So this morning I just finished reading The Rithmatist. I was wondering if you could talk about your process of creating that magic system. Specifically about how it dealt with mathematics. And also if it is going to have a sequel.
This has a fun history in that it is the last book I completed before the Wheel of Time hit me like a freight train. I was working on a different book, you can find the sample chapters of that one on my website, its called the Liar of Partinel and it really was not going well. I have talked about this before, I talked about it in my essay that I posted on my blog when I released the Rithmatist. But things were just going poorly and I actually stopped writing that book and wrote the Rithmatist instead. This book that I didn’t have a contract for, that no one was expecting. Sometimes it is very liberating to do that. When you see these side projects, like last year, Emperor’s Soul and Legion and things like the Rithmatist, it’s me saying “Okay, I really love the big epic fantasies, it’s what I came in to do. But sometimes how complex they are and how much work they are, between them you need a break.”
The Rithmatist was a break and I had been toying with this magic system where—And I don’t even really know what started it but I wanted to do a magic where you dueled with chalk. Where you would take chalk and you would draw things and you would have a duel with someone else using chalk. I wanted two-dimensional things playing out. I guess it maybe comes from me being a gamer and me wanting to- There’s so many things that we take from the modern day and we twist them and make a fantasy world out of them. Its where Steampunk came from. Let’s take modern technology but let’s build it with an ancient- or an older technology and see what cool stuff we can do. Airships with steam, and robots with clockwork. Gearpunk and things like that. And so I was like, let’s build video games with magical chalk.
Really the magic system is, you draw a circle around yourself and you basically then play Starcraft. You draw little units and you send them over to try and break their defense—it’s more like Tower Defense honestly, like versus Tower Defense. Where you try to break through your opponent’s circle, when one of your beasties gets through the circle you have won the duel; and you can shoot off different lines of chalk that do things and stuff like that. Where this came from was just that sort of thing, all of my- One of the things that drive me to write is that “one foot in science and one foot in magic” and you can see that. When I described this magic system here I’m taking all these sort of disease concepts and the modern germ theory and all this stuff and I’m saying “let’s mix that with magic and see what we can come up with.” Mistborn was like “one foot in alchemy and one foot in vector physics” and things like that. This just gets me excited.
There was an era in our world where science was this awesome, almost magical thing. If you read back about the turn of the century, 1800’s to 1900’s you’ll find essays where people were researching- new scientific discoveries were happening all the time and everyone was so excited about them. I remember reading this essay, I’ve told this story before, someone wrote an essay in like 1910 where they went and they interviewed a bunch of ditch-diggers and they studied the Science of Ditch-Digging and they went and they told all these ditch-diggers what they learned and helped them be more efficient in digging ditches and suddenly science was for everyone. It was for the ditch-diggers- Who knew what else we could discover. And then we basically blew ourselves up and ever since then we’ve been scared of it and that’s when we got the science as an antagonist sort of thing that happened in the 50’s and 60’s in science fiction. It’s a wonderful era, and things like that. In my writing I always find that time when science was something that was for the common man that we were discovering, that there was this sense of wonder to science, it’s really fascinating to me. And I find myself returning to that time and time again, and that’s where you see this. In this one, with The Rithmatist, it’s honestly a little more lighthearted even though the prologue is someone getting attacked by these chalk monsters. The concept is more lighthearted, it’s blending teenagers playing games with magic and where would that go and what could I do with it. I did go to mathematics because I wanted the idea around all of this to have structure and rules; and I liked the idea of using “the more perfect your circle is the stronger it is, the more stable it is against someone trying to break through it.” So I started looking into the interesting properties, mathematically, of circles, and what creates-. What they do with arithmetic. And that sent me off on this whole thing where I drew all these cool whatchamadinkies and stuff like that. That’s where it came from, that’s a long explanation for a simple question.