Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Richard Baker

Richard Baker is a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as a prolific game designer. This month marks the release of Scornful Stars, the third book in his military sci-fi series Breaker of Empires (preceded by Valiant Dust in 2017, and Restless Lightning in 2018). He’s also known for eleven novels set in the world of the Forgotten Realms, including the New York Times bestseller Condemnation.

Recently I asked Baker about what he was reading. His reply:
The two books sitting on my nightstand are The Fifth Season (by N.K. Jemisin) and Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands (by Dan Jones). I’m cheating just a little bit here since I actually finished The Fifth Season a couple of weeks ago, but it looms large in my mind at the moment and I’m still thinking about the story. I realize that I’m late to the party since The Fifth Season won a Hugo for Best Novel in 2016 and you probably already know all about it already, but better late than never. Let me tell you why I picked up those particular books.

First, Crusaders: This is a new, well-written “pop history” exploring the tangled story of the Crusades. I read a lot of nonfiction, and several times a year I pick a book off a store shelf for no other reason than it deals with a subject I want to know more about. Author Dan Jones does a couple of interesting things with this one. First, he uses a strongly “people-centric” approach that builds around the stories of individuals caught up in the times rather than the more event-centered approach you might expect when recounting the wars of a thousand years ago. Second, he doesn’t limit himself to the story of Jerusalem and the crusader states—he also includes the Reconquista in Spain and the campaigns against the Baltic pagans in the broader narrative of the Christian world’s holy wars. I have no idea when or why I might need to know more about the Crusades, but as a writer, I like to just learn things. You never know when a bit of history might help to inspire your setting-building or suggest a great plot turn.

As for The Fifth Season, that was a little more random for me. Every now and then I realize I haven’t read a new author (meaning, someone I haven’t read before) in quite some time, so if something just catches my eye, I make a point of buying it to try out someone new. Most of my leisure reading is firmly in the realm of science fiction rather than fantasy these days, but the notion of a fantasy world built on the foundation of seismology and a modern understanding of things like hot spots and subduction caught my interest. I’m very glad it did: The Fifth Season turned out to be a brilliant bit of worldbuilding and a clever narrative structure that had me up late hurrying to find out what happens next. This was my first N.K. Jemisin book, and it definitely won’t be the last.
Visit Richard Baker's website.

The Page 69 Test: Valiant Dust.

--Marshal Zeringue