Please welcome Rjurik Davidson to The Qwillery. The Stars Askew, the 2nd novel in the Caeli-Amur series, was published in July by Tor.
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, The Stars Askew (Caeli-Amur 2), was published on July 12th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote Unwrapped Sky (Caeli-Amur 1) to The Stars Askew? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Rjurik: A writing process is one of the most important things for a writer to get worked out. It took me years to get on top of it. Recently I’ve been writing with another local Melbourne writer Morgan Grant Buchanan. Morgan is a co-writer with Claudia Christian and they’ve got a book out at the moment called Wolf’s Empire – worth checking out. Morgan and I usually meet at 7am and write for an hour. No talking allowed! Then we have a ten-minute break and begin again. We try to do 7-8 hours a day. There’s is no doubt that without the discipline and the presence of another we’d spend out time at home writing snatches in between checking the fridge, “What is there to eat, I wonder? I though I saw a muffin in here.”
TQ: What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Unwrapped Sky came out that you know now?
Rjurik: There’s nothing quite so instructive as having a book published and reviewed. I understand now that there are really two sorts of readers (and fans of anything really). There are the aficionados, who know and understand the history, who appreciate the in-jokes and references, who like the new. Then there are the mass audience, who don’t think about such things but “just like X or Y.” Writers who aim to do something new will likely appeal to the first category of readers but not the second. If you attempt to write for the second, you risk boring the first (for good reason!) To appeal to both is fairly difficult.
TQ: Tell us something about The Stars Askew that is not found in the book description.
Rjurik: There’s a gay relationship between two of the characters. I won’t say which ones.
TQ: Which character in the Caeli-Amur series (so far) has surprised you the most? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?
Rjurik: The character of Maximilian, the thaumaturgist, has surprised me. At the beginning of The Stars Askew, he awakes with the god Aya lodged in his head. His loss of self-confidence, his crisis of faith – these surprised me. He started out thinking he was “the one”, destined to lead the people to liberation. But he realises that his was just ego. So where to from there? What place is there for him in the world?
For me, the easiest characters are the one’s who are significantly different in attitude to me. That means Armand in this one, who escapes Caeli-Amur and heads for the city of Varenis, there to raise an army and return and crush the rebellion.
TQ: Why Minotaurs?
Rjurik: Everyone loves Minotaurs! Everyone! Their immensity, their inky eyes, their explosive emotions – they’re the most attractive creatures in the books.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Stars Askew? What method do you use to keep the 'facts' straight about Caeil-Amur?
Rjurik: A lot of the novel occurs outside Caeli-Amur in the wilderness. So there were lots of things like “how far can a horse travel in one day?” I’ve a massive document breaking down Caeli-Amur, it’s geography, its locations, its people. It’s still a bit of a mess, but it’s all there. One day I’ll have to reorganise it so it makes more sense.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Stars Askew?
Rjurik: Stephen King once said something like: if you’re going to spend a year writing a book it really should be about something. In my case, I wanted to write about a revolution in a fantasy world. Revolutions are about different ways of seeing the world, about clashing hopes and dreams. They’re also about different classes in society: elites and the poor. It’s quite different from most fantasies, which are about the clashes of “kings” i.e. between societies rather than within them.
TQ: Which question about The Stars Askew or Caeli-Amur do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Rjurik: Who should read The Stars Askew? Why should they make it a priority?
The Stars Askew is for people who want to think about the world. Are you interested in things like the “Arab Spring” or dramatic historical moments like the Paris Commune? Do you like to think about gender and politics? Do you like to consider what’s morally acceptable to do? Is it a case, as Malcolm X once said, of “By Any Means Necessary?” and what means actually get you to that goal? And it’s all wrapped up in a dramatic story featuring prison camps, murder machines a bit like the guillotine called “the bolt”, lost towers in the wilderness, Alien Gods, strange diseases and assassins, Minotaurs and Gorgons. What more could you want?
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Stars Askew.
Rjurik: Here’s a little passage from a prison camp that features in the middle of the novel:
... He noticed 3329 standing alone near the gate. As 3329 coughed out his incoherent ramblings, bursts of crimson liquid and scarlet dust came with them, though he seemed unaware. When the gates were opened, the prisoners marched toward the mines. But the bloodstone-affected man was allowed to wander across the land outside. Prisoner 3329 now radiated an uncanny red, as if he were lit from the inside. His body was unnervingly plastic: it lost its structure, recomposed itself.
3329 shuffled out alone, a man caught in some feverish nightmare. When he found a place away from the path, he collapsed in on himself, as if sucking all his energy in. His body hardened, as melted wax congeals as it cools, resting in a twisted stance: widened at its base, narrower as it spiraled upward, his frozen face turned to the sky as if he could see nightmare creatures flying overhead. There he would live with the other statues in that strange bloodstone world, each thinking their metallic thoughts, dreaming their crystalline dreams.
TQ: What's next?
Rjurik: I’ve a collection called Dark Tides coming out with the wonderful Twelfth Planet Press next year. It will showcase my science fiction, my surrealist stories, some of my more experimental stories, and even some essays.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Rjurik: Thanks for having me again!
The Stars Askew
Tor Books, July 12, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 416 pages
The Stars Askew is the highly anticipated sequel to the New Weird adventure begun by talented young author Rjurik Davidson. With the seditionists in power, Caeli-Amur has begun a new age. Or has it? The escaped House officials no longer send food, and the city is starving.
When the moderate leader Aceline is murdered, the trail leads Kata to a mysterious book that explains how to control the fabled Prism of Alerion. But when the last person to possess the book is found dead, it becomes clear that a conspiracy is afoot. At its center is former House Officiate Armand, who has hidden the Prism. Armand is vying for control of the Directorate, the highest political position in the city, until Armand is betrayed and sent to a prison camp to mine deadly bloodstone.
Meanwhile, Maximilian is sharing his mind with another being: the joker-god Aya. Aya leads Max to the realm of the Elo-Talern to seek a power source to remove Aya from Max's brain. But when Max and Aya return, they find the vigilants destroying the last remnants of House power.
It seems the seditionists' hopes for a new age of peace and prosperity in Caeli-Amur have come to naught, and every attempt to improve the situation makes it worse. The question now is not just whether Kata, Max, and Armand can do anything to stop the bloody battle in the city, but if they can escape with their lives.
Nighttime in Caeli-Amur
A Tor.Com Original
Tor Books, January 15, 2014
eBook, 32 pages
Caeli-Amur is a city-state where magic and technology are interchangeable; where minotaurs and sirens are real; where philosopher-assassins and seditionists are not the most dangerous elements in a city alive with threat. During the day, the ordinary citizens do what they must to get along. But at night, the spirit of the ancient city comes alive, to haunt the old places.
“Nighttime in Caeli-Amur” is not about minotaurs or sirens, but about a family whose lives in this place are fated in the ways of families everywhere . . . only not quite the same.
Tor Science Fiction, March 3, 2015
Mass Market Paperback, 528 pages
Hardcover and eBook, April 15, 2014
A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city's survival.
Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.
In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it.
Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.
Rjurik Davidson, a young Australian author who won the Aurealis Award for Best Newcomer some years ago, has been writing about the city of Caeli-Amur for nearly a decade. His debut novel, Unwrapped Sky is set in this city-state where magic and technology are interchangeable; where minotaurs and sirens are real; where philosopher-assassins and seditionists are not the most dangerous elements in a city alive with threat. During the day, the ordinary citizens do what they must to get along. But at night, the spirit of the ancient city comes alive, to haunt the old places . . .