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Stormwrack: Changing the Channels of Time

A Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica
Written by A. M. Dellamonica

In L. Sprague de Camp’s classic alternate history novel Lest Darkness Fall, Martin Padway is transported to fourth-century Rome, where he changes the course of history by importing advanced technology into his new home timeline.

It’s a common enough plot, but what I love about this particular novel is that Padway’s not an engineer. He doesn’t fall into the past fully equipped to refine iron into steel or sketch out the blueprints for an Edsel. His first ‘inventions’ are brandy, Arabic numerals (including the all-important zero!) and double entry accounting. And brandy is awesome, of course, but the latter two imports may sound boring as hell. Sure, it’s nice to do math and keep your accountant from cheating you, but—

Exactly. But! It’s math! In every sense, the zero is a game-changer. It weighs nothing, and most of us have some grasp of how it works in our brain’s back pocket. Given enough time, a willing audience, and possibly a little brandy, most of us could explain it.

It is a popular conceit to imagine that we non-engineers are too distanced from humanity’s inventions to reproduce them. To assume that if one of us was transported to the far past, our inability to scrape together an iPhone from scratch would make us, somehow, technologically pathetic. We are the guys for whom science might as well be magic, the thinking goes. A 21st century arts graduate couldn’t really trigger a scientific revolution.

I disagree. We all have weird pockets of exploitable knowledge, picked up in classrooms but also in more mundane places. If you’re committed to the idea of meddling in time at all, the key is, perhaps, in knowing what you could usefully bring to the past you’re in.

Which brings me to A Daughter of No Nation. Sophie Hansa is a trained wildlife biologist, but over the course of this second Hidden Sea Tales novel she discovers that the two things she’s most likely to end up importing into the culture of the world of Stormwrack are ideas. One is the scientific method. The second is criminal forensics…as learned from TV.

Sophie, like me, is fannish. She watches Castle. She loves Veronica Mars. She grew up in twenty-first century North America and has seen hundreds of hours of crime and cop shows. She’s seen quasi-realistic stuff like Law & Order and Criminal Minds, and implausible set-ups like The Mentalist. She’s even watched some really weird things like Vexed (whose cop protagonists work out of a coffee shop).

In our world, it would be disastrous for an ordinary civilian to try to apply dumbed-down TV-style detective procedures to real-world crimes. But Stormwrack is a world apart, and it’s one where most of the people don’t have the mental habit of analytical reductionism (approaching a new phenomenon by mentally breaking it into components, and then pushing them around to see how they might be understood). Sophie doesn’t have to have years of training in the physics of analyzing blood spatter. She just has to pass on the idea to a motivated cop. Even the concept of preserving a crime scene is every bit as radical, on Stormwrack, as double-entry accounting was to de Camp’s ancient Rome. It was a radical idea here, too, at one time. Now it’s just standard procedure.

Sophie does have an advantage that many of us wouldn’t if we were inventing modern police procedure in a world trapped in the Age of Sail…she has some grounding in biology and chemistry. But when she’s asked if she might consider doing this, importing this particular piece of earth technology, she’s drawing as much on Sherlock Holmes and Blue Bloods as on anything she learned in a classroom.

Buy A Daughter of No Nation today:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iBooks | Indiebound

Follow A. M. Dellamonica on Twitter at @AlyxDellamonica, on Facebook, and on her website.

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“Magic calls to magic”

Image Placeholder of - 69By Alyx Dellamonica

The above line, from my story “Nevada,” formed one of the first rules I set out for the universe where Indigo Springs takes place. I had decided I was going to write about my grandparents’ home in Yerington, Nevada, an ordinary ranch house centered in a fenced-in patch of desert just outside town. The place has always been special to me. We moved a lot when I was young, but Yerington was always there. Going to Nevada meant being spoiled by my grandmother, of course, but their home also had a lot of physical objects that I was fond of–a cookie tin full of sun-melted crayons, my mother’s old stuffed bunny, Grandma’s polished rocks, and the possibility of finding a painstakingly hand-chipped arrowhead under every tumbleweed. I made all these childhood treasures explicitly magical when I turned them into the chantments that do so much good and harm in Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Indigo Springs picks up on the groundwork laid in “Nevada” and the chantment stories that followed.  As I wrote these first stories, something that was immediately obvious was that if such objects of power were real, there would be people whose primary desire would be to own or control them. This conclusion led me to create the century-old chantment thief in “Nevada,” the corrupt music teacher in “The Riverboy”. . .  and when it came to writing Indigo Springs, it gave rise to the beautiful, fickle, and manipulative Sahara Knax.

I also had to figure out who was making the mystical objects. Sahara’s opposite number is her best friend, Astrid Lethewood. Astrid not only owns a number of chantments but in time discovers she has the ability to make new ones. She is less interested in having or wielding power–she’s responsible for the magic, and it’s a terrible load. She wants to do the right thing but is afraid of having her life consumed in the process. Having inherited the magic and being overwhelmed by it, she is vulnerable to this charming friend who’s offering to take care of everything. In her weakest moments, Astrid is that little piece of all of us who hopes someone else will combat climate change, speak out against poverty or oppression–who gives in to those moments of weakness when we don’t want to look beyond our day to day concerns and try to own the world a little.

Indigo Springs is a love triangle and the third person in the mix is Jacks Glade, who tries to mediate between Sahara and Astrid. Jacks is an active, take-charge guy–he rescues people from burning buildings, tells people the truth instead of guessing what they want to hear. . .  and he’s madly in love with Astrid. It’s these three people who come to be caretakers of the mystical well.

The thing about magic in Indigo Springs is that it is an immensely powerful force–one capable of creating amazingly beautiful things and doing great good, but only when wielded with good intentions. In a sense, the magic has an agenda of its own.

Indigo Springs (978-0-7653-5907-0, $7.99) is available from Tor this November. Alyx Dellamonica can be found online at alyxdellamonica.com.

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Related Link: Alyx Dellamonica’s Indigo Springs wins the Sunburst Award!

Alyx Dellamonica’s Indigo Springs wins the Sunburst Award!

Alyx Dellamonica’s Indigo Springs wins the Sunburst Award!

Tor would like to extend its heartfelt congratulations to first-time novelist A.M. Dellamonica for winning the 2010 Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic for her lovely contemporary fantasy, Indigo Springs. The Sunburst is a juried award given for excellence in writing, and is presented annually to a Canadian writer who published a novel in the prior calendar year. For more on the award, visit sunburstaward.org.

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If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Indigo Springs, now is the perfect time to get started. The novel is currently available from Tor in trade paperback; the mass market goes on sale in a few weeks, and the sequel, Blue Magic, is currently scheduled for 2011.

Already read Indigo Springs? Can’t wait for Blue Magic? Not really sure who this A.M. Dellamonica person is and what her writing is like? Fear not, good readers. Her moving story The Cage, currently free on Tor.com, can help.

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