Raymond E Feist talks to Stephen Jewell about finishing off The Riftwar Cycle after 30 years with his new book Magician’s End , which went on sale this week.
“The tone of the series has changed for two reasons, first the topics grow darker and secondly, I’ve evolved as a writer, for the better I hope. The universe in which Midkemia is contained is organic, from my point of view, and I’ve seen how it is pretty much from the beginning. That’s a benefit of starting off with a somewhat objective world, the product of other people’s efforts more than my own. It was the gaming world created by friends of mine and myself in college and I just appropriated it for the stories. The Riftwars were part of that world's lore, and I chose to write about them.”
As The Riftwar Cycle is essentially about human magicians and other beings battling it out on two different planets, it could be said that it combines elements of both science fiction and fantasy. Have you always enjoyed the best of both genres or like George RR Martin – whose ’70s short stories and early novels such as Windhaven are essentially fantasy that is barely disguised as sci-fi – or was it not so easy for you to write pure fantasy when you first embarked upon The Magician in the early ’80s?
“Well, George is a heck of a writer! I became a fan of his with Armageddon Rag , which is pure urban fantasy, but he could also write westerns or murder mysteries and they'd be great. Heck, if he did Regency romance it would probably be a worthwhile read! As for my proclivities toward science fiction, my attitude has always been that science fiction is merely a subset of fantasy in which the author has the constraints of keeping it within the realm of what may be scientifically possible – and that’s something that constantly changes by leaps and bounds. EE “Doc” Smith's mile-long bus-bars and four storey-high vacuum tubes inside a space ship are quaint, but that's the technology he knew.
“I inherited rifts because they were a gaming mechanism we used when we played our role playing game in college and I liked the idea of a somewhat mechanistic way for a magician to get from one place to another without resorting to, ‘he vanished in a cloud of smoke’ or, ‘he wished himself somewhere else.’ People like rules, or at least the appearance of rules, even in fantasy. If the magician can blow the heck out of a dragon in chapter one, why can't he open the damn door in chapter five?”
Magician’s End is not just the last in The Riftwar Cycle ; it is also the final book in The Chaoswar Saga . How does The Chaoswar Saga differ tonally to the other series such as The Demonwar Saga or The Darkwar Saga?
“To mangle a metaphor, the Cycle has been like peeling an onion only to discover that the next layer is bigger than the last one. ChaosWar does two things: it clearly indicates that this has all been one really long struggle that has never actually been over but has just gone through lulls. There's a cycle to it and at the end it's much like it was at the beginning. The biggest difference between it and the previous series is that you finally come to learn ‘what it's all about’ with the big reveal of the cosmic reality behind the struggle…”
What will you miss most about characters like Pug, Tomas and Jimmy?
“Some characters are a little more fun to write than others with Jimmy being up there with Nakor and Amos. But they're all merely storytelling tools, and I can always make more of those. I feel when a writer treats a character as ‘precious,’ the writer runs the risk of turning them into a comic book character. There's nothing wrong with comic book characters in comic books, but I don't write comic books.”
Seeing as it is such a vast multi-dimensional universe, is this really the last we will see of the Riftwar worlds?
“I'll never say never, as the old saying goes. I may come back to Midkemia one day. Right now I'm at work on The King Of Ashes, which is the first volume of a new series The War Of Five Crowns that’s about a completely different world with different rules of magic, different politics, and very different characters. I can say no more. Although as we're talking about George RR Martin, I will say that you’ll get an idea of what Five Crowns is about if I tell you it's a little bit like Game Of Thrones with show tunes. And I'm actually struggling to get certain rights, because I just wrote the scene where the King Of Sandura breaks out with, ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You!’”
If you can make it to Bath tomorrow night (Friday 10 May) then you could see Raymond E Feist at SFX 's local bookstore, Topping & Company.