The classification of Speculative Fiction is a very broad one. Inside that, the most common genres are science fiction and fantasy. Most readers think of these as “spaceships” and “magic”. But what about those of us who like spaceships with magic?
Take steam punk as an example. In recent years, its popularity has skyrocketed. You get the social constrictions of history with the possibilities of the future, all rolled up into an interesting concept that has endless amounts of potential.
For me, I keep falling into a mindset based on Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This naturally leads to my mind working backwards. Things like, “so is ESP magic?” Enter my Rise of the Iliri series. Or, “What makes life?” And that spawned a series I currently have one hold based on the idea of sentient planets. And then there’s the pondering that I can only verbalize as, “Ummm?” that resulted in a nearly finished novel (with series potential) about our human love for chemical energy and an alien species who built their technology on potential energy. On the outside, it looks like science vs. magic, but each species sees the others’ side as the magic.
You see, this conundrum is something I adore. I think the urge to lump things as magic is a part of our human condition. From the earliest written histories, we’ve tried to explain the unknown with the supernatural. Greeks thought thunder was a god, as an example. Today, we’re studying quantum particles that can reach into the past. The miracles of science are so hard to understand that it makes us, as humans, think. That leads to trying to explain. Those stories? For me? They make some amazing books.
But I grew up on Fantasy. I lived on dragons, magic, and secret worlds. It’s not just the miraculous possibilities that I loved, but also the language. The stories are told in a more character driven manner (than typical hard-core sci-fi) with a comfort to the descriptions that feels relaxed. The stories aren’t as “serious” in their presentation. As a reader, I liked that these books let my mind wander, helped me escape the trauma of everyday life, and didn’t try to make me feel stupid.
So, when I started writing, I found myself compelled to use a similar style to what I was most comfortable with. Yes, I have my own “author’s voice”. I think we all do. It’s inherent to having a personality (and boy do I!). Then again, I also spent a whole lot of time in my previous life (before authorhood) explaining complex science to people who had no scientific training. I’m used to putting those highly technical concepts into basic language, and it’s something I dearly love. Geeking out with a fellow enthusiast is a hobby I will probably never get over. So, I try to bring that into my books.
See, in all Fantasy, authors are told to make sure that their magic has rules. Hmm. Doesn’t that mean it’s basically science? If magic is predictable, controllable, and can be studied like that, then basically, it’s just unknown physics. Well, if you keep going down that rabbit hole, then it makes sense to work backwards from any fantasy concept to the “why” of it all. Why can the iliri do the things they do? Because they were derived from the indigenous species who could. Well, why could they? Because they have a different genetic structure. So how does that….
Well, you see how it works. And so, I worked all the way back down the evolution of my made up little beasties. I realized they had to be white – evolutionarily speaking – but would naturally have variances due to the extended time frame I was working with. They had to have specific traits, including their societies. Those traits formed their culture and instinctual behavior. Initially, the idea of them was inspired by the picture here (which I think is just an amazing render, by the way). But things changed as I worked my way back to their creation.
And so, I think of all my fantasy work as Science Fantasy. Many people pick up BloodLust and are immediately confused. There’s a strange mix of technology, modern language, and the potential for a standard, fantasy based world – but it’s not European or feudalistic. There’s a reason for that, but I’m not the kind of author who is going to spoon feed you. If you want to know, then figure it out. It’s my challenge to my audience: to give them a framework to find their own fantasies.
Everything I write, I try to explain. It might be a single line, buried in the middle of an angry character’s rant, lost in the shuffle of high impact action – but it’s there. I leave it dangling for you to take or leave as you wish. And you know what? Sometimes, I get it wrong. Sometimes, I change my mind and leave a bit of “old story shrapnel” behind. A few brilliant readers have caught those things and called me on them. Kudos to them. See, those little details make me think harder, and I love to wallow in my own brain power. I love to imagine, daydream, and create.
And I play the long game. Maybe it’s because I learned from Anne McCaffrey. Her dragons on Pern? I had a love/hate relationship with that series, but I did read it at a formidable time. I always found myself drawn to the stories that explained gods as aliens, showed magic as a virus, or gave the reader something plausible to ponder. Keyword: plausible. The “what-if” that I’m addicted to has shaped my mind as an author, and I love it. I love thinking about the why as much as the what-happens-next. I love building worlds that are deep enough, varied enough, and interesting enough to make my readers want more.
And I’ll keep giving you more so long as I’m able. There have been serious discussions with my publishing group about writing novellas based around the side characters in the Rise of the Iliri series (later. When I’m done with other things). Or showing the enemy’s side of the story. I don’t know if I’ll do that, but it would be interesting. Mostly, I plan to keep writing, keep producing books at some inhuman speed to feed my own need for escapism, and hopefully, some of you will come along for the ride.