The main character is a hero and a murderer. On the wrong planet, at the right time, Hadrian Marlowe ends up being remembered as the devil who destroyed a sun and wiped four billion human lives and an entire alien race.
The Kindle edition, softback, hardback and even audiobook is out today (available as part of Audible’s 30-day free trial) so let’s first look at how you can win your copy and then speak to author Christopher Ruocchio about this powerful first book.
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An interview with Christopher Ruocchio
Q: What’s the elevator pitch for Empire of Silence? Imagine you only had 30 seconds to convince a gamer to pick up the book and give it a read. How would you describe it?
Empire of Silence is a deliberately classic space opera adventure. My goal was to make something like the original Star Wars, but with the grounded seriousness of something like A Game of Thrones. For gamers, I’ve been told that if you’re a Warhammer 40K fan (which I’ve never played, funnily enough) or one of those people who plays as the Empire in any Star Wars game: this is a book for you.
Q: Others are summarising Empire of Silence as Dune meets The Name of the Wind? How does that make you feel?
Grateful and unworthy, for the most part. Dune was very much an influence on me growing up—it seemed like the logical next step for a kid drunk on too much Star Wars. I did borrow some worldbuilding cues from Frank Herbert’s work, especially at the beginning. I wanted the reader to feel they’ve come to something familiar, if only because I plan to be taking you to some very different places as things go along. The Rothfuss comparison, I think, has more to do with style. Both Empire of Silence and The Name of the Wind are written as first-person recollections of the main characters’ lives. That’s not an uncommon kind of story, but it is kind of them to compare me to one of the best! Being compared to either writer is a truly humbling experience. I very much respect Mr. Rothfuss—who is one of the finest prose stylists working today—and Mr. Herbert’s work has meant the world to me, so to hear my writing mentioned in the same sentence as these books is a tremendous honor, and I hope I’m worthy of it.
Q: James S. A. Corey, the author of The Expanse, described Empire of Silence as ‘genuinely epic’. Does that pile the pressure on or leave you feeling great?
It’s an honor! The Expanse is marvelous and it was very kind of them to do a blurb for me. It’s a bit stressful, to be sure, but I’m far more concerned about having to stand in front of my family and friends at my local book store and talk about my work without sounding like an absolute madman. Really, I’ve been overwhelmed by the warm reception I’ve gotten for the book so far, and I just hope the people who read it will come away agreeing that it was indeed “genuinely epic!”
Q: Have you read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind? If so; any guesses at plot twists?
Only once, and several years ago now. The books have a special place for me because they’re the books that really got my younger brother, Andrew, back into reading again. As to theories: A piece of me hopes that Kvothe will pull himself back together and learn to be a hero again, but I suspect that the real ending will be terribly bleak. I will say also that from the second book it seems fairly obvious that Kvothe’s mother was one of the Lackless family, and so Kvothe is bound my blood to this whole myth with the doors and all, and I’d be very surprised if that’s not a factor in the series moving forward. Whatever comes, I’m sure Mr. Rothfuss will break our hearts. I don’t envy him his challenge, but I have faith that he’ll blow us all away. I only wish his fans would back off and give him room to breathe. It can’t be easy to write with all those thousands of people peering over one’s shoulder.
Q: Is change good and have you gone out of your way to try to do something different in Empire of Silence?
Change is morally neutral. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s bad. Never change and you end up fading like the elves in The Lord of the Rings: decreasingly relevant in a world that no longer has a place for you. Change too much and you’re Saruman: burning the world in the name of progress and bringing forth monsters to destroy all that’s good. A hundred years ago, change too often meant paving over rainforests. It’s less obvious what we’re paving over today, but I’m not convinced it’s any less worth defending. Where this connects to writing is that it seems to me most writers—most creative types in general—are obsessed with doing something original. My observation is that audiences seem less interested in seeing something original than they are in seeing the truths they already know but can’t express told as well as possible. I wanted to tell a story that seemed true to me the way the original Star Wars seemed true when I was a kid, but that was also dark and serious because that’s more fun for me! I will say this, though: this is not going to be the story anyone expects it is. It may not even be the genre anyone says it is. I’ve finished book two already and to say things take a sharp turn by the end is an understatement.
Q: Geek Native HQ is in Scotland. These questions are coming to you from a place not a million miles from Hadrian’s Wall. Does Rome’s most famous Hadrian have any influence on Empire of Silence? Is this Scottish blogger going to struggle to get over the book?
