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Steven Brust

Steven Brust
Brust on drum at Cats Laughing reunion concert, April 2015
Born Steven Karl Zoltán Brust
(1955-11-23) November 23, 1955
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.[1]
Occupation Writer, musician, poker player
Ethnicity Hungarian
Citizenship American
Genre Fantasy, science fiction
Notable works Vlad Taltos series
Khaavren Romances

Steven Karl Zoltán Brust (born November 23, 1955) is an American fantasy and science fiction author of Hungarian descent. He is best known for his series of novels about the assassin Vlad Taltos, one of a disdained minority group of humans living on a world called Dragaera. His recent novels also include The Incrementalists (2013), with co-author Skyler White.

As a drummer and singer-songwriter, Brust has recorded one solo album and two albums as a member of Cats Laughing. Brust also co-wrote songs on two albums recorded in the mid-1990s by the band Boiled in Lead.


  • Writing career 1
    • The Dragaeran books 1.1
    • Short stories 1.2
    • Style and literary theory 1.3
      • Writing style 1.3.1
      • Literary theory 1.3.2
      • Motifs 1.3.3
  • Musical recordings and performances 2
    • Cats Laughing 2.1
    • A Rose for Iconoclastes (1993) 2.2
    • Songs from The Gypsy (1995) 2.3
    • Other performances 2.4
  • Award nominations 3
  • Trivia 4
    • References in other media 4.1
    • Book title nicknames 4.2
  • Bibliography 5
    • Dragaera 5.1
      • Vlad Taltos 5.1.1
      • The Khaavren Romances 5.1.2
      • Stand-alone 5.1.3
      • Short stories 5.1.4
    • The Incrementalists 5.2
    • Other novels 5.3
    • Other short stories 5.4
    • Convention chapbooks 5.5
    • Introductions by Brust 5.6
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Writing career

The Dragaeran books

The Vlad Taltos series is set on what is apparently another planet, in an Empire mostly inhabited and ruled by the Dragaerans, who are humanoid but have such differences as greatly extended lifespans and heights averaging about 7 feet. Referred to as "elfs" by some humans, they refer to themselves as "human". The Dragaeran Empire controls an area that is 'enclouded', and does not greatly concern itself with the rest. Vlad Taltos is one of the human minority (known by Dragaerans as "Easterners"), which exists as a lower class in the Empire. Vlad also practices the human art of witchcraft; "táltos" is Hungarian for a kind of supernatural person in folklore. Though human, he is a citizen of the Empire because his social-climbing father bought a title in one of the less reputable of the 17 Dragaeran Great Houses. The only Great House that sells memberships this way is, not coincidentally, also the one that maintains a criminal organization. Vlad proves surprisingly successful in this organization. Despite being a human and a criminal, he has a number of high-ranking Dragaeran friends, and often gets caught up in important events.

Brust has written 14 published novels in the series, which is proposed to run to nineteen novels – one named for each of the Great Houses, one named for Vlad himself (Taltos), and a final novel which Brust has said will be titled The Final Contract. The first three novels resemble private-eye detective stories, perhaps the closest being Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. The later novels are more varied than the first three. Though they read like fantasy, there are science-fictional explanations for some things.

Brust has also written another series set in Dragaera, the Khaavren Romances, set centuries before Vlad's time. Since Dragaerans live for thousands of years, many characters appear in both series. It is partly an homage to Alexandre Dumas, père's novels about the Three Musketeers, and is five volumes long, following the pattern of Dumas' series. The books are presented as historical novels written by Paarfi of Roundwood, a Dragaeran roughly contemporary with Vlad. Paarfi's old-fashioned, elaborate, and highly verbose writing is explicitly based on Dumas', though with a dialogue style that is, at times, based on Tom Stoppard's wordgames in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (according to Pamela Dean's introduction to Five Hundred Years After).

The two series are finally brought together in the thirteenth novel in the Vlad series, Tiassa, which can also be viewed as the sixth novel in the Khaavren series. Tiassa comprises what are in effect three related novellas, each told in a different style and connected by a common theme. The first section reads like the first three novels in the series, with a first-person narration by Vlad but including Khaavren's son, Piro; the second section has a different viewpoint character in each of its chapters; and the third section is narrated by Paarfi in the style of the earlier Khaavren Romances, with Khaavren as the viewpoint character and interacting with Vlad.

