Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson (born December 19, 1975) is an American fantasy and science fiction writer. He is best known for the Cosmere universe, in which most of his fantasy novels (most notably the Mistborn series and The Stormlight Archive) are set. He is also known for finishing Robert Jordan's high fantasy series The Wheel of Time.

Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson at the 2016 Lucca Comics & Games convention
Sanderson at the 2016 Lucca Comics & Games convention
Born (1975-12-19) December 19, 1975 (age 44)
Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.
Alma materBrigham Young University (B.A., M.A.)
Period2005–present
GenreFantasy, science fiction
Notable worksMistborn series
The Stormlight Archive
Final three books in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series
The Reckoners
SpouseEmily Bushman
Children3
Website
brandonsanderson.com

He created Sanderson's Laws of Magic and popularized the terms hard magic and soft magic systems. In 2008 Sanderson started a podcast with author Dan Wells and cartoonist Howard Tayler called Writing Excuses, involving topics about creating genre writing and webcomics.

In 2016, the American media company DMG Entertainment licensed the movie rights to Sanderson's entire Cosmere universe.[1]

Life and careerEdit

Early life and educationEdit

Brandon Sanderson was born on December 19, 1975, in Lincoln, Nebraska.[2][3] He has a younger brother, Jordan, and two younger sisters, Jane and Lauren. He became a passionate reader of high fantasy novels while a teenager, and he made several early attempts at writing his own stories.[4] After graduating from high school in 1994, he went to Brigham Young University (BYU) as a biochemistry major. He took a two-year leave of absence from 1995 to 1997 to serve as a volunteer missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was assigned to serve in South Korea.[4]

After completing his missionary service, Sanderson returned to BYU and changed his major to English literature. While an undergraduate, Sanderson took a job as a night desk clerk at a local hotel in Provo, Utah, as it allowed him to write while working.[4] One of Sanderson's roommates at BYU was Ken Jennings, who nearly ten years later became famous during his 74-game win streak on the American game show Jeopardy!.[5] Sanderson graduated with a B.A. in English in 2000, then continued on as a graduate student at BYU, receiving an M.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing in 2004.[6] While at BYU, Sanderson was on the staff of Leading Edge, a semi-professional speculative fiction magazine published by the university, and served as its editor-in-chief for one year.

In 2006, Sanderson married Emily Bushman, a fellow English major and teacher,[7] who later became his business manager.[4] They have three sons and reside in American Fork, Utah.[8]

Early writing careerEdit

 
Sanderson in 2007

Sanderson wrote consistently throughout his undergraduate and graduate studies, and by 2003 he had written twelve novels, though no publisher had accepted any of them for publication.[9] While in the middle of a graduate program at BYU, Tor Books editor Moshe Feder contacted him to say that he wanted to acquire one of his books. Sanderson had submitted the manuscript of his sixth novel,[10] Elantris, a year and a half earlier.[4] Elantris was published by Tor Books on April 21, 2005, to generally positive reviews.[11][12] This was followed in 2006 by Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first book in his Mistborn fantasy trilogy, in which "allomancers"—people with the ability to 'burn' metals and alloys after ingesting them—gain enhanced senses and control over powerful supernatural forces.

He published the second book of the Mistborn series The Well of Ascension in 2007. Later that year, Sanderson published the children's novel Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, about a boy named Alcatraz with a talent for breaking things. Alcatraz confronts a group of evil librarians who are bent on taking over the world. The first of his "laws of magic" were first published in 2007, with the second and third published in 2012 and 2013 (respectively).[13][14][15] In 2008, the third and final book in the Mistborn trilogy was published, titled The Hero of Ages, as well as the second book in the Alcatraz series, titled Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones. That same year, he started the podcast Writing Excuses with Howard Tayler and Dan Wells.[16] Brandon Sanderson is in the process of writing the sixth book of the Alcatraz series, called Bastille Versus The World Spire.

In 2009, Tor Books published Warbreaker, which originally appeared serially on Sanderson's website while he was writing the novel from 2006 to 2009. In the same year, the third Alcatraz book was published, titled Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia.

