The Scariest Part: Tracy Townsend Talks About THE FALL

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m happy to welcome back author Tracy Townsend, whose new novel is The Fall. Here is the publisher’s description:

An apothecary clerk and her ex-mercenary allies travel across the world to discover a computing engine that leads to secrets she wasn’t meant to know — secrets that could destroy humanity.

Eight months ago, Rowena Downshire was a half-starved black market courier darting through the shadows of Corma’s underside. Today, she’s a (mostly) respectable clerk in the Alchemist’s infamous apothecary shop, the Stone Scales, and certainly the last girl one would think qualified to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders a second time. Looks can be deceiving.

When Anselm Meteron and the Alchemist receive an invitation to an old acquaintance’s ball — the Greatduke who financed their final, disastrous mercenary mission fourteen years earlier — they’re expecting blackmail, graft, or veiled threats related to the plot to steal the secrets of the Creator’s Grand Experiment. They aren’t expecting a job offer they can’t refuse or a trip halfway across the world to rendezvous with the scholar whose research threw their lives into tumult: the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers.

Escorting Chalmers to the Grand Library of Nippon with her mismatched mercenary family is just a grand adventure to Rowena until she discovers a powerful algebraic engine called the Aggregator. The Aggregator leads Rowena to questions about the Grand Experiment she was never meant to ask and answers she cannot be allowed to possess. With her reunited friends, Rowena must find a way to use the truths hidden in the Grand Library to disarm those who would hunt down the nine subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, threatening to close the book on this world.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Tracy Townsend:

I’ve always been a little bored by Tolkien’s Ents. Don’t get me wrong. They have qualities that interest me: their vastness of size and mind, their sense of elevation beyond human concerns, their physical prowess. But their disinterest in the world beyond their forest, their stubborn slowness, their refusal to act until pushed, hardly inspire my imagination. In their cool nobility and remove, they are merely reactive characters.

The last time I was here using Nick’s space to talk about the scariest part of my novels, I wrote about creating monsters — the aigamuxa, nightmarish ogres with eyeballs in their feet — that are villainous and dangerous while still being sympathetic in The Nine. Active creatures. Advocates for themselves and the wrongs they have endured. As terrifying a threat as they posed, they are as “human” as the actual homo sapiens they live among. Now, with my sequel The Fall, I look at my world’s other sentient race, the lanyani, with a different sense of fear.

The lanyani are my answer to the Ents. They are not the noble guardians of the forest. They are the grasping, starving, furious remnants of a wilderness that used to be: the weeds growing up through the cracks in humanity’s world.

What do you do when something that doesn’t breathe air, that doesn’t bleed, that doesn’t have organs to pierce or bones to break, decides it wants to go to war with you? What can you do against beings that looks at your flesh and blood and think of it as nitrogen and phosphates they will use to enrich their growing empire’s soil? How do you negotiate with a thinking, planning, organized species that sees cleansing the world of human grime as the only rational solution for its own survival?

You can’t. You don’t. Because you’re dealing with aliens.

“Alien” tends to be a word we reserve for use in science fiction, not a fantasy series like mine, but it’s the word that fits the lanyani best. It derives from the Latin “alienus” — “belonging to another.” The lanyani belong to a world where flesh is weakness, something that can’t be grown through sheer will, shaped and planed, shed and reformed, hardened and thickened as the fiber of their arboreal bodies can be. They can tunnel through the earth, turn their bodies into weapons, survive crushing blows and severed limbs, split themselves to reproduce, and lie dormant long past the point we would imagine them dead. These creatures belong to an entirely different biology, and with it, an entirely different way of seeing the world.

And they’ve decided they don’t need us. Not anymore. The lanyani have learned to use our world, because nature rewards opportunists. They are thieves and fences, drug dealers, con artists, and mercenaries. So what if it is dirty work? They were born in the dirt. It’s where they thrive. And they know that if only they can claim enough of that soil for themselves, they’ll choke out humanity like a thicket full of kudzu. We might beg for their lenience, but it would make no difference.

