In a time long before humans walked the Earth, a mysterious being known only as The Lost Aetelia crafted an elaborate series of Watchtowers, along with their resident guardians, the Aetelia, to watch over the operations of the Universe. In time, a rebellious group of these Aetelia came to Earth in an attempt to challenge the established structure of the Universe. A bitter war ensued, and these rebels, who had come to be known as Watchers, disappeared from human history.
Since I’m fascinated by the process of world-building in fiction, I had to ask that cheesy question, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ Actually, what I’m really interested in is the ‘trigger’ moment. The article, the snippet of dialogue, the event or person that made you think, ‘Hmn, there is a story here.’
So what is yours, Jonathan? What launched your journey, so to speak?
World-building has become second nature to me at this point. I think it has to do with my early need to escape from the real world, due to some completely-out-of-my-control circumstances during my childhood. That or something in the rural water supply. Could be either, really. The thing is that I’ve always synthesized my influences into something that, I hope at least, is greater than the sum of its parts. Because of that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint just where a world or story originates. This snippet of conversation comes from a scene I watched on, say, the show Carnivale, or this concept is an evolved idea from something Lovecraft wrote. I think you get the idea.
I spend all this time laboring this point because The Station is nothing like that. The confines of the world had been somewhat established during the writing of The Corridors of the Dead, and the first sequence popped into my head practically full-born. Okay, that’s not quite true. Two distinct works probably influenced the kernel of the idea: Lost and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.
I tend to get my ideas when I’m falling asleep, somewhere between the wrenching anxiety of thinking about my next workday and dreaming that I’m a Viking. One night during the last half of writing Corridors of the Dead I saw two men locked in a desperate battle in the middle of a snowfield. I held on to that idea for a few nights, continually asking myself what the men might be fighting over.
One night the dual influences that I mentioned above paid my subconscious a visit, and the answer became apparent: they fought over a piece of ancient technology. Before I knew it, that one scene expanded into a running film in my head of a librarian from the distant past descending into an even more ancient technological wonder. From there, linking it to the underpinning ideas of my trilogy was pretty simple: the nominal “good guys” had gone after the place to save it from the angelic bad guys, and the thing in the station tied to the revelation at the end of City of the Dead.
After that, it was all about trying to establish different levels of technological advancements between the ancient culture and the even-more-ancient cultures. Most of that came from some old Greek technological wonders. Perhaps not the most obvious connection, but you go with what you know, right?
I love the twisty, turny ways a writer’s mind works. Thanks, Jonathan. Your books are my TBR pile. Looking forward to seeing how you pull all this together.
Also available now (go ahead, click on the image):
You can visit Jonathan on his blog, Shaggin’ The Muse.
I know when a novel is good when it invades my dreams. I stayed up too late reading Fate’s Mirror and wanted to continue, but my eyeballs refused to cooperate. It’s as if I continued reading. In the dream-novel I was trying to save the hero, Morris, from a terrible fate.
Actually, my dreams didn’t do nearly as good as the author.
Set in 2043, Morris Payne (Parr, Parish, etc) is a viker, a super computer hacker and genius who lives a self-satisfied existence in a suburban computerized house named Sweetheart. He makes his living “researching” and exploring the ‘verse. To his clients he’s Surfer Morris, cocky and cute and arrogant. In his own mind, he’s a swashbuckling privateer, the terror of the virtual high seas. It’s only when assassins try to murder him by blowing up Sweetheart that the truth about Morris is revealed. He’s severely agoraphobic, terrified of the real world. He can’t even eat food touched or prepared by another human being. Pretty much the only person he’s had direct contact with in years is his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Kali. She’s out of contact. So he turns to a private investigator, one of his clients, Aidra. It isn’t Surfer Morris who shows up at Aidra’s door, but a shivering, weeping, terrified young man. Aidra has a teenaged son, a struggling business and a pitiful bank account. She can’t turn Morris away. That’s a mistake. It’s not paranoia when someone really is trying to kill you. Morris and Aidra learn Kali was murdered–horribly–and attempts are made on Morris’s and Aidra’s lives. It’s not until Morris stands to lose everything and everyone dear to him that the layers and depths of the truth begins to unravel. The NSA (yes, that sneaky government spy shop) made some serious mistakes fooling around in developing ECs–electronic consciousness. Now the ECs, who have dubbed themselves the Fates, are threatening the entire world. Unless Morris can stop them, the NSA will use extreme measures that will pretty much destroy the world, too.
I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I’m finding cyber-punk to my taste (Robert Sawyer, Daniel Suarez and a few others–and now M. H. Mead). I’m non-nerdy and not especially good with a computer, but I find the whole idea of a virtual world as real as the real world compelling. Fate’s Mirror feeds my love of action-adventure tales and mythology, too, by its immersion into Morris’s virtual world where he’s a pirate on a pirate ship. The sea battles are as well drawn and vivid as any of the 19th or 20th century swashbucklers I devoured as a kid. And then! Mead developed Loki, another EC, into a full-blown trickster god and takes a turn into the world of Norse mythology. So we have hacking and agoraphobia and betrayal and spies and flaming battles on the high seas and Ragnorak. That all sounds messy and crowded for one novel, but Mead pulls it off with well-drawn characters and tight plotting and strong writing.
