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Old Mar 28 2006, 01:24 PM   #1
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Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Maryland, USA
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Fan of: Pern!
Now Reading: Paladin of Souls (Bujold)
Lightbulb His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

I'm sufficiently intrigued by the description and hype for His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (titled Temeraire in the UK, apparently) that I'll be looking for it in the bookstore (rare for me to buy a book that I don't already know I like or have personal recommendations for), and thought I'd share it with everyone here too.

There's an excerpt online (which I haven't read yet but shall soon), and a website. Del Rey is apparantly trying something new (explained a bit in the interview below): this book is the first of a triliogy and rather than releasing each book a year apart, they had the author write all three and will release them one per month in the next three months. Just enough to make you wait for it, not so much that you forget about the new author before the next book.

What first caught my eye was the blurbs of support by Anne (of course!) and Terry Brooks, which lead to me actually reading the rest of the Del Rey email rather than deleting it. The following comes from the March special issue of the Del Rey Internet Newsletter.

"Just when you think you've seen every variation possible on the dragon story along comes Naomi Novik...Her wonderful Temeraire is a dragon for the ages."
—Terry Brooks

"Splendid...excellent, extraordinary...not only is it a new way to utilize dragons, it's a very clever one...Naomi Novik [will] be one to watch"
—Anne McCaffrey

Dear Friend of Del Rey,

What do TIME magazine, Stephen King, and Ain' have in common? They all love Naomi Novik's first novel, His Majesty's Dragon! At Del Rey, we think it's one of the most exciting debuts ever in fantasy fiction, and that's why we're letting you know that His Majesty's Dragon goes on sale today.

The novel begins with the capture of a French warship. On board is a particularly valuable prize: a dragon's egg, about to hatch. Dragons, you see, are used as air power in this particular version of the Napoleonic Wars. And Temeraire, the dragon that William Laurence comes to captain, is a truly delightful creation.

A history buff with a particular fondness for the Napoleonic era, author Naomi Novik writes with a wonderful understanding of 19th-century mores, speech patterns, class consciousness and much more. If you enjoy the writing of Anne McCaffrey, Patrick O'Brian, or Jane Austen, you too will want to meet Captain William Laurence and Temeraire. WARNING: You may find reading this novel an addictive experience. But do not fear—two sequels will follow immediately, Throne of Jade in May and Black Powder War in June.

Enjoy!!! And see below for an interview with author Naomi Novik.

Betsy Mitchell
Editor-in-Chief, Del Rey

Interview with Naomi Novik

Q: When I first heard about His Majesty's Dragon, the book was described to me as "Master and Commander meets Dragonriders of Pern," and I have to admit that made me eager to read it. I'm curious to know whether you agree with that assessment, and how you reply to prospective readers when asked to describe the novel.

NN: It's hard to complain about that, really, as a one-line summary. To me the heart of this universe is about introducing a single fantastical element, dragons, into a realistic setting, and exploring the consequences.

Q: What led you to set these books during the Napoleonic era? Has that period of history always interested you?

NN: I'd just recently been introduced to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, this wonderful combination of swashbuckling adventure with the atmosphere of the period, the richness of historical detail. And I've loved Jane Austen for years, and been fascinated with the whole era even before that, since reading this tiny little simplified biography of Napoleon back in my elementary school library. The period really gives you all the excitement of epic battles and a grand world stage, joined to an everyday life that is beautifully suited to comedy of manners.

Q: Despite the presence of dragons, your book is not a fantasy in the same sense as, say, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, set in the same period. There is no magic in His Majesty's Dragon; the age of which you write may be an alternate history, but the laws of physics and of biology still seem to hold, and dragons seem as much subject to them as are human beings.

NN: When I read fantasy myself, I want to immerse myself into the world of the story and believe in it for the duration, and that's very much what I want to achieve in my own work. I think of it as meeting the reader halfway: respecting the constraints of history and science and realistic individual behavior makes it easier for the reader to come along with me when I ask them to accept a judiciously chosen fantastical element (like the existence of dragons) which is fundamental to the story that I'm telling. (Actually, Susanna Clarke accomplishes this brilliantly; she paints such a vivid and accurate portrait of the period and of her characters that you're entirely willing to believe in her magic.)

The differences between the world of the books and the "real" world all stem (if only through a complicated and indirect process detailed nowhere but inside my own head) from the introduction of dragons; I hope to explore more of them in future books.

Q: It's not every first-time author who can boast a blurb from Stephen King on their cover. Tell us about your path to publication, and how that process has compared to your expectations, hopes, and fears.

NN: My good friend Cynthia Manson is an agent, and she sent the first book to Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey even before I had entirely finished writing it. Shortly thereafter, Betsy called to ask for the rest, and whether I had any sequels in mind; we settled on an initial three-book deal very quickly. It was as smooth an experience as I could have hoped for (and far more so than I did hope for, in fact).

Q: Are you a full-time writer now?

NN: I am, and very happily so. (I don't think I could have met the schedule otherwise!)

Q: Del Rey is pursuing an unique strategy with the Temeraire trilogy: instead of the usual time of a year or more between books, yours are going to be published in successive months. What's the thinking behind this?

NN: As I understand it, Random House has had success launching several new authors in other genres, including romance and thrillers, with this marketing strategy, and they decided to it was time to use it in science fiction and fantasy. It appealed to me immediately when they described the plan; I think it offers an opportunity to really secure the hearts of readers by giving them three doses in quick succession, and on a practical common-sense level, just having all three books out in force at once would naturally make them stand out in the bookstores.