Nature isn’t big on the concept of mercy.

The scariest part of The Fall is up to each individual reader to decide, of course. That’s the beauty of books. But for me, the story’s deepest terror lies in the fact that this time, the danger humanity faces doesn’t need our empathy or demand an equal place in our society. It doesn’t want to redress issues of social justice, or punish the wealthy and wicked for making slaves of its kind. It doesn’t even want an apology.

It wants to pull us up by our roots.

The Fall: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound / Audible

Tracy Townsend: Website / Twitter

Tracy Townsend is the author of The Nine and The Fall (books 1 and 2 in the Thieves of Fate series), a monthly columnist for the feminist sf magazine Luna Station Quarterly, and an essayist for Uncanny Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the former chair of the English department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband.

Rat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal Path

Rat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal PathRat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal Path by Kurtis J. Wiebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE INFERNAL PATH is very welcome return to form after a confusing vol. 4 and a disappointing vol. 5! Our foul-mouthed adventurers are back with an all-new mission to save their old adventuring chum Sadie’s kingdom from an army of orcs under the sway of the truly disgusting “fleshers.” Sadie is a great addition to the team, even if only a temporary one for this arc, and her blatant flirtations with both Orc Dave and Hannah are hilarious — especially considering Sadie has been transformed into an owl.

The loose threads of the previous storyline are still present. Dee remains concerned about the aftermath of waking the god N’rygoth, while Hannah, Violet, and Betty are worried that the evil, alternate version of Hannah is still out there causing trouble, which makes THE INFERNAL PATH more of a transitional story than part of the major arc. Still, it’s pretty great. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing is as sharp as ever. I’m getting more used to Owen Gieni’s art, but there were still a few panels where I couldn’t quite tell what was happening.

This volume also includes the “Neon Static Special,” a one-off cyberpunk adventure with an alternate version of the Rat Queens in a futuristic setting, but it’s not all that great and doesn’t bring anything special to the table. The Rat Queens work much better in their natural D&D-on-crack setting. I’m looking forward to the next volume!

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X’s For Eyes

X's For EyesX’s For Eyes by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This highly enjoyable novella starts off almost as a twisted, satirical take on THE VENTURE BROS., drawing from the same source material — THE HARDY BOYS, JOHNNY QUEST, DOC SAVAGE — before diving into the cosmic weirdness and ecumenically cursed families we’ve come to expect from Laird Barron. An entertaining, pulpy romp, but with the author’s tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout.

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Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones

Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your BonesScary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stories in this third volume of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series are definitely a step up from the second volume, and include a handful of stories that are on par with the first. They’re a little more advanced, too — a little longer and a little more complex, but still great for kids. My favorite is “Maybe You Will Remember,” a story about a girl on vacation with her mother in Paris when her mother falls ill and the girl is sent by the hotel doctor to fetch medicine for her. But when she returns, no one at the hotel recognizes her, no one, including the doctor, remembers her mother, and the hotel room they were staying in looks completely different. There’s an air of Robert Aickman’s “strange stories” to this one — that is, until Alvin Schwartz posits a rational explanation involving a city-wide conspiracy, which saps all the fun. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are more on point than ever in this volume, perhaps the best he’s done for the series. Some of them are truly frame-worthy.

I’m very glad I finally got to read these books, even if I came to them forty years too late. It’s a treat to read the stories that were so formative for so many of my friends. On a more academic level, it’s interesting to see what scares young readers compared to what scares adult readers. There’s not a lot of atmosphere or detail to these stories, for example, but there are lots jump-scare climactic surprises and recurring tropes like cemeteries, unexplained noises, and vengeful spirits looking for items that were stolen from them. I will leave what this might mean up to greater minds than my own. All in all, I found reading Schwartz’s trilogy to be a charming and rewarding exercise.

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