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New Guest Blogger: Ian Tregillis

One of the most chilling novels I read last year was "Bitter Seeds", a coldly analytical exploration of a very different wizard war—the occult conflict between Nazi ubermenschen and British necromancers during the second world war. It's the start of a trilogy, and the second book, "The Coldest War", is on my to-read stack.

If I was Amazon.com's recommendation engine, I'd be saying "if you liked Charles Stross's Laundry Files novels, you'll like the Milkweed trilogy". But I'm not; and anyway, Ian is much better able to explain what's going on than I am. He interviewed me for Orbit, our UK publisher; now, by return appointment, here he is as a guest blogger. I'll let him introduce himself in his own words:

Ian Tregillis is the son of a bearded mountebank and a discredited tarot card reader. He lives in New Mexico, where he consorts with writers, scientists, and other disreputable types. By day he works at Los Alamos National Laboratory; by night he is the author of Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War (due in July), and the forthcoming novels Necessary Evil and Something More Than Night. His website can be found at www.iantregillis.com.

55 Comments

1:

FYI, the link that ends Ian's introduction is broken.

2:

Wow, looks interesting.

Link to the website didn't work for me. Got a website hosting service. Might come in handy, but I had to paste the link text into my browser to see his site.

So, he writes fantasy because there's no chance he will reveal anything he shouldn't from his day job?
Or I'll just ask him when he shows up. "Why do you write fantasy, with a background in science?"

4:

As an FYI: reading "Bitter Seeds" I did not realize that Ian wasn't English. Specifically: he managed to write a novel set in another country that fooled [at least one of] the natives. I don't know if you have any idea how difficult that is to do, but: it's haaaard.

5:

Yes I wrote you an email about the ostensibly American character in Merchant Princes who used the phrase "the nukes went walk about." Presumably fixed in the new edition to something like "the nukes walked off."

So, he can write convincingly about English characters of an earlier generation. ( Oddly I just started The Fuller Memorandum. 3 words: Prequel starring Angleton.)

It adds to science fiction to have non-American but English speaking alien-ness. The strangeness enhances without being totally alien (which we don't really want in our hear of hearts). Kind of like the hilarity of Monty Python is enhanced, for American's, by being infused with a slightly different culture.

6:

Para 1 - See, in this specific case, the British are aware that the phrase "$noun went walkabout" is originally Australian, and specifically Aboriginal, in origin, but it's a UK English loan phrase. It just wouldn't occur to us that it might not be used by the USians.

7:

I kept getting kicked out of "Declare" by Tim Powers, which you'd recommended for a similar audience, by the lead character not being convincingly British. It didn't help that for some reason I had a US version with the consequent spelling, but it was more than just "Cheque in the post => "Check in the mail" changes.

8:

Thanks very much for the kind intro, Charlie. Happy to be here.

(I suspect that my name might have contributed to the illusion? Often folks from the UK assume I'm a native of Cornwall.)

That said, Cory Doctorow caught me out on some real howlers in a later book. Cot/crib will be the death of me. And I never managed to correct all the places where sidewalk/pavement are used inconsistently. Ah, well.

9:

> So, he writes fantasy because there's no chance he will reveal anything he shouldn't from his day job?

Not an unreasonable guess. A bit of google indicates work on the "Defect Induced Mix Experiment (DIME) [which] investigates the effects of 4 pi as well as surface feature-driven mix on the directly driven ICF capsule implosion." In addition to its scientific interest, inertially confined fusion capsule implosion is related to certain practical applications.

10:

Welcome aboard Ian - sounds like you are in the right place.

The occult and the Nazis has always fascinated me, not because I believe their any basis for it, but its a theme that been bubbling under in fiction [and pseudo-history] since the 1970s

James Herbert's The Spear was my first introduction to it

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spear

The idea that the Nazis were some kind of demon-summoning pagans rather than German Catholics who decided the Vatican just wasn't authoritarian enough has become a popular trope, a way of deflecting attention away from the actual origins of the National Socialists in Germany, and way of accounting for the massive successes the Nazis had in battle in 1939-1942, and their apparent technological superiority - which turned out be numerical inferiority.

