content by

Fran Wilde

Fiction and Excerpts [4]

Fiction and Excerpts [4]

The Jewel and Her Lapidary

|| The kingdom in the Valley has long sheltered under the protection of its Jewels and Lapidaries, the people bound to singing gemstones with the power to reshape hills, move rivers, and warp minds. That power has kept the peace and tranquility, and the kingdom has flourished. Jewel Lin and her Lapidary Sima may be the last to enjoy that peace...

The Voices of The Odyssey: Emily Wilson On Language, Translation, and Culture

I recently finished another great boat-centric book that contained the hallmarks of modern action-adventure fantasy: shipwrecks, monsters, intrigue, heroes, a complicated good guy, evil-smashing, regrets, and a happy ending. Turns out, the book is among the oldest tales in Western literature. The very title sometimes causes memories of high school requirements to surface. Yet The Odyssey—especially this latest version—still rings true beside our modern marvels (see what I did there).

I’ll say it again: Emily Wilson’s new translation of Homer’s Odyssey (Norton, 2017) is vastly different from the version I read in high school. Where I remember the ominous drone of Pope’s version of the invocation—

“The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d,
Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound,”

—Wilson’s Odyssey begins as it means to continue, in uncomplicated, flowing English that feels exciting again, … and right for our time: “Tell me about a complicated man.”

I, like many other readers, was immediately delighted by this shift, and any lingering high school-related dread fell away as the adventure took over. When Dr. Wilson spoke about her five-year translation journey into the epic poem last month at The Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, I made a point of going and then peppered the University of Pennsylvania professor, Yale PhD, classics editor, literary theorist, and translator of works from Euripides to Homer with a whole stack of questions, covering everything from poetry to prose, translation and re-envisioning, to superheroes modern and past.

[Here’s what she had to say…]

Fantasy Books Where Magic Turns Out to Be Math

In literature, magic is often grouped into three main categories—illusion (sleight of hand), spells and alterations of reality (paranormal), and the fantastic—and thus hidden there. Meantime, the word “magic” can itself shift from noun to verb to adjective and back again, an utterance repeatedly revealed as having a transformative property all its own.

I say “hidden” and “revealed” because the divvying up of magic into component parts keeps the whole of its complex nature somewhat safe from discovery. The act of defining magic becomes a way of constraining it, and of protecting it—and us. In some ways, magic becomes its own protective ward against wanting something so powerful that it can alter reality in the nick of time—shazaam!—so that we might use it to save the things we love.

Math, on the other hand. Math is different.

[There’s nothing magic about math… right?]

Gears are Magic: Five Books that Rock Engineering

When author Max Gladstone first read Updraft, he contacted me, saying “You know, there’s no magic in your book, only engineering.”

He had no idea how much I was going to use that phrase. I think I owe him lunch or something.

But he was exactly right, except that he was also wrong. There IS magic in the Bone Universe series—all the way through from Updraft to Horizon. And—from the bridges to the wings and more, to the understanding of the wind around the towers—the magic is all engineering.

[Read more]

Series: Five Books About…

Illustrating the Arc of a Series: The Art of the Bone Universe

As I gleefully watched my Bone Universe come to life through Tommy Arnold’s stunning art over the past three years, I’ve noticed both small details and bigger themes—from wing architecture to landscape to color choices.

With the series’ conclusion this fall (September 26th—and, hey! you can preorder your copy of Horizon now!), one of the things I wanted most to do was to talk with Tommy and Tor’s Creative Director, Irene Gallo, about their processes and how they went about making this series resonate visually.

Luckily, they were happy to oblige.
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Making All Those Gears Spin: Engineering in Science Fiction and Fantasy Roundtable

A fair number of my stories feature science or technology, even when they’re fantasy. About my first novel, Updraft, my friend Max Gladstone said, “There’s no magic in this book. It’s all engineering.” He was right… and a little wrong (sorry, Max!). There is magic in Updraft, and it’s all engineering.

Because the Bone Universe series — which began with Updraft in 2015 — concludes with Horizon this September, I’m thinking a lot about engineering and how it appears in science fiction and fantasy. For, I assembled a roundtable of SF author-engineers and analysts. I also pulled one of the engineering consultants for the Bone Universe series into the discussion. Today, Hugo-Award winner John Chu, Nebula- and Locus-award winner Aliette de Bodard, short story author A.T. Greenblatt, and short story author, editor, and 2017 debut novelist Nicky Drayden join New Zealand-based naval architect and marine engineer (aka: my sister) Susan Lake for a roundtable on engineering in science fiction and fantasy. Here we go:

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After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in Fran Wilde’s Cloudbound, the stirring companion to Updraft. Available September 27th from Tor Books.

When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, and her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers—but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.

With the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Nat, Kirit’s wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way—sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.

But what he finds down-tier is more secrets–and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City…

[Read more]

It’s All in the Rigging: My Favorite Fantasy Boats

Once upon a time (cough, August 6, 2013, actually), published “I Hate Boats,” by Carl Engle-Laird. Carl’s gone on to brilliant things, but I still want to argue with him about the post, and especially this sentence in particular: “Whenever my beloved protagonists get on a boat, I groan, put the book on the table, and pace around the room muttering angrily to myself, alarming friends and loved ones.”

Carl, now that you’re a big-deal editor at, I’m finally ready to tell you that I feel exactly the opposite way. I love boats, and when I see one in a book, I feel a lot of hope. I grew up sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, reading nautical histories, and what I want in my fiction is a boat that feels real and suits the plot.  When a book takes me over water, I’m eagerly looking for the most seaworthy craft.

