Miles – or sometimes, Christian – Cameron is a true Renaissance man. Writer of many genres, from historical to fantasy to science fiction, good with a sword, dashing in armor and knowledgeable on just about every topic under the sun. A conversation with him leaves you full of new ideas, and if you’re lucky enough to attend one of his readings, you will want to go out and buy the book immediately without knowing much about it.
We at Grimdark Magazine were able to pin him down for a chat about his new book, Against All Gods, an epic fantasy set in the Bronze Age, and out now from Gollancz in the UK, writing and research.
A handful of flawed mortals set themselves against a pantheon of selfish, venal, and very powerful gods.
GdM: Why set your fantasy in the Bronze Age? What inspired you to pick the period, and were there perhaps any archaeological sites or finds that especially drew you to it?
I was inspired by the nearly untouched potential of our real Bronze Age, from the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad to the Mayan legends and of course, Ancient Egypt. There are fantastic civilizations in the distant past, and yet it’s all… wilder. Bigger. More colourful. I was literally awestruck to stand in the Lion Gate at Mycenae a few years ago and look at the incredible stonework, but I feel the same way about Egyptian art, Hittite pantheons, and the whole world of Mesoamerica. I wanted it all…
GdM: What were some of your biggest challenges writing and researching for a story set in the Bronze Age?
Not to belabour the obvious but there’s a real lack of written record, and I like to know how ancient systems worked, even when I’m making things up. On the other hand, there’s a great deal of really good (and bad) archaeology, and this IS fantasy; I could use the existing record as inspiration, but I had a pretty clean slate for creation and worldbuilding.
GdM: Was there a random tidbit of information you found during your research for Against All Gods that really surprised you?
Yes, and I made it into a major martial arts theme; the existence of Minoan/Myenaean bull-leapers and their possible links to a Bronze Age martial art. That was an amazing discovery, or at least that’s my reading of it. But at the same time, I was constantly wowed at museum after museum by the incredible quality of the art, where in Ur or Babylon or Egypt or Greece. My favourite tidbit? A hefty proportion of all the trees on earth were cut down in the bronze age, because bronze axes were really efficient.
GdM: I know you do reenactment as well as writing, is there any weapon in particular from this new series that you have recreated or would like to in the future?
Yes, I’d really like someone to reconstruct a Minoan/Mycenaean long bronze sword. They are as long as Medieval longswords, my favourite weapon. I’d really like to know about their durability and utility. There certainly are a great many of them in the archaeological record.
GdM: Where do you begin to construct a story, with characters, plot or setting?
I’m a big fan of Aristotle’s method. I start with characters; characters have motivations, motivations create plot. Once the characters are well-established in my head, they kind of write themselves. Once I reach that point, I often stop, go back and do a serious ‘world build’ as if I was starting an RPG campaign. In fact, sometimes I run an RPG campaign because other people bouncing around my world building ask all the wrong questions and make me think and create more.
GdM: Theology plays an important role in your story. Where do you find your inspiration to construct your religious system and where do you start crafting it?
I’m a big fan of theology and cosmology. My favourite DM used to say that ultimately all fantasy depends on the quality of the cosmology behind it. This isn’t always true, but it shaped my method. Mind you, and I hope this isn’t a spoiler, AAG exists in the same ‘hermetical multiverse’ as Cold Iron and the Traitor Son books, so I knew, ultimately, what the rules and the ‘upper limit’ of my worldbuilding was.
The religious system itself is loosely based on the combined cosmologies and legends of Egypt, the Hittites, the Bronze Age Greeks, with inputs from Ancient India and what I could glean of Mesoamerica. I enjoyed counter-posing the absolute tyranny of the Gods with a fully-formed society of ethical pacifists; some people believe the Hrapan/Indus Valley culture of the Bronze Age were the for-runners of modern Jains. That was fun. And, I hope, really different for readers. Pacifists in a bloody world of constant strife? How do they survive and even prosper? Answer… carefully and cautiously.
GdM: You have written widely across historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction. Is there any particular era or cultural background you’d still like to set a story in?
I pretty much like everything. If I could find the research materials, I’d love to do something in a setting like Han or Tang China, or Moghul India. I’ve always been fascinated by Tamerlane. And the Byzantine Empire. And… well, everything. Usually, I read a book by someone else and suddenly a whole idea pops into my mind and I’m off…
GdM: What books or other media have been filling your creative well recently?
As you may have noticed from my social media feed, I’ve been going deep into Ancient Greece lately because I helped create and run a major reenactment at Plataea in Boeotia, Greece (check out our website at www.plataea2022.com with hundreds of new photos on the way.) So you’re probably not asking about my 11th re-read of Herodotus, or my fascination with a superb book by Stella Spantidaki on Textile Production in Ancient Athens, although I assure you this is my standard reading material.
But, as I always tell people, the way to write good fantasy is to read other people’s good fantasy. So I recently read A Drowned Kingdom by P.L. Stuart, which was superb; a nice break from the Ancient world as his is very firmly set in a late medieval world. And then I tripped over R.J. Barker’s The Bone Ships and I’m still sailing those seas; incredible stuff. Inspiring, beautiful world building. And as Grim and Dark as you could possibly want. And I have Ed McDonald’s Daughter of Redwinter on my bedside table; next up, as soon as I finish a research book. I love Ed’s work and I know it will thrill me, and also provide relief from the research.
But if people are looking for books that thrilled me with their research, I’d recommend The Inquisitor in the Hat Shop by Federigo Barbierato. The Venetian Inquisition… not what you expected… and Agents of Empire by Noel Malcolm has the material for fifty different novels. More incredible stuff. Shall I go on? Hey, you asked.