Guest blog post by bestselling author Steven Savile (who with co-author Brian D. Anderson is launching AKIRI: THE SCEPTER OF XARBAAL today!)
Or I know what you did in a galaxy far, far away…
I’ve been at this a long time now. Long enough to have forgotten most of what fired my belly as an angry young man. Long enough to have changed, and looking at the world now with nostalgia-tinged reading glasses, changed back again. I wasn’t always a fantasy fan. Far from it actually, I was obsessed with sport, all sports, no matter how obscure or tenuous the definition. Aged sixteen summer entailed the ritual of the FA Cup final, Marvin Hagler vs Tommy Hearns, the rebel cricket tour of South Africa, Bernhard Langer’s Masters win, Last Suspect first past the post in the Grand National, Alain Prost’s Formula One win, the Five Nations rugby, Boris Becker’s Wimbledon win, and so many other memories, but there was one moment that was more important to the way my life played out than all of these – a nine-hour coach ride. I wasn’t a reader. I had been, I’d read Lord of the Rings when I was eleven, and Alan Garner’s Elidor and so much other escapist stuff, but I’d fallen out of love with reading as school got serious and books became Shakespeare, Dickens, Schute and more. It made reading a chore. So… that coach ride… nine hours in a seat, I decided to wander up to the library and find something to read.
I must have browsed the racks for two or three hours and not found anything that piqued my interest, apart from this one book with what looked like Viking longships on the cover that promised an epic conclusion to a war between gods and men. It was actually book five of the Belgariad, The Enchanter’s End Game, and over the course of those nine hours it opened my eyes to that sense of wonderment I’d been in such a hurry to grow out of. Of course, typically me, I started at the end when it came to the godslayer, the man who died twice and all the rest of it. But without that coach ride, without that book, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m writing this less than an hour before my 47th birthday and it’s odd to think of a book I read 31 years ago being so fundamental in shaping my life. More impressively, I think, 31 years on I can still vividly recall so much of that novel, and the final battle between god and man.
I chose the word wonderment deliberately.
After that, I read everything I could get my hands on, from Donaldson and Gemmell to Lawrence Watt Evans, Lyndon Hardy, Jonathan Wylie, Mike Jeffries, Louise Cooper, Freda Warrington, names that aren’t hip and cool anymore in this world of grimdark fantasy. These writers all tapped into that magic, they offered glimpses of the marvellous. The painted a golden age of fantasy not so different from the golden age of SF, but like everything we grew up, the gold flaked away and we realised there was rust underneath meaning it had never been gold at all, and we walked willingly into dystopia. Fantasy was no different. Back in 2001 my first proper fantasy novel was rejected by Orion in the UK with the lines ‘this is far too horrific for a fantasy novel. No one wants horror in their swords and sorcery.’ Of course within just a couple of years all that changed, and actually that old novel wasn’t horrific enough suddenly.
And somewhere along the line I stopped escaping into those alternate realities and started instead reading thrillers, espionage, crime, and mainstream lit because that editor was right at least in terms of my own taste – I didn’t want horror in my fantasy. I wanted wonder. I wanted magic. I wanted that feeling I had as a kid when I turned my first page on an Eddings novel. So when Brian reached out to me about getting together to create literary mayhem the first thing I said was ‘Let’s make sure it’s cool.’ It’s a mantra from when I was working on Battlefield 3 – every scene the DEV Team would ask ‘Is this cool?’ and if it was, it stayed, if it wasn’t out it went. I wanted wonder. I wanted fabulous beasts, overwhelming odds, and a land where heroes could ride into town like the old Lone Ranger episodes I’d grown up with, go toe-to-toe with the bad guys, dust off his hands and ride off into the sunset, the day saved. Luckily for me, Brian’s a huge fan of the old R.E. Howard Conan novels and despite the fact that we’re four thousand miles apart in the real world, we’re very much in the middle of the same map when it comes to Akiri. We talked long into far too many nights about the fact that all of those old novels had been rebranded today as YA because next to the modern trends they’re almost innocent. We argued about what we thought was cool, and raved about what captured our sense of wonder, why games like D&D and Pathfinder endure, and at the end of almost every call decided that for readers like us what we wanted to see more than anything was something with the heart of those old fantasy novels we’d grown up with, where heroes were ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, where magic infused every inch of the world, and those impossible odds were not insurmountable. Yes, the world can still be grim. Yes, more than just the nights are dark. Yes, good people can die. Yes, yes, and thrice yes, but only because the world is full of wonder and ordinary men can make extraordinary heroes.