Exclusive Interview: “The Descent Of Monsters” Author Neon Yang
While it sometimes seems like every fantasy story is inspired by The Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter, or Game Of Thrones, there are writers who are doing something different with the form. Matt Wallace did food fantasy with his excellent Sin Du Jour Affair novellas, while Tomi Adeymi employed African fables and folklore for her impressive debut, Children Of Blood And Bone. And then there’s JY Yang, who not only went more Eastern than Western with their inventive novellas The Black Tides Of Heaven and The Red Threads Of Fortune, the first two entries in The Tensorate Series, but who also got political in more ways than one. In the following email interview, Yang discusses the third novella in this ongoing saga,The Descent Of Monsters (paperback, Kindle).
For someone unfamiliar with these novellas, what is The Tensorate Series about, what is The Descent Of Monsters about, and how does this new story connect, both narratively and chronologically, with the previous books, The Black Tides Of Heaven and The Red Threads Of Fortune?
The Tensorate Series is set in a world where mastery of the Slack gives practitioners control over the elements. Upper-class Tensors, who have dedicated their entire lives to the discipline, dictate the lives of citizenry under the director of the ruthless Protector. The Black Tides Of Heaven and The Red Threads Of Fortune follow the lives of the twins Akeha and Mokoya, the youngest children of the Protector. The Descent Of Monsters, the third book, is set after the events of the first two, and it follows the story of Chuwan Sariman, a Tensor investigating a disaster at a remote research facility. We do catch up with characters from the first two books, and find out what they’ve been up to since then.
Where did the idea for The Descent Of Monsters and how different is the finished novella from that original idea?
The original idea for The Descent Of Monsters was to tell Rider’s back-story, and to do it in epistolary format. But when I tried that, to write a long back-story bookended by drama that took place in the fictive present, I realized that I was actually far more interested in what was going on in that present, and that the back-story maybe didn’t have enough in it — that wasn’t already explored in previous books — to hold up the entire narrative. So I rewrote the whole thing with a new protagonist and a new focus on the present. It actually took me an entire year to get this novella right; it wasn’t an easy process.
The Black Tides Of Heaven and The Red Threads Of Fortune were called silkpunk fantasy. Do you think this label applies to The Descent Of Monsters, or do you think there’s a better way to describe this story? Because it sounds like it has a bit of mystery to it as well.
Well, I think the “silkpunk” label was given to the books based on the setting, and that hasn’t changed, so I suppose it’s still valid.
It’s funny because I did a course specifically on crime fiction during my MA and my prof would always ask of books, “Well, is it crime-y enough?” I’m not convinced this book is; it’s got more of a psychological thriller / horror element to it than anything.
Are there any authors, movies, or TV shows that had a big impact on The Descent Of Monsters but not on The Black Tides Of Heaven andThe Red Threads Of Fortune?
I don’t think there was anything specific that influenced The Descent Of Monsters directly, although — funny story — after the video game Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider was released, I texted my editor Carl and told him the plot of the game, and we both went “OH NO, OOPS” at each other. We saw a bunch of parallels between the denouements of both the book and the game, which I found personally amusing. But I wasn’t going to change anything about my plot; it was a bit too late for that.
Now, in the previous interview we did [which you can read here], you said you thought of The Black Tides Of Heaven as the sequel to The Red Threads Of Fortune. But other people thought it best to read The Black Tides Of Heavenfirst, and the page of Tor.com for The Descent Of Monsters says The Black Tides Of Heaven is “Book 1” while The Red Threads Of Fortune is “Book 2.” Have you changed your mind about the reading order, or is that a publisher thing?
It’s a publisher thing, we had to pick one of the books to put as #1, and The Black Tides Of Heaven made the most sense because it is first, chronologically speaking.
Like The Black Tides Of Heaven and The Red Threads Of Fortune, The Descent Of Monsters is a novella. What is it about the novella as a literary form that you like so much? Or is it just that the Tensorate stories just all happen to come in at the length of a novella?
For me, personally, novellas were a sweet spot as I transitioned from writing short stories to longer work. It definitely helped me come up with narrative arcs that were more expansive, without the demands that come with writing a full novel. But the first two books just barely stayed within novella length because of how much I wanted to cram into them. My agent actually asked if I’d ever thought about expanding The Red Threads Of Fortune — which was the first one I wrote — into a full-length novel, but I said no. The story just didn’t feel enough like a novel. The next two novellas, however, are significantly shorter because of their form: one epistolary, and the other basically a monologue.
Speaking of which, you also, in our previous interview, mentioned that the fourth book in this series, tentatively titled The Ascent To Heaven, would be out in 2019. Is that still the plan? And are you thinking there will be a fifth book, a sixth, etc.?
Yes! The Ascent To Heaven is still scheduled for next year, and I’ve just begun work on it, actually. As for further books in the series, none are planned currently, but we shall see.
One of the things I really liked about The Black Tides Of Heaven and The Red Threads Of Fortune was that they put a unique spin on the fantasy genre. Have you given any thought to applying it to other genres? And I don’t just mean within The Tensorate Series, but also outside of it. Because I think it would be cool to see what you’d do within the space opera realm and the noir crime realm.
I’m not personally fond of noir, so I think a noir work from me is fairly unlikely. But I do love space opera and the novel I’m currently working on is space opera-ish. It’s a retelling of Joan of Arc’s story and it’s got that mix of technology and magic that I love.
Wicked. Now, you previously said that while there was nothing in the works, your hope for The Tensorate Series was that it would be adapted into an anime. Has that changed, is there anything in the works?
There’s nothing to report on that front, I’m sorry! I hope you weren’t expecting anything.
Well, I was hoping the people who made Moribito were going to do something, but whatever. Anyway, earlier we talked about the novella as a literary form. So my last question is, if someone enjoys The Descent Of Monsters, and they’ve already read The Black Tides Of Heaven and The Red Threads Of Fortune, what novellas would you suggest they read while waiting for The Ascent To Heaven to come out?
I’d say just read everything in Tor.com Publishing’s lineup. They make really, really good books. Try Gods, Monster And The Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson, or all the other award-nominated novellas this year if they haven’t already: River Of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, Passing Strange by Ellen Klages, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series [Binti, Binti: Home, and Binti: The Night Masqueraede], Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series [Every Heart A Doorway, Down Among The Sticks And Bones, and Beneath The Sugar Sky], and of course the Murderbot series by Martha Wells [ All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, the upcoming Rogue Protocol, and the also upcoming Exit Strategy], the first of which won the Nebula. I’m also partial to Margaret Killjoy [The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, The Barrow Will Send What It May] and Corey J. White’s work [Killing Gravity, Void Black Shadow, and the forthcoming Static Ruin]. And just so I’m not totally biased towards my publisher, The Tea Master And The Detective by Aliette de Bodard is a must-read. Sherlock Holmes in space!