Coming to Town: Steven Brust for The Incrementalists, interviewed by Richard Dansky

By Richard Dansky:

26 novels (and 1 solo album) into his career, Steven Brust still isn’t afraid to take chances. Visiting Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on October 2nd in support of his new novel, The Incrementalists — co-written with Skyler White — Brust is best known for his centuries-spanning Dragaera series. But with a bibliography that includes everything from a high fantasy retelling of Paradise Lost (To Reign In Hell) to an Ohio vampire story (Agyar) to a multiple volume tribute to the works of Dumas (The Phoenix Guards), Brust remains a master of confounding expectation. Here he is, in his own words:

The Incrementalists

Q: The Incrementalists is your second shot at more or less straightforward science fiction, after Cowboy Feng’s. Why come back to it after all this time?

I’m pleased you think it’s science fiction. I did too, while working on it; but it appears other people are calling it other things.  On the other hand, I don’t worry about it a whole lot. I certainly never say, “I’m going to write an sf novel,” or, “I’m going to write a fantasy novel.” It’s, “I want to tell this story.” Then, between the story and how the story is told, it develops it’s own flavor combinations.  Um. Does that make sense?

Q: You mentioned in your reddit AMA that you think Agyar is probably your best book? Why do you feel that way?

Because I was attempting something difficult (for me, at least), and I feel like it worked. There were a lot of themes and ideas I was playing with, and I wanted them to all flow into the story, and I wanted most of it to happen in the negative space. All of which is a way to say, I thought it would be really cool if I could pull it off, and I did, to the extent that I am able to tell. It still feels like a book I’d really enjoy reading.

Q: You’re very open about the Vlad Taltos material originating in a table roleplaying setting. A lot of other authors can be a little cagier about their relationship with gaming, but you’ve always owned it. Do you still game, and does it help your writing?

No, I don’t game, but if I could find, like, an old school D&D type game in the Minneapolis area where I could smoke while playing, I’d probably jump back into it.

Q: The Incrementalists, which you co-wrote with Skyler White, continues your long-standing habit of professional collaboration. What draws you to collaborative writing, and what attracts you to working with specific collaborators? What about repeat collaborations — are any of those in the pipeline?

The first part of the question is easy: It’s fun. I get to write the easy, fun parts of the book, then turn it over to my collaborator whenever it gets difficult, and I can relax knowing that the person I’m working with can take anything I do and make it cool–that’s why I’ve worked with the people I have.

Right now I’m working on a sequel to The Incrementalists, and also a project with Will Shetterly. But, shhhh, that one’s Seekrit.

Q: So much of F/SF is big — save the world from the evil overlord, save the galaxy from the evil aliens, etc. — but The Incrementalists focuses on something very small. Was that a comment on the bigger/faster/more tropes we seem to be seeing everywhere?

Hmmm. Not consciously, but it’s an interesting idea. I can’t promise that wasn’t sitting there in the back of my head. “Save the world” stuff always seems too easy. Now, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s bad; but it does mean that it can *get away* with being bad in ways that something more personal and intimate can’t.

Q: Will we ever see a revival of Liavek, and if not, what does one sacrifice to Irhan to change that? [*see footnote]

I have no idea, but I’d love it. The project was a joy to be part of. I don’t know how it would ever happen, but if it does, I’m in.

Q: And, because we are a regional magazine and my editor is very insistent on this sort of thing, what will it take to turn the RTP area into a regular stop on your book tours?

Well, I don’t [have] regular stops, because this is my first ever book tour. So far, I’m loving it. I’m guessing that whether I ever have another depends on how sales of The Incrementalists goes, although I don’t even know that for sure.

I know that I’m going to be in Chapel Hill on October 2, and that I was a guest at a convention in Raleigh some years ago where I had a blast. But I don’t have a lot of say in where the tours go. If I did, I’d be there.


Many thanks to Mr. Brust for taking the time to answer! You can see him October 2nd at Flyleaf Books [Facebook event] with his co-author Skyler White to read from and sign The Incrementalists, and find him online at Dream Cafe.

* Liavek was a shared-world anthology featuring the writing of Mr. Brust, the late John M. Ford, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly and others. Irhan was one of the gods of that world. If memory serves, he had the head of a fish.


Durham author and videogame writer Richard Dansky is the Central Clancy Writer for Ubisoft/Red Storm, including work on the latest title Tom Clancy’s Spliter Cell: Blacklist just out from Ubisoft Toronto. He has two recent books, the novel Vaporware (out from JournalStone) and the collection Snowbird Gothic (out from Necon E-Books), both out this year. His story “Don’t Be Your Father”, included in the horror anthology Don’t Read This Book, was recently named to Ellen Datlow’s Long Honorable Mention List for her annual The Best Horror of the Year anthology.

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