In the Dragon’s Den: Interview with Steven Erikson Part 3
TCD: Picking this up again, we were talking about SF, and it and your love of absurd comedy masking some pretty pointed observations and satire brings me on to Willful Child 2: The Wrath of Betty (coming from Tor in October I believe). What can you tell us about it?
SE: Willful Child was a bit thin on the background universe. I mean, I didn’t really have time for that stuff. It just got in the way! It definitely got in Captain Hadrian’s way. But having set up the situation and the main characters, the second novel needed to bit more depth (depth, in fiction-writing terms, is what the characters have to wade through), which in turn meant more of the background information brought to the foreground, thus adding, er, depth.
So it’s a deep novel. Deeper. With more depth.
Anyway, my advance readers recoiled at first, since for some inexplicable reason my satire meter was cranked way over. It bears keeping in mind the fuel that powers satire. It’s a savage thing. As much as one may go for laughs on the surface (and interestingly, most of the reviews of Willful Child more or less got locked on that surface stuff, with only a couple exceptions that I’ve seen), it’s the vicious current beneath it that drives the impulse to write this kind of fiction.
In other words, I needed to be fed up in order to write these books. So, that inclines one to turn language into a weapon (and why not, we’ve weaponized everything else). The way I see it, satire can use a scalpel, or it can use a broadsword. It can also use both and everything in between, depending on the circumstances.
Curiously, if you look at some of the best satire, say, the stuff on television (The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy), you can probably track how each series got more and more vicious as it went on. This ramping up may appear on the surface to be nothing more than the need to escalate the shock quotient (possibly in acknowledgement of the numbing effect of multiple shocks), but what I see in it is the growing desperation of the creators in their efforts to shake us all out of our apathy. And the more you fail, the angrier you get.
Wrath of Betty started out wielding not a scalpel, not a broadsword, but a flamethrower. I had to halt part way through to toss the weapon and run around stamping out fires. And then tone things down some. So it took a bit longer than the first book.