Edge of Humanity is a very special story. Blending steampunk elements such airships and a fascinating culture of bioengineering, Carol Hone brings a detailed milieu to life. Here quagga (a now not-quite-extinct form of zebra) are useful pack animals, dodos have been domesticated, ghosts can be used for ammunition, and magic and science have fused into some remarkable hybrid technologies. Not quite fantasy and not quite science fiction, Hone’s setting is a plunge into a world where surprises lurk around every turn and nothing is quite what it seems.
Carol, thank you for stopping by Toad’s Corner to share a little of your magic.
Tell us about Kara and the origins of Edge of Humanity.
Edge of Humanity came about because I wanted to use the world I’d already developed in a novella-length story. This world has a curious and possibly lunatic mix of pseudo-sciences like acupuncture and herbology along with ghosts and trinketology—my invented pet favourite. I threw them into a steampunkish background, stirred and stomped on the mixture, then simmered it for a while.
Kara, the female protagonist in Edge of Humanity, was an adventure in writing a character who is not quite who she thinks she is, or it can be hoped, who the reader thinks she is. She became the somewhat unreliable narrator of a story within the story, though these two strands eventually merge into one another. I was drawn to the idea of the mind being a foreign land that no one ever sees in exactly the same light.
Along the rocky path to writing this, I learned a lot about the process of insinuating hints and clues into a story so that they can combine and deliver that “aha!” feeling when the answers click into place. By the time I reached the ending I was very deep into Kara’s character and found it both cathartic and simple to write. A warning here—though I would call this a romance adventure, don’t expect this to be a standard romance. I mostly wanted to have a go at turning the reader’s mind into a pretzel. Pretzels, come to think of it, do a fair imitation of that mind-numbing construction, the Mobius strip. Plus you can eat them.
Your setting borrows not only from fantasy but a healthy dose of SF. How did you realise your biomechanical mages?
I loved the idea of combining a technological device with some organic magic. Hence the biomechanical mages, who I’ve termed trinketologists, can take ingredients such as branches, metal objects, rock, jewels and so on and turn them into a device that will function for the lifetime of the bio-mage who created it. To supply the magical energy required to run these devices they harvest the animus of living things, mostly from animals, like the songster beetle in Edge of Humanity, but also sometimes from plants.
One character in the story has a coveted long gun that is a fusion of metal and plant. This weapon fires the rare gheist ammunition, which is derived from the ectoplasm of ghosts. Being hit by this ammunition either kills in a spectacular fashion, or causes insanity. It also begs the question as to how society would regard and use something this good at killing if it required the use of a ghost that might once have been a close relative. I like that sort of moral question coming up as the result of a world device.
You write about extinct creatures. Why quaggas and dodos? How do you give them the breath of life?
Oh, I had a terribly logical reason for putting them in—because I wanted to. Sorry, but dodos are sorely neglected in adult fiction, and so are those gorgeous zebras, the quaggas. Unfortunately for the dodos they ended up as the equivalent of chickens and so tend to be seen on the end of a kebab stick. The quaggas made a lovely pack animal. The stripes are to die for. I guess I also did have a notion of drawing attention to the tremendous ability of humanity to drive species to extinction.
Describe your writing process. Do you plot or do the words just flow?
I do a combination of both. I plot the major events as much as I seem to need to. I generally have a good idea of the main characters and a visual idea of the finale or a scene close to it in my head. Also I sort out the background and an overlying reason for writing the story, and then I go for it. If I get bogged down at any point I start plotting in more detail. I like to throw in things as I write that have the potential to twist the plot into different directions. Sometimes they get used in the story, other times not.
The fun times are when something links to something else in an unexpected way. Or you get stuck in a cul-de-sac and suddenly one of those weird plot thingies turns into a vital ingredient that sets the plot churning over again.
Who are some of the up-and-coming authors worth looking out for? And your all-time established favourites?
Old favorites range from the very old like Robert Heinlein and Zelazny and TH White to recent YA authors Philip Reeves and Phillip Pullman or the urban fantasies of Karen Chance. I’m also keen on Emma Bull, who I’m reading right now, as War for the Oaks is so yummily well written.
Care to share a bit about your works in progress?
I’ve got a steampunk universe that’s in the early stages. Tentatively titled, Mia, post-apocalyptic and I’d like to plonk it into the middle of the Pangea Ultima map when all the continents get squashed together, though it’s not likely humanity will still be around by then. My favourite quirk with that one should be my frankenstructs, a sort of frankensteinian clone that’s used by one of the nations as either cannon fodder or slaves.
I also have Needle Rain going through the beta reading phase, and it’s set in the same world as Edge of Humanity. It’s of far larger scope and I get to run a lot more of my nifty concepts though the story. Like my Immolators who are elite warriors created by Needle Masters who use a magical type of acupuncture. The bio-mechanical magic makes an appearance, of course, and I play around with the side effects of my female protagonist being over-dosed on needles and thus susceptible to possession by ghosts.
Magience, my first novel where I used the world of Edge of Humanity should, it can be hoped contracted and released within the next year or so, and is currently under consideration with an editor.
The Critters Workshop: http://www.critters.org/
Carol’s website: http://carolhone.com/