Wheel of Time dealEdit

Sanderson became well known in late 2007 after he was selected by the author Robert Jordan's widow and editor, Harriet McDougal, to complete the final books in Jordan's epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time. McDougal asked him to finish the series after being deeply impressed by his first Mistborn novel.[17] Tor Books made the announcement on December 7, 2007.[18] After reviewing what was necessary to complete the series, Sanderson and Tor announced on March 30, 2009, that a final three books would be published instead of just one. The first of these, The Gathering Storm, was published on October 27, 2009, and reached the number-one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction.[19][20]

In 2010, Sanderson published The Way of Kings, the first of a planned ten-book series called The Stormlight Archive. It achieved the number seven slot on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list.[21] Towers of Midnight, the second-to-last Wheel of Time book, was published just over a year after The Gathering Storm on November 2, 2010, debuting at number one on the bestseller list.[22] The fourth Alcatraz novel, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens, was published a month later on December 1.

In October 2011, he finished a novella e-book, Infinity Blade: Awakening, based on the action role-playing, iOS video game Infinity Blade, developed by Chair Entertainment and Epic Games.[23] In November 2011, he published a sequel to the Mistborn trilogy, Mistborn: The Alloy of Law. It was originally planned as a standalone novel set about 300 years after the original trilogy, but it was later expanded into a four-book series. It debuted at number seven on the New York Times bestseller list.

On August 31, 2012, Sanderson published a science fiction novella entitled Legion, followed by another short work titled The Emperor's Soul. A few months later, on January 8, 2013, A Memory of Light was published, the final book in The Wheel of Time series.[24] In 2013, Sanderson published two new young adult series. These series included The Rithmatist and the first of The Reckoners. series titled Steelheart[25][26] In March 2014, Words of Radiance, the second book in The Stormlight Archive, was published.[27]

Later that year, Sanderson also published the second novella in the Legion series, Legion: Skin Deep. In January 2015, the second book of The Reckoners, titled Firefight, was published. Nine months later, Sanderson published Mistborn: Shadows of Self as a direct sequel to The Alloy of Law. On November 16, 2015, Sanderson's agency (JABberwocky Literary Agency) announced that Sanderson officially sold over 7 million copies worldwide.[28]

On January 26, 2016, Mistborn: The Bands of Mourning was published as the sequel to Shadows of Self. On February 16, 2016, the third and final book of the Reckoners trilogy, titled Calamity, was published. In June 2016, Sanderson's first graphic novel White Sand—written with Rik Hoskin—was released. The series is planned as a trilogy.[29] The graphic novels are based on an original manuscript by Sanderson.[30] On September 6, 2016, the fifth Alcatraz book was published, called Alcatraz Versus the Dark Talent.

In October 2016, media company DMG Entertainment acquired the film and licensing rights to Sanderson's entire Cosmere universe.[31] As part of the deal, DMG committed to spending at least $270 million, which they estimate will cover half of the money needed to produce the first three film adaptations of Sanderson's books, and is fast-tracking the development of a script for a film adaptation of Sanderson's book The Way of Kings.[31] Sanderson will receive a minimum guarantee on each film, plus a "backend" giving him a percentage of each film's profits, which will allow him to earn several million dollars from the films.[31] On November 22, 2016, an anthology of Cosmere short stories and novellas was published, titled Arcanum Unbounded: A Cosmere Collection. The third book in The Stormlight Archive Oathbringer was published on November 14, 2017.[32]

The first book of the Defiant series, Skyward, was published on November 6, 2018.[33] The second book in the series, Starsight, was released on November 26, 2019.

TeachingEdit

Sanderson is adjunct faculty at Brigham Young University, teaching a creative writing course once per year.[34][35] Sanderson also participates in the weekly podcast Writing Excuses with authors Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and web cartoonist Howard Tayler.

CosmereEdit

The Cosmere is the name of the series and universe in which Elantris, Mistborn, Warbreaker, The Stormlight Archive, White Sand, and stories contained in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection are all set. This idea came from Sanderson's desire to create an epic-length series without requiring readers to buy a ridiculous number of books. Because of that, he hides connections to his other works within each book, creating this "hidden epic". He has estimated that the Cosmere sequence could conclude with at least 40 books.[36]

The story of the Cosmere is about a mysterious being called Adonalsium, who existed on a world known as Yolen. Adonalsium was killed by a group of sixteen conspirators, causing its power to shatter into sixteen different Shards, each of which bears immense power.[37] The sixteen people then took these Shards and traveled to new worlds, populating them with different systems of magic. In one case, the Shards Ruin and Preservation worked together to actually create a planet and its people (Scadrial, as featured in Mistborn).

