Chris McMahon is an Australian writer of fantasy and science fiction (You can check out my review of his book The Calvanni (The Jakirian Cycle, Book 1) here)
Tell us a little about yourself
I am a Speculative Fiction writer based in sunny Brisbane, Australia. I have a lovely wife, Sandra, and three children, Aedan, Declan and Brigit.
Being able to escape into the realm of the imagination was handy growing up as the youngest in a family of eleven, and that grew into a love of fantasy and science fiction, storytelling, and the written word.
There is a special satisfaction in being able to share the worlds I create with my readers and have them enjoy the journey. For me, as a writer, that’s the ultimate destination.
To have people allow you that special place in their minds is truly a privilege.
Also an engineer, I am lucky to be able to apply this specialist knowledge and mindset to my writing. When it comes to technology and the mechanics of world building, I can bring an obsessive thoroughness that pays dividends in the depth and texture of the worlds I create, and in the scientific credibility of the concepts integral to my science fiction.
What I create definitely has an edge of unique inventiveness.
What did you read as a child?
Everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much. For most of my childhood — apart from what I read at school — it was television movies that were the storytelling medium I absorbed.
Reading was not encouraged by my parents, and I was given no books as a child. It was only when I was old enough to get myself to a local council library that this world opened up to me, and I found myself drawn to speculative fiction and adventure novels, including historical fiction. So I guess I am a late starter to literature, not to storytelling though. I absorbed the elements of storytelling quite early through film, and my imagination leapt to fill the gap. As a young child, I was always in some adventure in my own mind, filled with rich variety of creatures, characters and challenges of my own invention.
What writers or films would you say have influenced you the most?
My favourite writer is David Gemmell – a British Heroic Fantasy author that unfortunately died way too young in 2007. I love Gemmell’s books, and continue to return to them again and again.
Last year I read through all of David Gemmell’s novels in publication order (around thirty books), then ended by reading White Knight Black Swan – the only one I had never read before.
Getting hold of White Knight Black Swan has been a personal quest for me. Over the years, I have spent many hours hunting through second hand book stores here in Brisbane hoping to come across a copy. Eventually I realised this was pretty much nigh on impossible, since WKBS had such a low publication run (and only in the UK I believe). So I bit the bullet and purchased a copy from a rare book dealer, then put it away until my birthday. It was not cheap, but it was worth it. Waiting each year for his new book used to be one of my greatest pleasures, and I knew this would be the last time I read a new David Gemmell book. The time came, and I read it as slowly as I possibly could. It was a bittersweet pleasure.
Tell us a little about The Jakirian Cycle. How did the idea for the Jakirian Cycle come about?
The Jakirian Cycle is a three-book fantasy series – The Calvanni, Scytheman and Sorcerer. It’s Heroic Fantasy set on the world of Yos, with unique ecology and twin suns, where all metal is magical and control of magic is the basis for power. The series follows Cedrin and Ellen as they face deeper and more hidden threats. Pursuing them is Raziin, a vicious renegade who seeks to claim the ultimate power of the Spear of Carris for himself. Eventually they must face a final challenge as the most ancient secrets that bind their three bloodlines are revealed.
In The Calvanni, first of the epic Jakirian Cycle, the cavern-dwelling Eathal have emerged to wreak their vengeance on mankind. The fate of innocent thousands rests on finding the Scion – lost heir to the fallen Empire. The Temple has outlawed the ancient practice of Sorcery. Its Druids dominate religious and secular power, but are ill-equipped to resist an unknown evil once contained by the Emperors.
The Jakirian Cycle has gritty, fast-paced action with strong themes of Heroic Fantasy. The setting includes fantastical magical artefacts such as glowmetals; ceramic weapons and an array of new creatures. The characters travel through both urban and rural landscapes, with both a depth of history and a layering of cultures.
The Calvanni starts during Storm Season on the world of Yos, when the twin suns eclipse and the planet is plunged into bitter cold. It is usually a time of quiet, when the wise lock their doors, praying for the demons of the red sun-Goddess Uros to pass them by. Yet deep in the Caverns of Maht, Hukum, the Sorcerer-Lord of cavern-dwelling Eathal, plots his vengeance.
Cedrin, a street-wise calvanni (knife-fighter), is summoned to the secret underground tunnels of the Brotherhood of the Night. There, Cedrin is forced to join in a rebellion against the rulers of his native Athria. Caught between the threat of death and his suspicions that all is not what it seems, he must try to keep his friends alive and escape.
Ellen, daughter of the assassinated Athrian Sarlord, is named as heir before his death. She struggles to assert herself as the new ruler, little suspecting the civil war that will be unleashed on Athria within days.
Ellen’s father warned her never to reveal her hidden powers of Sorcery, but as Hukum’s minions close in, it seems she has little choice.
How much time did you spend planning The Calvanni / The Jakirian Cycle?
