Fantasy novel The Incorruptibles gets five stars in the latest SFX ! Here, its author reveals its origins and inspirations
Imperial senators rule over the untamed territories of the Wild West, their steamboats powered by hellish rites and their hunting parties harassed by local elf scalpers. This gleeful mélange of historical and fantastical ideas is the setting for John Hornor Jacobs' first UK book (opens in new tab) . You can read a review of that in SFX 252 on sale now. But we spoke at length, and here's more from the man himself, as we quiz him on his background, the inspiration for his peculiar take on epic fantasy, and his future projects…
SFX : So how long had you been working on The Incorruptibles?
I haven't been writing a long time. I started writing fiction seriously in November of 2007 when I penned my first novel, Southern Gods (Night Shade Books, 2011) during the National Novel Writing Month . I finished it in that year and went on to write This Dark Earth (Simon & Schuster, 2012) and The Twelve-Fingered Boy (Carolrhoda Labs, 2013), one after another, before I managed to get an agent. Once I had an agent, I started writing The Incorruptibles . Before an agent, I was just having fun, on a lark, writing whatever popped into my head. After getting the agent, I started taking myself very, very seriously and that bogged down my process. The Incorruptibles took me thirteen months to write.
SFX : Which authors would you like to be compared with in a dream review?
Seriously? I think my writing at least in theme and tone is similar to Joe Abercrombie's work. Indeed, The Incorruptibles probably wouldn't be published had he not written Red Country though they are pretty dissimilar in character and plot. Any comparison to those writers I admire would be wonderful – GRRM, Tim Powers, Robin Hobb, Mark Lawrence, Ursula LeGuin, Roger Zelazny. The list goes on.
But do I write like them? No.
SFX : You seem to have written horror stories in the past. How much is The Incorruptibles a horror story at its heart?
The mantle of "horror" doesn't sit easy on my shoulders. While Southern Gods definitely has some major horror elements, I thought of it more as a dark fantasy with crime noir shading and Southern gothic over-tones. Yes, This Dark Earth has zombies and nuclear war, but I don't consider it horror because it really wasn't written with any intent to frighten or scare, but rather explore the human condition, explore the nature of civilization, what humanity will do to preserve it, what they will give up. The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a novel about incarcerated juvenile delinquents, one of whom might have superpowers. But yes, they all had horror-ish covers. But, hey, I don't have any control over that.
The Incorruptibles isn't a horror novel, nor is it a Western. I firmly believe that all fiction is fantasy. But The Incorruptibles does have horror, western, classical, and other fictional elements.
Okay, well, I did write a short collection of stories I straight up called horror. So, yeah. But I don't self-identify as a horror author.
But on a serious note, I try to play with elements from many styles of literature and consequently my books don't neatly fall into any one category. Probably to their, and my, detriment.
SFX : The world feels a lot like our own and yet not quite. The story refers at one point to parallel realms, so is your understanding that this is set somewhere very close to our own reality? Do you have a cosmology mapped out in your head?
It is a world very much like our own where I can play with my favorite aspects of whatever bit of history or culture I want. In this way, it's very self-indulgent. But writing, on the whole, is half adulation and half audacity. Adulation in that every writer had some formative reading event that changed their world-view in an intimate way and initiated them into another reality of someone else's design. Audacity in that they believe they can spin a reality cohesive and real enough to keep the reader's attention – and to join the chorus of all the great voices that came before.
I have often described my brand of fantasy as our world, two steps back, three to the side, and dressed in a Halloween costume. You could call it alternate history, but that wouldn't be true. I have no division event(s) in mind where this world deviated from ours. I have a history worked out, a limited cosmology, but I don't have the world totally mapped out with articles and essays depicting each culture like some dungeon master. This world exists in my imagination and my imagination wants blank spots on the map and shadowy corners and cloud wreathed terrains. After all, I have more books to write in the world and I need to enjoy the journey of discovery just as the reader does.
SFX : What are you working on next - is it another book set in the same universe?
I just finished writing the first draft of Foreign Devils , the second book in The Incorruptibles series and will begin writing Infernal Machines before the end of summer. I'm well pleased with Foreign Devils , but it is a first draft and there's more work to be done with it once the damned thing cools. I also just finished the last edits on The Conformity , the final book in my YA series that began with The Twelve-Fingered Boy .
SFX : What tips would you give to new authors just starting out trying to write their first book?
Perfection is the enemy of creation. One of the major hurdles I had to get over when I first started writing was that every word doesn't have to be perfect in the first draft. The National Novel Writing Month helped with this, it forced me to bully my way through to the end and then, once all the bodies were counted and the fields salted, worry about all the fuck-ups. A novel is a rough stone you'll turn over and over in your hands until its surface is smooth.
Finally, I'd tell any writer starting out that you have to push through to the end. You don't have anything until you've typed out THE END or FIN or whatever in big-ass capital letters. But once you do, well, now you've got something.
The Incorruptibles was published by Gollancz on Thursday 14 August and is available now (opens in new tab) in all the usual places. Sections from this interview appear in SFX 251 and our full review of The Incorruptibles appears in SFX 252, on sale now . You can follow Jacobs on Twitter , or find out more about him at his personal site or that of his UK publisher Gollancz .