C. S. Friedman is a bestselling author of several Science-Fiction and Fantasy series and standalone novels, including the acclaimed “Coldfire Trilogy“. Celia was kind enough to talk in depth with us about Coldfire and her other work.
Q. Did you always want to be a writer, and how did it come about?
A. I have always been a writer.
My mother told me once I was making up stories from the day I began to speak, and writing them down as soon as I learned to hold a pencil. The day she told me that, she told me of something that had happened when I was six years old. Our neighbor was studying to be a psychologist and needed guinea pigs, so sometimes I would go over to her house and take all sorts of psychological tests, so she could practice giving them. One was called “Familiy and House.” It had a picture of some stick figures in front of a house. The child was encouraged to tell a story about the picture. The nature of the story would then give insight into the child’s psyche, you know, like “this is a happy family going out to Disneyworld together” or “the daddy in this picture just beat his child, and the child is trying not to cry.”
After the test, the neighbor came to my mother, very concerned, and told her that when I was shown the picture I had made up a complex story in which the family were really space aliens, and the scene was part of an earth invasion. My mother, god bless her heart, said there was nothing to worry about, I was just a really creative kid with an interest in science fiction.
As for wanting to be *published* which is not the same question, I never did. I wrote for my own pleasure, and never gave a moment’s thought to the question. Every now and then I’d show my friends some stuff and they’d tell me I “could get published.” One day I looked down at something I’d written and realized it was good enough that maybe I should give it a try. But prior to that point I wrote for the pleasure of writing, not because I wanted something in particular to come of it.
Q. Can you tell us about where the idea for the Coldfire trilogy came from?
A. The idea was inspired by the paradox of Catholicism in the Middle Ages, which in some cases inspired men to philosophize about the nature of God and the universe, but on the other hand, punished those who stepped outside the bounds of orthodoxy. I was intrigued by the concept of a man who was driven by his faith to do things that his faith disapproved of. Over many years, that evolved into the character of Gerald Tarrant, and the book grew up around him.
Q.Your writing spans sci-fi and fantasy, and in many cases combining the two. What is the attraction of each of the two genres, and in combining them?
A. Those who know both genres well often tell me that I always write science fiction, it just sometimes looks like fantasy. This is because two themes that are at the core of science fiction are central to my work. One is the question, “What if?” Science fiction generally adds one or more things to our universe, then speculates what the consequences might be. The more realistic the fictional universe is, the more relevant those questions become. I do this in fantasy as well. The central question In Coldfire is “what would our society become, if magic were added? How might a scientific culture deal with the sorts of mystical forces that are featured in epic fantasy?” The trilogy is fascinating in part because that question runs quietly beneath the story, causing the reader to ask questions about his own world. That is the kind of thing that science fiction does best. The science fiction approach tends to focus upon “find out how it works, and then you can control/defeat it.” The Deathstar can be destroyed because we got hold of its blueprints. Aliens can be defeated when we figure out what they want. This is actually poked fun at in “Independence Day”, when Earth’s defenders finally get to talk to one of the aliens. Everyone present assumes that if they can can understand what the aliens want, a solution will of course be possible. But the alien’s response is “nah, we just wanna kill you.” It’s a shock not only to the President and his generals, but to the entire genre.
Both of those themes run through my work regardless of what genre I am “writing in.” In my current project, the Magister Trilogy, the very survival of mankind hinges upon his coming to understand the nature and evolution of a seemingly demonic species. The more men discover about what it really is, the more power they have to defeat it. I like to think that the greatest moments in my books are the moments of revelation, when the reader sits back and says to himself, “wow, so *that’s* what this was all about!”. You can write a fantasy adventure novel without those moments. You can’t write a science fiction novel without them.
Q. On that note of magic and mythical forces, the Fae in the Coldfire Trilogy is a sort of ‘magic’ which has a science (fiction) basis; crippling technology and creating complex manifestations, from fear-inspired demons to evolutionary changes in species. What inspired this incredible force?
A. The fae was inspired by an essay by Isaac Asimov, called, to the best of my memory, “Why I do not believe in Magic”. In it he discussed why he felt magic was a weak literary device, and did not care for fantasy as a genre. He said, (I am paraphrasing from memory twenty years ago ) “If there really were something like magic in the universe, then it would operate according to scientific logic. There would be a First, Second, and Third Law of Magic. Magical phenomena would be consistent with the Laws of Thermodynamics. The phenomenon could be tested and studied according to the scientific method.” He said this approach was generally lacking in fantasy fiction, so he found the “magic” to be something he could not suspend his disbelief enough to accept as real.
That essay inspired the Coldfire Trilogy, in which the fae not only satisfies all those conditions, but the exploration of what it is and how it works is central to human society.
Q. Coldfire is not, I believe, your only series to explore or contain significant moral ‘grey area’ rather than straight up good and evil – is there a particular reason it’s a prominant theme? What’s the appeal for you personally in portraying it?
I think it’s one of the most fascinating feature of the human psyche in particular, and human society in general. I also love to take people’s assumptions and then turn them upside down, presenting something that they know to be “good” or “evil” or “wrong”, and then forcing them to question whether that is really the case. The result is an exercise in which the reader ultimately must question his own value base, and perhaps that of his culture or faith as well. Lots of fun.
Fiction is not only about a quest the characters are undertaking; it is about the voyage of discovery that the reader himself experiences, reading about that quest.
Q. So, since we now know all about Coldfire which other novels/series would you push for new readers and why?
A. My current project is the Magister Trilogy, beginning with Feast of Souls and Wings of Wrath. The conclusion, Legacy of Kings, will be published next year. This is a *very* dark epic fantasy in which magic exists, but the cost is so high that it transforms those who use it into something that is…well, I won’t ruin the story for you. As with all my works it combines an intense story line and compelling characters with an exploration of what it is that makes us human, and in this case the thematic question, “what price would you be willing to pay for power?”. I’m very pleased with the project, and fans seem to be very excited about it. There are some *major* suprises coming in Book III that I know no one sees coming, that will have everyone running back to reread Books I and II and saying, “Oh my God, so *that’s* what was going on!”
Q. Do you have a favourite character (or two, or three!), or any you’re particularly proud of out of all those you’ve written? Why?
A. Gerald Tarrant is probably my all-time favorite, and I consider him my masterwork. The lead characters of In Conquest Born rank up at the top as well. I think a few characters in the Magister Trilogy may also wind up on there, by the time I’ve done.
Q. Would you ever feel in any way inclined towards writing in entirely another genre?
A. I write in whatever genre I want. They can all be explored in fantasy and/or science fiction.
If you mean *abandoning* those genres, no, it never tempts me. The imaginative potential of those fields is what makes me love writing. Anything else would bore me to tears.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about what you’re currently working on? What plans have you for future works?
A. Well, you’ve got the sales pitch on the Magister Trilogy above. After that, I’m planning a fantasy work that takes off from a more urban-fantasy setting, and will ultimately answer the question of where all those legends of supernatural creatures really come from, as well as resolving some questions scientists are asking about the nature of human evolution. All in the context of a really good story, of course.
I never think small.
Interview by Nollaig
Author Interview - C. S. Friedman
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