Engineer, Technologist, Alchemist

Victorian booksFor the past couple of weeks I’ve been part of a Storybundle. This is a very interesting crowdfunding concept, and one I like quite a lot. It brings together for a limited time a group of works under a common theme, and patrons can pay whatever they like. Of that payment, part goes to the organizing entity, part goes to charity, and the rest goes to the authors or artists. Patrons decide what proportion of their donation goes to each.

all_covers_fantasybundle_300The bundle I’m in, which runs from January 21st through February 10th, consists of eight independently published fantasy ebooks by such authors as Bradley Beaulieu, Francesca Forrest, and M.C.A. Hogarth. The novels are varied in tone, style, and subject matter, but they’re all of excellent quality. They complement each other nicely.

I’ve been having a great time not only sharing the bundle with old friends and colleagues, but getting to know the new-to-me authors in the bundle. One of those is Scott Marlowe. I took the opportunity to ask him some questions about himself and his work. I hope you’ll enjoy his answers as much as I have.

This medievalist was delighted to see a fantasy series featuring an alchemically based magical system. How did you get started on this? What drew you to this particular angle?

The short answer is that I wanted to try something new, yet still hold onto all of the things I love about writing fantasy. I’m an engineer, so it seemed natural to pull some scientific elements into my world, while still retaining an overall fantasy feel. This means my “science” isn’t science at all, really, but something that draws largely from my imagination. I may base it on real world scientific principles, but the similarities end there. For example, we all know electrical current travels through a wire. In my world, instead of wires there are tubules, and instead of electricity, a wide array of energy types, such as alchemical, elemental, emotional, magical, and others. Much like the fabled philosopher’s stone of alchemy, which supposedly could transmute base metals such as lead into gold, there are certain individuals seeking the same thing, except they’re searching for a way to alter the properties of one energy type to transform it into another. In my books, you’ll see terms like the Principle of Confluence, which is a fictitious scientific principle that states when two similar energy sources are joined, they combine to form a single, more powerful energy source. But what happens when two disparate energy sources come together? That’s one of the questions I explore in The Five Elements.

As far as alchemy… Well, how could I not put alchemy into the mix? It adds in too much fun! I look at it as basically chemistry without boundaries. It brings with it arcane knowledge, mysticism, mythology, and a means to power or facilitate a wide variety of infernal devices. It’s something any scientist worth his or her salt in my world is going to have some knowledge about.

I see on your website that you bill yourself as “Engineer” and “Technologist.” Traditionally a person with that resume might head toward science fiction or technothrillers. Why fantasy?

I think I watched too many Ray Harryhausen movies (Sinbad, Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, etc.) when I was a kid and not enough 2001 Space Odyssey. Also, as a reader, I started with The Chronicles of Prydain and never really looked back, so it was natural for me to want to write fantasy. You know how some people are either left or right brain types? I guess I’m a bit of both, because I’m both an engineer and a writer. The story about that actually goes back to when I was about midway through college when I had a formative conversation with an English professor of mine about career direction. I was actually considering giving up the engineering pursuit in favor of a career in writing (what career exactly, I have no idea). He greatly swayed my decision when he said, “You know, Isaac Asimov is both a physicist and an author.” I kept on with both the engineering program and writing in my spare time, and here I am today, still doing both.

Oh, very cool. So leading off from that–how does your technical background influence the worldbuilding and the writing of your books?

Worldbuilding becomes interesting when you have the potential to pull in aspects of theoretical physics into a fantasy world. I’ve been doing a lot of research on negative energy lately, for example. Negative energy is very strange. It’s considered a form of exotic matter and isn’t observable outside of a vacuum. So, in other words, you can’t detect it inside our atmosphere, where positive energy is prevalent. But the opposite is true also: inside a vacuum, there’s suddenly no positive energy, only negative energy. An interesting theory surrounding negative energy and black holes is that as a black hole absorbs more and more negative energy, it shrinks in mass, as opposed to growing until the entire universe is swallowed, which was an actual theory at one time. In effect, negative energy has the potential to nullify a black hole. The second book in my Alchemancer series is called The Nullification Engine. Related or not, I’m not saying.

In any case, this is how my mind works when worldbuilding. Take something that’s already pretty mysterious to begin with, then make it even more fantastic. It’s not much of a stretch fitting some of these things into the context of a fantasy world.

These are great answers. Now that I’ve gratified my curiosity, are there any questions you wish I’d asked you? What would you like to share with the world?

Here are a couple I did for another interview way back when, which still seem pertinent:

If you could write anyone’s biography, whose would it be?

That’s a tough one. There are many, many historical figures I would love to spend the time writing a biography about. However, if I had to choose, I’d go with Leonardo da Vinci. The man excelled at so many things, it would be fascinating to attempt to learn the origins of his brilliance.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

The act of creating the “perfect” scene. I often have a pretty good idea in my head as to how I want a scene to play out, but to actually write it out and experience it through the characters is a lot of fun. I really enjoy worldbuilding, too. I learned a long time ago, though, that the writing comes first. Engaging in worldbuilding is a great way to generate ideas, but I only take it as far as I need to in order to carry the story. Anything beyond that and you’re no longer writing a story, but something else.

True words. Thank you for sharing them with us! We’ll be looking forward to reading more of your work, now we’ve had a taste of it in the Storybundle.




Engineer, Technologist, Alchemist — 4 Comments

  1. So great to read that Lloyd Alexander and the Prydain books were early reading faves! Have you read other books by him?

    The science you’ve invented for your books is really cool!

    • Thanks!

      I actually have not, but for no particular reason. I actually re-read the Prydain books about a year ago. The experience was, of course, a little different reading them as an adult, but nostalgic and rewarding regardless. I should check into some more of Alexander’s work. If there’s something you’d recommend, let me know!

      • The ones I particularly like are kind of idiosyncratic, but you might like to check out the Westmark trilogy–it’s highly regarded.

  2. Pingback: Talking Writing With Brad Beaulieu | Blair MacGregor