Short stories

Most of Brust's short stories are set in shared universes. These include Emma Bull's and Will Shetterly's Liavek, Robert Asprin's Thieves' World, Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Terri Windling's Borderland Series.

Style and literary theory

Brust was a founding member of a Minnesota-based writers' group called The Scribblies, which included Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Nate Bucklin, Kara Dalkey, and Patricia Wrede. He also was a founding member of the Pre-Joycean Fellowship.

Writing style

There is a certain amount of variation in the writing style amongst the Taltos novels, as well as between Brust's various series. Brust uses a different narrative approach in almost every novel in the Taltos series. Some of these approaches are more purely stylistic and have minor effects on the actual story-telling; some are profound and involve the point of view of characters whom the reader never expected to get to know so well.

Further, as the writing of the Taltos novels has spanned over two decades, they have been influenced by events in Brust's own life. A fascination with the Mafia – subsequently brought into a somewhat shocking perspective by the murder of a friend – profoundly influenced his storylines, as did the breakup of his marriage. The events and arguments of his books, especially Teckla, are acknowledged by Brust to be influenced by his lifelong interest in Marxist theory and practice. Brust's parents were activists in the Socialist Equality Party and he continues to identify as a "Trotskyist sympathizer," linking to the SEP-affiliated World Socialist Website on his personal website.[2][3]

Lastly, Brust has a decided knack for slipping absorbing mysteries into the minor details of his stories; mysteries that tend to fascinate his readers, once they notice them, and often form the kernel around which later books coalesce, even though their resolution still springs upon the reader unexpectedly when it finally comes.

Literary theory

In contrast to contemporary academic studies in literature, Brust has put forward what he called "The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature":

All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what's cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don't like 'em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in 'em, 'cause that's cool. Guys who like military hardware, who think advanced military hardware is cool, are not gonna jump all over my books, because they have other ideas about what's cool.[4]

Brust elaborated, "The novel should be understood as a structure built to accommodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff."[2]


The character Devera, usually a cute brown-eyed girl of about nine, appears as a motif in all of Brust's novels. In the Dragaeran books her name is Devera. She is the (future) daughter of another character and seems to be able to appear anywhere in time and space. In Brust's non-Dragaeran books her appearances are usually brief and not always obvious.

Musical recordings and performances

Brust is a singer-songwriter and drummer who has recorded a solo album, and who has played in the Minneapolis-based folk rock band Cats Laughing, and with the Albany Free Traders,[5] and Morrigan.

Brust also co-wrote two songs on the 1994 album Antler Dance by the band Boiled in Lead, as well as many of the songs on BiL's 1995 multimedia CD Songs from The Gypsy.

Cats Laughing

Cats Laughing released two albums with Brust as drummer, in 1988 and 1990. Brust also contributed as a songwriter and vocalist. The 1990 album Another Way to Travel features cover art that depicts the band members and a vehicle known as the Catmobile, the band vehicle for Cats Laughing. The car, owned by Brust, was a Cadillac ambulance, painted yellow, light blue, and dark blue, with murals.

On April 3, 2015, Brust performed as part of Cats Laughing in a reunion concert at the Minicon 50 science fiction convention in Bloomington, Minnesota.[6][7] A live CD and a DVD with documentary footage are expected to follow.

A Rose for Iconoclastes (1993)

A Rose for Iconoclastes
Studio album by Steven Brust
Released 1993
Genre Folk pop
Length 47:18
Label Beer & Pizza, Inc.
Producer Adam Stemple
Steven Brust: A Rose for Iconoclastes
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [8]
A Rose for Iconoclastes

is Brust's only solo album, released in 1993.[9] The album was produced by Adam Stemple, a fellow fantasy writer and member of Cats Laughing. Twelve of the album's fourteen songs were written or co-written by Brust.