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The Women of The Expanse: An Interview with Daniel Abraham

I had a fantastic time guest posting at Sleeps With Monsters last fall. So much so that I badgered Liz to let me back through security for another round. This time, I wanted to step away from language and take a different tack: to look at one of my favorite television shows from the past season—The Expanse—and specifically at the women on the show.

One of my favorite things about The Expanse (and there are quite a few, because I love my space opera, and I’ve worn treads in BSG, The 100 [with two glaring exceptions] and Farscape) is the plurality of women in major roles on the show. Naomi Nagata on the Canterbury and Rocinante, Chrisjen Avasarala on Earth, Octavia Muss and Captain Shaddid in the Belt. All have deep backstories, active involvement in the show’s trajectory, and solid character arcs that weave dramatic threads throughout the plot—often independent of arcs relating to the primary male characters. ::fistpump:: Even Captain Yao on the Mars battleship and Elise Holden on the homestead, two secondary characters, feel strongly depicted and multi-layered. And of course, there’s Juliette Mao, the show’s… well, I have a theory about what and who Julie Mao is, but I’ll leave it to the end.

[Read more]

Series: Sleeps With Monsters

The Jewel and Her Lapidary

The kingdom in the Valley has long sheltered under the protection of its Jewels and Lapidaries, the people bound to singing gemstones with the power to reshape hills, move rivers, and warp minds. That power has kept the peace and tranquility, and the kingdom has flourished.

Jewel Lin and her Lapidary Sima may be the last to enjoy that peace. The Jeweled Court has been betrayed. As screaming raiders sweep down from the mountains, and Lapidary servants shatter under the pressure, the last princess of the Valley will have to summon up a strength she’s never known. If she can assume her royal dignity, and if Sima can master the most dangerous gemstone in the land, they may be able to survive.

A tale of courage and transformation, Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary is available May 3rd from Publishing.

[Read more]

How Do You Like Your Science Fiction? Ten Authors Weigh In On ‘Hard’ vs. ‘Soft’ SF

With The Martian a big-screen success and Star Wars: The Force Awakens blowing box office doors off their hinges, articles like this one from NPR have begun appearing all over, encouraging SF authors and readers to “Get Real.” Meanwhile, debates about whether one movie or another is scientific enough are cropping up in various corners of the internet. (This, in my view, feels like an odd ranking system—if one movie has a sarlacc pit as an ancestor, and another might be seen as channeling Ghost [1990, the one with Demi Moore] as a way to explain cross-universe communication via physics… it’s pretty cool, yes? It’s fun to let imaginations wander about? Yes. I’ll be seeing you in the comments, yes. Onwards.)

So is a deeper, harder line being drawn in the sand about “hard” science fiction than usual? Or are we discovering that perhaps there’s a whole lot more sand available with regards to how imaginative and future-looking fiction can develop, and even entertaining the possibility that these developments could become blueprints for future-fact?

I asked ten science fiction authors about their definitions of “hard” and “soft” science fiction, and how they see science fiction (hard, soft, and otherwise) in today’s terms. They returned with ten fascinating—and not surprisingly, entirely different—answers.

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Intersection: Here’s What Happens When You Read The Water Knife and The Peripheral At The Same Time

While traveling this summer, I read Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife (Knopf, 2015) in hardback and William Gibson’s The Peripheral (Penguin, 2014) on my e-reader… synchronously.

Why read both together? On the road, screen-reading is sometimes more convenient, but at other times, what I desire most is a real book in my hands, all deckled pages and shiny dust-jacket. Not having either in both formats, I read back-and-forth between the two.

If not wholly advisable, the results of reading in this manner are at least interesting: I’m fairly certain one of these books is taking place within the other’s universe.

[The problem is, I’m not entirely sure which one.]

Change the Language, Change the World

A Note from Liz Bourke: I’ve asked Fran to write this week’s Sleeps With Monsters column because I really like her novel Updraft. Let her tell you something about how she went about writing it.

“… in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like ‘the ordinary world,’ ‘ordinary life,’ ‘the ordinary course of events’ … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.”

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, in her 1996 Nobel Prize speech about the work of poets, concluded the above paragraph this way: “It looks like poets will always have their work cut out for them.”

All writers do this work in some fashion, even if poets get to use the prettiest knives. Part of the work is a constant re-honing of language; making us think about its power, and the uniqueness of everything we use language to describe, lest its opposite deaden our response to the world around us.

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Behind the Scenes at Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook

2015 marks SFWA’s 50th Anniversary Year, and the organization is celebrating in many ways. One of these is a cookbook, Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook, that contains recipes from many of your favorite writers. asked Ad Astra’s editors, Cat Rambo and Fran Wilde, for a behind-the-scenes peek at the book, and for information on where you can find your copy this summer.

[Read more]

Five Books About The Monstrous

Earlier this year, I wrote about gravity being monstrous. Above the clouds, gravity is that unreasonable force always waiting for someone to make a mistake.

When thinking about monsters for Updraft, I wanted to explore variety and opposites. Not all monsters take a quasi-human form, not all devour (though some of the great ones do). I looked at how monsters occur—whether from the dark corners of our subconscious, or from a darker side of our conscience. My research built a catalogue of characteristics that began with Grendel’s startling appearances and his mother’s grief in Beowulf, and reached all the way to black holes out at the wobbly edge of space. I did a lot of reading.

[Chimeras, krakens, yetis, rocs and more!]

Series: Five Books About…


Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever-if it isn’t destroyed outright.

Fran Wilde is the acclaimed author of short stories appearing in Asimov’s, Nature, Beyond Ceaseless Skies, and more. Her first novel, Updraft, publishes September 1st from Tor Books. You can also find Fran at this year’s BEA and BookCon! Get the full Tor Books schedule here.

[Read an Excerpt]

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