Dan’s latest book, The World Awakening, is now out from Harper Voyager, completing his fantasy trilogy.
By Dan Koboldt
I didn’t start writing fiction until my late twenties. Don’t ask me why. I’m always late to things. But the upside was that I spent two decades reading and watching SF/F before I started writing it. In the past, I’ve written about some of the unlikely influences on my writing, such as my non-writing hobby: hunting with bow and arrow.
There are also likely influences on writing for an author who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. These will surprise exactly no one, but they have such a profound effect on my work that I felt they deserved a post of their own. Here, then, are a few things I experienced in my formative years that continue to pervade my own work.
- The Father of Fantasy: Tolkien
Like many readers, I took my first foray into speculative fiction with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. When I finished that, I dove right into The Lord of the Rings. This was in fourth grade, and coincided with some of my first less-than-favorable teacher conferences. Apparently, I had a tendency to zip through my daily work so that I could spend most of my free time reading (and not paying attention).
I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I read the final sentence in the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring. I can picture my parents’ living room, the couch, the lamp… everything. That book, in case you don’t remember, ended with one hobbit setting off by himself on a dangerous quest. It tugged at my heart. Especially when his dear friend shows up and refuses to let him go alone.
Tolkien’s delightful world of Middle Earth captured my boyhood imagination. I was the kid who wore a ring on a chain necklace and took (unauthorized) steak knives from my parents’ kitchen as makeshift swords. I spent afternoons adventuring in the creek near our house, finding treasures (quartz crystals) and searching out dragons (snakes and lizards).
My books contain at least a few nods to Tolkien. The obvious one is the hand-drawn map of Alissia in the front. A less obvious thing I found myself mimicking was the call to adventure – a protagonist who doesn’t want to go on a quest, but finds himself unable to say no.
- Star Wars
Many SF/F fans who grew up in the 80’s have a deep and unshakable love for the original Star Wars trilogy. I watched those movies more times than I can remember, as the well-worn VHS boxed set can attest. I was in high school in 1997 when the movies were re-released to the big screen. Man, what a time that was.
Although I loved Star Wars, it was harder for me to imagine living that fictional world when I didn’t have access to spaceships or light sabers or anything close to them. However, the last few decades have seen technological leaps in several relevant technology areas, including lasers, aircraft, and genetic cloning. In my books, the protagonist has access to a state-of-the-art research & development facility, so he gets to play with some of those technologies.
Another less obvious influence of the original Star Wars on my books is the three-part structure. The second movie and my second book both end with a revelation of devastating new information, and the promise of an epic conflict to come.
- Last But Not Least, Dune
I was a teenager when I started reading Dune, which is probably my favorite science fiction series of all time. The first book describes such a rich and intricate world that I can still get lost in it. It’s my “desert island” book, the one I’d take with me if marooned on a desert island. I can’t think of any other books that have as much complexity (at least, ones I’d enjoy reading).
One of my favorite little touches on the Dune books are the header quotes at the start of each chapter. Each quote has three elements that add to the worldbuilding: the quote itself, the name of the author, and the title of the work it’s excerpted from. It’s a clever little window into certain characters, and also provides some clever foreshadowing.
All three of the books in my Gateways to Alissia series have header quotes for each chapter, and I use them very much the same. There are two primary sources for the material: the main character’s blog about stage magic (Art of Illusion), and the research writings of Richard Holt, the researcher who disappears into the world through the gateway. I put a lot of thought into these quotes, and there are certainly hidden clues in them. But they’re also my tribute to Frank Herbert and Dune. The spice must flow…
Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He is the author of the Gateway to Alissia series (Harper Voyager) about a Las Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world. He is currently editing Putting the Science in Fiction, (Writers Digest), a reference for writers slated for release in Fall 2018.
By day, Dan is a genetics researcher at a major children’s hospital. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. He lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys in Ohio.
Book 1: The Rogue Retrieval
Book 2: The Island Deception
Book 3: The World Awakening
Dan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanKoboldt