As if writing three novels that clock in at more than 600 to 700 — pages each wasn’t enough, with a 170-page novella to boot, science fantasy writer Christopher Ruocchio has decided to further expand his already epic Sun Eater series with a plethora of short stories. In the following email interview, Ruocchio discusses the first collection of them, Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1 (Kindle), as well as his plans for more volumes, a print collection, and the next lengthy novel.
For people who haven’t read any of the Sun Eater novels, they can read the interviews we did about the second novel, Howling Dark, by clicking here, and the one we did for the third novel, Demon In White, by clicking here. But for people who can’t click, what is the Sun Eater series about, and when and where is it set?
The Sun Eater series is a science fantasy / space opera adventure set approximately 20,000 years into our future, in a galaxy mostly under the heel of the semi-feudal Sollan Empire. The series itself is the story of a young man named Hadrian, a noble who flees home to pursue life as a scholar, only to find himself thrust into the center of a war between said empire and an alien race called the Cielcin. Written memoir-style, Hadrian tells us on page one that he is the man who ended that war and killed the Cielcin. His story is why and how.
And then what are the stories in Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1 about, and when in relation to the Sun Eater novels and the novella, The Lesser Devil, do they take place?
The stories are sort of all over the map. Some taken place well before the events of the series and are entirely disconnected from the action of it, while a number of them take place in between the various books (although you don’t need to read the main series to enjoy these short stories).
The Sun Eater novels and the novella have all be science fantasy tales. Is it safe to assume the stories in Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1 are as well?
That is a safe bet, though a couple of the stories alloy in elements of other genres. “The Duelist” is the closest thing I’ve written to a comedy — at least I think it’s funny — and “The Parliament Of Owls” is very much a noir piece.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on any of the stories in Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1 but not on any of the Sun Eater novels or the novella?
The story “Victim Of Changes” was pretty directly inspired by the Grand Inquisitor section of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and “The Duelist” by Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. It’d probably be inaccurate to say Dostoyevsky and Dumas haven’t impacted me in other ways, but it was pretty deliberate in these cases.
And how about non-literary influences; were any of the stories in Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1 influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
The only non-literary influence that springs to mind for these specific stories, random as it may seem, is the metal band, Judas Priest. I’m a huge fan, and “Victim Of Changes” was also inspired in part by the song of the same name (and in part by Dostoyevsky, as I say), making for perhaps the strangest mix of inspirations in any of my work.
Now, it’s been my experience that short story collections are a good place to start exploring a writer’s oeuvre. But I get the sense that Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1 may not be a good place to start with the Sun Eater series.
I think your mileage may vary, but I certainly don’t think these stories are a bad place to start. With the exception of “The Pits Of Emesh,” they were all written to stand alone in various anthologies, magazines, or podcasts, and so while some of the events might resonate more for folks who’ve read the main books, I don’t think this is a bad place to start. “The Demons Of Arae,” in particular, was meant as a kind of teaser trailer for the broader series, and it opens this collection up. “Demons” is a fun, if gruesome, little action tale written by Hadrian in the same style as the main books, and it serves to introduce the characters and the conflict of the main series in a way I hope will entertain and intrigue new readers.
Of course, by calling this collection Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1 you’re saying that that there will be a Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 2, and maybe a 3 and a 4 as well. What are your plans?
I’ve already got most of Vol. 2 together, but it will be a year or so before I can legally reprint them, contracts being what they are. I may go so high as Vol. 4, depending on how many stories I crank out, but the plan is to produce these eBook-exclusive short collections over the next couple years, and then hopefully put out a giant omnibus via traditional channels down the road.
Well, that answers my next question…
Yeah, the plan is to hold off releasing a print edition until I can assemble a great big omnibus. I don’t expect that such a thing will happen for a couple years now, probably not until after the last Sun Eater novel hits shelves in 2023.
Speaking of which, where do things stand with the next Sun Eater novel?
I turned in the first draft of book four, Kingdoms Of Death, in early March, and am awaiting revision notes. While waiting, I’ve busied myself with this collection and a number of other short stories. My next project is about a 30,000-word novella called Queen Amid Ashes, also in-universe. I’m aiming to finish that up before I get notes in to edit and revise book four, so the race is on.
Now, along with Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1, you also co-edited and contributed to an upcoming short collection called World Breakers, which will feature a Sun Eater short story called “The Dragonslayers.” What is that story about, and when, in relation to the novels and the novella, does it take place?
“The Dragonslayers” is sort of a David-and-Goliath story about a team of Sollan Imperial legionnaires who have to fight an alien machine (think something on the order of one of H.G. Wells’ tripods) to save the young feudal lord of a planet. It’s actually set after the latest novel, Demon In White, and serves to introduce some characters who become rather important players in the upcoming Kingdoms Of Death.
And is “The Dragonslayers” included in Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1?
It’s not. World Breakers won’t be out by the time Tales Of The Sun Eater hits shelves, so I decided to hold “The Dragonslayers” back for Volume 2. Baen [the publisher of World Breakers] didn’t ask for exclusive rights to first printing on “The Dragonslayers,” but it just wouldn’t be right to scoop them by printing the story under my own power first.
What effect do you think co-editing a collection like World Breakers has on your own short stories?
I’d say the biggest impact my work assembling these anthologies for Baen has had has been to teach me how to put the stories together in an order that’s not unpleasant or jarring. You don’t want to switch from very serious to comedic, for instance, or to stack a bunch of very short stories together and leave the long ones in a bunch at the end. There’s a lot of unwritten — not rules, exactly — but style choices about pacing collections that I’ve picked up from working with editors like Tony Daniel and Hank Davis.
Finally, if some Sun Eater fan enjoys the stories in Tales Of The Sun Eater, Vol. 1, what similar short story collection of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that?
The only collection of short stories in a shared universe that springs to mind at the moment is Alastair Reynolds’ Galactic North, from his Revelation Space universe. It was, I think, the first of Mr. Reynolds’s books I ever read, and there’s one particularly gruesome story, “Nightingale,” that’s never ceased to haunt me.