March 2004
© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Roll your mouse over the cover to see the original UK version.
Roll your mouse over the picture of the author to see the
Megan Lindholm version.
Robin Hobb Interview with Iain Emsley & Ernest Lilley

      Feature Review: Fool's Fate

      Previously in SFRevu:
      Mad Ship

      Ship of Magic

      Other Links:

      Robin Hobb's  Website:
      http://www.robinhobb.com/ 

      Robin Hobb Newsgroup

 

SFRevu: How do you feel now that the Tawny Man Saga has come to an end and readers on both sides of the Atlantic can see how it all comes out?

Robin Hobb: I really miss writing about Fitz and the Fool. Iím enjoying Nevare, my new hero, very much, but finishing the Tawny Man trilogy was definitely a parting from old friends. And itís a very strange feeling to put it out there for the world to see and stand back from it. I try to stay away from Internet discussions of the book, because there is always such a temptation (and itís larger now that the book is finished) to jump in and post things like, ďBut I never wrote that!Ē or ďYou misunderstood that scene entirely.Ē The wise thing, of course, is to let go and realize that the book has to defend itself now. Itís hard to be wise.

SFRevu: What has reader reaction been like at your signings?

Robin: Generally good. Bear in mind that when I do a signing for a new book, most people havenít read the book yet. So the later rounds of e-mail and posts on my message board more truly reflect reader reaction. In all honesty, it has been mixed, but passionate. I think thatís better than Ďgenerally good, but lukewarm.í

SFR: How does Robin Hobb view magic in Fantasy and its use by some writers? Is it a tool which has a price to pay, often personal? Is there a fear of difference (Piebalds?)?

Magic that works is viewed as technology, right?...I donít like fantasy in which the magic is all powerful and has no price. Fantasy like that cheats, and often there is no story once the full power of the magic is revealed.
Robin:
Magic that works is viewed as technology, right? Iíll push a button soon and send all these comments back to you. I donít know how it works, but I expect it to work. And I know its limits and its costs. The cost of this Ďmagicí is not only that I have to have a computer, an Internet connection, pay my ISP, etc. My cost for knowing how to write books and send them electronically is that I never took up painting or knitting, and that Iím able to indulge my tendency to avoid talking to people face to face. Itís Ďopportunity costí, just like in your high school economics course.

I think magic would be just like that. It would be accepted that some people could cast spells and that some people could grow potatoes.

When I write magic, I like to remember that there is a cost to doing anything, and write that into the story. Going back to my earlier example, computer geeks in high school donít get the same acclaim that football heroes do. But we are all aware that when we need one, there is no substitute. And we all feel a little vulnerable when the evil wizards of the computer world (hackers and virus writers) ply their evil trades. So I think we could draw a parallel there and say there would be some distrust of people who could do the mysterious via magic. Some of the distrust is based on jealousy and some on fear. But it would be there.

I donít like fantasy in which the magic is all powerful and has no price. Fantasy like that cheats, and often there is no story once the full power of the magic is revealed. So there has to be a limit to the magic in a story.

SFR: Names seem to be important in terms of changing identity, such as Fitz and Tom where both names allow him access to differing levels of society. Conscious decision or one the story made for you?

I like the old naming magic and it often appears in my story. The basic ideas are that if I know your true name, I have power over you. And that changing a name can change a person.  
Robin:
I like the old naming magic and it often appears in my story. The basic ideas are that if I know your true name, I have power over you. And that changing a name can change a person. We see this at work when we give a saintís name at Baptism, or a young person gains a new name at a coming of age ritual. Naming still has a great deal of power. Consider how names have changed in terms of what is Ďpolitically correctí when speaking of races.

And learning the names and terms is about half of any academic discipline, I think.

SFR: Did returning to Fitz and the Fool present any difficulties for you? How where these overcome?

Robin: On the contrary, it was almost too easy, like putting on your favorite jeans and sweatshirt after wearing dress clothes all day. I loved it. What I must overcome is the tendency to just want to keep writing about the people and world I love. I want to stop while my readers are still having as much fun as I am.

SFR: Growing up, when did you first get interested in SF/Fantasy? Were you a writer as a child? That is, did you make up your own stories?

Robin: I think my first introduction to fantastic stories were fairy tales and myths. My father's old fairy tale books with the lovely Dulac and Nielsen illustrations were entrancing. I did start writing when I was very young, but seldom managed to finish a story.

Later on, I was exposed to short fiction in the SF and fantasy magazines. I think that was good for me because the short stuff spanned so many of the subdivisions of the genre. Then, of course, Tolkien came along. Wow.

SFR: How did you react to reading Tolkien? Is he a major influence or jumping off point for your writing? Who do you consider your influences?

Later on, I was exposed to short fiction in the SF and fantasy magazines. I think that was good for me because the short stuff spanned so many of the subdivisions of the genre. Then, of course, Tolkien came along. Wow.
Robin:
Tolkien is the major influence in my decision to be a writer. He showed me what fantasy could be. Other influences are too many to mention: Rudyard Kipling. Rider Haggard. Jack Vance. Fritz Leiber. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Saki. Peter Beagle. Jules Verne. Robert Louis Stevenson. Mark Twain. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Robert Howard. Robert Bloch. So many wonderful stories, and they made me want to make my readers feel and be amazed and frightened and uplifted. So many wonderful stories.

SFR: What do you read these days?

Robin: The newspaper. Every morning. Science Weekly, every week. Lots of research books, or books that help me with what Iím writing. So lately Iíve been reading Lawrence of Arabia, and a book called Why They Kill and a lot of stuff on feral children and the British Empire and India. Iím also reading, this week, Newtonís Cannon by Keyes and The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay. In manuscript, Iím reading the first Triads book by Darragh Metzger. You havenít heard of her yet, but Iím betting that within a year or two you will have. Thatís my insider tip for this year. Waiting for the next book from Fiona McIntosh, book two of The Quickening.