Its interesting that authors like Charlie and yourself have co-opted the Soviets into CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, but the Nazis = occultist trope seems to have stuck hard.

11:

>Or I'll just ask him when he shows up. "Why do you write fantasy, with a background in science?"

Just because those are the kinds of story ideas I tend to generate! I enjoy reading across the SF/F spectrum, but trying to write pure SF feels like taking my work home. I like to keep a strong separation between my day-job life and my writing life -- it just makes me happier all around.

But if an idea for a straight-up SF novel grabbed me, I'd gladly (attempt to) write it. It'll happen, some day.

12:

I have read both Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War and I can both second the high opinion of the first and state that The Coldest War was also very good - too bad about the cover art, though. The original cover was far superior and was visible on the author's blog last I checked.
Necessary Evil also sounds very good (but too bad about the cover art, again)

Rob.

13:

As an FYI: reading "Bitter Seeds" I did not realize that Ian wasn't English

Seconded... I've got the second book on my to-do list already :)

As an army brat in the 1980s, we lived just down the road from an interesting place called the Wewelsburg; home of Himmler's wierder ceremonial stuff, and a large-scale SS deop during the war. It went from castle, to youth hostel, to wierdness, and (by then anyway) back to museum.

I've been wary of stating "facility X is a museum" ever since I found out that the Philips' Evoluon in Eindhoven had been changed from the museum of the future that I visited in the 1980s, into a hotel :(

14:

Ummm... Actually I believe that whatever the origins of the Nazi Party,dabbling with the occult was also quite popular (as it was with many other groups around then). The Thule Society was not invented by our host, after all - nor were their various strange expeditions to Tibet and elsewhere.

15:

I hadn't heard of that novel -- definitely sounds like part of the subgenre. (Though I've heard of the occult conspiracy theories allegedly connecting the Nazis to the Spear of Destiny; some include cameos by Gen. George Patton, apparently.) Dennis Wheatley also played in the occult Nazi sandbox back in the 60s.

I tried to play with that trope a tiny bit by putting the occultists on the British side and slathering a patina of body-horror-mad-science over what the other side is doing. But it's all part of the same sandbox.

16:

They turned Wewelsburg Castle into a youth hostel??? Wow. What a world...

Speaking of the Spear of Destiny, I was under the impression that the layout around Wewelsburg supposedly mimics a spearhead. (I'm a sucker for occult conspiracy theory "investigative documentaries".)

Ah:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wewelsburg#SS_plans

17:

I'll add that "The Coldest War" was, if anything, even better than "Bitter Seeds" and I enjoyed "Bitter Seeds" very much.
I agree that readers of the "Laundry" books should find a lot to like in these books.

18:

Obviously, not the first into this territory, simply because the Nazis were known, in the "real" world to be heavily into occult territory.
The most recent ones I've seen have been by Katherine Kurz, specifically: "Lammas Night".
KK also is heavily into that other perennial subject for occult speculation:
The poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon.

IT @ 15
Wheatly was such a BAAAAD writer, though!
Of course he mucked about with Aleister Crowley (though unsympathetic, shall we say to Crowley's viewpoint) ....
The other side of Wheatly, never spoken of, was that he was a genuine war hero - gassed in WWI, worked a lot on planning & covert ops during WWII.

19:

Kurtz's "Lammas Night" is definitely part of the conversation. It's mentioned in that interview above, although to my shame I haven't read it yet.

I've also been meaning to give the Wheatley a read for a couple of years now. I didn't know about his connection to Crowley. Interesting!

20:

Yes, that sounds like the Trevor Ravenscroft book, the "Spear of Destiny" from the early seventies.

It seems to be necessary to the Nazis cruel, barbaric and bizarre activities [the manifestation of the SS as an analogue of the Jesuits with guns, the Ahnenerbe, the inconsistent racial policies, and ultimate sacrifice of VAST numbers of human beings] as some kind of occult plot, focusing on inconsequential figures like Adolf Josef Lanz and Karl Maria Wiligut, and organisation like the Thule Society, [a band of Munich racists, mostly] into something they were not.

Many powerful organisations have had a part to play in ensuring this mythology has taken root, as has persistent myth that Hitler was an atheist.

