Usually when we think of science fiction and fantasy getting together, we think of space fantasy tales in the vein of Star Wars. But Mazes Of Power (hardcover, Kindle), the debut novel by Juliette Wade, takes a different approach to this unholy alliance. In the following email interview, Wade discusses what inspired and influenced this work of sociological science fiction that she says “stands on a genre border.”
Photo Credit: Suszi Lurie McFadden
To start, what is Mazes Of Power about, and when and where is it set?
Mazes Of Power is about two brothers who get plunged into a larger power struggle between noble families when the Eminence Of Varin is struck down by a contagious fever. Tagaret wants to represent his family in the competition for Heir because winning would allow him to rescue his mother from his abusive father, and to marry the girl he loves. His sociopathic brother Nekantor wants their family to win at all costs, and exploits Tagaret, their mother, and her new bodyguard Aloran to achieve his ends.
The book is set in the secondary world of Varin, where humans live in eight underground cities. The capital city, Pelismara, has stood for a thousand years, and features classical stone buildings as well as modern apartments, electric lighting, and maglev transportation. Though the noble families cling to the myths of their golden age, it is a society in decline.
Where did you get the idea for Mazes Of Power and how did that idea evolve as you wrote this novel?
The core idea for the world behind Mazes Of Power was born before I even reached high school. I had just visited a huge underground cavern system called the Gouffre de Padirac, where you go hundreds of meters down into the earth and then take a boat along an underground river; a year later, I had the idea for the world of Varin and the underground city of Pelismara.
Obviously, this idea has evolved a lot since then. As an adult, I started to explore the reasons the people of Varin might have chosen to live underground, and the kind of history that had led them to society they had developed. I decided to tell a story that dealt with real issues faced by real societies today. I think the largest change was an increasing focus on personal psychology and how people’s daily actions are influenced by the society around them.
Mazes Of Power is listed as a work of sociological science fiction. How did you arrive at that genre description?
Mazes Of Power stands on a genre border because it has features which readers may associate with both science fiction and fantasy. Maglev transportation and palm-scanners suggest science fiction; a secondary world and a hereditary nobility might suggest fantasy.
At its core, however, it’s firmly sociological science fiction. It grapples with societal and cultural systems, and how those act on real human people as they cope with technology and change.
Now, Mazes Of Power is your first novel, but you’ve written a number of short stories. Are there any writers, or novels, that were a big influence on Mazes Of Power but not on anything else you’ve written?
I don’t think I can pinpoint exclusive influences on Mazes Of Power because I tend to internalize the things I read and apply what I’ve learned to everything I write. But I would say one of the biggest influences was Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. I have always been impressed with the way she portrays character and cultures, and tried to incorporate that sensibility into my own work.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big influence on Mazes Of Power?
And this is my last question about your influences: You hold degrees in linguistics and anthropology. How, if at all, did your studies influence either what you wrote in Mazes Of Power or how you wrote it?
Mazes Of Power would not be the novel it is without my studies in linguistics and anthropology. Anthropology helped me understand how to set up the underpinnings of the world and the complexity of the societal systems that affect the characters. Linguistics helped me to understand how these characters would speak, and how the way they spoke would reflect their unique backgrounds. I also used skills I’d developed in linguistics to help me tune my own prose.
Now, as you know, some science fiction novels are stand-alone stories, while others are parts of larger sagas. What is Mazes Of Power?
Mazes Of Power features a self-contained story, so readers need not worry about it ending on a cliffhanger. However, it is the first book in a series which follows the arc of political history in Varin, and the influences that Tagaret, Nekantor, and Aloran have, on a larger scale.
Is this going to be an ongoing thing or a set number of books like a trilogy?
This series is called The Broken Trust and is going to be a set number of books, because it covers a large but finite story arc. It has a planned five books. The second book, Transgressions Of Power, will come out in 2021. The remaining three are as yet unscheduled.
The world and its history are big enough to accommodate other series, but that’s a question for the future.
As you also know, there are some people who will wait until every book in this series comes out before reading any of them, and some will then read all of the books in a row. But is there any reason why you think someone shouldn’t wait to read Mazes Of Power?
Mazes Of Power is a fully self-contained story, despite its position at the start of a series. This power struggle that has winners within the scope of the book, so you should read it now.
Mind you, if you decide, after reading this book and its sequels, you’d like to binge-read them and imbibe the entire macro-story at once, no reason not to do so.
Earlier I mentioned that you’d written some short stories. Are any of them connected to Mazes Of Power?
My story “The Persistence Of Blood” is directly connected to my novel. In fact, it’s a prequel, exploring the rise of Lady Selemei, who also appears in Mazes Of Power. It appeared in Clarkesworld magazine in March 2018. You can read it here.
Are there any plans to collect those stories into a handy container people can read while waiting for the bus?
There are a few other stories in the Varin world, but they stand on their own.
You said earlier that Mazes Of Power wasn’t influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Mazes Of Power and the rest of the The Broken Trust into a movie, show, or game?
I would love to see Mazes Of Power adapted for visual media. I believe it would work best as a TV miniseries. That format would allow for the story to be told with sufficient attention to the characters, and without overly compressing or simplifying the world around them, which almost counts as a character in itself.
And if that happened, who would you want them to cast as the main characters?
This was a fun question because I haven’t tried to cast this book with real actors for a long time. It would be most important for me that the ages of the actors be close to the ages of the characters. I’d pick Timothée Chalamet [A Rainy Day In New York] for Tagaret because he has the right versatility in portraying relationships. Aidan Gallagher [The Umbrella Academy] would bring great intensity to Nekantor. I love [Titans‘] Ryan Potter’s work, so I would cast him as Aloran. Sophia Lillis [It] would be Lady Della. [Jason Bourne] Julia Stiles would be my choice for Lady Tamelera, and I’d choose Octavia Spencer [Hidden Figures] to play Lady Selemei because they have just the right inner strength. I’d love to see [The Daily Show‘s] Trevor Noah play the Heir Herin because he has a great manner and an awesome smile.
Finally, if someone enjoys Mazes Of Power, what novel of someone else’s should they read next and why that?
If you like Mazes Of Power, you should try reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. She does a fantastic job portraying the various societies in the Imperial Radch. This and its sequels are a great place to find fascinating alien social patterns and to explore the influence that individuals have on the larger sweep of historically significant events.