SFR: How do you see the role of Story in Fantasy, given the conversation between Tom and Fool regarding the changeable roles? Is the idea of transformation a given in Fantasy?

Robin: Hm. I think the idea of transformation is a given in any story, donít you? Coming of age stories, man against nature stories, romances . . . I think every story has some sort of transformation in it. The role of story in fantasy, I think is to both fulfill and shatter our expectations. If Story was predictable, then it wouldnít be fantasy, for fantasy is the genre where we break the rules. Yet is has to be predictable enough to satisfy the reader, without that satisfaction being exactly the expected one. There. I obfusticated that question.

SFR: Robin Hobb? Megan Lindholm? Who are these peopleÖand how many others are you? What should readers of the first expect to find from books of the second? (from Robin's website: My other pseudonym is Megan Lindholm. Books written as Megan Lindholm include Wizard of the Pigeons, Harpy's Flight, Wolf's Brother, and Cloven Hooves.)

 I write lots of genres. But somehow, they all end up being fantasy. I love mysteries and westerns and adventure. I love young adult and coming of age stories. I think you can take any genre and put it into fantasy and enjoy it twice as much.
Robin:
I donít think theyíre separate people so much as different voices. I think there are distinctive story-telling voices we all recognize. Think of Kipling and ďIn a high and far off time, oh Best Beloved . . . ď or the perennial ďOnce upon a time . . . ď Lindholm is a more contemporary voice, and tells more contemporary stories . . . Even when the story is set in an alternate world with a medieval setting, the voice is more contemporary. Hobb, I feel, speaks from a different place and time.

Now I sound very strange, donít I? It comes down to this, for me, that different stories demand different voices. Itís perfectly possible that one day a different sort of story will pop into my head and Iíll have to find a completely different voice to tell it well.

SFR: Do you write just Fantasy? Are there other genres that interest you?

Robin: I write lots of genres. But somehow, they all end up being fantasy. I love mysteries and westerns and adventure. I love young adult and coming of age stories. I think you can take any genre and put it into fantasy and enjoy it twice as much.

SFR: Do you write for yourself or for an imaginary reader? In either case, what are they like?

Robin: I write for me. So there!

That sounds so greedy and selfish to say, doesnít it? But all day long at my keyboard, itís just me and the cat, and Pi doesnít believe in giving much direct feedback. So, I write what works for me, and hope that when it goes out there, other people will enjoy it, too.

SFR: Of your own books, do you have a favorite? (Was it because of the idea, the characters, your life situation while you wrote it, the way it turned out, something else?)

Robin: Two favorites. Wizard of the Pigeons by Lindholm, and Assassinís Apprentice by Hobb. Wizard is a favorite because I was so in love with the main character and had a wonderful time exploring Seattle before I wrote the book. Apprentice I love because it was the first time Iíd met Fitz and the Fool.

SFR: What other writers do you feel you have something in common with? Are they friends?

Robin: Iím a very solitary person. I do know other writers, but thatís from meeting them at conventions. I think what I have in common with almost all the writers I know is that there are just not enough hours in the day. Too often I have to choose between having a life of my own and letting my characters have a life. The characters almost always win. So, although I have friends who are writers that Iím very fond of, I donít have any close writer friends.

SFR: What does Fantasy offer that Science Fiction can't? Why is gaining popularity among readers?

Too many people thing that SF is a rocket ship or a robot. That just isnít true. There is a huge spectrum in SF, and then it meets that morass where no one knows if itís fantasy or SF, but we like it very much just the same.
Robin: What does fantasy offer that SF canít? Iím not sure that it offers anything. I think a lot of people think that SF is too hard for them, that they have to be a physicist to enjoy it or must have a solid grasp of string theory to get the plot. Too many people thing that SF is a rocket ship or a robot. That just isnít true. There is a huge spectrum in SF, and then it meets that morass where no one knows if itís fantasy or SF, but we like it very much just the same. Some SF is too much concept and too little character for me to enjoy, but there is a lot of fantasy that is too much adorable character and too little concept for me to enjoy. Fantasy at its worst is Cute Boy Bands With Magic. SF at its worst is Blueprints with Scientist Standing By. When either genre is at its best, it is though provoking and stirring and yes, even uplifting. So, I donít really put one above the other. Why is fantasy gaining more readers? I think media as in TV and movies, have raised our profile and created an appetite for our stories. I also think that perhaps readers are feeling a hunger for stories that address the larger themes of life and fantasy has never been afraid to do that. I think almost all really good writing has a spiritual element. In fantasy, the spiritual element is a bit easier to find.

SFR: How do you view Tolkien now that you are a successful writer in your own right? Is he still a bench mark or an albatross?

Robin: An albatross????? Bite your tongue! He is, and will always be for me, the master. Every time I pick up one of his books and read a bit, I learn something new. I feel my greatest affinity with readers who share that common ground with me. Without conscious effort, I find that Iíve memorized many passages from his books. The man could turn a phrase: Ďfireweed seeding away into fluffy ashes.í

SFR: I gather from your website that you consider yourself cranky. Iím a curmudgeon myself, but I take after my grandfather. Whatís your excuse?

Robin: The Internet made me cranky. I wonít return to being my lovable, kindly self until they turn it off. Iím sure that somewhere thereís this big knife switch with a red handle. Pull it down and the world no longer has a direct pipeline into my office. Just wait until I find it . . .

SFR: What are you currently working on, or are you still afraid of talking it to death before it gets going?

Robin: Currently, Nevare is out of food and being menaced by poisonous frogs. Make of that what you will.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFR
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