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Exclusive Interview: Tobias Buckell and David Klecha on Their OPERATION ARCANA Story “Rules of Enchantment”

SF Signal is pleased to present a series of interviews with the authors of the military fantasy anthology, Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams and available now from Baen books.

Here’s what Operation Arcana is about:

In the realms of fantasy, the battlefield is where heroism comes alive, magic is unleashed, and legends are made and unmade. From the War of the Ring, Tolkien’s epic battle of good versus evil, to The Battle of the Blackwater, George R.R. Martin’s grim portrait of the horror and futility of war, these fantastical conflicts reflect our highest hopes and darkest fears, bringing us mesmerizing visions of silver spears shining in the sun and vast hordes of savage beasts who threaten to destroy all that we hold dear.

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams is sounding the battle cry and sixteen of today’s top authors are reporting for duty, spinning never-before-published, spellbinding tales of military fantasy, including a Black Company story from Glen Cook, a Paksenarrion story from Elizabeth Moon, and a Shadow Ops story by Myke Cole. Within these pages you’ll also find World War I trenches cloaked in poison gas and sorcery, modern day elite special forces battling hosts of the damned, and steampunk soldiers fighting for their lives in a world torn apart by powers that defy imagination.

Featuring both grizzled veterans and fresh young recruits alike, including Tanya Huff, Simon R. Green, Carrie Vaughn, Jonathan Maberry, and Seanan McGuire, Operation Arcana is a must for any military buff or fantasy fan.

You’ll never look at war the same way again.

In this “mission debrief” Tobias Buckell and David Klecher talk to Sandra Odell about their Operation Arcana story “Rules of Enchantment”…

Born in the Caribbean, Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author. His novels and over 50 stories have been translated into 17 languages. He has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Ohio.

David Klecha is a husband, father, writer, Marine veteran, and IT guy currently residing in the Detroit Metro area, where he grew up.

Sandra Odell: “Rules of Enchantment” starts with a double punch of an intimate first person/second person combination and the pairing of real world Kevlar and wood elves in a tense situation. What inspired the opening and spirit of this immediate combat story?

David Klecha: I can’t remember what inspired it exactly, but we came around to the idea of blending the modern combat type story with the well-loved (and well-trodden) setting of Tolkein-esque fantasy. The intimate first/second person focus, however, came from a long-maturing idea I had to write a story from the perspective of a unit as a whole. From there it was easy to jump into the first/second perspective as the individual members of the unit blended together.

Tobias Buckell: Dave is right. A long while ago Dave had mentioned trying to figure out how to write an action story from the perspective of a whole unit. One of the things about writing short stories is that you have some amazing opportunities to experiment, so here was the perfect place to try and do that. We thought it would be interesting to try for the combination of first person/second person singular and plural to show the perspective of a whole unit.

SO: Not only do you address the stresses of combat, the story also embraces the reality of racism in the characters of Diaz and Orley, and the truth of Lady Wiela. The realities of inclusion and the realistic portrayal of people of color as fully realized characters rather than stereotypes is a continuing struggle for many writers and readers. What are your thoughts on the importance of delivering fully realized characters to readers who may not recognize their own prejudices?

DK: It’s hard to overstate the importance of delivering such characters to the reader, be they those who hold unexamined prejudices, or those who may be able to identify with such characters more closely than others. The goal, ultimately, is to produce real, complex, relatable characters, and if those characters can help readers examine their prejudices, or perhaps feel a little less marginalized, all the better.

TB: The world as it exists is diverse, so as a writer, if you choose to create a non-diverse world in your fiction, what are you doing? As a writer I’m trying to entertain readers, always. I’m fighting for beer money and asking for your attention. But I want to include characters of all kinds. That’s the amazing thing about writing fiction: you get to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. So let’s walk miles in a variety of shoes instead of just the same bloody one over and over again.

SO: There is a practical blend of magic and tech to the story that lends to the verisimilitude. It’s not often urban fantasy extends into the realm of military fantasy, yet the blend is not perfect. Lady Wiela makes it clear that the characters’ weapons and gear may not be suited for the trolls’ might. What other blends of magic and tech could you see coming from this world?

DK: That would be telling, wouldn’t it? The possibilities are truly endless, especially when you match some fantasy device or spell or something with a fantasy analogue. One bit I especially liked highlighting in this story was the Marines’ night vision goggles versus a scroll of night seeing, and both compared to elves’ ability to see in the dark.

TB: Oh, Dave and have been tossing around so many ideas. I mean, ever since I told John Joseph Adams that we were writing ‘Full Metal Jacket meets Lord of the Rings’ for this anthology, Dave and I have been trying to figure out where else we can take this story in longer form. So yeah, we don’t want tip our hands too early, yeah?

9/11 proved a harrowing time for America, the shock of an invasion, the loss of a perceived sense of invulnerability. “Rules of Enchantment” brushes this nerve, creating a vital, powerful story without sacrificing depth of character or plot. What advice do you have for writers hoping to engage readers with works that address difficult topics?

DK: As with all advice, there are always exceptions, but I would generally suggest not engaging such topics head on. There are certain things that can and should be addressed very straightforwardly, but there’s also a lot of value in sneaking up obliquely on a topic, both in looking at it from a different angle, and perhaps getting readers to look at an issue or topic differently without forcing it on them.

TB: One of the things that science fiction and fantasy let you do is sneak up on readers a bit. By saying this is a magical land, or another world, people often let go of some of the weight they carry and let the story surround them. That is how you can get people to consider other angles or points of view, or even just give readers enough difference to let them approach.

SO: Many readers and genre fans love to play armchair warrior, imagining their heroic might overcoming evil in the face of adversity. What about your own meta in such a situation? What role would you see yourself playing in a world where magic and tech collide?

DK: I think a lot of folks who are into fantasy and science think they are well-positioned to uniquely bridge the gap, should such a deeply unlikely thing come to pass, which itself is part of the premise of the setting: the Marines in the story all (or mostly all) have a background in fantasy, be it through reading or video games or role-playing games. And I think it does allow a certain flexibility of thinking that could cope in such a situation.

TB: I’d want to be in INSCOM. Toss me out there to paw through ancient scrolls, study the history, the magic, the people.

SO: What is the appeal of military fantasy? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

DK: It’s can be a very unique perspective on fantasy stories and fantasy settings, down in the mud and the muck, doing the most dangerous jobs. It’s very immediate access to some of the most crucial, pivotal events. We’re fascinated by stories of war, and military science fiction, so I see military fantasy touching the same vein.

TB: Conflict gets a lot of Western literature moving along, and war is one of the bigger conflicts the species experiences. It’s a natural draw for writers, I think.

SO: What are some of your favorite examples of military fantasy, and what makes them your favorites?

DK: My personal favorites are probably Glen Cook’s Black Company series, and Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion, both because there were things that rang especially true to me about the nuts-and-bolts military experience at the center of those stories.

TB: Glen Cook is awesome, yeah. I also like KJ Parker’s The Company and The Fencer Trilogy.


About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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