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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky (Interviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Adrian Tchaikovsky Website
Read FBC Review of "Empire in Black and Gold"
Read FBC Review of "Dragonfly Falling"
Read FBC Review of "Blood of the Mantis"
Order "Blood of the Mantis" HERE

Here at FBC we are big time fans of the Kinden series which is an epic story with multiple characters and threads in a very special and superbly done universe, the one of the Insect Kinden People both Apt (engineers - Beetle, Fly, Ant, Wasp, Bee Kinden) or Inapt (magicians, warriors and masters of intrigue - Spiders, Moth, Mantis, Mosquito, Scorpion, Dragonfly - Kinden).

There is magic and engineering, epic fantasy story lines and steampunk ones, love stories, betrayals, and intrigue, mysterious and powerful artifacts and deadly mass produced weapons, flying people and flying machines. There are large scale battles with aerial bombings, rail invasions, mechanized attacks as well as sword duels, night attacks in forests, initiation rituals and knife fights in crowded streets or dark rooms. The books pack so much and develop so many characters and threads that they are starting to form one of the most complex series in recent sff.

So when the opportunity appeared to query Mr. Tchaikovsky about the series, I immediately jumped to it and the result is the following interview. I will note that while there are no "direct" spoilers, the interview is very series-focused so there is some detailed discussion about the three volume so far and there are lots of "implicit" spoilers. I split the questions in several parts based on their theme, but all below is about the Kinden!

I want to extend my deep thanks to Adrian Tchaikovsky for his excellent and clarifying answers and to his Tor publicist Chloe Healy for making the interview possible.



Introduction and general info

1. Thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the interview. To start could you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write - and why the Insect Kinden? Or is it invertebrate/arthropod Kinden since spiders and scorpions are not insects?

Adrian: I've been writing for publication since I was 18. I've always been interested in creating stories in a variety of formats, and I've always been an avid reader, and so I suppose the two just came together. As for the insect-kinden, I've also always been a keen amateur naturalist, and insects fascinate me. It came very naturally to me, to have races based on various types of invertebrates (yes, I know, but insect-kinden is a lot easier to throw around as a convenient label), where other writers might have used wolves, bears and other bigger game.

2. What books/authors have influenced you?

Adrian: I particularly admire writers like Gene Wolfe and China Mieville who break very new ground in their writing, and Peter Beagle for his elegant style. My younger reading was full of Diane Wynne-Jones and Ursula le Guin, whose writing set me up with a whole chestful of memes I could later draw on, and showed me that fantasy needn't be about cliches.

3. How would you persuade someone who has not yet read any of your novels to give them a try?

Adrian: I'd keep prodding them with a stick until they relented. Or... Something that's been said about Shadows of the Apt is that it manages to walk a balance: it has enough of the elements of classic heroic fantasy that it's not going to alienate people, whilst at the same time it's sufficiently new and different, both in the content and the execution, that it won't bore them. Plus, insects! How anyone could turn down insects I don't know.

4. Would you recommend a newbie to your work to start with your site and check out the short stories, the essays, the art? There is a lot of material there and it may be overwhelming at first so what would be a great starting point in your opinion?

Adrian: Ideally you should be able to start anywhere, but it probably makes most sense to start with the novels, and to a certain extent the stories are there to tide people over between book releases. Later on, there will be stories which, if read too early, will be "spoilers" for revelations in the novels, but I'll mark these up when they occur, and there haven't been any yet.

Series Structure and further plans:

5. The series so far consists of two sprawling novels "Empire in Black and Gold" and "Dragonfly Falling" which follow a large and getting larger cast of characters, a number of increasing threads and in consequence many jumps between the pov's and locations, and then "Blood of the Mantis" which is considerably shorter, tighter, focused only on some characters and some threads, with the rest appearing essentially as cameos. Why the change and was it planned from the beginning or it just happened as the story progressed and took over? What about the short stories - do you plan a collection?

Adrian: To a certain extent, as the series grows, with each book adding new elements, places and characters, it becomes a necessity to spend more time with certain groups in a given book. Even in book 2, Totho and Salma got a lot more "screen time" than, say, Achaeos and Cheerwell, and that's one reason why their roles are reversed in Mantis.

Book 4 will draw them all back together again, and we'll see considerably more of Salma, Totho and Drephos, whom some people have missed a bit in book 3. As for a short story collection, I'd be very keen to see it in print, but it's something that only time will confirm.

6. I know that at least 3 more books are scheduled at six months intervals. Is that all for now or more is planned?

Adrian: Ideally, if I get all I want out of the series, the current large plot arc will run to 10 books, with spare plot left over for further forays as the opportunity arises.

7. What is going to be the structure of the new novels - sprawling as the first two, or tighter as #3?

Adrian: Book 4, "Salute the Dark", will probably look more like book 2 - Blood of the Mantis takes place over winter, and the armies aren't marching. It's a gap in the war for various characters to pursue their own errands. By the time Salute the Dark starts, the wheels of war are moving again, and it's essentially the Lowlands' one last chance to stop the invasion in its tracks.

8. Do you have a clear plan of where the series - at least the current threads like the Wasp War of conquest and the Shadow Box magic - goes, or are you letting the story to take over to some extent?

Adrian: I've actually completed at least a draft of the new few books, and have a fairly detailed plot structure for the rest, but there's no guarantee that my carefully-laid plans won't get thrown by fresh ideas, or by logical consequences of events that I've already written about. I find it impossible to nail a plot down once it's gathered sufficient momentum.

Kinden, Apt/Inapt, Magic/Engineering

9. In Blood of the Mantis we see one very intriguing new Kinden, get hints of another, as well as see a different type of Beetles. Are we going to see more new Kinden or sub-Kinden that will be important?

