Kay Kenyon has written 10 books to date including 2004 Campbell Award finalist The Braided World, and 2002 Philip K. Dick Award nominated Maximum Ice. Most recently she completed The Prince of Storms, the final volume of her critically acclaimed quartet, The Entire and the Rose.
Miss Kenyon was kind enough to answer some questions about her work for Worlds Without End.
DP: First off, thank you for the interview and congratulations on the completion of The Entire and the Rose quartet. I really enjoyed the series. I stumbled upon the free Bright of the Sky eBook on Pyr’s blog and I was hooked. How did the idea of offering it up for free come about? What did you think of the idea at the time and how has it worked out for you?
KK: The Idea came from my editor at Pyr, Lou Anders. He’s one of those people with loads of energy, street smarts, and marketing know-how–as well as being a brilliant editor. I liked the idea at the time, since I thought it would introduce more people to the series, and to the universe I had created. The hope was that people would like book one enough to at least buy book two. Turns out, the downloads of all four books have soared since that free offering in August, 2010. Not only that: I’ve experienced a jump in people following my blog, buying my back list and joining my newsletter list. So, yes, very pleased.
DP: The Entire and the Rose is your first big series. Was the story arc something you planned to be four books long from the start or was it something that grew in the writing?
KK: It was always going to be four books, but for rather superficial reasons. My agent said, "Everybody does trilogies, how about four volumes?" The idea was to signal, hey, this story is too big for a trilogy! It backfired a little, however. We should have made clear on the covers of the books that it was a "quartet." Many people thought the story was over at the end of Book Three, and were disappointed that all of the plot lines didn’t tie off. I still worry that people didn’t find their way to Book Four, Prince of Storms.
DP: Did you enjoy having the larger canvas to tell your story? Is it something you want to try again?
KK: It had its pleasures, but I doubt I’ll do it again. I might write a series, but not one with a continuing story arc. Turns out (and I guess this was predictable) a four-book story is very complicated, not just from the standpoint of size of the story, but the time frame involved to write it. Over the five years of writing, I was in danger of forgetting what I had done, or intended to do–and all this despite a detailed outline (quickly out of date) notebooks, charts and scene lists. I felt like I was managing a hurricane.
DP: The Entire and the Rose can be classified as science-fantasy which seems to be a bit of a departure from your previous books. Was that a conscious decision to write something different?
KK: No, it just happened. Much of the Entire, the setting for the series, has its technologies hidden. The builders of the Entire wish to keep technology to themselves, to freeze civilization in a changeless state of wonder and harsh beauty. I kept pushing the limits of what the Entire was, what it could let you do–and in the end these things were fabulous enough to appear magical.
DP: The fantasy elements expose your talent in that genre. Have you ever wanted to try your hand at fantasy?
KK: Yes, definitely. I have in mind a story steeped in magic and the culture of 15th century Italy; and one with a twisted 19th century colonialism. So I seem to be on a magical history tour, here.
DP: Your characters are very well developed with often-times conflicting desires and motivations. Do they ever break out of your character outlines or otherwise surprise you as you’re writing them? When a character starts to change do you run with it or do you try to make them conform to the expectations of your narrative?
KK: My central characters only rarely present a face I haven’t planned. They have a core essence that is not likely to change. Characters that have small parts in the story are more likely to surprise me, since I haven’t thought much about them. I allow it only if it adds to the story rather than pulling it in some dead-end direction, no matter how interesting. Part of novel writing is knowing what to leave out. I don’t invest characters with their own authorial power, following them as though they had a mission. I make them up. I am rather a despot!
DP: Some of your characters, especially your heroes like Titus Quinn and his family, get run through the wringer. How attached do you get to your characters and do you ever feel bad about what you put them through?
KK: No, I am thrilled with suffering, actually. The more I can believably, meaningfully put them through, the better. But, to soften my image, I will confess that I have been known to cry at a character’s death. (It didn’t stop me from killing them, though!)
DP: Do you get the same satisfaction writing the scenes where the bad guys get their comeuppance as we get from reading those scenes? I’m thinking of two characters in particular that I couldn’t wait to see fall.
