Today I am here with an interview with Christopher Ruocchio, the author of Empire of Silence. Empire of Silence is the brilliant first book within the Sun Eater series.
It was not his war.
On the wrong planet, at the right time, for the best reasons, Hadrian Marlowe started down a path that could only end in fire. The galaxy remembers him as a hero: the man who burned every last alien Cielcin from the sky. They remember him as a monster: the devil who destroyed a sun, casually annihilating four billion human lives–even the Emperor himself–against Imperial orders.
But Hadrian was not a hero. He was not a monster. He was not even a soldier.
Fleeing his father and a future as a torturer, Hadrian finds himself stranded on a strange, backwater world. Forced to fight as a gladiator and into the intrigues of a foreign planetary court, he will find himself fight a war he did not start, for an Empire, he does not love, against an enemy he will never understand.
What made you interested in writing a Science Fiction book like Empire of Silence?
CR: Oh, I always wanted to do it. I started writing when I was 8-years-old, just scribbling when I was supposed to be taking notes in grade school. I was always doodling and worldbuilding in class and this book slowly grew up with more until it was finally something – I think – worth reading. That being said, this particular version of the book really started for me when I read Iain M. Banks’ essay “A Few Notes on the Culture”, in which he describes his famous post-scarcity anarchist utopia (that it really just a totalitarian state run by godlike AI). I love those books. Use of Weapons, in particular, is an all-time favorite of mine, but Banks made some extraordinary claims in that essay, namely that the advent of space travel would guarantee human freedom from government control for the rest of time. I’d like to think that, but it always struck me that we’d just make a statement that wouldn’t let many people off-planet. The plot came later, but the worldbuilding was very much a response to Mr Banks’ utopian vision.
Were you influenced by any movies, TV shows or books to build your world within the book?
CR: Who isn’t! It was Star Wars that got me into SF/F as a boy, and Luke Skywalker’s essential goodness and heroism were foundational for me, as was Tolkien’s writing – The Lord of the Rings is and will always be my favorite book. I was influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune, as many have been quick to point out. Being a child of the 1990s, I grew up on a lot of anime and manga, and there are echoes of series like Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Berserk in my writing (though that last one was a more recent addition to my collection). I’ve also been a pretty avid RPG fan all my life. The JRPG Tales of Symphonia was a big influence, as were games like Baten Kaitos and Lost Odyssey. I have also been a lifelong student of history, and while many have been quick to point on the Roman Imperial influences on Hadrian’s world (Hadrian, of course, being the legendary wall-builder who inherited the empire of its height from Trajan), there are touches brought from the Byzantines, Achaemenid/Sassanid Persians, Victorian English, Spanish, and even Qing empires. You never know what sort of information might be useful in a story!
Did you put your own personal touch to Hadrian’s character?
CR: Do you mean is there some of me in Hadrian? Yes, a bit. All these characters are me in some way or another. Hadrian and I both share a love of history and old books, for a tart. (Write what you know, after all!) We also both have a flair for the dramatic, and a tendency to make naive mistakes despite our schooling. But he’s a good deal harsher than I am, if better at keeping his temper. You can find something of me in any character, no matter how different they are from me, superficially. I’ve never been a woman or an archaeologist, for example, but my character Valka’s habit of muttering angrily under her breath is absolutely me.
Before writing Hadrian’s character, did you have an idea of how his story would end?
CR: Yes and no. I took a risky move telling the reader how the story will end on page one: with Hadrian having won the war against these aliens and destroying a sun to do it. I knew that was going to happen, but I didn’t know why or how at the time. I kept picking up more knives and plot threads to juggle. Now I have to see if I can make them all land without hurting myself.
Which author would you say influence your writing style?
CR: At the technical level? Speaking in terms of prose style? Perhaps Tolkien. There’s no book I’ve read more often than The Lord of the Rings. In SF/F, that’s a really common answer, but as a child, I had The Lord of the Rings audiobook box set on CD, and I would finish it and immediately start it again and again. I listened to it easily sixty or seventy times. I would fall asleep listening to it.
I don’t claim to be even half the writer the Professor was, but when I stop sometimes in writing to describe some broken statue or the shape of the stars in the night sky, I feel myself remembering Tolkien’s loving descriptions of the world, his attention to detail. Tolkien, of course, didn’t write in first person. I forget why I made that change. It may have been because of D. J. MacHale’s Pendragon books, which I rather liked in middle school. I love first person. It transmutes every random line of description into an opportunity to strengthen your main character.
What are some of your favourite books within the Science Fiction genre?
CR: I’ve already mentioned Iain M. Banks’ Use of Weapons and his Culture series more generally. I adore Frank Herbert’s Dune, to which my publisher has graciously compared my book. It was certainly an influence on me, and I’ve taken some cues there. I very recently became an ardent fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books. Miles is perhaps my favorite character in all of fiction. What else? Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is my favorite cyberpunk book, and usually my go-to recommendation for people who’ve never read SF before because it’s just so much damn fun. And I have a special place in my heart for Walter M. Miller Jr’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, the 1960s post-apocalyptic novel and a Catholic monastery in the American Southwest. It’s such a beautiful meditation on religion and culture and the inevitability of human failing juxtaposed against our constant drive to be better.
Would you like to expand your work outside of the Science Fiction genre in fiction?
CR: I have a fantasy world I’ve been building steadily over the past few years, and maybe once Harian’s story is done it will be worth visiting. I have at least one standalone novel there I’d like to write, and what I think maybe a trilogy. I’ve recently become very interested in medieval mysticism and alchemy and the like, and I have some ideas that just wouldn’t belong in the far future alongside Hadrian and his friends. I’m also a long-time fan of cosmic horror and would love to do something with that someday.
In a few sentences, explain why people should buy Empire of Silence?
CR: Empire of Silence is a classic space opera. It’s a book for fans of heavy worldbuilding and universes they can sink their teeth into. It’s a book for fans who love a character, even and especially when they’re flawed and make mistakes, but struggle to be better. It’s for fans of the old Star Wars, and for those whole like the realpolitik of A Game of Thrones. It is, to quote James S. A. Corey, “…epic science fiction at its most genuinely epic.”
About the Author:
Christopher Ruocchio is a debut novelist writing in the tradition of Gene Wolfe and Frank Herbert’s Dune. He is an editorial assistant working for a US publishing house and lives in North Carolina, USA. You can follow him on Twitter: @TheRuocchio.
Thank you to Christopher for doing this Q&A interview. I’ve never done one of these before and I’m so happy with the response I got from him. It was really interesting to see where he got influence on the world within this book.
I can honestly say this book reminded of Star Wars, especially seeing how all of the different planets had a co-existence with one another and yet there was still friction between certain planets. Highly recommend this book to any Sci-Fi fans out there. Even though it’s a mammoth of a book, I can honestly say its worth the wait. It’s one hell of a ride!