Guest Post: Max Gladstone

Two Serpents Rise Gladstone, Max-2

Author Max Gladstone joins today to talk about worldbuilding over the course of a series. His latest release, Two Serpents Rise released from Tor Books on October 29, 2013.

Mosaic Worldbuilding
By Max Gladstone

How much do you really know about our world?

I don’t want to get all Obi Wan Kenobi here, but many of the beliefs we all have about our world depend on our orientations and positions within that world. I’m not even talking about big deal moral opinions—uncertainty goes all the way down to everyday stuff.

The price of gasoline or the distance of a commute or the number of pages in a book might seem objective, sure. But even those numbers look very different depending on who and where you are. Does filling your gas tank cost (a) as much as a Friday night dinner for two at your favorite restaurant, before drinks? (b) as much as you spent on food for the last week? (c) as much as your week’s rent? (d) enough to buy you a hundred liters of beer in a back-alley bar in Beijing? The answer depends on you.

Worldbuilding over the course of a series springs from that principle. A single book lays out some details of a setting, offers certain ‘truths’ about who’s good, who’s bad, who’s ugly, what magic looks and feels like, who the good guys are, and so forth—but those truths are filtered through the lens of a protagonist. To Our Hero Jane Wunderkind, Girl Inventor, the Mad Scientist’s Guild is an oppressive force preventing true social change. But what if the next book in the series focuses on Second Inspector deMaupassant’s conflicts with an insidious designer of self-replicating beetle automata who’s planning to set them loose in the center of Paris? It’s possible to tell an entire story from deMaupassant’s perspective, in which he’s the good guy and Jane’s Collective of Free Madmen (and -Women) are the danger.

Writing further books in a series is partly an exercise in finding and filling whitespace, sure, in extending the margins of the map, but merely filling whitespace leaves many possibilities unexamined. How much cooler to subvert and reinvent? To show the flip side of truths characters in prior books thought they knew? If your characters are big deal nobles and wizards, another book could show that society from beneath, or from the side.

My first book, Three Parts Dead, focused on a junior associate at an international necromancy firm—a young woman with disproportionate power and status for her age. Her life isn’t easy. She’s an outcast from much of human society as a result of her abilities. But she can bend the forces of nature (and supernature) to her whim, so there are consolations to be had. For Tara (my character), magic is awesome, something to be practiced, studied, and employed at every opportunity.

For the second book, Two Serpents Rise, I wanted to show the same world through the eyes of someone without Great Magical Powers™. Caleb, the main character in Two Serpents Rise, is a smart guy, but that’s it—he’s no Craftsman, no necromancer, and as a result the magic that defines and builds his world is a source of fear and uncertainty for him. He has status within his community, as a gambler, as a risk manager, as an employee, but he’s surrounded by forces beyond his control. For him, the fantasy setting verges regularly on horror. Meanwhile, where Tara views Craftsmen as good people discriminated against by a society that unjustly fears them, Caleb sees beings of caprice and immense magical might, that frequently disregard the rights and autonomy of other people as they pursue their own aims.

And that’s just one obvious axis. Characters in Two Serpents Rise have different perspectives as a result of their different historical, sociothaumaturgical, and racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, and classes. The juxtaposition of all those perspectives (I hope!) helps make the world real.

It turns out Obi Wan knew what he was talking about.

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.


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SciFi Book Review: Horde

Horde by Ann Aguirre

Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they’re not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn’t run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade’s love.

Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn’t been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them.

This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

With the enormous horde of mutants a looming threat, Deuce decides to raise an army to combat them. Unfortunately, there aren’t many who are willing to leave the illusive safety of their towns and follow a young girl into battle. Deuce has gone through a lot of incredible experiences as well as internal growth throughout her short life. And her relationship with Fade has continued to develop as well. The characters in this saga are amazingly vivid and engaging. From the complex Stalker with a bad past to the damaged-yet-innocent Tegan thrust into a role she feels unprepared for.

Concluding this post-apocalyptic science fiction trilogy, Horde is a story of epic proportions. It’s character-driven, yet full of intense action, suspense, mystery, drama, and romance. The final grand battle is what this whole trilogy has been leading up to and is certainly not disappointing. The first novel, Enclave was one of the most suspenseful and exciting novels I’ve ever read. This third installment the most ambitious and inspiring of them all. I highly recommend this trilogy to fans of The Hunger Games and other dystopic novels.

SciFi Book Review: TimeRiders: The Eternal War

TimeRiders: The Eternal War by Alex Scarrow

Continuing the heart-pounding, time-bending action of the TimeRiders series, The Eternal War brings readers back to a pivotal time period in American history: the Civil War. Only this alternate history is one where a young Abraham Lincoln has somehow followed Liam into the present from 1831, and the entire course of American history has changed. If the TimeRiders can’t return Lincoln to the past, the country could be trapped in a dangerous state of never-ending civil war. Can Maddy persuade two colonels on either side of no man’s land to cease fire long enough to save the future?