KK: I believe I know whom you mean! But after thinking about this question a bit more, I realize that I don’t get that kind of pleasure from "justice served" in the plot. Oddly, as an author I find I am at one remove from my characters. I am actively plotting, deepening motives, considering dramatic ways to present things… and this sort of conscious manipulation of people and events separates me from ordinary reactions. When a character falls deservedly far, I am just hoping it is as interesting as it can be.
DP: The parallel universes in The Entire and the Rose seem ripe for further exploration. Do you have any plans to return there for future books and if so what shape might those books take? Do you feel any compulsion to write more stories in that world to satisfy your fans?
KK: At first I needed a long rest from the quartet, but now I am considering whether fans might like more. It may not be a novel, but it might be short stories offered on my website.
Q: What can we expect to see from you in the future? What have you got in the works now?
My thanks to Miss Kenyon for answering our questions. If you’ve not read her before you should definitely take advantage of the free offer from Pyr and give her a try. You’ll be glad you did. I’m certainly looking forward to more tales from the Entire.
[There are spoilers throughout. This novel is difficult to review without referencing certain events in the story. In my defense, many of the later twists are strongly foreshadowed early on. Also, a special thanks to Pyr Books for providing WWEnd with a review copy of this book.]
Mark Hodder’s inaugural novel neatly rides the popular wave of pseudo-Victorian Steampunk while mixing in well-worn science fiction tropes like time travel and genetic engineering. It’s obvious Hodder has done his homework, as his depiction of the Victorian era is very detailed, both in its representation of the society as it actually was and in the minor and major changes that have taken place as a result of a time travel incident. It’s like reading a Dickens novel with ray guns.
The novel’s protagonist is Richard Burton, who in real history was something of a failed explorer (he made an early attempt to find the source of the Nile), a maligned statesman (tossed about from one consulship to another in later life) and a bit of a pervert (the least offensive thing he did was to be the first to translate the Kama Sutra into English). The main crux of the novel hinges on the fact that Burton’s career makes a major turn to the better when he is hired to investigate the mysterious Spring Heeled Jack by special assignment of the Prime Minister. In this new timeline Burton feels that he barely escaped a horrible fate, validated during a collision with the aforementioned Jack, who tells Burton that nothing is as it ought to be.
Burton’s partner, the story’s secondary protagonist, is the minor poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. He’s quite the opposite of Burton in many ways—short, thin, unathletic, somewhat effeminate—but he seeks the sort of life-threatening adventure that he feels is necessary to make his poetry great. That and the fact that he can easily disguise himself as a young chimney sweep gradually makes him an indispensable partner to Burton’s investigation.
These two adventurers live in a world where Queen Victoria was assassinated on the same day Spring Heeled Jack was first spotted; a world in which the eugenics movement has progressed so far that super-intelligent dogs and birds act as message carriers; a world in which geothermal energy is tapped as a sustainable manner; a world in which cats act as living vacuum cleaners; a world where human brains can be transplanted into animal bodies and even into other human bodies to make double-brained beings; a world in which helicopter-like machines are common and genetic werewolves haunt the lower-class neighborhoods. This is the novel’s biggest draw but also, I would argue, its major weakness, for it all hinges on the changes caused by one time traveler from the twenty-second century who effects all these changes simply by feverishly talking about the scientific wonders of the future to one man who happens to be well-connected. None of his own technology is reverse-engineered; apparently all that was needed to make all these changes happen in a few decades was to plant the ideas in a few minds. (The time travel logic itself is also very convoluted and self-contradictory. Badly written time travel always throws me out of the story while simultaneously giving me a headache.)
