Rising Up: Pierce Brown on Shaping Our World Through Stories

Pierce Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of the Red Rising series, an epic trilogy about power and vengeance that won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Science Fiction in 2015 and 2016. His new book, Iron Gold, is set a decade after the events of the Red Rising books and sees its former heroes grappling to mend a galaxy they helped break. Here Brown shares his insights on fighting for change and creating a better life and a better world with books.

They say: Write what you know. For those of you who have read my books, you might realize what a hilarious proposition that is on the surface. For those of who haven’t, my publishing debut came in 2014 in the form of Red Rising, the first in a trilogy of novels. The novels tell a story about a young man fighting for a better future for his people, on Mars. There are spaceships, caste struggles, racial oppression, family feuds, political back dealing, and space knights falling from the sky in an iron rain.

Obviously I’ve yet to go to Mars. I’ve yet to betray a family member with a dagger in the back—that debacle of the soap in my sister’s lactaid-free milk notwithstanding. And I’ve not yet fallen from orbit in a military assault. But I have felt the helplessness that comes with growing up without a defined purpose in a world that seems too big and too uncaring to notice me.

When I sat down to write Red Rising, I was twenty-two, out of college, living above my parents garage, dumped by my long-time girlfriend, shuffling back and forth between minimum wage jobs, and facing more than 100 rejections from literary agents who did not think my writing was up to snuff. I had no direction. I was disillusioned, and I feared I didn’t have a place in the world.

So I wrote what I felt, and I wrote what I wanted be—a character that had a mission to make the world better for the people he loves.

That was the heart of Red Rising. And in the writing, I found my own agency galvanized. I left home for Los Angeles, with my car filled to the brim with my possessions and started a new chapter in my life. With the trilogy, I was able to carve out my own story.

But as I finished the trilogy, I found myself disillusioned yet again. Not by myself, but in the direction I saw the world moving. I once thought that the arc of history did indeed bend toward justice. But that thesis has been challenged of late.

Over the past years we’ve witnessed the revival of nationalism, the breaking down of international cooperation, the stoking of racial tension, the marginalization of already marginalized groups in our society, and the ascendance of reactive populism. I hardly think it is my place to presume to tell you what or how to think about the politics of our world. My experience is starkly different from each of yours. But I do believe it is the responsibility of authors to ask questions about their own times.

Red Rising ended on a triumphant note. Liberty prevailed over tyranny. I thought the story was done, wrapped up tidy with a little bow. I was wrong, because liberty is not permanent and unassailable. It is not our destined, final state of being. Liberty is a tenuous state that must be nurtured by constant care, defended by dogged struggle, and replenished by new generations. That is the thesis of my newest addition to the Red Rising series, Iron Gold.

Iron Gold is about the struggle to preserve liberty in a bleak landscape, where heroes of the past look suspiciously like villains and the inspiring dream of liberty has been hijacked by politicians, dirtied by social strife, and muddled by interest groups and competing factions.

How in such a world can good prevail? On the back of one man? Certainly not. It takes a village—a host of disparate people who, despite their conflicting views and disparate pasts, must band together to find their own purpose, to replenish the dream of liberty with their own sacrifices and come together for the common good.

That coming together, that unity, does not happen in a vacuum—and seldom does it happen as romantically as it does in a Hollywood movie. I believe it happens internally, in our own lives and stories before it can happen within society as a whole. In order for my characters to make change in the world around them, they must first find their own internal compasses. It is no easy task. Elements in their world want to hijack that internal search, and bend them against their will to become instruments of harm. In our own world, media, advertisements, politicians wish to stir our insecurities, our prejudices, our inner fears so that they can take our money, our votes, our voice. I encourage you, as I encourage my own characters, to resist the temptation to let others define you, to be shaped by the machinations of the world and instead find the books and voices that uplift your spirit and remind us all that we are all part of this great experiment of liberty. For if it fails, so do we all.

Pierce Brown‘s Iron Gold hits bookshelves on January 16. Add it to you Want to Read shelf here.

posted by Hayley
on January, 10