This mini-site serves as companion to Moonbound, the new novel by Robin Sloan, published by MCD×FSG.

Where the f ———  is this supposed to be?

And why do they have horses

For as long as I can remember, this simple, profane question has haunted my ambitions for fantasy.

Westeros is my canonical example. Obviously, George R. R. Martin’s bloody game plays out on a different planet with a different climate — yet somehow, this planet has humans on it, enacting a perfectly congruent medieval fantasy. There are dragons, sure … and also there are horses, and swords, and beer. The setup posits a sort of perfectly parallel biolog­ical and cultural evolution. All of the elaborate world­building is therefore founded on a premise that is nonsen­sical.

As a reader, I can get over this. I have done so many times — easily, eagerly. Earthsea, Krynn, whatever The Wheel of Time’s world is called … I’m game. I’ll admit, I appreciate it when writers knit their creations into the skein of reality — I’m thinking of Philip Pullman, his matrix of worlds — but if a nonsen­sical premise opens the door to something fun and inter­esting, well, great.

It turns out my charity does not extend to myself. As a writer, I cannot, in fact, get over it. This was a surprising discovery, and a vexing one, because I have long coveted the pleasures and possi­bil­i­ties of the fantasy mode.

Many times I sat and schemed, sketched and dreamed, and every time I hit the same wall; the same question; where the f —  is this supposed to be??

What I wanted most, of course, was the map. If I have a home genre, it’s not “fantasy” or “science fiction”, but rather “books with a map on the first page”. I wanted to play in that sandbox; I wanted to create on that scale.

A fresh map: desired. An impos­sible planet: rejected. That’s an inter­esting equation to balance. I wanted to find a way to unreality, in reality.

Because setting a story in Berkeley, California, the year 13777, is simply not cool.

The hunt began, for ways to make it cool.

One obvious cheat is isekai, virtual reality — but, in my opinion, that renders a story as weight­less as “it was all just a dream”. Why bother? (Ah, but maybe if people die in the game, they die in real life, too … No thanks, I’ve read that one already.)

What else? Roll the tectonic clock backward or forward a hundred million years — voila, there’s your fresh map. But humans (and horses) are about as likely to exist on Earth in a hundred million years as they are on an alien planet. Tolkien’s trick—in which Middle-earth is actually Europe’s primor­dial past — simply doesn’t pencil.

What options remain? At least one, and you’ll find it deployed in Moonbound. Yes, I balanced the equation to my satisfaction, in a way that is, I believe, both narra­tively resonant and geographically plausible.

My thanks to Earth for providing the opportunity.

Maybe there’s an entirely imagined landscape in my future, a Sloansteros, if I can get over my profane hangup. I do under­stand that nobody cares about this except me. Readers would suspend their disbelief for Sloan as happily as Sloan suspends his for Le Guin, whose arch­i­pelago exists absolutely nowhere in reality.

Yet maybe “nobody cares about this except me” iden­ti­fies the very core of what makes a writer distinct. Maybe it ought to be protected, even amplified, rather than relaxed and smoothed over. I am genuinely unsure!

For now: Moonbound’s map awaits, right there on the first page. You might very well consider its contours and ask, “Where the f —  is this supposed to be?” If so, just wait — your question will be answered.

First published: June 2024
Last updated: June 2024