The plot revolves around a group of scientists attempting to perfect their social and genetic engineering plans. They want to create a perfect world, and they aren’t afraid of murdering and causing widespread grief to bring this world about. This isn’t the strongest aspect of the novel, which excels in describing its imaginative alternate England and the antics of its protagonists, but the worst that can be said of the plot is that it’s just there to give our heroes something to do. One hopes that, now that the origin story is out of the way, the Burton and Swinburne team can proceed with their adventures without going through the motions of explaining why their world is the way it is. Honestly, the less time spent on that explanation the better, because it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Burton’s major decision at the very end is amazingly cold-blooded and clearly defines his character as an anti-hero of ambiguous moral status. Even his fiancée Isabel is a clearly drawn character who could probably support a novel of her own. Swinburne is somewhat less defined since the novel follows Burton’s point of view almost exclusively, but one hopes that future installments will spend more time with Swinburne and his poetic response to the strange world in which they live. Hodder’s sequel The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is due out this March, and this reader is definitely looking forward to seeing where he goes with the series.
The shortlist for the 2010 Philip K. Dick Award has been announced. The nominees are:
- Yarn – Jon Armstrong (Night Shade Books)
- Chill – Elizabeth Bear (Ballantine Books/Spectra)
- The Reapers Are The Angels – Alden Bell (Henry Holt & Co.)
- Song Of Scarabaeus – Sara Creasy (Eos)
- The Strange Affair Of Spring Heeled Jack – Mark Hodder (Pyr)
- Harmony – Project Itoh, translated by Alexander O. Smith (Haikasoru)
- State Of Decay – James Knapp (Roc)
Congratulations to all the nominees. What do you think of this list? Any favorites to win?
The 2010 BSFA Awards Shortlist has been announced. The nominees for Best Novel are:
- The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit)
- Zoo City – Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
- The Restoration Game – Ken Macleod (Orbit)
- The Dervish House – Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
- Lightborn – Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)
Visit Torque Control for the complete list of categories and nominees. Congrats to all the nominees.
So which ones have you read and who do you think will win?
Have you seen our Author Videos page lately? We’ve been plugging away, adding new vids as we find them, for some time now and we’ve now got over 400 vids for your viewing pleasure. You can watch interviews, readings, lectures and documentaries for many of the 700+ authors in the WWEnd database. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Do you recognize anyone in the picture? How many of these authors have you read?
Last week comedian Patton Oswalt wrote an editorial for Wired magazine suggestively titled "Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die." He makes the case that geek culture, long submerged in the subconscious of national (and global) culture, has clawed its way up into public consciousness, and that this rise is leading to its inevitable death. Geek culture, he posits, shrivels up in the sun, and can only thrive beneath the damp topsoil of the larger culture.
Admittedly, there’s a chilly thrill in moving with the herd while quietly being tuned in to something dark, complicated, and unknown just beneath the topsoil of popularity. Something about which, while we moved with the herd, we could share a wink and a nod with two or three other similarly connected herdlings.[…]
Fast-forward to now: Boba Fett’s helmet emblazoned on sleeveless T-shirts worn by gym douches hefting dumbbells. The Glee kids performing the songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And Toad the Wet Sprocket, a band that took its name from a Monty Python riff, joining the permanent soundtrack of a night out at Bennigan’s. Our below-the-topsoil passions have been rudely dug up and displayed in the noonday sun. The Lord of the Rings used to be ours and only ours simply because of the sheer goddamn thickness of the books. Twenty years later, the entire cast and crew would be trooping onstage at the Oscars to collect their statuettes, and replicas of the One Ring would be sold as bling.
The topsoil has been scraped away, forever, in 2010. In fact, it’s been dug up, thrown into the air, and allowed to rain down and coat everyone in a thin gray-brown mist called the Internet. Everyone considers themselves otaku about something—whether it’s the mythology of Lost or the minor intrigues of Top Chef. American Idol inspires—if not in depth, at least in length and passion—the same number of conversations as does The Wire. There are no more hidden thought-palaces—they’re easily accessed websites, or Facebook pages with thousands of fans. And I’m not going to bore you with the step-by-step specifics of how it happened. In the timeline of the upheaval, part of the graph should be interrupted by the words the Internet. And now here we are.
What do you think? Is geek culture as it existed in the mid-to-late twentieth century gone forever? Is it better out in the open and in possession of Hollywood budgets, or does it thrive on poverty and a small and esoteric fan base?