof of how good she is — she demurred, noting correctly that it’s a good thing not to adhere to the overdone cliches of the genre. Amazing that I needed a reminder of this, but that’s how deep the programming runs.

Because I didn’t really believe I needed one. I feel the same way about maps as I do about depictions of characters in novel cover art — I know they supposedly sell more books, but I hate it when my mental image of the story is messed with by someone else’s rendering. When I finished my crappy map, I didn’t actually like it. For one thing, the underlying story of the series spans thousands of years. Imagine how much human civilizations in our world have changed in, say, the last two millennia. Which era would you choose to map? How would you depict shifting national boundaries, cities destroyed and rebuilt, and so on? On top of this, I make a point in the series of noting that this world’s rulers routinely obliterate nations that annoy them, literally wiping them off the map. Even the gods get in on the planetary renovation act, sinking continents and boiling oceans now and again. The survivors move to an undamaged location, plant a flag and name the new territory after the old, and hope they’ll manage to last a few centuries before the next displacement.

Trying to map all this made the world, complex and dynamic in my imagination, look simple. Static. Small. Which is partly a testament to my mapmaking (non-)skill, but also partly the purpose of a map — to render something as vast as a landscape into a comprehensible, graspable, quantifiable representation. Necessary for explorers, but for readers? I think it actually diminishes the epic fantasy experience.

So here’s my question for all of you. Fantasy maps: necessary? Desirable? Or an evil that must be stopped? You’ve got my vote, obviously, but maybe I’m atypical. I’d like to know what some other fantasy readers think.

06
Aug
09

No post today

…because I’m off to Anticipation, the 67th World Science Fiction con, up in fair Montreal. If any Magic District readers will be there, I’m doing a reading and a signing — yeah, even though I have no book — and running an ARC giveaway. Details at my site. See you (hopefully) there!

30
Jul
09

Describing Characters of Color, pt. 2

This is something I was going to do on my own blog, as a followup to an earlier post on ways to describe characters of color in fiction. But since a) I was coming up short on something to write about for this week’s Magic District post, and b) this is International Blog Against Racism Week* (IBARW), I figured I could kill two birds with one stone.

I’m a Harry Potter fan, if you haven’t guessed it by now from my repeated references. I’m such a fan that initially I only wanted the British versions of the books, so the first one I read was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I did this because I found it suspect that the publisher had changed the name for the US release to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, completely ignoring the alchemical history that the original title evoked. If they were going to change something like that, I reasoned, who knew what else they would change?

So when I later got the US version and compared the two, I wasn’t surprised to see that a number of words and lines had been changed. Most of these changes were minor, for example clarifying Britishisms that USians might not have picked up on, like using the word “sweater” in place of “jumper”, since in the US a jumper is a kind of girl’s dress. But in several places I noticed a more curious difference. For example, at one point the character Dean Thomas is explicitly stated to be black in the US version — a line which doesn’t even exist in the UK version.

Now, note: Dean is described in the UK version in ways that strongly suggest his race, but it’s subtly done. His dredlocks are mentioned repeatedly, as is his love of a particular soccer (sorry, football) team which is known in the UK for having a lot of black players and fans. There are other clues. But somewhere along the way, some US editor for Rowling’s book decided that US kids just wouldn’t pick up on the clues, and decided to add that line to make it clear. Continue reading ‘Describing Characters of Color, pt. 2′

23
Jul
09

FANTASY… IN… SPAAAAAACE!!

I’ve just gotten back from Launch Pad, a week-long astronomy workshop sponsored by NASA. The idea is that, since the American public seems to pay little attention to actual scientists (resulting in many, many misconceptions and outright falsehoods gaining traction), they’ll work through people who might have more of an impact — i.e., people who use science to entertain, like science fiction writers, prominent science bloggers, science comedians, and the like. The workshop helps those people get the basics right.

“But wait!” I hear you saying. (C’mon, play along.) “Aren’t you a fantasy writer? You don’t use science!”

Au contraire, mon strange doubtful random person. (I’m practicing my French for Anticipation.) First off, I’m not purely a fantasy writer. Like most writers, I do a little bit of everything. I’ve had science fiction stories published in a number of places, and I’ve even gotten an Honorable Mention in the latest Year’s Best Science Fiction. My first few novels, including The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, are fantasy — but the next project on my slate is a YA cyberpunk novel. I’m a writer who likes fantasy, not just a fantasy writer; the difference is mostly academic, but important.

But beyond that, who the heck says fantasy writers don’t use science? Some of my favorite authors — C. S. Friedman, in her Coldfire Trilogy; Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern; Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels — set their fantasy tales on planets settled by colonists from Earth. And while the distinction between magic and psi-power is a matter of considerable debate, there’s no doubt that these books are equally loved by readers of both genres. Frankly, looking at these writers’ careers, it seems clear that science fiction/fantasy blends can be very successful if handled correctly. So why wouldn’t I try? McCaffrey’s work accurately (for the time) explored genetic engineering and the sociological impact of planetary colonization in a time of crisis. I think that made her readers more willing to accept the frankly non-scientific dragons who couldn’t possibly fly in anything resembling Earth gravity. Friedman tackled evolution, introducing a unique ecosystem that adapts itself to intrusions (read: colonists from Earth) in non-Darwinian ways (read: magic). Understanding Darwinian evolution is crucial for the reader because in Friedman’s world, the most powerful magic users are those who manage to impose Earth rules on this fundamentally alien system.

All of these very fantastic novels are rooted in real, hard science, without which I believe they simply wouldn’t work as well. Nobody wants to read fantasy these days — if they ever did — in which Wizard X simply waves his hands around and causes Magical Effect Y. Readers want structure, plausible chains of cause and effect, conservation of energy and mass, consequences. Mercedes Lackey and other authors have been paraphrased as saying that any sufficiently complex magic/knowledge is indistinguishable from technology, and this goes for science too. One of the most effective recent fantasy novels I’ve read is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, in which the magic system is modeled on the principles of metallurgy and metals’ atomic structure. You don’t have to know inorganic chemistry to follow the book, but it makes for a more interesting experience if you do.

So I’m looking forward to incorporating astronomy into my fantasy in the future. I’ve dabbled in it a little already; one of the characters in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms can turn himself into a black hole at will. I had to research one scene, in which he transforms in order to destroy an oncoming army, by figuring out exactly what would happen if a 3-solar-mass black hole hit a planet. Unfortunately I didn’t discover this guy until after the book was done, so I think I got a few details wrong. Oh, well.

Next time, though, I’m totally going to get it right. Because nothing says fantasy like spaghettified unicorns!




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