[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Writing Illegal Alien

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

Originally written for Larry Segriff's December 1997 "First Contacts" column on Barnes and Noble Online, a "monthly roundup of what's hot in the science fiction and fantasy fields."

Dare I mention the O.J. Simpson trial? Certainly the reviewers are bound to bring it up when discussing my novel Illegal Alien, so I suppose I should come clean.

I'm a news junkie, and have a TV in my office. While I was writing my novel Starplex (Ace Books, October 1996; a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist), the Simpson trial was on all day long. As a Canadian, I knew I was looking at it with an outsider's perspective; in Canada, we have a somewhat different judicial system and we don't have megacelebrities like Simpson.

When Ace Books had bought Starplex, they'd also contracted for a sequel to it. But as I was finishing Starplex, I realized there wasn't any room for another story there. Still, that outsider's view of American justice kept tickling at the back of my mind. A title popped into my head one night — Illegal Alien — and the rest immediately fell into place: a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. I asked my editor Susan Allison if I could write that instead of the Starplex sequel, and she enthusiastically agreed.

Whether you think Simpson was guilty or innocent, there's no doubt that race played a role in the trial, and members of different races saw the proceedings and outcome quite differently. Still, when all was said and done, the Simpson case really didn't matter on a large scale. There was no way to bring back the dead, after all; all that was at stake was O.J.'s personal future. But what if an alien had apparently killed a famous human? What if the fate of the entire world depended on the results of the subsequent trial? That's what Illegal Alien explores.

I've won both the United States's top science-fiction award (the Nebula) and Canada's top mystery-fiction award (the Arthur Ellis), so I'm comfortable in both those genres, and I wanted to produce a book that would appeal equally to readers of either. Also, as a long-time fan of courtroom drama (two of my favorite movies are To Kill a Mockingbird and Inherit the Wind), I hate it when books spend three-quarters of their length just setting up the trial; in Illegal Alien, I devote the bulk of the novel to courtroom pyrotechnics. I hope you enjoy it.

More Good Reading

More About Illegal Alien

Writing The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy
Writing The Terminal Experiment
Writing Starplex
Writing Frameshift
Writing FlashForward
Writing Calculating God
Writing "Lost in the Mail"
Writing "You See But You Do Not Observe"
Writing "The Shoulders of Giants"

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