AllMusic reviewer Steven McDonald wrote, "Brust serves up a decent folksy stew with a few blasts of sarcastic humor, salted with performances from a handful of well-known friends."[8] According to McDonald, "the writing tends to be stronger in the lyrical department than in the compositional area," and Brust's "satirical material tends to work better than the more serious material."[8]

The album's title is a reference to "A Rose for Ecclesiastes", a short story by Brust's literary hero and mentor Roger Zelazny.[10]

Two songs from this album, "I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago" and "Backward Message," were featured by Doctor Demento on his syndicated program, receiving radio airplay on shows from 1994 through 2009.[11] "I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago" also appeared on an anthology, Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes #3, later part of a limited-edition CD boxed set.[11]

Track listing
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Marion"   Steven Brust 3:37
2. "I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago"   Steven Brust, lyrics by Nate Bucklin 3:01
3. "Till My Baby Comes Home"   Adam Stemple, Jay Koelsch, & Steven Brust 3:41
4. "Backward Message"   Steven Brust 2:57
5. "Brother and Sister"   Steven Brust & Lorraine Garland 1:53
6. "Neil Gaiman Pastiche #27"   Steven Brust 3:08
7. "If I Should Happen to Leave"   Nate Bucklin & Steven Brust 2:49
8. "She's Gone"   Adam Stemple & Steven Brust 4:04
9. "War Is Bad"   Steven Brust 2:08
10. "Stream of Consciousness Blues"   Adam Stemple 1:42
11. "Drift"   Steven Brust 2:42
12. "Little Beggarman"   Traditional 2:12
13. "Latex Man"   Steven Brust 3:55
14. "The Visit"   Steven Brust 9:29

Songs from The Gypsy (1995)

Boiled in Lead: Songs from The Gypsy
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [12]

The 1995 enhanced CD Songs from The Gypsy, by the band Boiled in Lead, featured songs written by Brust and Adam Stemple, as well as the full text of Brust's novel The Gypsy.[2]

AllMusic reviewer Steven McDonald called Songs from The Gypsy "an example of Brust's serious songwriting working well."[8]

Conversely, a critical review by AllMusic's Roch Parisien emphasized that "Songs from The Gypsy represents a failure of multimedia integration. As an audio CD, the disc serves up ten songs, ranging from acoustic trad to bluesy rockers, that ironically form a less cohesive whole than previous Boiled in Lead releases. The better numbers (like the title track) incorporate Celtic rock with Hungarian, Middle Eastern and other interesting worldbeat influences."[12] Parisien found the album's integration with the novel unsuccessful, in that the novel's 17 chapters were presented as "scrollable text only, which also intersperse some 80 song lyric excerpts that you can play from hot buttons. Annoyingly, you must flip back to a main menu index to move from one chapter to the next."[12] Parisien concluded, "Despite Brust's engrossingly poetic, impressionist story inspired by Hungarian folk tales and revolving around three Gypsy brothers, the project does not overcome the primary limitation of bringing literature to the computer screen, that being that the computer offers an inhospitable environment for viewing literature-length text."[12] The review, written in 1995, predated a wave of popular e-book readers that began to emerge about ten years later.

Other performances

Brust has performed dramatically in several Shockwave Radio Theater productions, notably Closing Ceremonies (aka The Fall of the House of Usherette) and PBS Liavek.

Award nominations

Brust's short story "When The Bow Breaks" was nominated for the 1999 Nebula Award, although it did not reach the final ballot.[13]

Five Hundred Years After was nominated for the 1995 Locus Poll Award (Best Fantasy Novel). Other novels nominated for various Locus Poll Awards were Brokedown Palace, The Gypsy, Agyar, and Freedom & Necessity.[14]

Dragon was a finalist for the 1999 Minnesota Book Awards in the Fantasy & Science Fiction category.[15] Freedom and Necessity was a 1998 finalist for the same category,[16] while The Phoenix Guards was a finalist in 1992.[17]

Brust discovered in August 2006 that he had made the New York Times extended bestseller list at number 30 with Dzur. He mentioned his ambivalence on this subject online.[18] SciFi Wire posted an interview with Brust after Dzur came out.[19]


Brust playing poker at the annual 4th Street Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis, 2012

References in other media

Brust's book Dragon is the subject of an argument in the webcomic Penny Arcade.[20] Tycho elaborates on "Fine Distinctions"[20] that same day.

Brust's band, Cats Laughing, appears in issue No. 5 of a Marvel comic book called Excalibur. Brust is the only member of the band who is both seen onstage and named. Emma Bull also appears, but names everyone in the band except herself.[21] Brust was seen again in a one-shot special issue, Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem,[22] in which the mutant superhero Shadowcat attends a Cats Laughing concert in Edinburgh and mentions previously having seen the band at Windycon.

