An interview with Pierce Brown, author of ‘Red Rising’

by Rachel on February 4, 2014

Here’s an exciting new book for all you lovers of science fiction and dystopian fantasies! A few weeks ago, one of our Random House reps, Wade, brought author Pierce Brown by the store to introduce him to different departments and talk about his new book, Red Rising.  It was wonderful to meet him, and Pierce was kind enough to agree to an interview about the world of Red Rising and his writing process. It is fast-paced and compelling— perfect for readers who regularly read this genre, but still very accessible to those who are less familiar with science fiction (like me!).

Read on for more information on the book and an intriguing interview with the author.

Red Rising
by Pierce Brown (released January 28, 2014)
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so. —Del Rey Books

Pierce Brown on Red Rising

1.       It appears that you have a very interesting and varied background. Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in writing, and more specifically, writing science fiction?

I grew up in seven different states. That sort of transience makes you cling to the immutable things. For me, those were always family and stories, books in particular. My parents were wonderful about allowing me to cultivate this inner sense of self. So, while I got on fine with others, I mostly preferred the solitude of the woods—building forts, digging for musket balls, and pretending like I was in Star Wars or Indian in the Cupboard.

That is where the drive to tell stories came from. For years, ideas would rattle around in my head, and I’d spew them out at my parents and sister. Sometimes I’d talk so fast I’d fall asleep or nearly pass out. There is video evidence of this.

Writing was simply the natural progression of this constant inner-monologue. Writing has and always will be my catharsis.

As for science fiction, I grew up thinking lasers looked cool. I remember seeing Star Wars on the big screen when I was maybe 6, and it transformed my world. Now, I know science fiction is one of the best avenues of social commentary available to us. Re-reading Heinlein or Asimov is just simply the most fun anyone can have. For me, it’s like Voltaire in space.

2.      Which authors have served as inspiration for your writing, Red Rising or otherwise? 

Gene Wolfe, first and foremost. Without Severian the Torturer, the protagonist of Shadow and Claw, Darrow (the main character of Red Rising) would not exist. Wolfe was the first author I read who used an unreliable first person narrator. Also, Severian was this tortured, beautiful soul in the body of a killer. It touched me. Damn. I just got chills thinking about him and his journey.

Heinlein, Asimov, Niven, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, JK Rowling, JRR Tolkein, George R. R. Martin, Sophocles, Homer, Orson Scott Card, and a host of others were also influences.

3.      What did you most enjoy about creating the world in which Red Rising takes place?  What was the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect was making sure the world building didn’t interfere with the story. I wanted a lean beast. A razor sharp story that cuts to the point in dangerous fashion. But I accidentally created a world that enthralls me.  At the slightest provocation, I’ll dive down the rabbit hole and start talking about obtuse political theories and three-hundred year old historical events. My editor and agent (who also edits my work) pull me back out.

I really enjoy finding the political/economic justifications for policies. I’m a political wonk, so if I write that a singing a particular song is illegal for a particular sect of people, there has to be a reason. A reason not just in their history, but a reason for the law. The Golds are not stupid or capricious. They don’t provoke the lower classes just for shits and giggles. Laws aren’t made to piss people off. They are made to control. So how does a law that seems so vastly silly and unfair and likely to piss people off actually benefit Golds?

4.      Which book or books have you read recently that you just couldn’t put down?

I just read WOOL [by Hugh Howey]. Loved it. And Brian Stavely’s new epic, The Emperor’s Blades.

5.      At the beginning of the book, you introduce many terms, like “clawDrill,” “frysuit,” “Helldiver,” and others that are native to the world in which Darrow lives.  It sounds pretty fun to invent these things— how did you come up with them?

Mostly off the top of my head. People reading this will understand that after reading a thousand science fiction novels, you have a vast compendium of weird and bizarre knowledge to draw from. But I’m only 26, so I’ve got a lot of new weird stuff to learn.

6.      What space/ Mars/ scientific research did you do for the book, or is “Darrow’s” Mars based mostly in fiction?

The broad strokes are based mostly on fiction, yes. That said, I did extensive research on terraforming, moon orbits, gravity, etc. At its core though, Red Rising is more thematically science fiction than hard science fiction. So if I start describing, in lucid detail, the ins and outs of terraforming or RR’s technology, the story and pacing can quickly become compromised. That said, it’s hard to back off some of those details, because I find them so fascinating.

7.      Darrow discovers that he and his clan have been betrayed and that they are essentially slaves to the privileged and affluent ruling class.  Is Darrow’s struggle in the book inspired by any real life events?

I’ve been asked this quite a bit. Despite the current injustices that may burden our culture, Red Rising not meant to parallel our current situation or political climate. It’s intended to reflect the patterns of history. Think macro economics instead of micro.

I believe some humans will always seek to control humanity. But I also believe that humans have an innate spark in them than longs for freedom. It’s like a tide—in, out, in out. The cycle continues. Someone will rise to power, solidify control, and choke liberties till finally a breaking point is reached. Rebellion or revolution will follow. If it fails, another one will come along in time. If it succeeds, the cycle will eventually repeat.

8.      There is a sense of innocence and young love in the relationship Darrow shares with his wife, Eo, but at the same time, it’s difficult to think of them as 16-year-olds, given all they have gone through. Can you speak to the dichotomy between Darrow and Eo’s young age and the enormous responsibility placed on them as workers and members of this society?

This is one of my favorite elements of Red Rising. Darrow and Eo are sixteen, but they’re old in so many ways. Sure, they’ve had to work. That gives them responsibility. But that’s not what ages them. They’ve seen friends die in the mines, relatives sway from a noose, neighbors die in childbirth. They know most Reds die before thirty five. They must live fast.

What touches me most is what you mentioned, their innocence. Their love for each other is so fresh, so untouched by the hideous world around them because they are allowed to be sixteen with one another. That preserves their innocence. It fortifies their hearts. So when that is broken, how can the pieces ever be picked up?

9.      What advice might you offer to aspiring writers, in the science fiction genre, but also in general?

Keep writing. I may be young, but it took me seven books, 120 rejection letters, and lots of tears. Keep writing and take advice, but only from people you trust.

10.   Is there anything else you’d like to tell your readers about Red Rising?

Red Rising is the story of how a boy’s love can break an Empire, and how a girl’s dream can inspire a people. It is science fiction for people who may not ever plunge into Heinlein or Zelazny. I hope you like it, and if you do, there are two more coming.