Today I have a guest post by Craig Comer. Craig is one of the authors in a collection of three novellas, The Roads to Baldairn Motte, all focused on the same event. You can find out more about Craig, and his work, on his web site.
The Time is Ripe for Mosaic Novels
By Craig Comer
The mosaic novel is a similar construct to the shared world anthology, though its storylines are often more closely tied to a single event, theme, or central idea. Several trends in the fantasy genre make the time ripe for this type of author collaboration, which in the past has brought readers the likes of Thieves World and Wild Cards.
As Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan point out in their introduction to the anthology, Swords and Dark Magic, Sword and Sorcery is making a comeback. Several popular authors are, “…pioneering a new kind of fantasy, one that blends epic struggles with a gritty realism, where good and evil mixes into realistic characters fraught with moral ambiguities…”
One need not look far to find evidence of this. Steven Erikson, Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, and Scott Lynch all feature flawed protagonists whose grit and pluck engage the reader more than their bent to defeat evil. This lends well for the mosaic novel, where each storyline features a unique character (or set of characters) working to resolve a personal conflict. Macro-level conflicts can, do, and should exist, but they are not resolved by a single hero whose fate is tied to the fate of all.
Another trend of modern fantasy is found in series like George R.R. Martin’s, A Song of Ice and Fire, which not only features multiple viewpoint characters, but divergent and largely unconnected storylines. These works, to some extent, are mosaic novels written by a single author.
Though the worlds of mosaic novels can be heavily detailed and complex, the protagonists run wild, sailing their own course to an epic conclusion. There is no need to tie them to a single overarching plot thread. In fact, an author’s control over their individual storyline is one of the differentiators from a standard collaborated novel.
A third aspect of the mosaic novel is vantage point. The Roads to Baldairn Motte sprung out of Ahimsa Kerp’s question, “I wonder what the Southron and Easterling men in Sauron’s army thought they were fighting for? What is their story?” After batting the idea around with myself and Garrett Calcaterra, we decided we would create our own epic battle and each choose a different side, writing how and why the combatants in this battle came to be there. After all, few people consider themselves the bad guy in their own story.
It’s interesting to note, savvy readers today are used to this type of unreliability, where each point of view is so closely tied to a character that the narration is rendered subjective. But when Thieves World was published thirty years ago, the preface carried a disclaimer warning the reader that, “…each story is told from a different viewpoint, and different people see and hear things differently.”
Mosaic novels can also serve to introduce readers to new authors. How many readers awaiting Daniel Abraham’s next, The Dagger and the Coin, novel discovered him by reading, Hunter’s Run?
When it comes to types and styles of fantasy novels, there is room for all and everything in between. Gritty characters, divergent storylines, and differing vantage points rule the day, and don’t require more than a single author to reach great effect. But really, who wouldn’t want to see Scott Lynch and Brandon Sanderson’s bands of thieves fighting over the same city turf, while Steven Erikson’s armies storm the walls?