Author Love Letter: Steven Brust

(The first in a series.)

Dear Mr. Brust, 

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I first got interested in you when I saw you in a magazine. Well, not you. Vlad. You know, Vlad. Of course you do. (That moustache!) Vlad and his buddy Loiosh in the pages of Dragon Magazine, all statted out for an edition of Dungeons and Dragons that went out of print a couple presidents ago. I picked out Taltos a little later at the only bookstore in my small town. In hindsight, I’m impressed they had it. 

Vlad blew my mind a little bit. I was a teenager, I know, but I’d been voraciously reading anything with a sword or a dragon on the cover. Lots of very mediocre books that were busy trying to figure out where Tolkien and D&D could meet. And here came Vlad. He was the hero, but he was an assassin. A criminal. He killed people for money! I couldn’t decide if it was dangerous or evil or just cool. It was funny without being a comedy, dramatic without being heavy, full of action that didn’t seem like it was playing out in combat rounds or being scripted for a movie. Vlad was like Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes and maybe a little bit of Batman. I couldn’t even make those comparisons back then, and now I’ve read more and have better ones. But damn was Vlad cool back then. And Morrolan and Aliera and Sethra and the rest. They still are.

A year or so later I tried running my first play-by-e-mail game. It was a very loose homebrew set of rules, and I set it in Adrilankha. It was called Scaled Shadows. There was an Athyra with a gambling problem. An Easterner who I think was a barber. And there was a low-level Jhereg thief. I didn’t get very far with my players, but it was such a cool sandbox to go play in. I wonder what I’d do with it now, having learned so much more about both GMing and slick bits of Dragaera’s development like the Serioli’s “not yet.”

I read chapter six of The Phoenix Guards three times before I went on with the rest of the book. The captain’s incredulity and the friends’ shrugs…it was just too perfect. (Many years later, in a cave where the walls between worlds were weak, I cried with them.) Paarfi  is as finely crafted an alter ego as I’ve ever seen an author ‘fess up to. 

The first non-Dragaera book of yours I read was The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. It hit me, as we’d say now, “in the feels.” I’ve re-read it often, and though it doesn’t pack the punch for me it once did, I still appreciate it. Right down to the narrator’s Zeppelin cassettes. It wasn’t too long after that, I think, that I read To Reign in Hell. I liked that one, too. And the fairy-tale patina on Brokedown Palace. And I still think The Gypsy is one of the most perfect exercises of storytelling I’ve ever read—it’s certainly my favorite instance of the “old magic in the modern world” trope. Fiddling in the last firefight in Cowboy Feng’s. The typewriter and the attic in Agyar

I know we haven’t always been tight—there was the time where I took an excerpt from one of the Vlad books in to my college creative writing class as an example of stuff I liked, and then discovered that the particular passage was a little clunky. There’s no way I could stay away, though. You’re too clever with your plots and your dialogue, too good at shifting voices and keeping things lively. Also, I’ve spent a lot of time with music and grew up in the restaurant business. Plus, I just moved from Minneapolis to Austin and I like knowing you’ve lived in both places and that you’re a real human with real experiences of some extremely real weather.

Yours,

J.D.J.

I’d planned to start with somebody else, but Steven Brust has a new book coming out soon, The Incrementalists (co-authored with Skyler White). I’ve been hanging out at his blog in the last few weeks—far ranging and mostly civil discussion on everything from postmodernism to socialism to which character Felicia Day would play in a Taltos movie. I’ve also been doing extensive revisions to some stories I wrote a few years back. The protagonist in those stories, and their tone, are heavily indebted to Brust’s Taltos books. That was plenty of reason to send him my inaugural author love letter.

Brust is one of the few authors that my partner and I both read enthusiastically. We’ve given each other his books as birthday and anniversary presents, and sometimes quote bits at each other. The gentleman knows his way around a story. He fills his books with vivid characters. More impressively, he can put a fistful of those arrogant, sardonic, clever people in the same room and not have their personalities or dialogue blur: when Aliera’s snapping at Vlad, it sounds different than Vlad snapping at Aliera. That’s harder than it looks.

If you don’t know Brust, I’d start with the Taltos books. There are some trade omnibuses available–the first is The Book of Jhereg, not to be confused with Jhereg, which is a single novel. If you like Dumas, start with The Phoenix Guards and follow the Khaavren romances through to their conclusion at the end of Sethra Lavode. If you’re not into swords-and-sorcery fantasy, but like magic, try The Gypsy or Agyar. To Reign in Hell is great but defies easily classification. I want to say it’s Biblical materialism, and that’s almost right. But not quite.

Anyway, go read his stuff. If you’ve already read it, keep an eye out for his new book and think happy thoughts.

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