You carry over the characters and worldbuilding so well from story to story. What is the hardest part of maintaining such continuity when writing a series?
It isn’t really hard, because I’m working with a setting that is already familiar to me. The Kaslo Chronicles are part of a larger narrative, that of the technological civilization of the Ten Thousand Worlds on the eve of the cataclysmic event that will shatter it completely: the sudden transition from a universe based on cause and effect to one based on sympathetic association — i.e., from rationalism to magic. I’ve been writing elements of this megastory for more than twenty years now; the original idea occurred in my first novel, Fools Errant, which was written back in the 1980s and first published in 1994, and I picked it up again when I created Henghis Hapthorn in 2004.
Kaslo’s early conversation with Saunterance touches on questions of identity and worth, and perhaps even what it means to be alive. Elements of this can also be seen later when Saunterance disagrees with Obron’s decision. Self-awareness in constructs is a frequent theme in science fiction stories, yet here you ask the reader to consider the implications in a distinctly fantasy setting. What other themes or subjects do you encourage readers to consider while engaging with these stories?
The overarching story is that of Kaslo, an immensely competent man in his natural habitat, who has to learn how to cope with a sudden shift to a very dangerous environment in which his skills are not much use. By contrast, there’s also Obron, who was a bit of a ninny in the old universe but who is becoming a genuine power in the new. The theme there is that we are all creatures of our environments, and if we are plucked from them into something new and antithetical, we’ll find out just how adaptable we are. Or not.
The narrative voice for the story lends itself well to the worldbuilding, a new and fantastic reality framed by perceptions and longing for the old. How important is a distinct narrative voice to you in a story?
Very important. I doubt that people of the far distant future I’m imagining would speak like twenty-first century North Americans. So I give them a formal diction drawn from Edwardian English, with fair doses of irony. It’s appropriate to the story because the Edwardians saw their own civilization crash and become something unrecognizable as a consequence of World War I. I’ve written other stories in other styles, including hardboiled noir and what I think of as straightforward North American genre prose, if that’s what fits the mood of the tale I’m setting out to tell.
There’s a nod to the wry, adventurous, and sometimes hapless Henghis Hapthorn in the story. You recently mentioned being open to the possibility of another Hapthorn novel. Might Kaslo make an appearance if such a novel gets the green light?
Could be. I never know what’s going to happen in a story when I start writing. I get the thing going and wait to see what the guy in the back of my head (or, as my wife insists, my right brain) sends me.
You make no argument about your love of Jack Vance’s writing. How do you feel his works have influenced your own writing over the years?
Immensely. I was formed largely in the sixties, when anti-heroes were all the rage, and Vance was wonderful at anti-heroes. He has strongly influenced my dialogue, as anyone who reads us will recognize, but he was also a genius at minimalist description — only the necessary details, and nary a jot more — and I have always been attracted to that as well. Our themes are different; he tended to create tough-minded protagonists who drive themselves relentlessly through the plots, whereas my lead characters are more prone to self-doubt. That’s mainly because, like Kaslo or Hapthorn or Filidor the apprentice Archon in the Fool books, they find themselves having to deal with situations where they have to react counterintuitively to their normal ways of thinking.
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