Each Shard has an Intent, such as Ambition or Honor, and a Vessel's personality is changed over time to bring them more in-line with their Intent. Odium has killed—or Splintered—several shards. On Sel, he splintered Devotion and Dominion, accidentally creating the Dor, from which Seons and Skaze have emerged. On Roshar, Odium splintered Honor, and brought about the Everstorm and the True Desolation. He has also Splintered Ambition, in the Threnody system. A man named Hoid is seen or mentioned in most Cosmere books. He travels the so-called Shardworlds, using the people of those worlds to further an unknown agenda.[38]

In October 2016, the film rights to the entire Cosmere universe were licensed by DMG Entertainment.[31]

Hard and soft magic systemsEdit

The idea of hard magic and soft magic was popularized by Sanderson for world building and creating magic systems in fictional settings.[39][40][41] The terminology of hard and soft originate from hard and soft sciences, hard science fiction, hard fantasy and soft science fiction and both terms are approximate ways of characterizing two ends of a spectrum.[42][43] Hard magic systems follow specific rules, the magic is controlled and explained to the reader in the narrative detailing the mechanics behind the way the magic 'works', and can be used for building interesting worlds that revolve around the magic system.[44][45] Soft magic systems may not have clearly defined rules or limitations, or provide limited exposition regarding their workings, and are used to create a sense of wonder to the reader.[39][46][47]

Soft magicEdit

A soft magic system is vague and undefined, with any existing rules or limitations of said magic system never being explained.[48] It creates a sense of awe and deepens the fantastical setting.[49] The focus of these types of stories is not usually on the magic itself and the main character usually isn't a magic user.[42] The main conflict is not solved by magic; instead, it's solved by valuable lessons the main character learns throughout the course of the story. Often when magic is used to solve a problem, it will actually make the problem worse. In these types of stories, the reader is never certain of the dangers and wonders that the characters will encounter and the characters themselves never truly know what can and can't happen.[50]

Examples

Stories with soft magic systems include:

In general, most traditional fairy tales (i.e. the Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel etc.) contain elements of soft magic.

Hard magicEdit

A hard magic system has specific rules surrounding its use and can be used for creating interesting world building by affecting the culture, government or society at large within the fictional world. Clear costs and limitations are outlined for when magic is used and throughout the story, the reader eventually understands what they are and how they work.[50] This allows the magic to feel much more realistic; in some stories the magic may even be considered a type of science within the world and on some occasions may not even be called magic, such as bending in Avatar: The Last Airbender. This allows the characters to use magic to solve problems in logical and believable ways. Hard magic needs predictability and consistency; when magic goes wrong, it's from the characters' lack of knowledge, misuse, or mistake when using magic, not because the magic is inherently unpredictable.[48] Hard magic is a useful writing tool and careful application can enhance the character, world building and story plot.[49]

Hard magic does not have to follow the laws of science and there does not have to be an explanation as to why people are able to use magic in the first place. Hard magic is categorised by the reader's understanding of what the magic can do.[42]

Examples

Stories with hard magic systems include:

Hybrid magic systemsEdit

Most magic systems in popular fantasy books fall somewhere between the spectrum of hard and soft magic.[42][50]

Examples

Stories with hybrid magic systems include:

  • Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts: Students learn rules around magic; however, there are many spells, abilities and aspects in the rest of the magical world that are left unexplained. Spells rarely draw from the strength of the caster so it focuses more on limitations rather than costs of using magic.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra: The bending is a type of hard magic with specific rules and limitations. The world however has other less well defined types of magic, falling in the soft category, in particular the special powers of Avatars and energy bending
  • The Wheel of Time series: Mostly technical magic and it is fairly clear to the reader what the magic is able to do; however, there are many loose ends that imply something unknown or new around the corner.
  • The Witcher series: Magic is explained to require power drawn from nature, and often requires a certain incantation or magical items in order for a spell to be used. However, the energy and ingredients required for magic are often inconsistent, and some magic that is shown to require a lot of energy and exertion in one scene may be effortless in another. Some usage of magic seems intentionally inconsistent to further the sense of wonder in the Continent's magic system.

Sanderson's laws of magicEdit

Sanderson's three laws of magic are creative writing guidelines that can be used to create magic systems for fantasy stories.

