Geek Native last visited a world created by British author Edward Cox with The Relic Guild. In that story, we started in an enclosed world, Labyrinth, where magic was banned and yet seemed to be everywhere. That trip through the Labyrinth inspired a poll on Geek Native which discovered readers are evenly split on whether magic would make the real world a better place – although women were more likely than men to believe that it would.
In Edward Cox’s latest novel, The Song of The Sycamore, it seems that a war between Scientists and Magicians nearly destroyed the world and the last of mankind is now holed up in magically/technologically protected cities.
Broad genres like fantasy or sci-fi seem ill-equipped to describe either book. Wikipedia defines ‘weird fiction’ as being a blend of horror and fantasy (dark fantastic), that radically reinterprets classical creatures like ghosts. China Mieville said that weird fiction evokes the numinous. We’ll find out if I’m wrong in just a second but, for me, Cox’s books, especially The Song of the Sycamore feel like Weird Fiction.
I’m trying to pin a ‘Weird Fiction’ badge on The Song of the Sycamore. Am I way out of line? How would you genre the book if you had to?
It’s funny, I always imagine Weird Fiction to involve more tentacles than my stories usually have, but maybe you’re right. The Song of the Sycamore (and The Relic Guild trilogy before it) has many elements you don’t often see in traditional fantasy. It is absolutely Science Fantasy, but it’s also a horror. I think I arrived too late to be listed in the New Weird subgenre, so Weird Fiction might be the perfect fit. Interesting.
Do you think the world would be a better place if access to magic were commonplace?
In theory, yes – how amazing would that be? But in reality, I don’t think so. If magic is commonplace then the world’s hierarchies have access to it, and what happens then? The abuse of “Science” is a theme in The Song of the Sycamore.
My magic is a source of energy used to power all kinds weird and wonderful technologies, and it is intrinsic to the human race’s survival. But magic is also as dirty, dangerous and unpredictable as nuclear energy, and it is governed by the people in charge, who wield it and experiment with it like kids juggling atomic bombs just to see what will happen. And it’s just a matter of time until one of those metaphorical bombs drop, which it does in the story with catastrophic effect.
How did you start to design the world of Urdezha? What came first?
The wasteland. I really bloody love a wasteland. I created one for The Relic Guild trilogy, a magical, perpetually recycling realm called the Retrospective. For The Song of the Sycamore I wanted a wasteland that covered an entire world, formed out of the ancient secrets and mysteries from millennia of lost civilisations, interspersed with the last cities. No frontiers, no safe havens, just a hostile wasteland with all manner of monsters and interesting ways to die.
Is that a design process you would recommend. If a film company commissioned you tomorrow to build them a weird fiction world (after the celebratory drinks) how would you start?
Well, a wasteland isn’t a bad place to start. While building mine, it’s history sprang to life. What happened to the world of Urdezha to bring it to this tragic point? How did the human race manage to survive? What lessons did it learn? All these things I discovered by imagining how my wasteland might look, which is actually inspired by much of Tenerife’s volcanic landscape. The story itself came from a separate idea I’d been carrying around for years, a story inspired by the tale of Orpheus, and it fit quite naturally into the very bleak and dangerous setting I’d created.
So, my advice to Hollywood, start with a wasteland and you can’t go wrong.
Are there any tropes or cliches that you think are worth avoiding almost every time?
This question has come up on a few occasions, and I could probably give a different answer each time it’s asked. My view can depend on if I’ve been reading a lot of the same thing and fancy a change. The truth is, I wouldn’t actively avoid any trope, but I would advise stepping back to view it from an alternate angle. Find something fresh and different to say about it.
The Song of the Sycamore feels both relatable and alien at times. Both at once; the people and the place. Did you purposely put anything in or take anything out to create that effect?
I did. Urdezha’s inhabitants are on their last legs, so the world is quite bleak and not somewhere you’d want to visit. It’s like a vision of what might happen to Earth if we let it. Wendal is stripped of hope early on in the story and pretty much stays at rock bottom; he’s almost living out the aftermath of someone else’s tragedy. It’s an odd way to approach a story.
It’s through the character of Sycamore that we really see the world and its people. He’s an ancient entity of enormous power, god-like in many ways, but when he’s stripped down to a mortal level, his alien nature experiencing the human condition encourages a sense of the Other in what I’m pleased to hear is a relatable way. Thank you.
How important are names?
I love this question. Names either come quickly and never change, or they’re hurdles which I have to overcome before I can continue writing. Sometimes only the perfect name will do.
“Urdezha” is a good example. It’s a mutation of “Her Desher”, the Egyptian name for Mars. An inspiration for The Song of the Sycamore is the Dying Earth stories, but it doesn’t quite fit into that subgenre, so I changed location to a Mars in the very far future. Incidentally, Urdezha is related to The Relic Guild universe.
So yeah, I think names are important.
Are there any weird fiction books, games or movies – okay, weird fiction-ish will do – that you particularly like? What do you like about them?
This is astonishingly tough to answer. I don’t ordinarily think of the stories I’m enjoying in terms of genre. I kind of just get on with enjoying them. I guess I’m always intrigued by the Other, the unearthly, and have been since seeing Alien at a very early age, by far my favourite film of all time. For me, I love weird magic and monsters, the stranger the better. Give me mysteries of the unknown every day of the week and twice on a Sunday.
Many Geek Native’s readers will be pen and paper roleplayers. Do you play? Is there an RPG that you know about that you think would go well with one of your worlds?
I do like to play, but sadly haven’t had the chance for some years. A long, long time ago, I played Ars Magica and really enjoyed it’s system. Your characters start off surprisingly powerful while remaining vulnerable to the simplest of attacks. It’s more complicated than other games I’ve played. I think the Ars Magica system would suit a RPG set on Urdezha where the nights are long and monsters are always watching.
Thank you! You’re welcome!
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