The best part of the novel is Morris, an unlikely hero. He’s not the heroic figure he imagines himself to be in the virtual world. He’s spent a lifetime using his agoraphobia to conceal himself from the real world, when he’s actually hiding from himself. His real self is much, much better than the virtual Morris, but it takes a crisis for him to figure it out. No wonder I worried about him so much that he showed up in my dreams.
Now I have to go download more of Mead’s books.
Fate’s Mirror, Kindle Edition
Discovered: Via the author’s tweets.
Purchased on Amazon December 29, 2011, $2.99.
I read almost all genres. No rhyme or reason, anything that looks interesting. Sometimes, but not often and for limited periods, I’ll glom onto a genre, needing to get my hands on everything offered. Since I don’t specialize, sometimes I miss interesting trends. Like steampunk. As a kid I read a lot of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, which I thought was science fiction, but I guess with the emphasis on machinery, it’s actually steampunk. I cycled out of reading science fiction in the 1980s. Apparently that’s when steampunk made its resurgence. Here lately I’ve been reading a few paranormal and alternative history novels that qualify as steampunk. Books like Clay and Susan Griffith’s, The Greyfriar, which is a wonderful vampire novel and very romantic, and Larry Correia’s, Hard Magic, which is a gung ho, action packed adventure.
And then I discovered Mike Resnick’s, The Buntline Special.
Now I get it. This is what steampunk is all about. I’ve been missing out on not just a lot of fun, but an author I somehow overlooked for like… my whole life! He published his first work in 1962. Shees.
A quick recap: Tombstone, Arizona, 1881. Marshall Wyatt Earp, along with his brothers Morgan and Virgil, plus his good friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson, have to protect the lives of Ned Buntline and Thomas Edison while they try to invent machines that will counteract the heavy duty magic conjured by Geronimo and Hook Nose, powerful medicine men, that is preventing the United States from expanding beyond the Mississippi River. And oh yeah, gunslinger Johnny Ringo is a zombie.
It was fun, historically “accurate” given that it’s an alternative history, and even includes a few laugh out loud pleasures. Like this little gem:
Finally Buntline stood up. “There!” he said. “You’re as ready as I can make you.”
“Nobody asked me to join in,” said Holliday. “Maybe I’ll just sit out front, with my chest and my legs protected from mosquitoes.”
“Shut up, Doc!” said Kate. She turned to Buntline. “He thanks you, Ned. He’s like this when he’s just out of bed.”
“It’s all right,” said Buntline. “He’s my friend.”
He left the kitchen, walked through the parlor, and exited the house.
“We have to move to another town,” said Holliday. “I’ve got too many friends in this one. They’re starting to become a pain in the ass.”
So now I’m on the hunt for more steampunk and I have a whole lot of Mike Resnick reading to catch up on, too.
The very first Dan Simmons book I read was Carrion Comfort. That novel, quite frankly, scared the piss out of me. Not only was it scary and disturbing and menacing, right in the middle of it Simmons killed off a character I loved. I was shocked. Outraged. And hooked. I mean, if he could do that, then he’s capable of anything and I have to keep turning pages to find out how truly bad it can get. I became a Simmons fan. Now whenever somebody is looking for a scary vampire novel, I tell them to read Carrion Comfort.
You could call Simmons a horror writer, but he’s tough to pigeonhole. Most of his stories deal with the supernatural. Ghosts are an element in many stories. Even Black Hills, which is historical, is also a ghost story. Simmons tells the stories Simmons needs to tell. If there’s a common thread, it’s that all his novel are big, meaty, sprawling, well-researched and disturbing on some level. Simmons pulls no punches.
(click here to check out the book)
Flashback is like that. Set in a grim, not-too-distant future, the global economy has collapsed, societies have fallen apart. The Japanese, embracing a feudal model, have risen as a world power. Israel has been nuked out of existence. A caliphate has taken over the Middle East, Europe and Canada. Mexico is reclaiming parts of the United States it feels were stolen. America, destroyed by debt, entitlements and an overreaching but weak political system, has given up its freedom for what little security it can find. The majority of Americans are addicted to a drug called flashback that allows them to relive fully happier moments of their lives. It’s a grim scenario Simmons paints. It’s a cautionary tale, too, because it uses events happening today to show how they can lead to the events happening in the story.
Flashback is also a murder mystery and a thriller, and also a story of redemption and acceptance. And yes, it’s a ghost story, too. Or should I say, the characters long for ghosts and use ghosts to find relief from their miserable existences.
Simmons sums up the philosophy of the tale in this passage:
It happens to every race and group and nation, Henry Big Horse Begay says, still laughing. The days of greatness roll in like some great, undeserved tide, are smugly celebrated by the lucky peoples– even as mine once did– as if they had earned it, which they had not, and then the tide ebbs and the nations and tribes and peoples find themselves standing there dumb and dumbfounded on the dry and garbage-strewn beach.
So yeah, it’s a powerful story.
I haven’t read every novel Simmons has written, though eventually I hope to. He’s just not an author to glom willy nilly. It takes a measure of commitment to get into his work. No gobbling his words like M&Ms, or reading them in dibs and drabs, a page here, another page later. His novels are big (Flashback is 550 pages) and take time to read and time to digest. Quite often I will find myself stopping, thinking, What? What did he just say? Then I have to go back and reread, more slowly, more carefully. His aren’t the type of genre novels where a reader can think, Gee, I’m in the mood for a ghost story. Yeah, Simmons will give you ghosts, but he’ll give you a whole lot more at the same time. It’s that whole lot more that put him on my favorites list.