  1. An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.[42]
  2. Weaknesses, limits and costs are more important than powers.[53]
  3. The author should expand on what is already a part of the magic system before something entirely new is added, as this may otherwise entirely change how the magic systems fits into the fictional world.[54]

BibliographyEdit

Sanderson has created multiple series with a wide variety of characters and stories. He writes mostly epic fantasy, but many of his series have science fiction elements in them. He has also written several science fiction short works, and he wrote the last three volumes of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series.

CosmereEdit

Sanderson writes many of his works in an overarching universe known as the Cosmere with series tending to be on different planets within that universe. The works, especially the magic systems within them, are often subtly connected, and some characters appear across the various series.[55]

SelEdit

The first released book in the Cosmere was his first novel, Elantris, set on the world of Sel. The short story, "The Hope of Elantris", was set during the events of the novel. The novella, The Emperor's Soul, is set in a different location on Sel from Elantris. This novella won the 2013 Hugo Award for best novella.[56]

ScadrialEdit

The Mistborn series, which consists of six novels and three short works as of December 2019, is set in the Scadrial system. The first three novels, The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages, follow the adventures of Vin and company as they defeat the Lord Ruler and deal with the aftermath of that choice.

The Alloy of Law—set on Scadrial 300 years after[57] the original Mistborn trilogy—was originally slated to be a standalone novel,[58][59] but Sanderson eventually expanded the story into four books, creating the Wax and Wayne series.[60][61] The second book, Shadows of Self, was released in 2015, and the third, The Bands of Mourning, in 2016. The Lost Metal, the final book in the Wax and Wayne series, is projected for 2020 or 2021.[62]

Two other novel series are planned, but Sanderson has not yet announced projected release dates for them.[63]

Several shorter works set on Scadrial have been released as well.

RosharEdit

The works in The Stormlight Archive are set on the world of Roshar. As of December 2019, three volumes of a projected ten have been released.[64] The Way of Kings establishes the world of Roshar, introducing several important characters: Kaladin, Shallan, Szeth, and Dalinar. Words of Radiance continues the story, expanding on the Voidbringers and the Knights Radiant. The third volume, Oathbringer, was released in 2017. The 4th entry, tentatively titled "The Rhythm of War", is set to be released on November 17, 2020.[65]

As with the Mistborn series, several short works set on Roshar have been released.

Other Cosmere worksEdit

A three-volume White Sand series was released as a series of graphic novels. Kenton, a young Sand Master from the Dayside of Taldain, must find out why most of the Sand Masters were killed while also avoiding assassins and trying to work with a mysterious woman from the Night side of the planet. The first volume won a 2018 Dragon Award for best graphic novel.[66]

Set on Nalthis, Warbreaker tells the story of Vivenna and Siri, two sisters caught up in political machinations that could destroy them and everything they hold dear. Another book set on Nalthis, tentatively titled Nightblood, has been announced, but no specific release date has been given.

Sixth of the Dusk—a novellette set on the world in the Drominad system—and Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell—a novella set in the Threnody system—contain more horror elements than the other Cosmere works. A collection of Cosmere short works, Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, was released in November 2016.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil LibrariansEdit

The Alcatraz series follows the adventures of Alcatraz Smedry as he matches wits with evil librarians bent on controlling the world. The first four volumes, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones, Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia, and Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens, were originally published by Scholastic Press. After the rights reverted to Sanderson, Tor Books picked up the rights and republished the first four volumes with new cover and interior art. The fifth volume, The Dark Talent, was released in 2016. A sixth volume has been announced for an unknown future date.

The ReckonersEdit

In The Reckoners series, a strange orbiting entity appeared in the sky above Earth, emitting a radiation that gave some superhuman abilities while also amplifying their selfishness. This caused these "Epics" to usurp governments worldwide and positions of varying power, enslaving and murdering normal humans. The main character, David, works with a small group called the Reckoners to find the weaknesses of Epics and assassinate them in order to free the world from the Epics. There are three novels (Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity) and one novella ("Mitosis") in the series.

LegionEdit

The Legion novella series tells the story of Stephen Leeds, a man gifted with multiple, distinct personalities (or "aspects") that help him solve various mysteries and puzzles. The aspects often manifest when he requires specific knowledge about something. Most of them are aware of the other personalities, and can even interact with each other. The novellas include "Legion", "Legion: Skin Deep", and "Legion: Lies of the Beholder".

