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

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Writing Starplex

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Each year, the Spring issue of the SFWA Bulletin features essays from the current Nebula Award finalists about their nominated works. Here's my essay from the Spring 1997 Bulletin about my novel Starplex:

Starplex is my seventh novel, and, in many ways, it's also my most complex. I had four goals in mind when writing it.

First, I wanted to create a novel that Stan Schmidt at Analog would wish to serialize (this was before he'd picked up The Terminal Experiment for serialization). To my delight, Stan loved the book, and gave it not one but two covers in Analog.

Second, with my Quintaglio Ascension trilogy (Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner), I'd had considerable success writing books with only alien characters in them. And I'd had great fun doing The Terminal Experiment, which has all-too-human characters. But I wanted to see if real aliens could mix with real humans without the whole thing getting confused, and with both sides still coming off effectively. When Larry Niven wrote Ringworld (which has always been one of my favorite books), he side-stepped this issue: the humans in that book — the two-hundred-year-old Louis Wu, and the psi-powered ultra-lucky Teela Brown — were larger-than-life; I wanted to see if ordinary humans, going through such quotidian problems as midlife crises, could exist side-by-side with truly alien aliens. The feedback I've gotten says I managed to pull this off, which pleases me enormously.

Third, I wanted to return to the diamond-hard SF that had appeared in my first novel, Golden Fleece — but do it on an even grander scale. For Starplex, I set a goal of tackling just about every major conundrum in modern cosmology, and seeing if I could tie it all together into one neat package. It took a plot that covers eleven billion years and six billion light-years to do it, but I think I managed.

Finally, like most SF writers of my generation — people who grew up watching Star Trek — I had a desire to do at least one "Star Trek done right" book: the story of a vast exploration starship on first contact missions. I didn't want to use a military background — I always found that the dullest and least-believable part of Star Trek. Rather, I wanted to create an essentially pacifist novel that nonetheless included epic, believable, exciting space battles and credible first-contact situations.

Agent Richard Curtis originally sold Starplex to Ace based on a brief 2,900-word outline. At that time, my editor Susan Allison also commissioned a sequel to the book. But as I was writing Starplex, I came to realize there wasn't going to be any room left for a sequel. Susan graciously agreed to let fulfill the contract with another completely unrelated book instead: that novel, Illegal Alien, will be out later this year.

Finally, two points of historical interest: First, my own preferred title for Starplex was The Grand Old Man of Physics, but no one else seemed to like it. Second, this novel is actually the second appearance of the starship Starplex and its human/dolphin/alien crew. They were introduced in my first-ever sale: a short story called "Motive" that was adapted into a dramatic starshow presented 192 times at the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York, during the summer of 1980.

Robert J. Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment won the Nebula Award for Best Novel of 1995; the book was also a finalist for the Hugo Award; Starplex was also a Hugo Award finalist.

Rob has won five Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("Auroras"), five Best Novel Homer Awards from the CompuServe SF&F Literature Forum, an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, and Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, France's top SF award. His eighth novel, Frameshift, will be a June 1997 Tor title; his ninth, Illegal Alien, will be out in December 1997 from Ace. Rob was the founding director of SFWA's Canadian Region. He lives just north of Toronto with Carolyn Clink, his wife of twelve years.

More Good Reading

More About Starplex

Writing The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy
Writing The Terminal Experiment
Writing Frameshift
Writing Illegal Alien
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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