What do Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop Streicher, Rosenberg et al all have common regarding their upbringing ;-)

Still, its produced a lot of entertaining SF & F, however as history, it is bunk - the occultist elements Himmler sought to promote were regarded with suspicion by Hitler, who had much more conservative beliefs and easily explainable prejudices.

21:

>focusing on inconsequential figures like Adolf Josef Lanz

Speaking of whom, Lanz is such a fascinating nutter that he became the inspiration for a character in Bitter Seeds. His completely insane "theozoology" is also the source of the "Gotterelektron" as used in the Milkweed books. Total loon, that guy.

I've read similarly that Hitler was more wary of the occult than Himmler. Lanz (under the more impressive nom de plume Dr. Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels) published a crank pamphlet for many years, "Ostara". Allegedly early issues of Ostara were found in Hitler's private library. However it is known that Hitler prohibited Lanz from publishing Ostara around 1938 or so-- apparently Hitler felt the association with Lanz was, um, making him look bad. (Lanz liked to talk up his influence on SS and Nazi party ideology.)

22:

Excellent news, welcome Ian!

23:

sounds fascinating - I shall have to invest in a copy of your book :-D

the Nazis certainly had a huge repository of insane theories beyond the ones they horrifically put into practice.

one of my favourites

[b]Hitler allegedly sent an expedition to the Baltic island of Rügen where a Dr. Heinz Fischer trained a telescopic camera toward the sky in order to spot the British fleet sailing on the interior of the convex surface of the hollow Earth. It is even said that some V1 missile shots went astray because their trajectory was calculated on the basis of a hypothetical concave surface instead of a convex one.[/b]

The Nazis were essentially pragmatists with no single fixed world view apart from the Greatness of Germans and the evilness of the Jews and Communists

and even the latter was negotiable...

24:

you know, I think I did notice that and thought it slightly off in what is thoroughly established to be a us context. "gone AWOL" would probably have been the appropriate colloquialism. then again we are dealing with multiverses, so who knows.

25:

"(I suspect that my name might have contributed to the illusion? Often folks from the UK assume I'm a native of Cornwall.)"


Too late Ian! You are DOOMED ..Doomed I Say! .. to be visualized as being a look alike of Ross Poldark of the British 1970s era TV series " Poldark "


" The romantic saga follows Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) as he loses his fiancée, the well-bred beauty, Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), to his cousin Francis (Clive Francis). Ross ends up marrying his servant, the unlikely-looking Demelza (Angharad Rees), but his passion for Elizabeth simmers on for years. Set in late 18th century Cornwall, the plot follows Ross Poldark's attempts to make his derelict tin mines a success. Life is hard, smuggling is rife and Ross Poldark finds himself taking the side of the underclass against the ruthless behaviour of his enemies, the greedy Warleggan clan including George Warleggan (Ralph Bates)."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbi48y_1Zkc

26:

Hello Ian

I know it's bad manners to disagree with Charlie, but... while I loved both Bitter Seeds and Coldest War (what you did with the plot in the latter was especially breathtaking) and I am really looking forward to vol III - the one aspect that did bother me (a bit) was the UK localisation - for example, a wedding in a garden in London in the 1930s. Or saying something like "took a left onto Shaftesbury" [Avenue]. (Quoting from memory). Nothing complicated - but I just wondered whether one more layer of checking might help. (I think I was reading the US copies, perhaps the UK ones got that?)

(Now that does look critical but it's really not meant to)

27:

25: Though I'd forgotten about it until you mentioned it, somebody else mentioned Poldark to me a long time ago. Hmm... I have been accused of looking like the scrawny pre-super soldier serum Steve Rogers in "Captain America". But aside from the scrawniness, I don't see it.

26: Believe it or not, what you read (and what naturally bumped you) was already filtered through one native Brit beta reader. Which probably says a lot about how much work poor Toby was doing to catch all the other errors... (The UK editions are produced directly from the US production files, so no extra editing there. Sorry!)

I actually had a conversation with my editor about how to approach the voice. I had leaned toward going straight American, as I'm obviously not fluent in British English, much less 1940s British English. But he felt strongly that the book wouldn't work at all that way. So, I did my best. But it really was like trying to write a book in a foreign language.

