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Writing the Quintaglio Ascension
Copyright © 1995 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
This essay originally appeared in the premiere issue of The Crystal
Tower, the SF newsletter published by New English Library.
Far-Seer, which is now volume one
of the Quintaglio
Ascension trilogy, was originally written as a standalone
science-fiction novel, and I sent the manuscript to my
trepidation. After all, I was asking him to sell a book that had
not one single human being in it. Would an audience identify
with the characters I'd created?
To my delight, my agent loved Far-Seer but said that
the milieu I'd created deserved an entire series, not just a
single book. All well and good except I hate series,
much preferring to write standalone novels. But my agent kept
pushing, and so I set about deciding what I would insist upon in
creating a series of my own.
First, I told him I would do no more than three books, with a
final, conclusive, overall ending. But more than that, each book
would be a legitimate standalone novel (as Far-Seer
already was), with its own real conclusion, rather than a
cliffhanger ending. And I would use a different narrative
technique in each novel, so that they would present fresh
creative challenges for me.
Far-Seer was the story of Afsan, an intelligent dinosaur
who was his race's counterpart of Galileo. For the second book,
I decided to tackle a dinosaurian Darwin, and in the third, a
saurian Sigmund Freud. And as I had in Far-Seer, I would
up the stakes: for Afsan, discovering the true arrangement of
the heavens was not just of scientific interest, but rather a
life-or-death issue for his entire world. In the second book
(eventually entitled Fossil Hunter),
I would make the
discovery of evolution much more difficult by positing a fossil
record that seemed to prove rather than refute divine creation.
And in the final volume (Foreigner),
I would make
psychoanalysis of Afsan key to avoiding the extinction of
my dinosaurian race.
I'd done things in Far-Seer I never would have if I'd
known it was going to be volume one of a series (most notably,
I'd blinded one of my principals and made it impossible for my
reptilian characters to lie). But I decided not to go back and
change those things: they were appropriate for Far-Seer,
and I wouldn't dull its edge simply to make the sequels simpler
The Galileo-Darwin-Freud model suggested moving the action ahead
by decades between each volume. Getting to revisit characters
I'd first portrayed in their youth again at middle age and then
near death appealed to me greatly. As for finding a different
narrative voice for each book, the extended timeframe took care
of that. As The New York Review of Science Fiction noted:
Sawyer evolves his very style of writing across the trilogy
the first a straight linear exposition, the second alternating
story lines between chapters, the third deftly juggling four
different story lines within each chapter a strategy which
nicely mirrors the writing styles of the linear Renaissance,
dialectic 19th century, and the multi-perspectival 20th, or the
milieus of Galileo, Darwin, and Freud on Earth.
Looking back on the finished Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, I am
indeed glad that my agent twisted my arm this once. But I do
wish I could get him to stop talking about what I should do for
my next series . . .
More Good Reading
North American Quintaglio covers
British Quintaglio covers
More About Far-Seer
More About Fossil Hunter
More About Foreigner
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Writing Illegal Alien
Writing "Lost in the Mail"
Writing "You See But You Do Not Observe"
My Very Occasional Newsletter
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