A few weeks ago at Phoenix Comicon, I got to sit down with Pierce Brown, the author of Red Rising and Golden Son, to talk with him a little bit about his series and where he gets some of his inspiration from for his stories.
Therese Lacson: Okay, so, Red Rising, Golden Son… Congratulations on the movie deal, I’m really excited to see it. I read Red Rising in a day or something like that.
Pierce Brown: That’s how it’s supposed to be read!
TL: Your stories have really good character building and you mentioned to me before that a lot of your writing is inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo.
PB: Yeah, good portions of it.
TL: And I like that comparison better than the The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game comparison…
PB: I mean, I love Ender’s Game and I think a lot of the feelings I got from Ender’s Game influenced Red Rising with regard to what I wanted to do. But I don’t think that The Hunger Games and all those books, like, I’m not a big fan of them. So, I love The Count of Monte Cristo because of the themes we get to explore.
TL: Definitely. So your stories are basically based around revenge and that’s kind of a big theme that you see Dumas’ book. So can you talk to me about what you’re going for?
PB: So the way I see it, Book 1 is about a young man who is in the same sort of situation as Edmond Dantes, in that he’s been wronged and slighted by particular people. But instead of being a path simply for revenge, his journey is discovering that revenge destroys. Revenge doesn’t create and doesn’t fix things. So it’s really his growing up in realizing that revenge isn’t the game he’s playing. He’s seeking justice, and in seeking justice you get to show the evolution of a man trying to be a hero—trying to be something more that he is.
Revenge is a very simple easy human emotion, but as some of the characters say, “Death begets death begets death”. It’s a cycle. And the problem is when everyone is perpetuating this cycle like the Golds do in my books, then you have humanity stuck in a rut. So breaking the cycle of revenge is really how Darrow is going to change things, if he does.
You know with Cassius you see him stuck in a cycle of revenge and you see how over the course of the books it changes him; it changes him from this beautiful golden eagle into a bird of prey, like into a carrion bird almost. You see how it affects his family, without getting into too many spoilers. So, I think for me it’s always been the journey of justice over revenge.
TL: On the topic of the Golds, why the whole Roman influence, why the choice of using colors as a caste system? Is it because the easier path to take or is there going to be some kind of huge reveal in the end that brings it all together?
PB: There’s not really a huge Easter egg that I’ve been hiding, or some big reveal. I think it makes sense to the culture which I’m representing. What I wanted was a culture that believes in humanism; the most humanistic cultures who worshiped the idea of humanity were the Greeks and the Romans, at least my perception of things. This is a society that’s expanded into the solar system, but has idolized the Greeks and Romans, and in so doing they idolized the texts of them. So like Plato, talking about Plato’s philosopher king and believing certain men were worth certain things within society, because he believed in a pure meritocracy where a golden man with a golden soul would rule.
TL: Your writing is really cinematic, and I like that you rely a lot on action sequences versus straight up dialogue, so it’s kind of a show instead of tell situation. What makes you choose to write more action versus dialogue?
PB: Mostly because the audience I wanted to appeal to is people who aren’t necessarily in love with science fiction, and I think the best way to do that is by putting your characters into situations in which their emotions and their character is tested, and the best way to do that is action. But also because I was inspired a lot by Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Harry Potter, and they are centered around action instead of the deeply meditative books like The Name of the Wind, Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe, or even Dune (which is also a heavy influence), but I wanted it to be a very kinetic book. It’s also very much keeping in touch with my main character, who’s a psychopath, you know? He’s all about adrenaline and velocity, and so contrasting that with his soft spirit inside and having that outward violence is really fun.
TL: Your book obviously has a lot of political intrigue. Do you draw from any personal life experiences? I know you used to work as an aide on a U.S. Senate campaign. Unless your biography lies?
PB: No, that’s true. So, yeah, I think that a lot of it is through my past. I was a political science and economics major. I loved the intrigue and aspects of the TV show Rome, but also Machiavelli was something I read as a kid and I thought that he had some very interesting ideas about power. Overall, my experience in politics and also in Hollywood shows me that people are a little more duplicitous than you think they are, and people cutting your throat with a smile is way more interesting than someone just stabbing you in the chest.
TL: You’re not wrong. Okay, so you do some great world building in your stories, I really like it when writers take time to do world building without making it too inorganic by throwing it all in your face at once. So tell me about your process of creating the world of Red Rising.
PB: Process of me creating the world is me sitting in front of a computer and bullshitting. The world exists in my head. I’ll have some pictures and notes on the wall, but most of it I keep straight in my head. The hardest thing is keeping all of the families straight. But the world building in it of itself is interesting to me because it’s a situation that I’m setting my character into. I told you earlier that I liked action because it tests my character, so do new environments. It’s amazing to immerse my characters into something new like that.
What is and does have to be more planned out though are the morals of certain castes who live in the society and their reasoning behind it and also some of the history, which I do have written down, because you have to be able to keep that straight. You have to have that when you have a society that is influenced by economic trade through Mars and the Helium 3. You have to have ports for trade, you have to have relationships which are stressed or strengthened by trade.
For instance, Mars’ tense relationship with the Core because the Core is surviving because they take Mars’ Helium 3. Now the Rim has a much better relationship with Mars because they look at Mars as also being abused by the Core. Where imagine the Core being like Ancient Rome and it’s consuming; it’s like this vampire. Whereas the Rim looks at Mars and they see how it’s being bespoiled like how they feel like they’re being bespoiled by the Core, and so you have all of these regional tensions. It’s based off of economics and stuff that I’ve been able to look at in my world. I can make it be the cause and the influence of human action, which is what makes any good world building, right? It’s when it affects your characters.
TL: So, final question, the movie coming out. Can you give me any details about it?
PB: So Marc Forester is set to direct it as his next movie. Hopefully it’ll be in production next year, no guarantees on anything, because we got to get the script where we want it to be first.
TL: Are you involved with the script?
PB: I wrote the first two drafts of the script, and so my friend Joe Sousa’s writing the next draft. So it’s really fun, because if he has any questions on it, I’m the source and I live right there and we go get drinks.
It was such a pleasure to be able to talk to Pierce Brown about his process in creating the world of Red Rising as well as getting some insight behind the character creation and storytelling. The third installment of the series Morning Star (which Brown is currently finishing the first draft of) is set to release January 12th, 2016.