Q: Tell us about Will Laurence and the dragon Temeraire. How difficult was it to find the right emotional tone for their relationship?

NN: Both terribly difficult and not at all—Laurence and Temeraire's relationship is really the core of the series, and until I had found that dynamic, I don't think the books could have been written. At the same time, the relationship came completely naturally during the writing process, because it informs everything else.

Q: I've read books about dragons in combat, from Anne McCaffrey's Pern series to the Dragonmaster books of the late Chris Bunch, but your treatment of this subject is by far the most thoroughly imagined and original I've encountered. How did you work everything out, from the larger strategic and tactical considerations of employing flights of dragons in war to the smaller but still essential questions of the mechanics of battle aboard an individual dragon?

NN: Thank you very much for the compliment—I will admit to an unbecoming degree of satisfaction in my battle scenes, which honestly surprised me; I hadn't expected to enjoy writing action as much as I do, nor to find it come naturally.

For the larger questions of strategy and tactics, I have tried to extrapolate from the wealth of research and analysis done on Napoleonic-era warfare, as best a layman could, and imagine how dragons might be put to practical military use along similar lines as horses were used in the cavalry and ships in the navy of the era.

For the details of dragon-handling, I also branched out from naval practices, and worked out differences based on my initial assumptions—for instance, I settled with myself early on that most individuals who hadn't been raised around dragons would (very sensibly) be terrified of them—much as I am fascinated by dinosaurs myself, if a tyrannosaur appeared in the street next to me one day, I would not wait around long enough to see whether it was well trained and friendly before running away.

As a consequence, aviator officers would have to be trained around dragons from an early age, and it would be nearly impossible to impress men into service with dragons; this in turn has interesting implications for the society of the aviators, by narrowing the distance between the officers and the men as compared to the greater stratification in society at large at the time, and in turn how that society would view aviators.

Like the average person, I think, I am both fascinated and a little alarmed by heights, which helps me to imagine both the anxieties and the delights of flying, the kinds of things one might imagine happening; that's largely how I dream up the specific events of battle sequences. It's also been an advantage living in New York, where I fairly often end up on high floors where I can see all the city laid out before me, a dragons-eye perspective.

Q: How closely are you hewing to the historical record of the times, and will you move further afield as the series progresses, following up the implications of intelligent and powerful dragons working closely with humans and their governments? For example, will the subject of women's rights, and perhaps even dragons' rights, come to exert an influence in the shape of your fictional history?

NN: I begin to move away from the historical record more dramatically starting in the third book, Black Powder War. As for the rest, without giving too much away, all I can say is—yes.

Q: A related question--what about history prior to the Napoleonic era? Did you try to factor in the presence of dragons in, say, ancient Egypt or Greece, or did you decide to begin tracking their influence on this alternate branch of history only with the time covered in the books?

NN: I chose to begin tracking their influence on history starting shortly before this time period, largely with the impact of dragons on colonialism. My rule for myself is that I should leave the historical timeline alone unless I can work out a very clear reason, stemming directly from the introduction of dragons and my assumptions about their abilities, why things should have changed.

For instance, dragons cannot fly across the ocean, and building transport ships large enough to carry them is a vast undertaking. As a result, native populations in their own territories (assuming they too had domesticated dragons) would have a tremendous advantage in air power that would offset the advantage of firearms.

Q: Before turning to writing, you were a computer programmer working in gaming design. Did gaming—or computer programming, for that matter—have an influence on your writing?

NN: Yes, absolutely. I had been working at the vignette and short story length for a while, but having to fit together all the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of a complicated, many-threaded plot, which had to be tight enough to hold up under everything a deliberately hostile audience of beta-testers could throw at it, was a tremendous learning experience and formative in helping me move to novel-length work.

Q: Are your dragons telepathic? You never come right out and say so in the novel, but it seems clear that they do have unique mental abilities.

NN: No, they don't have any psychic abilities, but they do have a markedly different kind of intelligence and psychology from humans, and they develop differently and at different speeds. So dragons learn language in the shell and are hatched able to speak, but most breeds very rapidly lose the ability to learn language after hatching, while humans may learn language more slowly, but are able to pick up new languages throughout their lives. I try in general to keep the dragons' abilities as plausible as possible; though I do cheat a bit here and there in the interests of livening things up.

Q: Do you plan on writing more novels set in this world beyond the initial trilogy?

NN: Yes; I really envision the Temeraire books as an ongoing set of adventures in the Aubrey/Maturin style, rather than as a trilogy or a longer series with a set start and finish. I'm always a little frustrated myself by very long series, so I feel strongly about wrapping up the main plot in each book, while leaving some interesting hooks behind for future adventures and to reward continuing readers without making it impossible for someone to come in fresh later on along the way. Book four of the series is already underway, with book five mostly plotted out and various other ideas brewing on the back-burner.

Q: Any other projects in the works?

NN: I would like to branch out in other directions, but I've long since learned my lesson about predicting what I'll write in the future—in between other things, I am currently playing with a dozen or so different ideas, and waiting to see what really grabs hold of my imagination.
Visit one of the other sites of Cheryl's Anne McCaffrey Triad:
Sariel's Guide to Pern: a detailed guide to the series
The Many Works of Anne McCaffrey: largest fan site about Anne and ALL of her works
McCaffrey Quest: annual trivia contest.
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