Often when writers blend science fiction and fantasy, it’s by adding elements of the latter into the former, like how Star Wars infused its space opera story with swords and magic. But in his debut novel, Scarlet Odyssey (hardcover, paperback, Kindle), writer C.T. Rwizi is taking the opposite approach by setting AN epic fantasy tale on an alien world. Though as he explains in the following email interview, it’s not the change in genres, but rather a change in heroes, that really got this story going.
I always like to start with an overview of a novel’s plot. So, what is Scarlet Odyssey about, and what kind of world is it set in?
Scarlet Odyssey is about a young man’s quest to redeem himself in the eyes of his clan, who condemn him for his unmanlike affinity with magic. But his attempts to help the clan have unforeseen repercussions whose ripples are felt even thousands of miles away, putting him at the center of deadly intrigues and webs of deception spun by much more powerful people. Now a pawn in these intrigues, he is forced to leave home and venture off into the unknown, and must team up with other outcasts if he hopes to survive the forces that rise against him.
The story is set on a world with two suns, a red moon, and a forgotten history that is beginning to rear its head and demand to be remembered. The cultures depicted were heavily inspired by the cultures of southern and eastern Africa.
Where did you get the idea for Scarlet Odyssey and how did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
There’s this trope in fantasy, especially if it’s set in a medieval European type setting, where, if you run across a dark-skinned character, they are typically from the “far south” in origin, and though few details are offered about these southern lands, you might get the impression of danger, of sprawling deserts or untamed jungles or plains brimming with wild life. Of Africa, in other words, especially as envisioned through a European perspective.
Well, during my first foray into writing fantasy, I found myself using this trope. A dark-skinned character of mine was from the far south, except, instead of keeping the lands of his origins vague, as is typical, I was increasingly drawn to them, and to him as a character. He would describe his home in meticulous detail, to the point where I was spending too much time on him and less on the main character.
And then I realized I actually wanted to write my story in his world. I wanted to write a story based in the mysterious “far south” for a change. The decision led me to Scarlet Odyssey, and I never looked back.
At the risk of sounding like a cliché white guy — which I am — did any elements of that earlier story make it into Scarlet Odyssey?
I’ll start by saying that I have nothing against white guys or stories featuring white guys. But the truth is that they dominate so much of the media I consume — books, movies, video games, TV, etc. — to the point where, even when I decided to write my own story, the first character that came to mind was a white guy. I didn’t even question this at first. It was automatic. Like the default character in pretty much every role-playing game you’ll find on the market.
But as the story progressed, I was increasingly drawn to that side character, until I had to make the story about him, and then my imagination was unshackled. I found it liberating to depict cultures and settings I was personally familiar with. My descriptions became more vivid, my characters richer, the world building more involved.
As for what survived the change, I’d say the geography of the greater world remained the same, but now the story is being told from the perspective of a character from the “far south” in the “far south.”
It’s perhaps worth mentioning that one of my favorite characters in Scarlet Odyssey is a white guy, but he was a natural and organic addition to the story, not something I felt I had to do, and I think that’s what makes all the difference in the world.
Scarlet Odyssey has been called an epic fantasy, but one with sci-fi elements, which makes me think it may be a science fantasy tale or maybe a sci-fi-infused fantasy story. How do you describe it?
Gun to my head, I would say that the work straddles the line between both genres. But it reads like fantasy, since you have magic, witches, and demonic creatures. You also have a hero sent on a quest.
That said, I believe that as readers go deeper into the plot, they’ll begin to see that not all is as it initially seems. The world isn’t quite the way it looks at first, and the sci-fi elements will play into that.
So are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Scarlet Odyssey but not on anything else you’ve written?
Scarlet Odyssey is my first published work. I was trying to do something that hasn’t been done before: a sci-fi infused epic fantasy based in an African setting. But you could say I was influenced by the sprawling epic-ness you’ll find in works by Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton. They both write sci-fi space operas, but their big ideas push the boundary into the fantastical. They really make space feel huge and amazing and like it transcends life itself. I hoped to evoke that same sense of grandness with Scarlet Odyssey, even though it’s not a space opera.
What about non-literary influences; was Scarlet Odyssey influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games?
I’m a casual gamer, and especially fond of role-playing games that allow me to create my own character and give me a range of moral choices to make. Bonus points if I can make my character any race I want. Did I take inspiration from a particular video game? I didn’t have any in mind while I was working on the book, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t imagined what my world would look like if [Fallout 4 and Skyrim developers] Bethesda made it.
Now, you’ve said Scarlet Odyssey is the first book in the series. What can you tell us about this series?
Right now, it’s set to be a duology called the Scarlet Odyssey series. The second book, Requiem Moon, will be released in Spring 2021.
Some people, upon hearing that Scarlet Odyssey is the first book of a duology, will hold off on reading it until both books are out, and some will then read them back-to-back. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
I guess it comes down to personal preference. I can binge-watch a TV series, but I’ve found in the past that when I start a new book series and multiple installments are already published, I can get burned out if I try to consume them all at once, back-to-back, to the point where I can end up abandoning the series altogether. I usually need time to digest what I’ve read so I can come to the next book with a fresh mind. If you are someone like me, then it’s best not to binge-read. After all, you can have too much of a good thing.
But if you’re someone who can’t handle the wait between installments, then you should probably wait. There is nothing wrong with that.
Earlier I asked if Scarlet Odyssey had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Scarlet Odyssey into a movie, show, or game?
So far, I haven’t heard anything about screen adaptations. It would be nice to see a world I envisioned come alive on the TV screen, but even I have to admit that such a project would not be very budget-friendly, at least if it’s done well.
Honestly, I’d rather have it be a video game than a TV series or a movie. A sprawling RPG in an African-inspired setting with 100+ hours of gameplay, a rich story, and well-written side quests, where you get to build your own character, choose your morality, and make real choices that affect the outcome of the game in tangible ways. A game like Skyrim by Bethesda or the Mass Effect series by BioWare. I think I’d die and go to heaven if this happened. In fact, I’d take any African-inspired video game from any studio at this point. Heck, I’d make it myself if I could.
Finally, if someone enjoys Scarlet Odyssey, what similar sci-fi-infused fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read and why that one?
Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s an old one, but the way sci-fi and fantasy are blended in that book is very close to what I was going for in Scarlet Odyssey. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, and I’m super stoked about the upcoming movie.