Published March 6, 2013
Woods author’s debut novel nominated for Nebula Award
By Jeremy Selweski jSelweski@candgnews.com
Writing can be a lonely, isolating endeavor, but one of its greatest rewards is that it allows the writer to explore the depths of their imagination and bring readers into an exciting new world.
Saladin Ahmed knows this duality better than most, as it’s how he has made his living for the last several years. Ahmed is a published fantasy author who recently seized the opportunity to expand his creativity to a larger template with the publication of his first novel, “Throne of the Crescent Moon.”
“Fantasy is my bread and butter; it’s what I grew up with,” said the 37-year-old, who lives in Huntington Woods with his wife and two young children. “It’s a great escape from a world that can be a pretty crummy place at times. But at its best, fantasy can also help us see our own world a little differently and even learn something meaningful about it.”
“Throne of the Crescent Moon” has proven to be meaningful among fans of the genre, earning countless accolades from readers and critics alike. It was also recognized as the best debut novel of 2012 at the Reddit Fantasy Awards, was named a finalist for the 2013 William L. Crawford Fantasy Award and, most recently, was nominated as a finalist for Best Novel at the prestigious Nebula Awards.
While Ahmed admitted that he has “a little bit of anxiety about tooting (his) own horn,” he also feels greatly honored that his work has been so well-received.
“A lot of writers say that they don’t care about awards and things like that, but 90 percent of them are lying,” he said. “The vast majority of writers care about getting positive attention for their work. It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers, and as a writer, it’s very gratifying to know that the world is listening.”
The Nebula Awards are voted on and presented by active members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Founded in 1965, the organization currently has more than 1,500 members, among them many of the leading writers of the science fiction and fantasy genres. Awards are given each year for the best eligible novel, novella, novelette, short story and script. This year’s winners will be announced at an awards ceremony held in San Jose, Calif., from May 16-19.
“Throne of the Crescent Moon,” which is the first book in a trilogy, is an adventure story set in the Middle East that focuses largely on the quest of Dr. Adoulla Makhslood. As Ahmed described, Adoulla spent 40 years of his life hunting monsters and saving innocent people with little to show for it. Now he is feeling old and worn down and ready for retirement, but he learns that the family of the woman he loves is in trouble, as is his kingdom, which has been struck by a series of brutal murders. Forced to confront these challenges, Adoulla must look deep within himself to make one last push to save his true love from imminent danger and his homeland from bloody ruin.
“The whole premise is pretty different from most fantasy novels,” Ahmed explained. “There’s still plenty of magic and sword fighting going on, but rather than a story about a young protagonist in a European setting, this is a story about an old protagonist in a Middle Eastern setting. I think that really sets it apart.”
Lev Grossman, a fantasy novelist and book critic for Time magazine, was thoroughly impressed with “Throne of the Crescent Moon” and feels that it is deserving of a Nebula Award.
“When you read Ahmed’s writing,” he said, “you understand that you’re reading someone who truly knows and understands the tradition that he’s working in. And as a result, he can take it forward to places that it’s never been. He plays in the same epic fantasy zone as writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock or George R.R. Martin, but his world has its own special flavor to it, its own unique complexity. I recognized and loved ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ instantly, but at the same time, it was like nothing I’d ever read before.”
Betsy Wollheim — a publisher for the New York-based DAW Books, which published “Throne of the Crescent Moon” — was immediately struck by the quality of Ahmed’s writing and the vividness of his characters and setting.
“Only an extraordinary writer can pull off writing about an aging or old main character,” said Wollheim, who edited the novel. “Despite his age and physical aspect, Saladin’s protagonist is a true hero that anyone would want to identify with. Saladin manages to weave together all these different elements — the aging main character, the exotic setting and the old-fashioned adventure — so beautifully because of the extraordinary quality of his writing.”
While the early part of his writing career was mostly dedicated to short stories and poetry, Ahmed is now focused on more long-form storytelling. He is currently working “furiously” on the second book in “The Crescent Moon Kingdoms” series, which does not yet have a title or release date. Still, he pointed out that one of his jobs as an author is to make sure all that hard work doesn’t show in the finished product.
“Writing a novel is a ton of work, but you don’t want people to see that,” Ahmed said. “Especially in fantasy, you want people to be able to escape into this other world without thinking about all the work that went into it. You want it to be a seamless story that follows through on all of its grand ideas. Ideas are nice, but it’s the execution that really matters here. That’s what makes you a real writer.”
For more information on Saladin Ahmed or ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon,’ visit www.saladinahmed.com.