28:

When Charlie was here as GoH for CoSine last year, he was on a panel with Connie Willis, they had an amusing exchange about little mistakes in her "Blackout/All Clear" books. I'm willing to take his word on things like that.

I added "Bitter Seeds" to my B&N shopping list, for my next order, after reading the interview the other day. Looking forward to it.

30:

I wouldn't assume that you are Cornish; I would however presume that you have a patrilinear ancestor from Cornwall.

Also sidewalk, pavement and footway tend to get used sort of interchangably to mean "a raised paved area beside a road, intended for the use of pedestrian traffic" these days. However, during WW2 a Briton would most certainly only have used "pavement" in this context. We still almost certainly wouldn't use "pavement" to refer to "a sealed road surface".

31:

We're 30 comments in to an (among other topics) "Nazis as occultists" thread and no-one's mentioned Hellboy? For shame. ",)
(Hellboy's occultists are, of course, much more complicated than merely being Thule Society holdovers, given it's an "all myths are real" universe, it's set in the present day, and the head of the Nazi occult organisation was Rasputin...)

32:

Can't read everything you know. :-(

33:

@6:
It just wouldn't occur to us that it might not be used by the USians.
---
I don't think anyone local to me would have a problem with "walkabout," it's in common use, though few probably know where it comes from.

"The United States is not a monoculture."

34:

From my #6 "...it might not be used..."

How does that even suggest that I think the Yousay is a monoculture?

36:

It's a comic book, and now I suspect you know all you want to.

37:

Interesting to hear that sidewalk/pavement have evolved towards interchangeability. Perhaps that's why it even slipped past my beta reader-- though wrong for the period, it might not have jarred his modern ears.

38:

One of my hobbies is etymological evolution of English! I'd say that you're probably right, and it will be interesting to find out whether I actively notice or not; "Bitter Seeds" is literally in the post to me right now.

39:

"Sidewalk" is NEVER used in British English.
Paving may refer to roads.
Pavement usually means US "sidewalk", but can mean a "paved" (that is slabs, rather than continuous ashphalt) area, or a "woonerf" (you may need to look that one up)

40:

And a couple of movies, some novels, I think.

'What's "Hellboy"?'

Dearie me.

41:

A few years ago, when slightly bored after surgery, and knowing that there were some real historical howlers in the book and movie, I wrote my own version of "Where Eagles Dare".

Amongst other things, I decided that the castle was, as the real castle of the movie had been, the former fortress of one of those hard-nosed Prince-Bishops. And the gloriously opulent chapel contained both the Spear of Destiny and the Iron Crown of Lombardy. I kept Heydrich alive, and gave a deep occult significance to his title of Reich Protector.

This later allowed an agent to throw in a line about "a spear and magic helmet", and the handsome SS Officer to make a comment about superstitions.

I was having fun, and I remember taking the trouble to look up some songs that a soldier of the Alpenkorps would be expected to know.

Suffice it to say that it is not wise to nail a worshipper of Odin to an ash tree (and if you think that's bad, you also have to deal with his wife).

I had fun. Google for "Wolf Baginski" and "Castle of the Wolf", and don't expect great writing. It really needs a lot of work.

Oh, I remember reading a Dennis Wheatley which uses occult powers on the Allied side in WW2. "The Man Who Missed The War" climaxes with an occult battle to protect the D-Day invasion, complete with a ghiostly beating of Drake's Drum.

42:

I suppose it's much more involved than what is the right word for footpath/pavement/sidewalk. (And I agree with Greg @ 39, "sidewalk" is not used, although we know what it means). For example, there's a case for the narration to be as American as you like, but when you come to direct speech you get the "would she really have said that?" question.

As to the garden wedding - the law changed recently and is now much more permissive. So possibly in a few years only pedants/ clergy spouses like me would spot this.

43:

I've read Bitter Seeds and Coldest War, and I recommend them to anyone who enjoyed Declare...

I didn't pick up any hint of a foreign accent in the English protagonists, so I'd call that a success.

