Friday, November 9, 2018

S.M. Stirling Interview - The Sky-Blue Wolves

Photo Credit: Anton Brkic

Stephen Michael Stirling is a French-born Canadian-American science fiction and fantasy author. Stirling is probably best known for his Draka series of alternate history novels and the more recent time travel/alternate history Nantucket series and Emberverseseries.

What inspired you to become a novelist?
Stories. I was telling myself (and then other people) the stories in my head, long intricately plotted and detailed ones, as early as I can remember. I gulped down every piece of fiction – visual and print – I could, and cast myself in what I now recognize as fanfic from about the age of five. I insisted that everyone call me Ming the Merciless for a week once.

Then I realized you could do this for a living, and the die was cast. I got a law degree to please my parents, but nothing could stop me…

Tell us your latest news.
I’m immersed in my latest alternate-history series, BLACK CHAMBER, in which President Taft has a heart attack in 1912 (it’s a miracle he didn’t) and Teddy Roosevelt, our most interesting and probably smartest and certainly best-read President, sweeps back into office. Hijinks ensue, and there are Zeppelins. It’s a fascinating period, just familiar enough to be thoroughly alien, and of course pulling on one threat changes everything.

The last of the “Emberverse/Change” series, which started with ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME, is coming out – THE SKY-BLUE WOLVES, in which I tie up some threads. But what’s a world but a mass of loose ones? Anyway, there are Mongol princes and their sisters and evil magicians in dark towers. I’ve been doing these for 20 years and it’s been a blast all the way.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
Virtually everyone; I’m an omnivorous reader and devour fiction of all types, as well as enormous rafts of biography, history of various types, anthropology and archaeology. Edgar Rice Burroughs was an early influence; Poul Anderson once I got into SF in a serious way. There are many brilliant writers working now; this is the Golden Age of the spec-fic genre. And I have a weak spot for good historical fiction; Mary Renault back when, and writers like Patricia Finney (aka P.F. Chisholm) now. The ability to get inside human but alien heads is common to a lot of SF and fantasy and writing in different periods.

Did you learn anything from writing this series and what was it?
That worldbuilding is good occupational therapy for lunatics who think they’re God. Nobody can create a whole world -de novo-; and using historical patterns is good, but difficult and more tricky than it appears. Change one thing – for example, is there an equivalent of radio? – and you change everything else. And while history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme, because while different cultures do things different ways, they’re all operating with human beings, who have many commonalities – you won’t find a human society, even a tiny one, without politics, for example. And hence none without conflict, which is why writing utopias is so hard.

Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
Not really, though some have made me want to read this book they’re reviewing, which obviously isn’t mine! Some have clarified things I sort-of-knew but hadn’t articulated. Some are illuminating for other reasons. Liz Bourke’s review of BLACK CHAMBER in Locus, for instance, was a nice illustration of someone whose fundamental honesty forced them to be fair to a book they would have liked to dislike. Though Paul di Filippo’s was even better, I thought.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Apart from getting to wake up every morning and say “Oh, goodie, I get to work today?” That’s hard to beat. There was my first pro sale, where the editor called me up and said he wanted to buy it, but the ending was ambiguous… and then realizing I hadn’t sent the last page, and by Ghu, without that it was ambiguous!

Perhaps the best ‘perk’ has been getting to be friends with writers – we’re a bit like cops that way. I had a 20-year correspondence and a couple of visits with Poul Anderson, for instance, which was a privilege. And I get to hang out with Harry Turtledove, and he and I and Susan Schwartz and Judy Tarr did a round-robin novel once, which is a memory I still cherish.

Which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
Hmmm, that’s a toughie; I’m inclined to say Luz O’Malley Arostegui from BLACK CHAMBER, but that’s because I always focus on what I’m working on.

Overall, perhaps Mike Havel and Juniper Mackenzie from DIES THE FIRE. They’re ordinary people to start with, their extraordinary aspects hidden in mundanity, until the changing of the world forces them to step into mythic roles. Juniper realizes she’s living in a myth, Mike doesn’t, but they both stand up and take the mantle, for good and ill.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?
A classic British children’s book called NAUGHTY RED LION BEWARE, about heraldic shield animals who came alive at night… I taught myself to read from that one. After that, I think THE WIND AND THE WILLOWS, and slightly later Rosemary Sutcliff’s historicals for their flavor of the strange and Edgar Rice Burroughs for his sheer vigor.

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
The average age of marriage in Shakespeare’s England was almost exactly the same as it is in the US today.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
In history? I’d save the Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. Personally? Tell myself not to waste time at law school… though that might change my life in negative ways too.

Have you had an incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Well, the first time I nearly died and knew it. Or the time I worked two days as a bouncer and quit because I was being puked on all the time… that determined me to put more gritty realism into my work!
Most of all meeting Jan, my wife of 30 years.

S. M. Stirling presents the stunning and epic conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Change series. Many years ago, when advanced technology failed and humanity found itself in a turbulent, postapocalyptic world, extraordinary men and women birthed a new society from the ashes. In this new world of emperors and kings, new leaders emerged, making the world their own.

Two generations after the Change, Crown Princess Ă“rlaith struggles to preserve the hard-won peace her father brought to Montival--the former western United States. But the Change opened many doors, and through them powers strong and strange and terrible walk once more among humankind.

With her fire-forged friend and ally, Japanese Empress Reiko, Ă“rlaith must take up her sword to stop the spread of the mad malignancy behind the Yellow Raja, who has imprisoned her brother Prince John. And from the emerging superpower of Mongolia, the Sky-Blue Wolves of the High Steppe ride once more beneath the banner of Genghis Khan--the thunder of their hooves resounding across a world in turmoil.


"[A] richly realized story of swordplay and intrigue." Entertainment Weekly

"[An] epic series." 
Amazing Stories

"Nobody wrecks a world better than S. M. Stirling, and nobody does a better job of showing that people remain people, with all their high points and low, in the wreckage." 
Harry Turtledove, New York Times bestselling author of Joe Steele

The San Diego Union-Tribune

"[A] vivid portrait of a world gone insane...full of bloody action, exposition that expands character, and telling detail that makes it all seem very real." 
Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)

You can purchase The Sky-Blue Wolves at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you S.M. STIRLING for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Sky-Blue Wolves (Rudi’s Children (Emberverse V) #5) by S.M. Stirling. 


  1. "What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?" Sneezing is the 2nd-greatest physical pleasure for the human body.

  2. You burn more calories when you frown than when you smile.

  3. A guppy's penis is called a gonopodium

  4. Sloths take two weeks to digest their food.