Adrian: Absolutely. The world is larger than that part of it we've seen in the books. There are many more kinden out there, and some of them will have extremely important roles to play.

10. What about half-breeds? They tend to be outcasts and despised though some play important roles. Are we going to see some kind of "universal city" that truly welcomes them?

Adrian: FOIP. Which is to say, find out in print...

11. Why the separation in Apt/Inapt based on Kinden type? Not 100% strict as the example of a moth master engineer or a wasp magician show, but reasonably strict? Do you feel that magic and science/engineering need to be separate even if they coexist in time as here?

Adrian: That they are separate, and that there has been this paradigm shift (if I can use what it probably a very trendy piece of management-speak) from a magically-informed society to a mechanically-informed one, is one of the most important parts of the book, and to an extent is what the book is about.

Unusual individuals like Drephos or Tegrec highlight the otherwise strict separation, and to a certain extent foreshadow what might happen should, say, the old world of the Inapt start to intrude more aggressively into the societies of the Apt (a "Shadow of the Apt", one might say...)

12. I like the way you present the dichotomy between magic and science/engineering, the first retreating as the second advances and generally wins direct confrontation as in the Apt or the Spider masters of intrigue who can manipulate the Apt, taking over. Is science and engineering with their empowering of the masses inevitable to triumph? I see how repeating guns, attack flying machines, fast air/rail transport will always have a huge advantage against very skilled but essentially individualistic masters of magic or sword, but can this change?

Adrian: Magic in the Shadows series is very subtle. It is almost always possible to explain its effects away, and the Apt have a inbuilt inclination to do so, and thereby deny magic's existence. On that basis, it would be extremely easy for a magician to run the world just by tweaking away at the thoughts of the Apt around him.

However, the activities of the Apt, their massed disbelief, weaken magic and magicians, and even the wider Inapt who are not magicians in themselves - hence Salma's reaction to the factory city of Helleron in Empire. In welcoming the Apt, and ruling over them, the Spiders have diminished their magical might, and they maintain their use mostly through political acumen and their Art (which, however mystical it may seem to us, is emphatically not magic...)


13. Do you have a favorite character (s)? I confess that Tisamon is the coolest one so far for me, the best sword-master in recent fantasy by far imho, but the new mysterious guy from Blood of the Mantis who saves the day several times for our heroes has great potential also. I also like Seda, Nero, Gaved, Taki, all characters that started as minor ones but became more prominent as the series continued. The Mosquito sorcerers are also cool.

Adrian: For me it's down to who's the most fun to write for. Thalric the Wasp is one of my all-time favorites, and then there's Teornis, and Drephos, who has his gloriously amoral, utterly consistent ideology. Tisamon is different to write. He's very touchy, and sometimes it seems he's about to explode at any moment and kill some secondary character that I really need for later on.

14. What about Salma? Are we going to see him more in the following novels or is he becoming too much of a "legend" now? What about Thalric - while we saw him in all volumes, he seems (understandably) to fade. Will he regain his mojo?

Adrian: Salma has a grand and important part to play in the next book. You see him enough in book 3 to know what he's doing with his time, but he's back with a vengeance, and a dream, for Salute the Dark.

15. Do you feel that any character is indispensable and should we be prepared for some to die?

Adrian: Well, I have a philosophy, when it comes to victory in fantasy novels (or any kind of story, really). I have read books where the heroes just kind of swagger to their eventual goal, and then triumph over the Big Bad with such tedious inevitability that one wonders whether half of them couldn't have stayed at home. I feel cheated by that kind of denouement. Heroes have to earn their victories, and sometimes blood is the only coin.

16. Without giving too much up can you comment a bit on the contrast between the forthrightness of Stenwold and the deviousness of Teornis who in a sense are the prime movers on the "good guy side" so far.

Adrian: Interesting question. Stenwold isn't necessarily as forthright as you might think. He's a spymaster, after all, and his best intentions take quite a beating. He makes a lot of compromises, and he has to put up with allies who really aren't necessarily much better than his enemies, save as to who happens to be invading whom. However, he does at least acknowledge a moral code, even if he must, of a necessity, play fast and loose with it on occasion. He has an ideology that leads him to risk his friends to save a wider world of strangers.

Conversely Teornis will sacrifice a thousand strangers for his family and those he respects (perhaps including Stenwold). He's a Machiavellian schemer willing to sacrifice any number of strangers to achieve his intricate political ends, and if history had turned out differently Stenwold could easily have been facing down a Spiderlands invasion with Teornis at the helm. Nothing but happenstance has placed the two of them on the same side.


17. Any plans to write in a different universe, a different genre, a different period in the Kinden universe?

Adrian: I have some ideas for where the kinden go, after this current plot arc has played itself out, and the idea of revisiting them in their future is intriguing, but probably a bad idea (Bugs... in... Space...!). Some stories have had a look at past times, but any longer prequel work will suffer from the usual problem of the reader knowing, at the back of his mind, exactly what is going to happen with the wider world, and that's an issue I'd have to have strong ideas how to work around.

I certainly have ideas for different settings There are several other worlds, some fantasy, some sci-fi and some more historical, that I would like to write about, other ideas still on the drawing board, but for the moment Shadows of the Apt is demanding my full attention.

Note: Adrian Tchaikovsky's books are published by Tor in the UK as original mmpb's, while in the USA the first three installments will be published by Pyr Books starting in early 2010. However you get them, get them so to speak and try this superb series asap!!


The Reader said...

Excellent interview Liviu, I for one, was always interested in knowing Mr. Tchaikowsky's future plans for the Kinden books & I certainlyope he gets to write them all.


ito said...

Well, I just finished Salute the Dark and I am very disappointed as it puts paid to my 3 favourite characters. I really didn't care about the ones that were left alive.

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