I hate to admit it but Steelheart is the first book I have read by Brandon Sanderson. That being said it will not be my last. There is no doubt that readers of all ages will love it. Taken into an alternate reality where people with superpowers (known as Epics) splinter the world into their own domains, one young man loses the person he loves most. In that moment, he discovers that this Epic, Steelheart, can be hurt and he is determined to hurt him again.
BTW...Brandon’s answers below are a transcription from audio he recorded specifically for Big Shiny Robot. Enjoy!
What was your inspiration for Steelheart?
I was on book tour, running late to meet my editor in Pittsburgh. My phone was dead, I’d forgotten my charger, and was rushing along, when someone cut me off in traffic. I got very annoyed at this person, which is not something I normally do. I’m usually pretty easygoing, but this time I thought: “You’re lucky I don’t have super powers, guy-who-just-cut-me-off, because if I did, I’d totally blow up your car right now.” Then I thought: “That’s horrifying that I would even think of doing that to a random stranger!”
Anytime that I get horrified like that makes me realize that there’s a story there somewhere. So I spent the rest of that drive thinking about what would really happen if I had super powers. Would I go out and be a hero, or would I just start doing whatever I wanted to? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing? I came up with a world where people become what I call Epics. They gain supe rpowers, but they use them in the wrong ways, like I was tempted to do when that car cut me off. That spun me into the story. How would normal people fight against these individuals with awesome powers? How would the country deal with them?
What type of world did you set out to build in Steelheart?
Even though I feel like Steelheart is in the action movie genre, there’s still a slight post-apocalyptic feel to it. I wanted a unique take on this sort of world, so I avoided empty wastelands in favor of populated areas—crowded and busy, not empty and desolate. I picked a population center, Chicago, and went from there. In a moment of passion, the Epic called Steelheart turned the entire city into steel, immortalizing and fossilizing it, like the husk of something dead. People still live there. They’ve built houses on top of the steel, or beneath the steel. They’re burrowing in it, using some of the technology to make steel catacombs beneath the city. The world is in chaos, and even though Steelheart, as the emperor of Chicago, rules the city with an iron fist, at least here there’s some order. It’s oppressive, terrible order, but it is order nonetheless. I hope all this makes for a fun, futuristic, yet post-apocalyptic city that feels different from anything you’ve read before.
With so many superhero comics running for so long, did you ever run into problems with originality in writing the book?
Again, Steelheart is an action book. It deals less with the superhero tradition and more with the story of ordinary characters trying to take down Steelheart. Still, I am evoking some of those superhero concepts, so I did run into some of the issues you’re talking about.
For example, I found that a lot of potential names for superheroes and super villains have been used a dozen times by DC or Marvel over the years, so coming up with original names was difficult. Finding original uses of powers was also very difficult for the same reason. I had to scratch into nooks and crannies to discover things I hadn’t seen done extensively before.
I do enjoy the comic form, but—outside of some of the indies—I find I don’t often get complete storylines in the way that I would like to. One of the things I want to do with Steelheart is to create a complete story with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. I do hope that I’ve been able to clear some new paths and add something distinctive to the genre. At the end of the day, though, I was just trying to tell an awesome story.
Some people may say that stories about superheroes are predominantly highly-colorful, action-packed, but most of all a visual experience - how can you get over this with a prose novel? What does prose bring to the table that “comics” can’t - or don’t?
Excellent question. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and have a few of my own theories about the novel as form. What can novels do that films can’t? The trick is to highlight what a novel can do. For example, more so than in visual media, novels allow you to really dig into character thoughts, emotions, and motivations. Steelheart is told from the first-person viewpoint of the main character David. In doing that, I can really dig into who David is as a character and have the way he describes the world inform us about him. Granted, a good comic is going to give you some of this, but there just isn’t a lot of space for words. The more thoughts you add in comics, the more the reader just wants you to move on with the story. There are different strengths to the different mediums of storytelling, but one of the strengths of the novel is its ability to showcase character.
Assuming that Steelheart is on screen at some point (I think it will be)- is that something you’re looking towards? Something you’d want to script, or just sell the rights and allow the different medium to tell the tale its own way?
I feel the best film adaptations are those that are more strongly adapted. I love when filmmakers are respectful of the source material, but when they try to stick too closely to it, I feel that the films aren’t as good. I would love to be involved in making a film, but not having practiced the screenwriting skillset as much as I have novel writing, my instincts are to find people I trust to make a good film and allow them to use their talents to adapt the novel.
For more on Brandon Sanderson check out his official site: http://www.brandonsanderson.com/
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