Tor Books is thrilled to offer us a giveaway and interview with the author of the incredibly lush fantasy, UNWRAPPED SKY by Rjurik Davidson, a master of the New Weird.
Welcome to the city of Caeli-Amur, where minotaurs stalk the streets, magic is science (or science is magic), and revolution bubbles beneath the streets…
In the darkly weird vein of China Miéville and Jeff VanderMeer, Davidson takes the stage with this stunningly original world and a cast of characters so real they bleed.
This Week’s Posts and Book Giveaways: (Monday) Excerpt of Ecko Burning by Danie Ware; (Tuesday) Podcast on Bloodsounders Arc with Jeff Salyards; (Wednesday) Interview about Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson
This week, AISFP Newsletter subscribers from the US and Canada will be entered to win one of:
- 3 paper copies of Ecko Burning
- 3 hardback sets of Jeff Salyards’ Bloodsounders Arc (Scourge of the Betrayer and Veil of the Deserters)
- 3 hardback copies of The Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson.
Subscribe by Monday, June 9th at 11:59 PM CDT.
Rjurik Davidson has been an Associate Editor of Overland magazine, as well as a writer of short stories, essays, screenplays and reviews. His fiction has been published in Postscripts, Years Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volumes One, Two and Four, Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror 2006, SciFiction, Aurealis, Borderlands and elsewhere. PS Publishing published a collection of short stories, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. He has been short-listed and won a number of awards.
Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.
Tim Ward: The book description and some reviews have called your book complex and fascinating. Sometimes it is hard for me to open a book that is complex with names, factions and whatnot. How is this book written in a way that may help the reader to get past this initial learning curve?
Rjurik Davidson: I guess the hope is that the fascinating part outweighs the complex one. Or perhaps it’s fascinating because it’s complex. In Unwrapped Sky I try to introduce the complexity slowly, so readers have a chance to orient themselves, and of course it’s told in three storylines, and so we stick close to the characters, and experience the world through them. But as an author, you try to tell the story in a way that is accessible and at the same time challenge the reader in different ways. You want to show them things they’ve never seen, make them see the world in a new way, maybe even experience a different mode of storytelling. You want them to think. I’m not a writer who is only interested in only getting the widest possible audience (though I’d like a wide audience, of course). I also want to actually talk about real issues. If you’re going to spend a year or more on a book, you’d better have something to say. I might not have the widest audience at this point, but I hope it’s an intelligent audience.
TW: Is there a series of books or combination of series that inspired this?
RD: The inspiration is comes mostly from history: the history of modern revolutions, from the various French ones from 1789 to 1871, to the Russian ones of 1905 and 1917. This is combined with Greek and Roman history and mythology. So you get the unusual combination of these two elements in the story. As far as books which influenced me, primarily I’d mention Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection, which had an interesting combination of ancient myth and science fiction, though the actual stories are a long way apart.
TW: How did you keep it all in line writing and editing it?
With difficulty, but I managed – just. I have a bunch of documents including various histories and a calendar. It’s a big technical exercise. I pity someone like George R.R. Martin who has a vast series written over twenty years. How does he keep it all in line?
RD: Kata is one of Caeli-Amur’s philosopher-assassin. She grew up as a street urchin after her father abandoned the family and her mother – a simple working woman – died. She works for house Technis, on of the three oligarchic Houses that rule the city. She’s indebted to them, and forced to do their bidding, but she dreams of escape from the city and its trials.
Boris is a former tram-builder who is moving up in the ranks of House Technis. He initially moved up because his wife was dying, and now he hopes to mediate between the Houses and those who work for them. He thinks he can bring them together, to soften the struggles. Along the way he meets an imprisoned Siren, forced to sing for the Opera, and she becomes the focus of his need for love. He’s a troubled man.
Maximilian is a seditionist, part of a rebel group who dream of overthrowing the House system. He is also a thaumaturgist – a magician – who believes the key to beating the houses is to break their monopoly on thaumaturgy and the thaumaturgists. He thinks he’ll find the knowledge he needs in the Sunken City, lost beneath the ocean, but he needs to find a way to get there.
TW: What aspect of writing these characters was difficult for you?