When Abraham Lincoln meets an early demise, the team of time travelers goes back to save him and put things right. Instead, he follows them back to the future, drastically changing America so that the Civil War is still going on in present day.

This is the fourth installment in this exciting science fiction series for young adults. The majority of this story resides in an alternate America still at war, keeping the nation divided and stifling progress. There are some unique creatures developed through eugenics – creepy and straight out of the Island of Dr. Moreau. The Eternal War is a fast-paced, thrilling adventure with plenty of suspense and engaging characters. The continuing mystery that arcs over the series, keeps me looking forward to future installments as well.

Fantasy Book Review: Hero

Hero by Alethea Kontis

Rough-and-tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she’s the only one of her sisters without any magic—until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, “Did romance have to be part of the adventure?”

Saturday thinks she’s different from the rest of her sisters in that she doesn’t have any powers. But she turns out to be the most powerful of all. After getting kidnapped and brought to a witch’s lair, she’ll need all her wits and power to combat her.

Hero is the sequel to Enchanted, though a separate story as it follows a different sister’s adventures. Enchanted was so fresh and enthralling that I had high hopes for this one. And while I loved the characters this time around, I missed some of the wonder and excitement from the previous story, the blending of various fairy tales. The bulk of this story focuses Saturday and her love interest and their fight against an evil witch. The characters are the strength of this installment, my favorite was the shapeshifting chimera named Betwix. This fantasy is a fun read for all ages, with plenty of adventure, magic, and romance.

Guest Post: Gail Martin on Gender and Genre

Ice Forged cover 2 gail-martin

Gender and Genre
By Gail Z. Martin

There’s been a lot of discussion in various places around the Net about gender and genre, specifically about women, sci-fi and fantasy. You can find that for yourself online if you’re interested: I won’t rehash. But SciFiChick asked for my 2-cents, so I’ll preface this by saying that it’s my opinion, for what it’s worth, as someone who has made a living writing epic fantasy for several years.

Maybe some of my perspective is difference because I came out of the corporate world in the 1980s and 1990s. I’m used to being the only female executive in a room, dealing with men who hailed from the Mad Men era and holding my own. As the head of Corporate Communications departments, I often worked with the CEO and Chairman, and I learned early on to hold my ground and never let ’em see you sweat. I’ve stared down boards of directors and attorneys, as well as pushy reporters. And I can flip and pin my 90 pound dog when he gets obstreperous. Maybe it was the perfect background for coming into the genre.

I’ve never run into discourteous behavior from my publishers, editors or agents. They’ve all been wonderful to work with, collaborative, respectful and professional. I know there are some folks who keep a running tally of how many women win or are nominated for certain awards, how many sit on particular boards, and that kind of thing. Maybe it’s my corporate background, but except for when I worked for a non-profit, I have never been in a work setting that was 50-50 men to women, so I don’t notice that kind of thing unless you point it out to me. I don’t expect it, so not getting it doesn’t faze me.

I look around at my author friends, some of whom are waiting for their first big break, some who are climbing up the mid-list, some who are sitting on top of the heap and some who are navigating creative transitions. I can’t say that I’ve seen those struggles go any easier for men than for women, or that I’ve seen men rocket to the top while women slog. Sometimes, I’d say that I’ve observed the opposite. I don’t think it’s entirely a gender issue, although discrimination is real and it does exist. Many times, I think frustration can be a matter of timing and luck. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time with the right story, and sometimes you’re not.

I think we’ve come a long way since George Sands turned out to be female and everyone got the vapors. By the middle of the Harry Potter series, everyone knew that JK was female and boys didn’t stop reading. I think publishers may be more hung up on perceived reader opinions than the readers are. After all, if people immediately see a writer who goes by initials, and assume the writer is female, it’s not much of a subterfuge! Are there individual dinosaurs out there, either on the consumer or publishing side, who think women “can’t” write a particular type of book? Probably. There were men who didn’t think women could or should hold certain types of corporate jobs. Flip the one-finger salute and keep moving on. Other people will recognize talent and not care which restroom you use.

When I was ten years old, my Great-Aunt Minerva sat me down for a talk. She was born in 1895, and she was a medical doctor, following in the footsteps of her father. She had co-habitated with her long-time partner Frank for 40 years, but they never married, the family rumor said, because they didn’t want to mingle their stock portfolios. Minerva was a force of nature. And she told me to do what I pleased with my life and to hell with what anybody’s opinion was.

I guess that stuck with me. An awful lot of people tried to tell me that I couldn’t be something or do something, and they had their reasons, that it wasn’t ladylike or that their view of God didn’t like it. Salute and move on. I don’t have time to keep tallies. Too busy doing what I do. In the long run, succeeding at what you want to do makes your point better than any argument. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


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