Well, I hope no one who reads the book ever really gets over it, if you take my meaning. But yes, there’s a connection, if only a loose one. We know very little about the character of the historical Hadrian. Only fragments of his writing survive, and Roman historical accounts are notoriously biased, and much of what we have is conflicted. But Hadrian did inherit the Roman Empire at its height from the Emperor Trajan, and his reign saw the empire begin to shrink (in no small part because he couldn’t handle you Scots). My Hadrian is born into the Sollan Empire at its height, but whether his actions shall see it decline or flourish…well, we’ll see. There are some smaller details the two share as well: Hadrian seems to have had an uncomfortable relationship with rank, for example. He often dressed as a common soldier, not in the imperial purple, and had the respect of the soldiers more than the aristocrats. He was also a great admirer of history and the arts, and was considered something of a Renaissance Man in that age long before the Renaissance. My Hadrian has some of these, but in truth I think Hadrian Marlowe is more Lord Byron than anyone else.
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Q: Many of Geek Native’s readers are tabletop gamers – Dungeons & Dragons is cool (again?) – are you a gamer? Do you ever see Empire of Silence becoming an RPG?
I’ve never been much of a tabletop gamer myself. With one notable exception, none of my friends growing up were much into tabletop gaming, and so I missed the boat there. That being said, I did play a ton of online forum-driven roleplaying games—a few even set in earlier versions of my book’s world—all through middle and high school. I did have a brief fling with Magic: The Gathering between the Mirrodin block and on through Innistrad, but I waited tables every night in college and it was very, very difficult to be at all competitive with that schedule. Maybe I’ll have a chance to learn at a convention someday!
And I would love to see Empire and Hadrian’s universe turned into some sort of game. Having the opportunity to spell out the world’s lore more deeply would be a joy, as would setting folks loose in the universe to write their own stories. Who knows? We do live in the age of Kickstarter, after all.
Q: What about computer roleplaying games? Do you have a favourite computer game?
I grew up a Nintendo kid, and the old Mario and Legend of Zelda games are still near and dear to my heart, especially The Wind Waker. Most of what I play tends towards the more single-player, RPG experiences, and my current favorite game of all time is The Witcher 3, which is an absolute masterpiece. I’m a huge fan of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and of the Tales series of Japanese RPGs. I have some obscurer favorites, like Lost Odyssey, the Baten Kaitos games on the Nintendo Gamecube, and the Golden Sun series. Recently I made the mistake of buying Civilization 6—I’ve always loved strategy games—and I’ve spent a little too much time playing that. I’m very excited about Imperator, the Roman Empire game from the folks who made Crusader Kings. Roman history, as you might imagine, is a passion of mine and the game looks to be incredibly faithful to the source material, which isn’t something that can be said about many things.
Q: Are there any geeky influences, be that games, anime, TV shows or comic books, that are reflected in Empire of Silence?
Oh yes. Despite the relatively serious nature of the book, I’ve hidden references to all sorts of things in it—some of them more subtle than others, and some of them not even on purpose. Some character names are references to other things, for example, or some throwaway detail might evoke some piece of video game lore or classic literature (or both). I loaned one of my copies to our intern at the office, and he caught a reference to a certain Fourth/Twelfth Doctor moment from Doctor Who, of which I used to be a great fan. There are definitely references to Star Wars, Alien, and even games like Dark Souls and Tales of Symphonia hiding away. One blogger even noted more Dragon Age Easter Eggs than I’d intended, which was embarrassing. It’s funny when I do it on purpose! As I alluded to above, I was and am heavily influenced by Japanese storytelling, be that anime, manga, or video games. Cowboy Bebop is an old favorite, and the canals of Emesh in my book contain echoes of Watanabe’s Mars and Ganymede. Both Ghost in the Shell and Berserk have been major influences on me—and that last one should worry you for the sake of my characters. All in all, it’s a very ecclectic mix of influences, Easter Eggs, and stupid internet memes, but I hope that the people who catch on will feel like they’re in on some secret joke rather than annoyed with me.
Q: I know it’s early but let’s make the last question about the (possible?) sequel. Do you have a title in mind yet? Having set a core narrative with the first book has that now set the trajectory for the second?
The sequel is very much happening! I’m contracted for four books at present and have already turned in the first draft for the second novel. It does have a title, but I’m uncertain whether or not it will change, so I’ll keep that to myself for the moment. I will say that there are a couple databases online that list the second book as In Vanished Light in their metadata. That’s not the title. That was the title when I sold the series in 2016, but it has since changed. As to the trajectory of the series, it’s locked in. Hadrian tells us on book one, page one where this thing is headed, and the drama is in surprising you along the way. That being said, one of the criticisms some people have levied against me is that I’ve failed to be original. I don’t think much of this fetish for originality, as I say, but my plan was to lure people in with the promise of something familiar before tearing the rug out. Book two is very Gothic, oddly cyberpunk in places, and even a bit eldritch. There’s an aspect of Empire of Silence that almost no one has talked about in any of the reviews I’ve seen…which is very odd given that it’s what the title itself refers to. That aspect (and I’ll leave it to you to decide what that is) is far more important than anyone suspects, and will take us to places that I think will surprise my few critics who have balked at the more familiar aspects of my worldbuilding. But until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.