Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Working out the title for my 23rd novel

by Rob - May 3rd, 2015.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

Over on Facebook, re: the title roulette that’s been going on for months now related to my 23rd novel, Jonathan Fine wrote, “Quantum Night is better. Don’t second guess yourself.”

At this point, we’re on fourth- or fifth guesses. ;)

My own working title for the book was Thoughtless, which I still think is ideal: besides psychopaths, the book also deals with what are called in real academia “Philosopher’s Zombies” — beings who appear fully conscious but have no inner life; they’re quite literally thoughtless, and that results in much of the behavior in the world that we metaphorically call thoughtlessness.

And the word Thoughtless has the word ought, as in ethics, embedded in it, and the book is also very much about utilitarian ethics. But that title didn’t pass muster with Ginjer Buchanan, my US editor at the time, who thought it was a little soft, and a better title for a romance novel.

Then Hugo and Nebula finalist Nick DiChario, upon hearing the premise, said, man, you gotta call it The Philosopher’s Zombie, which I loved and Ginjer signed off on.

But Ginjer retired and my new editor at Ace, Jessica Wade — as well as my Canadian editor, Adrienne Kerr — had real misgivings about the “zombie” word, and asked for a rethink.

I came up with Quantum Night, from a line in the then-current draft of the book (“two ships that passed in the quantum night”), and everyone liked that … until the copy chief at Ace raised a red flag, saying, yeah, that’ll work great in the SF section, but it won’t likely bring in mainstream readers unfamiliar with my work. The issue was brought up with publisher Susan Allison, and she agreed with the copy chief. A few titles were suggested internally at Ace, none of which clicked, and I was asked to go back to the drawing board.

I came back with Psychopath State, which had a pleasing double meaning — the state (government) was behaving psychopathically in the novel, and one of my main characters had discovered a quantum-superposition state that correlated with psychopathy.

Marketing departments on both sides of the border like the word “psychopath,” as does my Hollywood agent, Vince Gerardis, but I put the brakes on that title when people on Facebook pointed out that Psychopath State sounds like the worst-ever college in the US state-college system (a thought that hadn’t occurred to my Canadian ear, which is normally quite attuned to potential wordplay).

And then Ronald Schettino and John Gribbin independently suggested a mash-up title of Quantum Psychopath — which is where we are now; I’m sure my US and Canadian editors, and my literary agent, Chris Lotts, will weigh in on it on Monday.

By the way, there’s nothing new about this. For a history of title changes of my books, see here; only two of my twenty-three (End of an Era and Illegal Alien) ever had just one title from conception to bookstore; read the history of my books’ titles here.

Anyway, my 23rd novel — with whatever title we finally decided upon — will be published March 1, 2016.

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1 Response to Working out the title for my 23rd novel

  1. Interesting to see the different possible titles on that list. I do think that The Great Martian Fossil Rush would be a good title if the book had more of a Western feel, whereas Red Planet Blues is better for the noir feel the book had.

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