RD: Sometimes writing about a character comes easily, sometimes it’s like wading through treacle. It’s most difficult when character and plot come into conflict: you want a character end up at a certain place, but it’s against their character to actually go to that place. So, you need to solve this dilemma elegantly. The character always comes first, of course, so you need to introduce a new element to get them there – or change the plot. I find that hard, particularly because my stories are complex – as you mentioned – with many characters and forces coming to bear on events at any one time.
TW: How do you write a book where magic and technology are interchangeable? Where do rules play in and cost for using them? What kinds of magic and tech do you have?
RD: Once upon a time, most writers didn’t mix magic and technology. We’d forgotten about the Weird writers of the thirties and we thought SF and fantasy were entirely different beasts. But not that mixture is more common – in the New Weird. My own approach is to make the magic itself a kind of science. In Unwrapped Sky, thaumaturgy is a fragmented science, each discipline works according to its own laws. Maximilian dreams of unifying these into a single ‘general theory’ (physicists might recognize this idea). But there’s also a lost, ancient technology from a lost utopia, destroyed by a war. So the ancients had access to a higher level than the present-day society of the novel, which is coming out of a dark age. This ancient tech – machines and implements – is mysterious and incomprehensible – like magic in some ways.
TW: How has short story writing and being the Associate Editor of Overland Magazine helped you produce Unwrapped Sky?
RD: Certainly. Short stories are an ideal way to learn the craft. They make you focus on the scene, learn narrative, become more disciplined. I’ve been writing some short stories recently, and I’ve really enjoyed it after the long marches of the novels. In terms of working at Overland magazine, I think it’s made me appreciate the editor more, and to understand the process and the publishing industry better. I know how overworked they are, how many submissions they get, but also I’ve had the editing process demystified a bit, having done the job myself.
TW: How does the short story, “Nighttime in Caeli-Amur,” work in relation to this series? I see Tor has it online to read http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/01/nighttime-in-caeli-amur-rjurik-davidson
RD: ‘Nighttime in Caeli-Amur’ is a stand-alone story and it’s a little exploration of a part of the world. I always wanted to write a kind of ‘Russian’-style fantasy – by Russian I mean Checkov, Tolstoy, Gogol (though he’s Ukrainian I believe; better not make that mistake at the moment!). The idea was to try to write a realist kind of fantasy, what I’ve termed ‘slow fantasy’ in an essay coming out soon in a book called Cracking the Spine. The idea is to take most of the traditional genre expectations of fantasy and to reverse them, or undermine them. ‘Nighttime in Caeli-Amur’ is not an action-oriented story with an ‘active’ protagonist-hero. It’s a companion piece to the one in Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again anthology, called ‘Twilight in Caeli-Amur.’ All of this is quite a way from Unwrapped Sky though, which is more external-action oriented, I think.
TW: Is writing a spare-time endeavor for you? What habits have you found most productive? Is your goal to write full time? What are your short term goals and efforts to make that happen?
RD: At the moment I’m a full-time writer. I write a bunch of things other than fiction though, and we’ll see if I can continue (or for how long I can continue). I find routine the best way for me to work. Same time, same place, Batman. It helps if I don’t have too many extra-curricular activities too, which means I’m more productive as a hermit. I’d love to remain a full-time writer, but that depend on other work. We’ll see how Unwrapped Sky sells and the follow up, The Stars Askew, which takes the story out of the city, to Varenis and the wilds. Then there’s The Black Sun, which completes the story of Caeli-Amur. I’ll talk about it some time in the future, but it’s going to include a visit to the dark lands of the ‘Other Side’ and a trip to the island of Aya, home of the Minotaurs. Apparently people like Minotaurs.
TW: Thanks so much to Rjurik for stopping by, writing this very exciting book, and to Tor for offering the giveaway. Subscribe to our Newsletter to enter to win your copy, or select your market of choice to purchase from. Buy from Amazon and support AISFP.
Timothy C. Ward has been podcasting since 2010, first as AudioTim, and now with AISFP. His first publication, Cornhusker: Demon Gene (A Short Story), is available on Kindle for $.99. His novel in progress, Order After Dark, is a Post-apocalyptic Fantasy set in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Sign up to his author newsletter for updates on new releases.