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Keeping the Fun in Science Fiction – Guest Blog by Joseph Brassey

Floating Islands by PeterPrimeIslands sit suspended in an endless heaven, drifting amidst clouds and storms, high above a distant abyss below. Cities crouch upon the edges of cliffs, their walls jutting out into the empty air, and enchanted skycraft hurtle through the heavens, their magnificent wings catching the light of sunsets as the blue-white glow of their exhaust ports shimmer like stars in the night sky.

When I started writing Skyfarer I was coming off of several years writing alternate history fiction with some sublimated supernatural trappings. I had a burning need to do something that was completely off the wall, driven by rule-of-cool hyper-passionate color. Something that filled me with that drunken haze feeling of being overwhelmed by sense and sight and sound and raw feeling. I wanted something with the dizzying feeling of an epic fantasy and the adrenaline rush, snappy dialogue, and sheer scale of a space opera.

I’ve never really seen these things as opposites, if I’m honest. But my perception of genre has always been skewed more towards emotional archetypes and character dynamics rather than the aesthetic specifics of setting. I’m much more likely to operate from a place of “this story is about a scrappy team,” or “this story is about a solitary individual,” or “this story is about generational family dynamics,” than “this is scifi or fantasy,” in the strictest sense. It could be that I don’t tend to see genres as being that distinct, or it could just be the way my brain intersects with fiction means I mostly view stories in terms of the human element. Either way, the thing that tugged me towards this addictive mashup is the way they seamlessly blended. I think this focus on the human element is how you write functioning genre-blends. People are people, battles are battles, conflict is conflict.

The flying monastery by nkabuto

The first step was grounding the story in the familiar. It’s weird to describe, since I’m not quite an architect, not quite a gardener as far as process is concerned. Outlines are usually involved in my work, but character action and motivation have a way of running roughshod over them sometimes or bringing things I’d thought were minor to the fore in a way that gives them a much greater emphasis than I expected. The specificities of genre really serve to enhance the intoxicants that you get out of the base mixture of feverish emotions elevated to greater heights by the scale of what’s happening to the people.

Aimee de LaurentA sorceress in the context of this setting jumped out immediately as the setting equivalent of a woman in a STEM field, freshly graduated and hurtling into a difficult and unforgiving job-market, eager to prove herself, but not entirely untested. Aimee de Laurent was a scrappy, contentious student. She’s no stranger to arguing with instructors, has dueled one at some point during her education, and now here she is ready to take on the breadth of a dangerous world with her wits and rigorously acquired skill and knowledge.

Across the vast distance, a sorcerous warlord named Azrael ruthlessly puts a kingdom to the sword with the disciplined ferocity of a man who had known nothing in his life but violence and iron authority, even as a chink of guilt rips away at his innards. As long as I have known men who lived lives that intersected with violence—and I have known many now—I’ve seen the range of guilt and doubt, the anger, the coping mechanisms, the camaraderie and the ghosts that taunt and torment. Here too was the familiar. Young men acting on orders as much from habit and an ingrained sense of duty. Here too is what hate-cult ideologies do to the human mind. The forceful, oppressive violence of the corporatist engines of war in service to masters who see bloodshed as a useful way to line their pockets. Familiar.

I firmly believe, however, that a story should be able to confront real problems without losing its soul, its sense of fun, and this is found in the conviction that things can always be better. It is in an explicit rejection of a tone of cynicism, because work that grapples with darkness doesn’t need to assume it is in the nature of our most misanthropic, derisive qualities to prevail. Hope is not a method, but it is the precursor of methods. The spark that ignites action and turns talk of change into moving feet and hands grasping for actions of worth. Hope is not the fire. It is the lighter of fires.

Athena Skye by LuchesThe human element is everything. Where the fantastical meets the machine. Where the magic meets the skycraft. Where the sword turns aside the crackling bolt of gunfire and the pilot spins the wheel to take her ship from the roaring path of the dragon’s breath. Where conflict assails the human spirit and we find our noblest qualities in the face of ravening hate, violent authoritarianism, and bone-chilling fear.

It is in the wonder that reaches for stars, responds to fury with mercy, hatred with love, having the courage to peer beyond a terrible present to embrace a future awash with a thousand hues of color.

Crackling ether-canons rip up the clouds. Skyships powered by churning reactors called metadrives—uncontainable mystic forces contained by carefully wrought sorcerous alchemy—thunder over the high spires of ancient palaces guarded by armored knights. A culture of people—the Skyfarers—born and bred and living their entire lives on the vessels that traverse the heavens between hovering continents, maintain a diaspora culture that crosses race, religion, nation, and occupation. “Skyfarers Remember,” they say. Out in the infinite blue, where people have only each other, you pay your debts.

Take dial. Crank up. Pour fuel on that fucker. Escalate. Burn the engines, take the ship skyward while the sorcerers put their hands in first posture and summon mandalas of raging, frozen fire along the principles of the Second Prime. Add ice. Shake liberally. Drink.

Wait, is this about writing or bartending? Never mind let’s keep going. I’ll pour you another round, dear reader. Something special.

And this one’s on me.

Skyfarer (cover)The Axiom Diamond is a mythical relic, with the power to show its bearer any truth they desire. Men have sought for it across many continents for centuries, but in vain. When trainee sorceress Aimee de Laurent’s first ever portal-casting goes awry, she and her mentor are thrown into the race to find the gem, on the skyship Elysium. Opposing them are the infamous magic-wielding knights of the Eternal Order and their ruthless commander, Lord Azrael, who will destroy everything in their path.

“One of those remarkable books that consists entirely of ‘the good parts.’ Nonstop fun with unexpected moments of real pathos.” – Neal Stephenson

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