Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Empire of Silence blog tour – Q and A with Christopher Ruocchio

I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour for Empire of Silence. There's been so much buzz about this book online and I can't wait to get my own copy. Thank you Christopher for joining me on the blog today!

Tell us about your book and your main character.

Empire of Silence is a classic space opera adventure crossed with epic fantasy. Set in the very remote future, it’s the story of a war between humanity’s vast, interstellar empire and an invading horde of aliens called the Cielcin. It is also the story of Hadrian Marlowe, the son of a wealthy but minor aristocrat who rejects his place in the hierarchy and his father’s plans for him and who—despite his best intentions—gets swept up into this war and ends up becoming the man who ends it all. That’s not a spoiler. The book’s written as a memoir, like Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. For Hadrian, the past is already written, but these books are his attempt to set the record straight, to tell his side of the story. Hadrian’s a bit Lord Byron, a bit T.E. Lawrence: a sometimes-brooding, sometimes-laughingly charismatic, always dramatic sort who—like the Luke Skywalker of old—attempts to do the right thing  because, at the heart of things, he’s a deeply decent person. The world is not often kind to such people, of course, and road is long and terrible. This is a book and a series for people that like deep worldbuilding and narratives heavy on character. If you’re looking for a book and universe to sink your teeth into: this is it.

It’s really interesting that Empire of Silence draws elements from different genres. Was this a conscious decision? How did you go about it?

No, it happened quite unconsciously. There’s a Japanese RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube called Tales of Symphonia that came out when I was around 11 or 12 years old, and it’s set in this very medieval-seeming world with swords and crossbows; the main character is raised by a dwarf. As the game progresses more and more science fictional elements appear: spaceships, parallel dimensions, genetic experimentation, and so on. I saw no reason why these elements should be kept apart, so Empire is a science fictional story written like a fantasy epic. The truth is, I think that genre distinctions are only useful for booksellers. They want to know which books have spaceships and which ones have wizards and whether those wizards live in Minas Tirith or Chicago. But I think there’s a danger there. Fandoms seem increasingly atomic and walled-off from one another to me. I know SF fans who won’t read fantasy, and epic fantasy fans who won’t read urban fantasy. It reminds me of the way metal music fans might listen to, say, only power metal, but not black metal, for example. And one consequence of that is that while the genres get smaller and tailor themselves to more and more dedicated, loyal audiences, fewer and fewer works get read by everyone. Genre is a menu system, but the problem with menus is that most of us just buy our favorite thing at the restaurant every time we go. I hope that either Empire is a strange enough combination to be someone’s new favorite thing, or that it’s familiar enough in one or two different ways that some fans will open the first page and feel like they’ve come home for the first time.

What is your writing process? Do you have any tips or rituals that work for you?

I’m afraid I’m terribly boring, truth be told. I’ve never understood these writers who can only write in a specific way in a specific place by the light of a specific moon. I try to think of writing as a job. I do have to wake up and start at the beginning of the day, or else nothing will get done, but beyond that I try and sit down and do 2000 words a day. I also work full time as an editor at Baen Books in the US, so most days I get about half my writing done between 6 and 8 AM, before work, and the rest when I get home in the evening. The only thing I think that might be unusual about me is that I insist on reading everything aloud as I compose it. I’m a very auditory person, so I find it’s easier to think that way, but hearing your work said aloud will not only help you catch errors, but it is also the case that good writing must sound good. If you’ve written a bad sentence, your ears will absolutely let you know.

Where did your idea come from?

