The Big Idea: Martha Wells

Writers sometimes take the long way around to find “home” — the world and characters where they find the most stories to tell. Martha Wells has found her home with the world she’s created in Stories of the Raksura, Volume Two. Here’s how she found it.


In many ways, the Raksura books are the books I’ve always wanted to write, it just took me writing a bunch of other books to figure it out.

I always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was a weird, lonely little kid in elementary school haunting the public library and writing and illustrating (in crayon) my Godzilla fanfiction. I’ve always been drawn to fantasy that was outside the marketing box, maybe because my first experience with the genre was weird horror comic books and the pulp paperbacks the library had stuffed into the back corner. I never liked imaginary worlds that had boundaries. I never wanted the characters to know what was on the other side of the mountains or the sea; I wanted to think there was a whole planet out there to explore. (Preferably a planet with multiple moons, maybe rings, and some unlikely microclimates.)

I liked Tolkien, but I loved Andre Norton better, her fantasy and her space opera and the way she combined them, psychic powers that were almost like magic and magic that was almost like technology. I loved the way she would start out with the characters in a strange world and then take them somewhere else even stranger. I wanted to write stories that captured that feeling.

With the Raksura books, I think I finally got there. I’ve tried to create a world that feels limitless, that has room for any amount of stories, where anything could happen. And where I could write about anything, say, matriarchal bisexual shapeshifting flying lizard people, to my heart’s content. It’s a world with a huge variety of strange species, and there’s lots of adventure, exploration, ancient ruins, cultural conflict, assigning blame, fighting, running for their lives, flying for their lives, and trying not to get eaten.

Besides the adventure aspects, the books are also about finding a family, even if it’s a huge, sometimes dysfunctional family, and fighting to keep it together against all odds. (Because the weird lonely little kid I used to be really loved those kinds of stories.) They’re about trying to find a place to call home, learning to trust, and learning to cope with your past, and what happens after you find the thing you’ve always been looking for. It just happens that all this takes place with characters who are, you know, matriarchal bisexual shapeshifting flying lizard people.

Stories of the Raksura vol. II: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below contains one long novella and one longer novella/short novel. Both expand the world of the Raksura further, and also show it in more detail. The Dead City takes place before the first four Raksura books (The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, The Siren Depths, Stories of the Raksura vol I: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud)  and The Dark Earth Below is set afterward.

Hopefully, readers will find this world almost as much fun to read about as I do to write about it, and I’ll be able to keep expanding it in the future.


Stories of the Raksura vol. II: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

21 Comments on “The Big Idea: Martha Wells”

  1. With the Raksura books, I think I finally got there. I’ve tried to create a world that feels limitless, that has room for any amount of stories, where anything could happen.

    The sheer diversity of races, peoples, cultures and societies in the three worlds is amazing. It reminds me of things like Talislanta, and McAuley’s Confluence novels, and the various hominids of Ringworld, and more.

  2. I can’t wait to read this! That’s one of the things I really appreciated about reading “The Cloud Roads”–seeing Moon’s sense of loneliness and how it permeated his interactions with everyone else.

    In addition to the Raksura books, people should definitely check out her earlier stuff–the Ile-Rien books were wonderful and “Wheel of the Infinite” is that rare book with an “older woman protagonist” (with sexy young lover).

  3. Martha Wells has a great sense of fantasy and adventure, and her stories always contain a refreshing take on the genre. I can’t recommend them enough, and I can’t wait to get into this second volume of stories. The book is now sitting on my to-be-read pile tempting every time I see it, but I’m waiting for certain life things to settle down before I dive into these stories.

  4. Oooh! I’m literally in the middle of reading Stories of the Raksura 1, and had NO IDEA that 2 was in the works, much less out there! Thank you for writing more about them!

  5. Now I not only want to read this book, but to go back and re-read my Andre Norton collection.

  6. I ADORE these books and am thrilled this is out. Absolutely brilliant world building.

  7. I adore Martha’s books. She excels at what I consider the three most important parts of writing great sf: fascinating, original world-building, complex characters I fall in love with, and plots I can’t predict. Once you read one of her books, you will not stop.

  8. I am midway through The Goblin Emperor even though I started it only last night. Thank you for the recommendation but it’s your fault that my weaving is sitting unwoven and I will be leaving at the very last moment to pick up my daughter from the bus.

  9. I preordered this and it came a little early, so it’s sitting at home partially read (I had to read the novella that was the next step in the lives of Indigo Court; haven’t had a chance yet to go back for the prequel novella). It is excellent, as all of Martha’s stories are.

    I think your post captures it well. The world has that feeling of something new and strange – probably fascinating but possibly dangerous – around every corner. Plus people who have highly recognizable and relatable goals and fears and friendships and frustrations but are matriarchal bisexual shapeshifting lizard people. With disemboweling claws. What’s not to like?

  10. Love the Raksura books! I am so, so looking forward to this.

    I really like the other stuff she’s written, but this series is her best work.

  11. I like the Raksura books, but I’m terribly sorry there are no more Ile-Rien books.

  12. What I also love is how the Raksura culture (hives?) gives a space for so many interesting – and sometimes prickly – characters, which leads to interaction and drama. :)

  13. *happily flailing* I just finished a reread of the books and yaaaaaaaay more of “The Moon and Stone Show”! (Does anyone else visualize Richard Dean Anderson’s “Jack O’Neill” whenever Stone is facepalming over the latest stupid mess he’s got to clean up?)

  14. Lizard people, huh? And I’ve been describing them as “sort of like gargoyles.”

    Now that the two books of novellas are done, I’m rather hoping for another novel.

  15. Her novel, City of Bones, was one of my introductions to the world of Sci/Fi fantasy and started my fascination. Tis been a great 20 years. I have read and enjoyed every book by her since. Can not wait to read this one.

  16. There’s a line in The Tale of Indigo and Cloud that shows part of why I love these books:

    It was sometime later, after everyone had settled down and the Arbora had provided a meal of fresh grasseater, flatbread, baked roots, citrus melon, and the baked snails that they brought out for every special occasion even though the warriors wouldn’t eat them, that Cerise finally took a deep breath and felt her spines actually relax. It had been a month of nothing but tension, and she was glad to see it done.

    That detail about the food that is brought out for every special occasion yet (almost) nobody but the cook actually LIKES rings so very, very true. The people in the stories are people, with traditions that don’t necessarily make sense, with histories that are hinted at (and they don’t always even know), with a landscape that isn’t a monoculture of people or landscape or vegetation or language or culture and feels at least planet-sized, if not larger. And I’ll rot-13 this one, which made me smile and smile: Fhcre-tvnag perngherf unir gurve bja rpbflfgrzf!

  17. The Raksura series is brilliant. The only other sci fi that even comes close Is the Traviss Wes’Har series. Female authors do such a great job with characters and culture.

  18. The only disappointing thing, about this story collection coming out now, is that my work schedule is so intense there is no time to read the new stories instantly, which is what I long to do.

    I have loved all the books and stories in the series so far, they are deep and complex in themselves but Ms Wells always leavens the ground of the three worlds with sparkling little details that give you the sense that the worlds are even richer and more alive than you imagine.From frogs as big as a groundlings who will point out predators, to sentient trees who think of flying bisexual lizard people as a nuisance whose voices tickle and keep the children awake, there is always something fascinating around the corner.

    Crossing my fingers we get many more novels and stories, as many as Ms Wells deigns to put out.