A note for those writing in wartime England: some parts oc the country became surprisingly Americanised - Cambridge, especially. Read some of Len Deighton's work: I don't think anyone writes *places* as well as he does, and Goodbye Mickey Mouse (or SS-GB, an alternative history set in postwar London) are superb period pieces for authors who want to try their hand at a Wartime-Britain setting.

A problem you might face in writing an all-too-accurate novel is that native British people born after 1960 will have a view of that time - and of their country - originating in the iconography of late 20th-Century British television, rather than oral history and first-hand accounts; and I do find myself wondering whether they'll reject any setting, story, or authorial voice that strays outside the popular images - and they are not necessarily the truth, nor the cultural imagery and latter-day legends of North America's war.


44:

I am going to have to find these books and read them! Including Ms. Tiger's. The subject intriques, and I very much liked Brad Lineaweaver's MOON OF ICE (but then, it was interesting to see Wotan's Mickey Mouse as the lead point of view. And yes, that really was Goebbels' nickname, at least the one that Ernst Roehm gave to him). Ahem.

Ah, the never ending resource that is this blog...(winces as credit card goes up in flame).

45:

Hellboy is a long running comic book franchise originally created by Mike Mignola (As it has some spinoffs, actually iirc the main character is dead now) and two movies by Guillermo del Toro.

Hellboy is a demon summoned by the occult branch of the Nazi forces in collaboration with Rasputin whose role is to bring about the end of the world by releasing the Old Gods (Mignola didn't choose to go with the Lovecraft canon but the beastie released at the end of Hellboy 1 is pretty transparently Azatoth, as it grows exponentially in a short time).

The ceremony is interrupted by the allies and the creature is adopted by professor Bruttenholm who goes on to found a laundry-style organization known as the BPRD. The demon is raised by the professor and nurture triumphs vs. nature, specifically in a hilarious short story where hellboy is convinced to eat pancakes by a bored general turned babysitter ("The boy has eaten the pancake! All is lost!" Wail the hordes of hell).

The current BPRD series now running is basically "CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is happening" so OGH might want to stay away from it to avoid cross contamination :)
It's ok, but a little monotonous, earnest investigators go find monster, most of them get killed.

Another comic that does the Lovecraftian thing pretty well is Witch Doctor, which is a kind of House MD mixed with squamous horrors. I'm a sucker for scientifically explained monsters, like fairies as brood parasites.

46:

Speaking of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, when the planetary population hits that critical moment of too many brains.

THE APOCALYPSE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdtDU8Ww7mA

47:

I find it more than strange that nobody has yet mentioned Brin's novelette of 1987, given all this talk of nazis and their interest in the occult, and of fiction related to it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor_Meets_Captain_America

I mean, hey, he won a Locus award for it and it was nominated for a Hugo.

48:

I thought you were going to link a clip of Gurren Lagann... it's only now I realize the laundryverse similarity: "When a million monkeys walk the surface of the earth, the antispirals will return", it seems the concept of population density leading to weirndness is a common trope. In the anime, one of the characters remarks how a few years ago he was illiterate and living in an underground village, and now he is maintaining a moon sized starship...

49:

I mentioned the Brin in an early draft of the interview with Charlie, but my introductory question was running long, so I cut the explicit reference. But yes, it's a prominent piece of the subgenre.

50:

"walk about" started being used as an occasional chic phrase in the U.S. in around the 1970s when people in the U.S. started becoming aware of Aboriginals. (e.g. The Last Wave (movie, 1977) by Peter Weir, or The Right Stuff (book, 1979), Tom Wolf, both come to mind.)
It was usually used to refer to people though.
Plus, there are enough English people in many American's lives that idioms bleed back and forth.

51:

Minor correction, the aboriginals scene in the movie The Right Stuff was not in Tom Wolfe's book. (Which I don't have handy.)

52:

Jean, you can find some of Antonia's writing at http://spontoon.rootoon.com/

53:

I am really going to have to finish writing something...

54:

It's 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly ordinary man is caught in the middle.

That may be one of the most concise and enticing story synopsis I've ever read. Off to the ebook store...

Charlie, your blog is rapidly becoming my go-to place for finding interesting authors. I thank you, while my wallet weeps.

55:

My local Waterstones doesn't have ANY of your books!

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