Book title nicknames

Brust is known for his propensity to give his books alternate titles for his own amusement. These have cropped up in numerous interviews and online forums, starting with "Jarhead" for Jhereg.[23] Examples include:

Brust does not have nicknames for collaborations out of respect for his collaborators, stating "It's one thing to not want to take myself seriously, and another thing to—I want to take them seriously."[23]


Brust's novels have been translated into German, Russian, Polish, Dutch, Czech, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Bulgarian.


There are two series set in the world of Dragaera, namely The Khaavren Romances and the Vlad Taltos novels. They are set in different periods in the world, but some characters are common to both series.

Vlad Taltos

There are currently 14 novels in the series (19 are planned).

  1. Jhereg (1983)
  2. Yendi (1984)
  3. Teckla (1987)
  4. Taltos (1988)
  5. Phoenix (1990)
  6. Athyra (1993)
  7. Orca (1996)
  8. Dragon (1998)
  9. Issola (2001)
  10. Dzur (2006)
  11. Jhegaala (2008)
  12. Iorich (2010)
  13. Tiassa (2011)
  14. Hawk (2014)
  15. Vallista, forthcoming[25]

Chronological order of novels:

  1. Jhereg, prologue (1983)
  2. Taltos (1988)
  3. Dragon, main chapters (1998)
  4. Yendi (1984)
  5. Dragon, interludes (1998)
  6. Tiassa, section 1 (2011)
  7. Jhereg, main chapters (1983)
  8. Teckla (1987)
  9. Phoenix (1990)
  10. Jhegaala (2008)
  11. Athyra (1993)
  12. Orca (1996)
  13. Issola (2001)
  14. Dzur (2006)
  15. Tiassa, section 2 (2011)
  16. Iorich (2010)
  17. Tiassa, section 3 (2011)
  18. Vallista, forthcoming[25]
  19. Hawk (2014)

Omnibus volumes:

  1. The Book of Jhereg (contains Jhereg, Yendi and Teckla)
  2. The Book of Taltos (contains Taltos and Phoenix)
  3. The Book of Athyra (contains Athyra and Orca)
  4. Dragon & Issola (contains Dragon and Issola - SFBC hardcover)
  5. The Book of Dragon (contains Dragon and Issola - Tor paperback)
  6. The Book of Dzur (contains Dzur and Jhegaala)

The Khaavren Romances

The series consists of three works (published as five books), and has been completed.

  1. The Phoenix Guards (1991)
  2. Five Hundred Years After (1994)
  3. The Viscount of Adrilankha, published in three volumes:
  4. The Paths of the Dead (2002)
  5. The Lord of Castle Black (2003)
  6. Sethra Lavode (2004)
  7. Stand-alone

    Short stories

    So far, at least one short story set in the Draegara universe has been published. It is available online at

    • "The Desecrator" on (March 2011)[26]

    The Incrementalists

    • The Incrementalists (2013) – with Skyler White[27][28]
    • "Fireworks in the Rain" on (September 2013).[29] An original short story about some of the same characters.
    • "Strongest Conjuration" on (August 2014).[30] An original novelette (by Skyler White only) taking place directly after the events of the novel.

    Other novels

    • To Reign in Hell (1984)
    • The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars (1987)
    • Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille (1990)
    • The Gypsy (1992) – with Megan Lindholm
    • Agyar (1993)
    • Freedom & Necessity (1997) with Emma Bull
    • My Own Kind of Freedom (written 2005, released[31] under the Creative Commons license February 8, 2008[32]), a novel based on the Firefly television series

    Other short stories

    Convention chapbooks

    • In 1986, Brust was a Guest of Honor at the Per Ardua Ad Astra science fiction convention in Toronto, and he contributed the Vlad Taltos short story "A Dream of Passion" to the convention chapbook.
    • Brust included "Klava with Honey" in Eeriecon Chapbook #4 for the 2005 EerieCon convention. This very brief excerpt was initially part of the novel Dzur. He could not attend the convention for medical reasons.
    • He also contributed "Chapter One" for Eeriecon Chapbook #6 which was featured at EerieCon 9, 2007.