Not from any one particular place. I’ve been heavily inspired by the space opera of the ‘60s and ‘80s, but as I’ve mentioned I’ve been influenced by certain video games (like the aforementioned Tales of Symphonia), and anime/manga series like Cowboy Bebop and Berserk. I’m also a huge fan of classic literature: from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Luo Guanzhong. History itself provides a lot of inspiration, from the history of the Roman and Byzantine empires, to classical Persia and China, to the history of the great empires of the last millennium. I was also raised Roman Catholic, and though the question of what I believe or don’t believe—or what belief even means—is something that it would take far more than a blog post to unpack, it is fair to say that my religious upbringing has played a role in shaping the person and the writer I am today (but fear not, Empire is not a religious book in any way). So what I hope I’ve done is borrow a piece or two from all these works and traditions which have impacted me and hammered all these different metals together into something both familiar and new. And I hope everyone likes it!

Who was your favourite character to write and why?

Well, not counting Hadrian, it’s hard to say. Hadrian’s tutor, Gibson, was particularly fun. Older mentor characters are a tired trope, perhaps, but a classic, and he gave me an excuse to get in some good Socratic banter. There’s also Valka, who I wouldn’t necessarily characterize as my favorite to write more than she was a complete nightmare. She’s a sort of alien archaeologist and Hadrian’s intellectual foil—they disagree on nearly everything, which causes every scene they’re in together to multiply in complexity. Nonetheless, I think the end result was worth the headache. She may not be my favorite to write, but she is among my favorite characters to have written—if that makes any sense. I will also add that there’s a character who doesn’t appear until book two that was an absolute joy to write: so that will give you all a little something else to look forward to down the road.

Why do you think sci-fi and fantasy are such popular genres?

This is one of those questions that could get me into trouble! I think that human beings need some sort of mythology to embed their lives in and to help give them meaning. For most of history and for most people today, that purpose was filled by religion. A lot of people today have a hard time with classical religions, for one reason or another, and genre fiction these days seems a more palatable way for people to inhabit a mythological way of thinking. People relate their day-to-day struggles to the lives of characters in Harry Potter, for example, treating Harry, Ron, and Hermione almost like patron saints. People talk quite casually about their struggles “with the Dark Side” or attend festivals/conventions in costume. Fandoms look very much like pagan ritual cults in the Greek sense, with initiation rituals and gatekeepers and even orthodox beliefs (just look at the huge schism breaking up Star Wars fandom right now over The Last Jedi). Mind you, none of this is to disparage either religion or fandom: I think they’re all descriptions of whatever the deep truth about human nature is (and we do have a nature, it’s not all a matter of opinion or acculturation). It’s only that some of these mythologies are more complete and accurate descriptions of the human condition than others. Obviously a single book written by a single 22-year-old is going to be less nuanced and impactful than a 2000-year-old tradition touched and edited by millions of hands, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak to the same needs.

Can you give us any hints what's next in the series?

Well, I’ve already finished book two, which is a good deal darker than the first book. It sees us leave the relative stability and decency of the Sollan Empire for the frontier and the horror that lies beyond. If this first book is my love letter to ‘60s and ‘80s space opera, this second one is a strange mix of Gothic horror and space. The second volume is much heavier on the action, much heavier on the space travel, there’s more aliens, more mysteries, and more deaths. It was an absolute joy to write and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone here in a year or so.

Finally, if you could visit anywhere on Earth or in the Universe, where would you go?

Most of all, I’d like to go to Italy. My family came to America from Benevento at the very start of the 20th century, and I’ve never been myself. I’d love to go to Rome and to Florence in particular. I’d love to do a circuit of the eastern Mediterranean one day: Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria—given how much I adore classical history—but I don’t know if I’m that ambitious a traveler. As for other places in the universe...I’m not too sure I would leave Earth, given the chance. Everything I know about space travel makes it sound extremely onerous and unpleasant, and the truth is that I’m happy to watch our progress in space from the green hills of Earth, but I do hope that in my lifetime we put men and women on Mars and the moons of Jupiter. The photographs alone would be something to see.

I want to read this book even more now after that interview! Some great writing tips and tantalising teasers about what's coming next in the series as well. Thank you Christopher for your answers and to Gollancz for inviting me to join the blog tour.

To see where the blog tour is going next, check out this banner: 

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