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Otherland #01: City of Golden Shadowby Tad Williams
Starting a new book is like falling in love. You live and breathe that story, you find it hard to think about anything else, and all the other books in your past begin to look kind of frumpy by comparison.
Otherland began as an idle thought while I was driving around one day back in about 1989. (I was still in the middle of the trilogy, writing-wise.) So many wonderful books, I thought, are river novels — Heart of Darkness, Huckleberry Finn.
The rivers in novels are metaphors, of course — metaphors for the journey of life, for the exploration of the self — but, I wondered, had anyone ever written a novel where the river itself was completely metaphorical?
It wasn't a long jump to thinking of a river of pure information, and the original title for Otherland was North on the Data Stream.
I combined this idea of an imaginary river with my interest in how information culture is changing the world (and yet leaving many of the same imbalances between the poor and the rich) and began to think about characters.
Writing Otherland, at least the first volume, has been different than writing Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, both more frustrating and more satisfying.
It's more frustrating in part because it's set in the near future, so I can't just arbitrarily make things up, and even the things that take place in computer-created virtual worlds are sometimes exact copies of real things. (I had to read over a dozen long books and many other bits of source material just to write the Foreword.) If I'm showing the readers a place they know (parts of the book take place in California, North Carolina, South Africa, Columbia, Australia, India — all very real places) then even fifty years or so in the future it has to be very recognizably the same spot.
On the other hand, one of the wonderful things about Otherland is that I get to use modern language. I've always believed that when you write immersive fantasy, you shouldn't use metaphors even in narration that the characters wouldn't know — "electric" in a medieval-ish period, for instance — because it jerks the readers out of the story and into the present. But with this book I can do what I want, and use a palette of words much closer to my everyday way of speaking and thinking.
I've also enjoyed it because I'm giving myself as wide a range of characters (some human, some not) as I did in the trilogy. And I still get to indulge in my standard hideously complicated plot, zillions of connecting strands, squillions of foreshadowings, and tons of bizarre side-tangents and weird supporting personae.
So far my only real unhappiness about the book is that, since it's going to be four volumes, there are going to be TWO middle books. Gack. No one sensible likes to write middle books.
For more, visit the author's website at www.tadwilliams.com
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