    Introductions by Brust

    • In 1987, Tor Books published the gamebook Dzurlord (A Crossroads Adventure in the World of Steven Brust's Jhereg). Brust wrote the introduction for this book, which introduced readers to the world of Dragaera and its inhabitants.
    • Tor also published The Three Musketeers in paperback in 1994. Brust introduced the edition, saying that this translation (anonymous, originally published in 1888) was his favorite.
    • Brust contributed the introduction for Manna from Heaven. Wildside Press published this collection of stories from Roger Zelazny in 2003.


    1. ^ May, Hal; Trosky, Susan M. (April 15, 1988). Contemporary Authors: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Writers in Fiction, General Nonfiction, Poetry, Journalism, Drama, Motion Pictures, Television. Gale. p. 72.  
    2. ^ a b c Olson, Chris (February 3, 2003). "Interview: Steven Brust". Strange Horizons. Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
    3. ^ Brust, Steven. "About". Dream Cafe. 
    4. ^ a b Walton, Jo (Jan 20, 2010). "A conversation with Steven Brust about writing the Dragaera books". Tor Books. Archived from the original on 2013-08-24. 
    5. ^ "A short visual trip down musical memory lane" (Albany Free Traders publicity flyer). Geri Sullivan blog. February 1, 2007. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
    6. ^ Minnesota Science Fiction Society. "Minicon 50 – The Gold Edition". Archived from the original on 2014-11-16. 
    7. ^ "A Long Time Gone". Beyond Conventions. Archived from the original on 2014-11-16. Retrieved November 15, 2014. 
    8. ^ a b c d McDonald, Steven. reviewA Rose for Iconoclastes at AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
    9. ^ Brust, Steven (1993). A Rose for Iconoclastes (CD). Beer & Pizza, Inc. (BMI).  
    10. ^ Martini, Adrienne (May 2004). "An Interview With Steven Brust". Bookslut.  (Interview in which Brust notes that a picture of Zelazny is on his desk.)
    11. ^ a b Captain Wayne. "Steven Brust". The Mad Music Archive. Archived from the original on 2012-07-22. 
    12. ^ a b c d Parisien, Roch. reviewSongs from the Gypsy at AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
    13. ^ "1999 Nebula Final Ballot". DPS Info AwardWeb. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
    14. ^ "Index of Literary Nominees". Locus Index of Science Fiction Awards. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
    15. ^ "MBA Winners 1999" Minnesota Book Awards Past Finalists and Winners - 1999
    16. ^ "MBA Winners 1998" Minnesota Book Awards Past Finalists and Winners - 1998
    17. ^ "MBA Winners 1992" Minnesota Book Awards Past Finalists and Winners - 1992
    18. ^ "I have a new first name". Steven Brust blog. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
    19. ^ "Dzur Is A Savory Meal". SciFi Wire ( August 24, 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-11-14. Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
    20. ^ a b "Fine Distinctions" . Penny Arcade. June 14, 2006.
    21. ^ "Steven Who?". Tenser Said the Tensor blog. August 15, 2006. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
    22. ^ Claremont, Chris; Adams, Arthur (1989). Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem. Marvel.  
    23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Robinson, Tasha (2002). "Steven Brust doesn't take himself seriously--but his readers do" (224). Science Fiction Weekly ( Archived from the original on 2002-01-26. Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
    24. ^ Dyer-Bennet, David (2012). (#2)"Jhegaala"Book Note: Steven Brust, . Ouroboros: DD-B’s Booknotes. 
    25. ^ a b Brust, Steven (July 31, 2014)
    26. ^ Brust, Steven (March 2, 2011). "The Desecrator".
    27. ^ "Forthcoming Books". Locus Online. Archived from the original on December 29, 2012. Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
    28. ^ "The Incrementalists" (Official book website for The Incrementalists). 
    29. ^ Brust, Steven (September 5, 2013). "Fireworks in the Rain".
    30. ^ White, Skyler (August 26, 2014). "Strongest Conjuration".
    31. ^ "My Own Kind of Freedom". Dreamcafe Brust blog. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
    32. ^ Brust, Steven (February 5, 2008). "Firefly novel". Dreamcafe Brust blog. Retrieved December 29, 2012.

    External links

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