In Jim C. Hines’s Libriomancer: Magic ex Libro, Book 1, librarian Isaac Vainio uses libriomancy to bring characters and items from books into the real world as he battles vampires, romances a dryad, and looks for missing mage Johannes Gutenberg.
On your blog, you recently complained that no one ever asks, “Why did you choose to make your protagonist a straight man?” So, why did you?
Oh, dang. Now I can never again say that nobody has asked me that question. Isaac is heterosexual primarily so I could play with the urban fantasy trope of the love triangle. I wanted to change up the dynamics of that triangle and explore something that went beyond splitting readers into “Team Isaac” and “Team Other-Person-Who-Will-Remain-Nameless-Because-Spoilers!” Isaac’s relationship with Lena is something I definitely want to explore over the course of the series. Every relationship has conflict and problems, and while I don’t have everything fully planned, I think it’s safe to say that it will take time for them to fully sort things out after the events of the first book.
Where did libriomancy come from?
An editor named Kerrie Hughes wanted me to write a short story that brought my fire-spider Smudge from my goblin books into the present-day world. I came up with libriomancy as a way to make that happen. In that original story, the libriomancer was much older and burnt out from his responsibilities. He and Smudge were sent to stop a madman from conquering a science fiction convention, which gave me plenty of opportunities to indulge my geekier side.
In Isaac’s world, some books are “locked” so libriomancers can’t use them. Isn’t that censorship?
David Brin’s Earth has a pinpoint black hole that falls into the Earth and starts devouring it from the inside. Michael Crichton’s Prey has hostile nanobots. Authors have come up with all sorts of ways to mess with humanity or wipe out the planet, and I’d prefer to keep most of those locked away. Is that censorship? That’s a great question. One of the things Isaac struggles with is whether some knowledge is too dangerous and should be suppressed. While only a select few have magical abilities in his world, there are no limitations on who could develop those abilities. It’s one thing to invent a nuclear weapon; it’s another to recognize that anyone, anywhere, could wake up with the ability to set off a magical nuke.
Would you want to be a libriomancer?
I’d love to be able to do what Isaac does. One of the core themes I was thinking about as I worked on the book is that magic is pretty darn awesome. There are dangers, of course. But I’ve read so much dark and bleak fantasy lately, and it makes me want to shake the whole genre and say, “Don’t you remember what it was like when you first started reading this stuff? When you sat there imagining how amazing it would be to have superpowers or use the force or fly or whatever?” I love that sense of wonder, and if I could have real magic in my life, I’d be all over that.