Guest Blog: Max Gladstone on Building an Analogue World

November 7, 2013 Guests 1

A big welcome to Max Gladstone who is here to telling us about Building an Analogue World and celebrating the release of Two Serpents Rise, Craft Sequence #2 (published on October 29, 2013 by Tor Books).


Building an Analogue World


Max Gladstone

I don’t live in a castle.

Lord Dunsany did, though.  The author of Time and the Gods, The Gods of Pegana, and The King of Elfland’s Daughter, a founding father of the fantasy genre was an honest-to-god Irish lord who lived in Dunsany Castle, an 11th century estate that’s one of the oldest continually inhabited homes in Ireland.  (He was also, according to Wikipedia, both the chess and pistol champion of Ireland, so add that to the catalogue of our dissimilarities!)

J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t live in a castle exactly, but he taught in one, or in a place that looks a lot like one. Oxford in his day, and pre-War England for that matter, knew from landed nobility, from kings and peers and bishops and inherited titles and estates.

Now, I don’t mean to say ‘write what you know’—that way lies literary madness, endless processions of mirror image writers writing writers writing mirror images. (Not that there’s anything wrong with writers, or even writers writing about writing! Which is what I’m doing now, in fact. Except now I’m meta-doing that—gah! Permit me to close the parenthetical here and escape.) But it’s nice to have a fund of experience and authority on which you can draw in writing. And I, at least, don’t really know what it feels like to live in a country with real aristocracy, with kings and the like. A couple years in rural China taught me a great deal about how much I didn’t know about living with the land.

I do, though, know what it’s like to live in a country with lawyers. With businessfolks and scientists. With elite colleges and high-pressure jobs for young kids, with a growing divide between the wealthy and the less-well-off, with environmental issues and injustices and glories.

Writing Three Parts Dead, and then later Two Serpents Rise (which just came out two weeks ago!), I decided I’d try to capture the feeling of a modern world in a fantasy setting, rather than recreating medievalisms.  I was also encouraged by the fact that I hadn’t read a book that tried this precise approach, though some came close.  Final Fantasy VII, which I played the first few hours of at a friend’s house when I was a kid but never finished, dealt with a metropolitan fantasy setting, but few people were trying to create fantasy worlds that felt modern.  (Outside of FFVII, I’m pressed to think of other examples beyond Michael Swanwick’s Iron Dragon’s Daughter and The Dragons of Babel.)

I’ve written elsewhere about the ways the 2008 financial crisis inspired me to write Three Parts Dead; between the crisis and my general desire to write fantasy that felt modern, I decided to show a world a step sideways from ours, a running jump through the looking glass. I didn’t want to create a pure roman a clef, where A in our world is fantasy-A in the world of Three Parts Dead, and B is fantasy-B and so forth. But the fiction’s a twisted mirror in which reflections merge, split, and transform, and I wanted to keep the connections consistent enough that by squinting, you can make them out. So there are dropped lines in Three Parts Dead about magic-less alternate worlds, and sideways references in both books to literary figures analogous to others from our own world.

The Gomez and Morticia Addams cameo, though, that was pure fun.

So, the bonds between the world of the Craft Sequence and our own are partly theoretical, partly in-jokes, and partly due to the fact that I’d rather write about a way of life I know than pretend I know how it’d feel to wake up in a castle with a hangover, and in dire need of a shower.

I’ll leave particular brand of experience to the genuine lords. Me, I like my water heater.

 Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.

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TWO SERPENTS RISE by Max Gladstone


Available on October 29, 2013 by Tor Books


The new novel set in the addictive and compelling fantasy world of Three Parts Dead

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire… and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry

Read an excerpt

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One Response to “Guest Blog: Max Gladstone on Building an Analogue World”

  1. Alana Joli Abbott

    It may be that sense of feeling modern that made me initially think of Discworld when I read Three Parts Dead — not because the mood is similar, but because Pratchett’s world, despite having some feudal hangups, feels modern-ish. Different part of the genre, but still using magic for personal technologies (with much more logical reasons why they don’t cooperate than the mysteries of crashing computers).

    I wonder, too, if the popularity of Urban Fantasy is a reaction to so many lords and kings and castles. I like me some high fantasy, but I have trouble remembering what the world was like before cell phones. And I *lived* through that change!