Are minions/sidekicks just throwaway devices in a tale? Can they become more? Do they need to become more?
Sidekicks should be whatever fits with the story. Like most things they can sit on a continuum from simple to complex. In a simple tale, a minion is usually there for one purpose – serving their master’s function. This could be providing confidence and conversation, or maybe just thugwork. A dual purpose may be a story function, in that their relationship brings out some important aspect of the hero or villain, maybe opening a plot point or an Achilles heel.
In a more complex tale, the writer may delve more into the sidekick’s inner life and background, bringing greater texture to the tale. One sidekick in “The Sovereign Hand” grew out of an off-the-cuff meeting between old friends. Then I found my “hero” going back to this character again for his “one purpose”, but it became so much more. Because they were old friends, the sidekick brought out new dimensions of my hero’s past; by lightly touching on his background, he also brought new shades of wonder and magic to my quasi-industrial setting; and because they were, or had been, equals, the sidekick became a gauge against which to measure the hero’s choices and actions. So sidekicks can tap rich veins, even without going so far as having their own storyline.
Over the years, are the changes in society reflected in today’s villains and heroes?
A good question. I don’t think heroes have changed much, because the conflicts in society remain much the same. Certainly the representation of those conflicts hasn’t changed, with the hero usually facing a repellent and recognizably evil entity, whether an external power, or their own government, if a dystopia. There are variations on this theme, these days, degrees of subtlety; it is now very common to make a play at moral dilemmas about how dark the hero can go in service to the light, but the fundamental structure of stories remain the same.
That’s why in “The Sovereign Hand” I chose to use the trope of young heroes Fated to fight evil, but removed any immediate enemy or “Evil Empire”. It put greater demands on the storytelling, but, for me, raised more interesting questions. In a land of peace and progress and culture, what need for heroes?
Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?
I’ve still plenty to read from the Enlightenment, and a ton from Ye Olde 20th Century. There are so many, though, I just pick up what feels right at the time, especially if it feeds what I want to write. Eleanor Catton, has called reading “furnishing your mind” – after writing, the furniture has disappeared.
What reboots (or retellings) of classics have you enjoyed? Are there ones that haven’t worked for you?
I don’t think there are any reboots I’ve felt strongly about – yet..
As a published author, what non-writing/reading activities would you recommend to aspiring authors?
Getting published is one thing, getting “discovered” by the market is another. So keep at least half an eye set on a solid day job. Writing-wise, know what you’re expert at, whether nuclear science or abseiling or making balloon animals, and use that in your text. And daydream – imagination is top-end research.
If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in fiction works based on folktales, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?
I would actually start by looking at some of Francisco Goya’s etchings, particularly Los Disparates (The Follies) and Los Caprichos. To me they represent the value of folk tales, and the grotesque, in one image, casting light on human nature and how the world works. What makes monsters, thrust on one side of the hero/villain divide, powerful? Then I’d go through African folk tales to the Golden Bough and Gulliver’s Travels to Candide, into modern short fiction, Kafka and George Saunders. I expect the class might be poorly attended – but I’d enjoy it!
What do you do when you are not writing?
Read, obviously, and enjoy a bit of tv and film. I game in one particular MMO, pvpin’ like a wall-eyed John McClane. Otherwise just spend time with my family, at the beach, the park, the bush. Next week I get to take my daughter to see snow for the first time.
Which favorite fictional worlds would you like to visit?
Bas Lag, Gormenghast. Sunnydale. Star Wars universe. Firefly’s ‘Verse. Actually on the Liberator with Blake’s 7 would be sweet. Y’know, all my favourite fictional worlds have some sort of ridiculous struggle going on. If I wanted an easier time, maybe I’d choose the world painted by our glossy magazines and tv. They make this earth place look nothing but fun.
Thorn, the gilded capital: bedecked in steam and the dust of convoys bearing riches from all across the earth. From here, wise and ruling hands have ensnared all Aurawn in a great story, a Primacy of Peace. A land where every person – human, gobelin, or drake – can dream, toil hard and succeed.
Of course, not everyone sees things that way. But when Alexa Temperen stands above Crucible Square and denounces the First and all his government for their injustices, the last thing she imagines is that she’ll soon be working for them, as a champion: one of the Sovereign Hand.
Because prophecy has spoken. Evil is stirring, and Alexa is just one of five unlikely heroes chosen to face it. They each have their doubts, and in her darkest moment Alexa still must decide: put pride aside and fight for a government she despises, or turn her back on her calling, leaving millions at the mercy of an unimaginable terror…
Places to Find Paul Gilbert