Bantam/Spectra, February 2003
I resolved never to write a sequel to Swordspoint.
Right after this book first appeared in 1987 and readers began asking "What happens next?" my standard answer was, "Oh, there’s a diptheria epidemic the following year, wipes out half the city. The End."
Silly me. I was afraid of a lot then: afraid of looking like I was repeating myself, or like I was copying other writers or trying to be too commercial . . .
I missed them, though. I missed my city, which was, after all, made up of my favorite bits and pieces of every other city I’d walked in or read about: Shakespeare’s London, Georgette Heyer’s Paris, Damon Runyon’s New York, for starters—and the New York I was living in then, where former students could still live in cheap apartments of decayed splendor near Columbia University, sharing a block with criminals and artists and immigrants and scholars.
And I missed my mad, bad boys. Just once, I thought, won’t do any harm. I’ll write about them right after the novel’s end, but I won’t be repeating myself because I’ll take on issues that the novel doesn’t touch: Richard & Alec’s failure to deal with the unpleasant role of women in their society, and a little bit of Alec’s family history. I wrote "The Swordsman Whose Name was Not Death," and it was published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1991 and reprinted in Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Fifth Annual Collection.
I did try to write other short stories, but these characters don’t fit comfortably into that format, or I don’t (witness "Red Cloak," the story that started it all, and the first piece I ever sold—it was published in 1982 by Stuart David Schiff in the Stephen King issue of his magazine Whispers! The novel went through many false starts as I slavishly tried to copy the style of the short story before giving up in disgust or enlightenment.). I realized, though, that I was hooked, and by 1992 I had started a new novel that begins some fifteen years after this one with the Mad Duke Tremontaine deciding to train his niece Katherine as a swordsman. Shortly thereafter, my public radio career really took off, with a national series called Sound & Spirit, so I put that book on the back burner.
Meanwhile, I’d gotten together with Delia Sherman, another novelist, who admitted to having read Swordspoint more than once. We started to play "What happens next?" if only to amuse ourselves on long car trips—but, both being writers, we decided it would be fun to get it all down, so together we wrote the novella "The Fall of the Kings" for Nicola Griffith & Stephen Pagels’ 1997 anthology Bending the Landscape: Fantasy. It was reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Eleventh Annual Collection. That novella became the seed of our 2002 novel, The Fall of the Kings. It takes place some sixty years after this book, but many of the people from Swordspoint appear in cameo as ghosts or elders or legends to their descendants. Its protagonists are an idealistic University scholar and a troubled young nobleman with interesting relatives. As a writer of historical fiction, Delia was particularly interested in plumbing the country’s history to see what sort of past would have evolved into Swordspoint‘s present, and, as a self-described "recovering academic," she was interested in slamming the University. But no matter how much she begged and argued, I still refused to name the city.
The short story "The Death of the Duke" came to me as a sort of fantasia, a meditation on the ending of one set of lives and the beginning of the next. "Holy smokes!" (or words to that effect) exulted the editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden; "I’ve got the Missing Link!" It appears in his 1998 anthology Starlight 2, and was reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Twelfth Annual Collection.
I watch myself changing as I get older. I watch the world changing around me, too. Neither of us should be surprised, but sometimes we are anyway. I’ve stopped worrying about repeating myself. I am eager to explore these transformations—and what better laboratory than an imagined city that already comes complete with its own past and possible future?
So I give up. I love this place, I love these people, and I want to find out what happens next.
Excerpted from Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner Copyright © 2003 by Ellen Kushner . Excerpted by permission of Spectra, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.