Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fan letter of the day: "theological whiplash"

Now here's a particularly nice and thoughtful fan letter; great way to start the day!
I picked up Far-Seer back when it first came out back in '92. I was intrigued by the cover and the concept.

<shame>It sat unread on my shelf until a couple of months ago.</shame>

I don't know why I never got around to it. No idea whatsoever. I just never did.

Flash forward (pun intended) to 2009, and the launch of the television series FlashForward. Was hooked on the series from the word go. <shame>But I was still clueless...</shame>

Walked into a bookstore near the end of October and saw a novel on the shelf titled FlashForward. "Gee, that was fast, they already have a novelization out.... oh, wait the series is based on the novel!"

Blew through the novel in a little over a week (given the limited time I have for reading for pleasure, less than a month is now considered "blowing through" a book), enjoyed it thoroughly, and have been wondering how the series (which seems to have a bit more of an action/adventure spin on the premise) is going to modify itself to fit on television - and leave an opening for a second season...

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized that the reason the name "Robert J. Sawyer" sounded so familiar was because I already owned a book by the same author... that I had been (passively) putting off reading for over a decade...

Knocked that one out in a couple of weeks too. And have been metaphorically kicking myself for not having read it sooner ever since. Then to find out it is the first in a trilogy...

I felt even more stupid when I discovered that I had read and greatly enjoyed "You See But You Do Not Observe" in a time travel anthology (I'm a sucker for time travel stories) several years ago and hadn't made the connection to Far-Seer.

When I got a gift certificate to a bookstore for Christmas/Hanukkah, I knew exactly what I was going to spend it on - whatever other Robert J Sawyer books they had on the shelf. Picked up Calculating God and Hominids.

A few minutes ago, I finished Hominids (having polished off Calculating God week before last). You've become the latest annual "addict my dad to yet another writer".

I really am intrigued by the dichotomy of the anti-theist stance of Far-Seer and the pro-theist stance of Calculating God and the anti-theist stance of Hominids. (I'm now suffering from theological whiplash. My existential insurance company will be sending you a bill...) As someone who feels strongly about the debate, I appreciate the way in which you handled both sides of the argument in each of the books. But even more, what I really like about your books (so far) is that the plot resolutions aren't so much about accomplishing something, or defeating something, as they are about healing the suffering of the characters.

As an American with a Canadian wife, I also appreciate the lack of US-centric thinking.

Great stuff! Thanks for writing it!

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fan letter of the day: Far-Seer

The least read of all my books are my novels Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner -- collectively, the "Quintaglio Ascension" trilogy.

(Lots of people just can't seen to be able to get past the covers -- the one part of the books I had no control over! The art is spectacular on its own merits -- and I own the original Far-Seer cover painting -- but plainer covers would have served this series better, I think.)

Anyway, I'm always particularly pleased to get fan letters related to that trilogy (the three volumes of which were first published in 1992, 1993, and 1994), and a very nice one arrived today:
I've enjoyed your writing since I first discovered your work, and just went back through my sf collection and stumbled across Far-Seer.

I am about half-way through re-reading the trilogy and am impressed all over again at the depth and three dimensionality of the world you created with the Quintaglios.

I wanted to send you my kudos on a series of books that still hold my interest -- years later -- and seem as fresh today as when I first read them.

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! Trilogies everywhere you look!

My friend Melody Friedenthal asked me an intriguing question this morning:
At what point in your creative process did you decide that Wake et al., would be a trilogy? And was it the same point for your first trilogy (or 2nd) or was the first one more of the publisher's choice (as in "this is too long to publish as a single novel; let's break it up into a trilogy")?

Has your plotting evolved over time to be more aware of this sort of thing?
My answer is might be of interest to other writers, so I'm sharing it here:

I've sold twenty novels, and almost half of them -- nine books -- are parts of trilogies:

The Quintaglio Ascension: Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, Foreigner.

The Neanderthal Parallax: Hominids, Humans, Hybrids

WWW: Wake, Watch, and Wonder.

(As it happens, right now, I'm in the final few hours of polishing Watch before submitting it to my publishers; it's due on Monday.)

Each of these trilogies had a different genesis.

I wrote Far-Seer as a standalone -- no intention of doing a series (I'd even killed off the main character in the last chapter).

When it was done, my agent said let's try to sell a sequel, and we did (as with the first episode of Hill Street Blues, where Hill and Renko were gunned down in cold blood, my character's fatal wounds suddenly became merely serious injuries, although I, at least, had the luxury or rewriting the ending so it was apparent that he'd lived).

And then the publisher decided to ask me for another sequel after the first two were done. But after that, I wanted to write something very different (With humans! On Earth! In the near future!), and so I wrote The Terminal Experiment instead of continuing the series (which I think ended at a fine point, anyway).

For the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, it was actually my then-British publisher who said the only things selling in the UK were trilogies or on-going series, and so my next project should be a trilogy; otherwise, Hominids would have been a standalone. The original working title for the standalone book would, in fact, have been Neanderthal Parallax.)

After I turned in the third book, Hybrids, my editor, David G. Hartwell, said I could go on writing Neanderthal books as long as I wanted to -- but I wanted very much to do something different at that point. (For more on this, see my essay Commiting Trilogy: The Origins of "The Neanderthal Parallax".)

For the WWW trilogy, I actually sold it as a standalone (called Webmind) to Tor, and after struggling with it for over a year found I just couldn't do it as a single book; the idea was too big.

So I had a meeting with David G. Hartwell (my editor) and Tom Doherty (Tor's publisher) and told them that, and said I'd like to fulfill the contract instead with a new standalone, and wrote Rollback instead. I then re-envisioned Webmind as a trilogy (writing an outline for it that now bears very little resemblance to what I'm actually doing -- I really hate doing outlines).

If I had my druthers, I'd never write sequels or trilogies -- at least not one book after another; I much prefer writing standalones. But sometimes that's not what the market wants, and sometimes the idea can't be handled properly in a single book.

On the other hand, part of what I hate about trilogies is working back-to-back on the same project for years: I take a year or so to write a book, and spending three years in a row on any set of characters is enough.

But to my surprise I was recently asked by David Hartwell if I'd consider writing more Quintaglio books (and I might), and I would indeed like to write more about the Neanderthals at some point.

So, who knows about the future? (Answer, according to the Lawgiver in the last Planet of the Apes movie: "Perhaps only the dead." But I digress ...)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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