25 Years of Spectra: A SECRET ATLAS (2005) by Michael A. Stackpole


A bit of fantasy for Spectra’s 20th year: Michael A. Stackpole’s A Secret Atlas, the first book in the Age of Discovery trilogy, as discussed by the author himself.

The Secret Atlas was a departure from what I’d done in the past. Unlike a lot of fantasy novels, I shifted from a Eurocentric vision to the Far East. I made that choice because I wanted to get out of the same ruts so many authors allow themselves to be trapped in. As I tell writing students, if you don’t think you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough to improve. If you don’t improve with each project, you’re losing ground to those writers who do.

As with many novels, this book grew out of a fun concept. What I wondered was simple: what if people who got so good at doing something literally got supernaturally good at it. Any athlete who was said to be ‘in the zone’ would, in fact, be tapping into magick and be that much better than anyone else. Once that gets established as an idea, you start applying it to other professions, and things take off. What about a concubine being that skilled? A swordsman? And especially, in the case of these books, a cartographer. When he draws a map, does he draw what the world looks like or, if he is very skilled, does the world conform itself to what he draws?

With that as the core concept, I started doing all the other stuff I enjoy. I layered in politics and warfare, weird creatures, odd ambitions and heroism. As the series progressed through Cartomancy and The New World, I also started playing more with gods, goddesses, cosmology and reality on levels I’d never tried before. That contributed to creating a series that went places I never expected it to go, but where I was happy to see it end up.”

–Michael A. Stackpole, July 2010


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