This is a difficult question to answer. The project has been boiling away in various forms for decades. My work on it has been sandwiched in between study and my engineering career, so it’s difficult to pin it down. I’ve also given the books a number of major rewrites. But if I added it all up, end to end, and included the time I spend imagining the world and the story? Probably at least a year of solid work in planning, if not years. Scary really.
Was there a particular inspiration for the magic system you devised within the novels? How much of this aspect did you plan before writing and how much evolved as you wrote?
Not really. I wanted to create something different, and I spend a lot of time staring into space imagining all the possibilities. In the end, I came up with a system that had three branches of magic, each with its own core magical essence.
The Druids, who follow the suns and moons, gather essence from the heavenly bodies, so their power varies by time. Each different druidic essence has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Moon Druids are good healers, but have no power during the day. Uros Druids, who follow the red sun, are very powerful during the time of Storm Season when the red sun, Uros, eclipses the yellow sun, Larus, but their powers are tuned to destruction. The talent to draw on druidic essence is fairly common, and pretty even to both men and women, although the Druidic Temple is male-dominated.
The Priestess’ (and Priests’) use Earth essence, which is drawn from sacred sites. They can be awesomely powerful, but only within the precincts of their own temples, or in special places. The talent to draw on Earth essence is almost exclusively feminine, with some exceptions.
Then there are the Sorcerers, the most powerful and most feared of them all. They have innate power they draw from the realm of Fire. Their power does not depend on time or place, and they are almost always stronger than either a Druids or Priestess’. The power of a Sorcerer though, is granted through bloodlines, so it is a recessive, inherited trait, and quite rare.
At the time of the Jakirian Cycle, the world of Yos is coming out of a period of a magical Purge, during which the Druidic Temple came to dominance by hunting down and destroying those with the power of Sorcery.
I pretty much worked out the whole magic system before I started writing, but then again that’s what I do. I tend to plan the story before I write.
What was your inspiration for the variety of exotic creatures in The Calvanni?
From the outset, I wanted to create something different with the world of Yos, something unique. Not just another neo-European fantasy world of swords and sorcery — not that there’s anything wrong with that, I love reading those novels — I just wanted to make my world stand out as unique.
When I was putting the world of Yos together, I happened to be reading David Attenborough’s Life on Earth. That book really opened my eyes up to evolutionary influences. So I began to think how the environmental forces of my new world might shape and direct the evolution of its life.
The world of Yos has two suns and two moons. The planet itself orbits the two suns (or more correctly the centre of mass of the binary pair). Because they are all on the same orbital plane, it means that the two suns will regularly eclipse. When they do, the amount of solar radiation hitting the planet decreases dramatically, causing a regular cooling period. How life on the planet deals with that is the major driving force for evolution on Yos. Basically there have been two approaching to surviving the sudden cold, either taking shelter and getting out of the weather, or an adapted acceleration of metabolism that is designed to counteract the cold. The humans on Yos evolved with the second approach, having a mechanism called the Heat, which burns reserves to counter the cold. Whereas humanity’s cousins, the Eathal, took the first approach. The Eathal, like many other creatures, took to the vast caverns beneath Yos’ mountain ranges (carved out by drakons over long time periods), where an entire ecosystem took hold.
I also played around with the idea of a whole branch of evolution descended from six-legged creatures, leading to birds with arms and wings, as well as an intelligent avian species.
I spend a lot of time of the worldbuilding of Yos, and the setting just grew and grew. I think it helps to have that depth of background, as it adds to the texture of the story.
Can you tell us about your next project?
My SF novel, The Tau Ceti Diversion, has pretty much been my labour of love for the last two years, and I’m excited to say that it’s just been released through Severed Press! The launch will be here in Brisbane on 22nd September.
The Tau Ceti Diversion is an action-driven mystery in a science fiction setting.
The first interstellar exploration vessel Starburst sets out from Earth in 2157, but this is no NASA science mission, it’s funded by the mega-corporation ExploreCorp. A planet suitable for colonisation means not only massive profits, but a chance for Commander Janzen to restore his family’s exulted position. But is the executive turned space-explorer, Janzen, equipped to deal with a real crisis?
On approach to the planet Cru, the Starburst is hit with a surge of deadly radiation that kills most of the crew and disables the ship. It’s a fight for survival as sub-Commander Karic struggles to get control of the fusion drive before the ship turns into a giant hydrogen bomb.
Karic rises to the challenge as he takes command and leads the survivors to the planet Cru. The thirst for exploration and the quest for alien first contact soon go head-to-head with corporate greed and the need for profit at any cost, as Janzen and Karic clash.
As if surviving on an alien planet wasn’t hard enough, they soon discover that Cru is already occupied . . . and its once vast civilisation is on the threshold of a momentous change.
The story has been with me for a long time, so I’m really excited that this novel will set sail into the big wide world later this year.