Sean Williams

thinking aloud (and a quick plug)

posted on 7 May 2006 at 2:13 pm

“Ever wonder what happens to people after they die? Williams’s exploration into the various realms of the afterlife is as engaging as it is disturbing — a page-turner of the highest order.”

Barnes & Noble featured The Crooked Letter in May’s Explorations Newsletter, describing it as “equal parts arcane fantasy, postapocalyptic thriller, and Lovecraftian horror”–probably the best description I’ve read of it so far. That’s certainly how I think of it, in the same category as China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus!, Ian Watson’s Deathhunter, Phillip K Dick’s Maze of Death and others. Perhaps no one else would group these works in one sentence–and I certainly wouldn’t advocate creating a new word to capture the essence of such an association–but I’ll confess to drawing inspiration from them, and thinking that there might be a real connection between them.

The “speculative” part of speculative fiction isn’t confined to genres. Not in the moment of conception, anyway. It may be guidable in certain directions during the act of turning an idea into a finished product (book, film, game, whatever) but sometimes ideas aren’t so easily tamed. I don’t want to anthropomorphise the process any more than I have to. I’m no more a victim of my ideas than I am of my emotions; they just happen, and I do my best to deal with them the appropriate way. But sometimes ideas just won’t fit neatly into Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror. Or Crime or Romance or Literary Fiction. Sometimes they overlap. The Crooked Letter contains a bunch of those overlapping ideas, as did The Crooked Letter, to a lesser extent. They were hard to corral. I’m glad people seem to like the book, despite (or because of) the problems I had trying to define exactly what it was I dealing with. I wonder if China and the others had similar uncertainties.

There’s a speech I uploaded to my web site yesterday that talks more on this subject (here). I bring it up now because I find myself still struggling with the kind of book The Crooked Letter is. No wonder it took so long to write–my longest so far, if you count the fifteen-odd years of research that went into it.

Charles Brown of Locus is fond of saying that writing is the one job that gets harder the longer you do it. Maybe that’s true of individual books too. And maybe when it is, it’s all the more worthwhile…

Anyway, here’s the full text of the Barnes & Noble review. Thanks, Paul Goat Allen, whoever you are. 🙂

“Genre fans who enjoy spirituality-powered novels that delve into religious and mythic belief systems (Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, Hal Duncan’s Vellum, et al.) should prepare to be blown away: Sean Williams’s The Crooked Letter — winner of Australia’s Aurealis and Ditmar Awards for Best Fantasy Novel — is finally available in the States!

“Hadrian and Seth Castillo are mirror twins (perfect reflections of each other) who have taken some time off to travel through Europe and “find themselves” — but what the teenage brothers discover instead is Armageddon. An emotional clash involving an attractive female traveling companion leads the twins to a confrontation with a mysterious Swedish man, during which Seth is stabbed and killed. The murder, as it turns out, is just the opening move in an intricate chess match between gods, with dominion over entire worlds is at stake. Seth’s essence travels to the Second Realm, a hollow spiritual plane inhabited by horrifying monstrosities bent on consuming his soul. Hadrian, meanwhile, remains in the First Realm and witnesses the beginning of a nightmarish cataclysm. The link between the twins is drawing the two realms closer and closer together, but how can two mortal pawns possibly defy a hierarchy of divine kings and queens?

“The first installment of a projected four-volume saga entitled Books of the Cataclysm, The Crooked Letter is equal parts arcane fantasy, postapocalyptic thriller, and Lovecraftian horror. Ever wonder what happens to people after they die? Williams’s exploration into the various realms of the afterlife is as engaging as it is disturbing — a page-turner of the highest order.”