My friend Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated twice for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. (He swears the two are unrelated). Max’s Craft Sequence – Three Parts Dead (Tor, 2012), Two Serpents Rise (Tor, 2013), Full Fathom Five (Tor 2014), and Last First Snow (Tor 2015) – travel through a world where god magic is just business… and the cost of doing business might be your soul.
Fran Wilde is an author and technology consultant. Her first novel, Updraft, is forthcoming from Tor/Macmillan in 2015. Her short stories have appeared in publications including Asimov’s, Nature, Tor.com, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies (Bibliography.). Her interview series Cooking the Books–about the intersection between food and fiction–has appeared at Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and on her website, franwilde.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter @fran_wilde and Facebook @franwildewrites.
Last First Snow, Max’s latest novel, is about zoning politics, human sacrifice, dead gods, and parenthood. He recently sat down with me and SFSignal to talk about it.
Fran Wilde, for SF Signal: Last First Snow is a standalone, but we see several familiar faces again. Who were you most excited to bring back?
Max Glastone: Elayne Kevarian. I love all my children, but Elayne is more of a co-conspirator at this point, a force of nature. I loved the peeks this book gave me into her earlier career, and the events that shaped her into the person we meet in Three Parts Dead.
FW: What’s most difficult about writing stand-alones with familiar characters?
MG: Characters come out of context and conflict, right? Some people emerge to be foils or partners for others, to shine light on one another’s complexities and flaws. For me the hardest part about writing Last First Snow was figuring out how to play characters developed for other contexts off one another. High priest-turned-community organizer Temoc and arch-sorceress lawyer wizard Elayne Kevarian come out of very different books and backgrounds; I was (happily) surprised by how well they sparked.
FW: In Last First Snow, there are layers and layers of games-folks[and skeleton kings]-play. How did you keep all of the maneuvering straight?
MG: At the risk of sounding completely sociopathic, this is just the way my mind works? I stay good, though! Most of the time!
Some of it’s also a product of the way I write. Thinking back over the story so far, I’ll discover new subtleties to an existing scene, or find the real reason events played out the way they did—and what motives drove actions that might have seemed mad at the time.
FW: The magic system that makes up the craft can be termed many things: necro-bureacracy, god-arbitrage, and more. Is Last First Snow insurance-mancy? Development-mancy? Bureaucra-mancy?
MG: Bureaucra-mancy! I love it. Last First Snow starts after a successful revolution against old bloodthirsty gods. A coterie of necromancers want to rebuild a section of the city that the gods created and controlled—but the people who live there don’t want their homes torn down, and organize to resist their rulers. So: development-mancy! Insuraturgy! Civil Disobedeniation!
FW: At its heart, Craft seems to be focused on control and leverage, but the old gods were more blood-hunger types. Where does the King in Red fall along these lines nowadays?
MG: Somewhere in the middle. He’s an immensely powerful Craftsman—and as such he draws power from deals and leverage and bargains—but he went to war with the gods because they killed the man he loved. So there’s a core of passion and vengeance in him that makes the line very difficult to walk. That’s one theme of the books, in a way: when people depose gods, they end up taking their place.
FW: For many years, I lived in a neighborhood that was the object of developers’ desire, and Last First Snow hit very hard on several points. Have you had personal experience with protecting a beloved, if flawed, neighborhood? It sure felt like it.
MG: I’m glad it hit for you, though, also, my condolences. That sort of work is hard and backbreaking and absolutely vital for life in modern cities. I watched a lot of antidevelopment movements in China while I lived there, and felt the radical pace of change, and the human cost—sometimes the buildings neighborhoods were torn down to build stood empty—they’d been made for no purpose other than development itself. I drew from what I’d seen, from my friends and loved ones’ lives, and then I researched like a demon.
FW: Elayne (who we saw in Three Parts Dead) is wrapped up in her job, in the middle of a book that speaks much about the importance of family and home, and what people are willing to fight for. Still, she’s one of my favorite characters. How much has she given up for her Craft skills?
MG: A lot—not always willingly. She was a young Craftswoman in the God Wars when practitioners of the Craft were hunted and killed before they could grow strong; she had to run to escape her own people. She threw herself into the study of the Craft out of a desire first for protection, and then for naked power. To become a Craftswoman you have to learn to think the way Craftsfolk think—recasting the world in terms of trades, exchanges, obligations. That opens up huge possibilities, but it also places an immense amount of strain on normal human relationships. She survived the Wars, and she’s become a Craftswoman of immense power, but she’s not precisely mortal any more.
FW: Tell me of your favorite weapon in Last First Snow? Why?
MG: The Craft itself, is the easy answer—it’s so fun and flexible, and you can do so many horrible things to so many people! But, honestly, the one that just makes me so happy in my gnarled evil excuse for a heart is the [SPOILER]. I just love when it [SPOILER] and then [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER]. My god. So cool.
And then there are the simple ones—I’m irrationally fond of the Major’s length of broken pipe, for example.
FW: Who was your most unexpected character in this book?
MG: The docklands union folks showed up out of nowhere—I knew I needed someone who operated more or less on their level, but when I started writing they took on a life of their own, especially Chel and Tay, with their Bruce Springsteen romance.
FW: I’d love to know if Temoc might have had an alternate arc? If he hadn’t been marked, what direction might he have gone? Craft? Insurance? Academics?
MG: Hah! He spent some time farming after the God Wars, and I think he liked it a great deal. He’s a big, silent dude, and he likes knowing his land and his people. Unfortunately for Temoc, while he keeps trying to get out, they just keep dragging him back in. It’s a shame “they” have so many tentacles.
FW: There are four books in the Craft Sequence now! Where do we go from here?
MG: Back to Alt Coulumb. The next book brewing will return to the setting of Three Parts Dead, and push the story there forward while bringing in elements from across the Sequence so far. It should be a wild ride. Expect some old familiar faces there, along with some new ones!
FW: Craft asset accountants and IT staff must be amazing. Please don’t tell me IT is staffed by a single Daemon? And the accountants?
MG: What’s referred to offhand in the later Craft Sequence books as the “nightmare telegraph” takes the place of a lot of traditional IT and corporate communications. All terrors are joined at their base, so dedicated dreamers can communicate rapidly, at considerable risk to their sanity. A lot of computation gets performed this way, too—or with reprogrammed minds (seldom of human beings, but you never know!). Demons are dangerous to summon for computational purposes; a demon asked to serve as a GPC could do the job, but you’d have to be careful—a divide by zero error might let the demon slip her contract, and this you very much do not want.
Accountants in the Craft universe certainly earn their fee, if they survive long enough to collect it.
FW: Where can we find you and Last First Snow this summer?
MG: All around the world! I’ll be touring with Elizabeth Bear, Brian Staveley, and James Cambias throughout the Northeast for the two weeks after release—check out the event list here!