Here is the second half of our interview with Walter Jon Williams. In this half we talk more in detail about the Praxis series. Please enjoy, and look for the Praxis series and Williams’ other books in stores
DAF: There has been quite a break between the first three Praxis books and these next three. How did you talk Harper and Collins into printing more?
WJW: They finally looked at the sales figures. It only took fifteen years.
I think they expected the series to die, but it didn’t. None of the books sold big right out of the gate, but they kept selling and selling, and each book has been through multiple printings and never gone out of print. So bringing out more books would be an easy decision.
DAF: The Praxis series is centered on two characters, Sula and Martinez. Which did you come up first? Or did you come up with them at the same time?
WJW: I came up with them at the same time.
The series shows us a very stratified world, in which humanity as well as a number of other species were subjugated by a race of conquering aliens. The conquerors had a strong ideology called the Praxis, and the Praxis demanded that all life submit to its commandments.
The series is set at the time the foundations of the empire begin to crumble. You can look at the series as “war and revolution seen through the eyes of star-crossed lovers,” or alternately “two star crossed lovers experience war and revolution.”
DAF: You deliberately wrote these characters to see the fall of an empire?
DAF: So who is your favorite?
WJW:I don’t play favorites. I like both of them a lot. But Sula is definitely the favorite of the readers. I have had readers tell me that if Sula were real, they would ask for her phone number.
DAF: Sula is very robust, so much clearer coming across. Martinez is written very subtly, subdued. It too to my third reading to notice his disinterest in food. Why did you make that choice?
WJW:I think it is because Martinez has less to be insecure about. They both think of themselves as outsiders because neither of them are a member of the topmost elite. Martinez is a member of the ruling caste, but he’s not at the top rank and he tends to resent that. Sula, on the other hand, is an imposter masquerading as a member of the highest elite. Her conflict is a life-and-death struggle. If she fails she dies horribly, but if Martinez fails he suffers only social humiliation. Martinez can afford to relax, but Sula can’t.
DAF: The Praxis is a very stratified society. What did you look at for inspiration, because at times you will have Peers engaged in almost comedy of manners escapades. At other times they engage in white collar crime. What did you pull from?
WJW: There are almost too many to mention. But certainly the books reflect class and class resentment in the 19th century British empire. Which became more class-based as the century went on, but in addition to the diehard imperialists out to conquer the world, they also produced Bertie Wooster and Oscar Wilde.
The social setting is based on Republican Rome, as that experience came down through Spain and the colonial experience in New Mexico where I live. There are certain practices common in Rome that are still common in New Mexico, such as the patron-client relationship exercised by the leading Spanish families and their descendants.
The underground movements of World War II are another great inspiration. At one point Sula is leading the an underground movement against an occupying army, and I gave her an alias taken from a real-life French resistance heroine, Lucie Aubrac.
DAF: Between the two trilogies that are Praxis books you released Investments and Impersonations. Why did you do those?
WJW: Each of these stories is a “solo” adventure by either Martinez or Sula, letting the reader know what they got up to after the Naxid War. Investments is a very long novella, almost a novel, and I wrote it concurrently with the first Praxis series. I was asked to contribute to a space opera anthology, and I realized this was a way to bring the Praxis series to a new audience.
Impersonations was always intended as a companion to Investments, but the opportunity to write it never materialized until a couple years ago, when I was asked to contribute to Tor.com’s novella series. I told them I had an idea, but it was set in a universe controlled by another publisher. They said fine, they wanted to make a point of being open to all submissions.
I had intended Impersonations as a novella, but during the writing the words kept piling up and the work turned out to be a novel. So, Tor.com got a novel for the price of a novella and I think they were very happy.
DAF: The Praxis novels take place in a society with not just multiple classes but species. One of the species you mention but never get to see are the Yormak.
WJW: Yes, you never get to see them in the first trilogy, but they will play an important part in the new series. During the course of the series, I planted a number of time bombs which would explode later in the series, and the Yormak are one of them.
DAF: What is another one?
WJW: Hmm. Best to let the readers be surprised.
DAF: Both Investments and Impersonations place Sula and Martinez into much more powerful position than they had previously occupied. Did you intend that?
WJW: Yes, they’re more prominently placed than they were. It provides greater opportunity to get them in trouble.
DAF: We will see more races, more places and more war. But the first three books were mostly a two character affair will there be more characters taking on the view point in the next books?
WJW: Martinez and Sula will remain the principal characters, but I have no problem with introducing a new point-of-view character should the narrative require it. There will also be more attention devoted to a character introduced in the first series, Severin. He’s a complete out-of-the-box thinker— in Investments, for instance, he invents a way to shut off a pulsar.
DAF: There will be three more books out. The first in 2018. Do you have titles and a timeline on when we can expect to see them?
WJW: Assuming I make my deadlines, the timeline depends entirely on the publisher, but if all goes well the books will appear in 2018, 2020, and 2022. The first will be titled The Accidental War. I haven’t got titles for the others yet.
DAF: What about the other project?
WJW: Quillifer, the first of my fantasy series, will appear this next October.
DAF: Thank you very much.
WJW: Sure, my pleasure.