In the intro to ‘Gilden Fire’, Stephen Donaldson talks about Covenant and the Land – how he made a conscious choice not to step outside Covenant’s (or Hile Troy’s) point of view so you’d never see the Land as independently real.
I love the books, but that’s always felt like the ‘shop’ in the fantasy computer game – you know the one, the only gear the shopkeeper ever gets is the stuff that you bring in. It’s like no other character in the story is actually doing anything.
Right from the beginning, I wanted my shopkeeper autonomous, my world capable of independent movement – and so I made the choice not to tell the whole story through Ecko’s eyes. Aside from being exhausting, both to read and to write, it would mean the world could be perceived as real. It also made the genre differences very acute.
Ecko’s harsh language, for example, was intended to illustrate how his physical adjustments have affected his personality, and hence the difference between the character and the world around him. It also acts as a yardstick, marking his growth and change as he travels through the narrative.
In reverse was the removal of both metal and money from the fantasy world. Two things quintessential to the near-future Ecko, they demonstrated that difference from the other side.
There was deliberate choice to the story’s sardonic tilt. The fantasy setting is derivative; essentially Ecko goes on a quest down a dungeon (sue me). It’s meant be a friendly send-up, to give his humour a target, and to appeal to those readers who’ve seen it ALL too often. The dustings of gaming and pop culture references are all a part of this.
There are smaller touches. Characters of the fantasy world have their own words for ‘earth’, and their own concepts of time and distance. In places, their languages differs from Ecko’s – different nouns and verbs – any author would illustrate cultural variance in a similar way.
So, if keeping Ecko’s voice and view made the genre differences visible, I also had to break them down. In Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series, Jon Tom’s boss fight is with a man from his own world – as they come face-to-face, this creates both bond and tension. This led to the introduction of Maugrim (complete with nickname) as a ploy to bridge the gap, and to raise questions about which side is real.
In spite of everything I’ve said there, though, I never really thought that Ecko was different. As kids, we did this stuff because we could; we knew the basics backwards, so we threw one idea at another just to see what would happen, what would break, what would grow. We explored these concepts endlessly, with both terrible seriousness and much drunken mirth. When I started writing, all of this was instinctive, because it was what I knew.
The fact that it’s surprised the market did come as a bit of a shock!
Ecko Burning is released by Titan Books on October 25. Click here to order it from Amazon.co.uk