Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins,
but in a different year. She is the author of more than a dozen
novels and over fifty short stories, as well as being a Campbell,
Hugo, and Sturgeon Award laureate. Her hobbies include rock climbing,
cooking, and very bad guitar. She lives in Connecticut with a briard,
a fluffy kitten, a room-mate who should probably be paid more, and a
cat who moonlights as an internet celebrity.
Bear's new book, "Bone and Jewel Creatures", is out this month. She has graciously consented to answer a few questions - so here goes:
1) This sounds like something DIFFERENT. Where did "Bone and Jewel
Creatures" come from?
It is kind of different. Bone and Jewel Creatures is set in a city
I've had in my head for many years--Messaline, a great trade city on
the edge of a desert, where many cultures meet. It's modeled on such
towns (on our earth) as Baghdad and Istanbul, or maybe Cordoba--only
in the desert. It has its own culture and gods, but people flock
there from around the world to make their fortunes.
The world has magic, Wizards, and every Wizard has a sort of personal
style. You might thing of them as independent artists. Some create
artifices, some or more thaumaturgical.
The protagonist of this particular book is Bijou the Artificer, who
is almost a hundred years old and doesn't need another apprentice.
And yet, as such things will, one presents itself--
Bone and Jewel Creatures is set in an early technological period, but
the Messaline in my head has a great deal of history.
The title comes from a bunch of research I did a couple of years
back, when I got interested in the work of steampunk sculptural
artists like Jessica Joslin and Art Donovan, and this guy whose work
shows up on English Russia sometimes, whose name I don't recall. And
I thought, gee, what if there were wizards who made things like that?
I've always been fascinated by the idea of technomancy. It shows up
in my Edda of Burdens and my Jacob's Ladder books as well--the Eddas
take it from a fantasy perspective and the Ladders from a science
fictional one. I love the intersection of magic and superscience.
Oh, and there are zombies.
2) You've written both straight SF and fantasy - you've walked amongst
the stars and amongst the faerie. Which do you think is the more
dangerous? Which the more inviting?
Well, that was a pretty good transition, if I do say so myself!
I honestly see them as a spectrum. I think the dichotomy is
artificial, and there's wonder and allure to both. Which is why I'm
one of the pretentious twits who prefers to talk about "speculative fiction."
I do think SF, rigidly so considered, is a more constrained field.
The rules are more or less set up in advance, and you have to play by
them or you're not writing science fiction any more. The broader
world of speculative fiction allows more freedom, because you build
the rules yourself. I still like to play by them once I have them
built--it's more interesting to me--but I'm working in a world right
now where I have decided that the existence of magic has made
*technology* more advanced, because the magic is useful to research.
3) What makes for a strong character for you? Is there one that
carries the new book to the point that the book's premise turns on
that character's identity and existence?
Oh, I think there are four. Bijou, Brazen, the child, and Kaulas the
Necromancer. But mostly Bijou and the child. The narrative focuses on
them and their relationship. (I am still half in love with Bijou. She
was just brilliant to write. She's old and unrepentant and very, very
good at her job--and she's also witty. Brazen the Enchanter is her
former apprentice, who is now grown up and successful. The child is a
feral person that Brazen brings to her, because in so many important
ways she is his mother-figure. And Kaulas is--well, that would be telling.
For me, a strong character is one who has issues and agendas, who
wants and fears and needs things--and who acts on those dreads and
cravings. And also one that has some kind of ethical compass, even if
it's not conventional, because ethics bring conflict.
4) Are you happy with the book's cover? Do you feel it adequately
represents the book's contents?
I love that cover. Love it. And yes, it's very nice indeed.
5) If you were asked what "Bone and Jewel Creatures" was about, and you had just three words to do it in - what words would you distill the book into? (you MAY elaborate, in the context of the interview - but first I want the words...
Jeweled. Putrescent. Dusty.
(And that's ALL she's saying. You have to read the book for the rest...)