DefiantEdit

A novelette, "Defending Elysium" (2008), was the first work released in this series. The first novel, Skyward, was released in 2018. It begins the story of Spensa, a young girl wishing to restore honor to her father's name after he apparently abandoned his flight while fighting the alien Krell. She has to deal with an academy faculty that doesn't like her and the seemingly-impossible task of finding a way to defeat the ever-present Krell. The second book, Starsight, was released in 2019. The third and fourth books in the series are expected to be released in 2021 and 2022, respectively.[62]

Selected awards and honorsEdit

Sanderson has been nominated for and also won multiple awards for his various works. See Writing Excuses for additional awards and nominations.

Year Organization Award title,
Category
Work Result Refs
2005 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Best Book Award,
Best Epic Fantasy Novel Award
Elantris Won [67]
2006 World Science Fiction Convention John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer -- Nominated
Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Best Book Award,
Best Epic Fantasy Novel Award
Mistborn Nominated [68]
2007 World Science Fiction Convention John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer -- Nominated
Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Best Book Award,
Best Epic Fantasy Novel Award
The Well of Ascension Nominated [69]
Polytechnic University of Catalonia UPC Science Fiction Award Defending Elysium Won [70]
LDStorymakers Whitney Awards,
Best Speculative Fiction
The Well of Ascension Nominated [71]
Whitney Awards,
Best Youth Fiction
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians Nominated
2008 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Best Book Award,
Best Epic Fantasy Novel Award
The Hero of Ages Won [72]
LDStorymakers Whitney Awards,
Best Speculative Fiction Award
The Hero of Ages Won [73]
2009 LDStorymakers Whitney Awards,
Best Speculative Fiction
Warbreaker Nominated [74]
2010 LDStorymakers Whitney Awards,
Best Speculative Fiction Award
The Way of Kings Won [75]
LDStorymakers Whitney Awards,
Best Novel of the Year Award
The Way of Kings Won [75]
Goodreads Goodreads Choice Awards 2010,
Best Fantasy of 2010
Towers of Midnight Won [76]
2011 DGLA David Gemmell Legend Award The Way of Kings Won [77]
LDStorymakers Whitney Awards,
Best Speculative Fiction Award
The Alloy of Law Won [78]
2012 Goodreads Goodreads Choice Awards 2012,
Best Fantasy of 2012
The Emperor's Soul Nominated [79]
2013 World Science Fiction Society Hugo Award,
Best Novella
The Emperor's Soul Won [80]
World Fantasy Convention World Fantasy Award,
Best Novella
The Emperor's Soul Nominated [81]
Goodreads Goodreads Choice Awards 2013,
Best Fantasy of 2013
A Memory of Light Nominated [82]
LDStorymakers Whitney Awards,
Best Young Adult—Speculative
Steelheart Won [83]
Goodreads Goodreads Choice Awards 2013,
Best Young Adult Fantasy of 2013
Steelheart Nominated [84]
2014 World Science Fiction Society Hugo Award,
Best Novel
The Wheel of Time Nominated [85]
DGLA David Gemmell Legend Award,
Best Novel
A Memory of Light Nominated [86]
Goodreads Goodreads Choice Awards 2014,
Best Fantasy of 2014
Words of Radiance Nominated [87]
Whitney Awards 2014 Whitney Finalists,
Speculative
Words of Radiance Won [88]
2015 DGLA David Gemmell Legend Award,
Legend Award
Words of Radiance Won
Goodreads Goodreads Choice Awards 2015,
Best Fantasy of 2015
Shadows of Self Nominated [89]
Goodreads Choice Awards 2015,
Best Young Adult Fantasy of 2015
Firefight Nominated [90]
2016 World Science Fiction Society Hugo Award,
Best Novella
Perfect State Nominated [91]
Dragon Con Dragon Award,
Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
Calamity Nominated [92]
2017 DGLA David Gemmell Legend Award,
Legend Award
The Bands of Mourning Nominated
2018 DGLA David Gemmell Legend Award,
Best Fantasy Novel
Oathbringer Nominated [93]
World Science Fiction Society Hugo Award,
Best Series
The Stormlight Archive Nominated [94]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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