With the release of Hawk (Tor: hardcover, digital), fantasy writer Steven Brust has completed the fourteenth novel in his proposed nineteen book “Vlad Taltos” cycle. But in talking to him about it, it seems no one’s more excited to see what happens in it than Brust himself (and not, I’m happy to say, in a self-centered kind of way, either).
Let’s start at the beginning: What is Hawk about, and how does it fit in with the other books in the “Vlad Taltos” series?
Vlad has now been on the run for several books and several years. In Hawk, he sees an opportunity to try something that will get him off the hook, so it’s about gathering up everything he needs to pull that off, and then making the effort, and how it all comes out.
Hawk is the fourteenth book in the “Vlad Taltos” series, and you’ve said there will be nineteen when it’s all done. When you started to work on the first one, Jherg, in 1983, were you thinking that it would be the first in a series?
No, when I wrote Jhereg, I certainly was not thinking it was a series. I still wasn’t when I wrote the second, Yendi. Which was originally going to be called Duel, but the marketing people at Ace said, “But his first book did well, and it had a funny one-word title. Can’t he find another funny one word-title?” I don’t remember where in the process — either Teckla or Taltos — that I finally realized, or maybe admitted to myself, that I was writing a series. But even then, I didn’t figure on doing all of them, because I expected to get tired of them. The big surprise for me is that I’m not, I’m kind of a fan boy, I keep wanting to know what Vlad is going to do next.
As for how it’s worked out, it’s been surprising on any number of levels. First, obviously, I hadn’t expected so many people to care about Vlad as much as I do. It’s quite remarkable. For another, the whole structure of the “Cycle” that I stumbled turned out to give me an amazing amount of leeway to go in all sorts of directions. I mean, I’ve been able to scratch all sorts of writer itches and fan itches at the same time.
Uh, let me try to make that clearer. As a fan, I got this thing in the back of my head of wanting to know more of what would happen if Cawti and Daro met. Also, as a fan, I really wanted to read a Vlad story narrated by Paarfi. As a writer, I’d always wanted to see if I could write some short stories or novellas and tie them up together to form a novel. These come together, and I find the whole structure of Tiassa has just fallen into my lap. And then I get to write it. And then I get to read it. And then people buy it. The whole thing is pretty damn cool.
The “Vlad Taltos” books have been compared to Roger Zelanzy’s “Amber” novels. My guess is that you probably brush off this comparison, because writers never think they’re as good as their heroes, but do you understand the comparison, do you think it’s…maybe not fair or accurate, but at least understandable?
Sure. Because that’s one of the elements that make up the books. The “Vlad” books are pretty much a world created by Fritz Leiber, with tropes created by Michael Moorcock, a voice stolen from Raymond Chandler, and an over-all style, or, if you will, aesthetic developed from an unsuccessful attempt to write like Roger.
Right. But one of one of the things that people think set yours apart from his books is a noir-ish sensibility. Again, do you think this is fair, and if so, what noir-ish works of fiction — be it books, movies, or whatever — do you think have been an influence on your work?
There is an element in noir of a distrust of authority and a dislike of the police, and I think that is a lot of what people are picking up on. In general, I work very, very hard to keep my politics out of my stories — with the exception of The Incrementalists, where it was too key an element to avoid — because I don’t think I could do justice to either the politics or the story. That said, my political stance — I’m a Trotskyist sympathizer — forms such a deep and vital part of how I view the world that some of my attitude is bound to creep in; I neither could nor would want to prevent that. In that sense, the noir worldview is a place I’m very comfortable hanging out long enough to write a book.
So have you ever considered writing a straight noir-ish novel?
For the most part, what I get hit with are stories. I want to tell this story; and the way the story is told naturally flows from that. I realize this directly contradicts what I said above about scratching writer itches. Both are true. Oh, well.
That said, I’m working on a project with my friend and colleague Will Shetterly right now that might end up being a straight noir-ish novel. We’ll see how it goes.
While the “Vlad Taltos” novels are all related, they’re also connected to the books in your “The Khaavren Romances” series, in that they all take place on Dragaera. With nearly twenty books and counting having a shared history, do you ever have trouble keeping all of it straight? Like do you ever catch yourself thinking of a good idea for one of the books, only to realize you can’t do it because it would contradict you did something in an earlier novel?
As for having trouble keeping it all straight, hell yeah, all the time. There’s a Dragaera wiki that fans have put together that I’ve been using more and more. Also, a timeline that Alexx Kay created that’s really helpful.
But so far, I haven’t had the experience of wanting to write something and realizing it contradicts something else. I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve internalized the whole thing enough that that doesn’t happen? Or else maybe I’m coming from enough of a sort of geeky “I want to know more about this thing the author said here” that it never comes up? I honestly don’t know.
So have you given any thought to what you’ll do after you finish the “Vlad Taltos” series?
Oh, a little I guess. There a few ideas kicking around. But I’m getting up there; the real question is more if I’ll live long enough to finish them than what I’ll do afterwards. And don’t worry: I’ve made arrangements with someone I trust to finish it for me if I kick off before I’m done. [chuckles] Morbid enough for you? Still, in all seriousness, if people have been so kind as to follow your work over thirty years, you do kind of owe them at least that.
Finally, if someone reads Hawk, and likes it, obviously they should check out the rest of the “Vlad Taltos” series. But if they’ve done that as well, which of your other books do you think they should read out next and why?
Oh, absolutely The Incrementalists, co-written with Skyler White, because I’m just absurdly nuts-o proud of it. It just isn’t often that you write a book that makes you go, “Damn. I nailed that one. Holy shit.” That one, Agyar, and Freedom & Necessity, which I co-wrote with Emma Bull did that for me.