Where do you get your Crazy Novel Ideas?
For Challenger #24 (reprint)
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR CRAZY (NOVEL) IDEAS?
by Mike Resnick
It's hard for a science fiction writer to go anywhere without being asked, at least once, "Where do you get your crazy ideas?" The number of facetious and/or contemptuous answers, at least that I'm aware of, is nearing the thousand mark, and yet it seems to do nothing to discourage the endless recitation of the question.
Guy Lillian gently suggested that I answer them here once and for all. I agreed, and suggested he print 400 million copies of the fanzine so he can mail one to every English-speaking fan and then I'll never have to answer it again.
I'm keeping my end of the bargain. Now it's up to Guy.
The Soul Eater
I hate college. Always have, always will. But after we got married and I started making a living freelancing, Carol suggested that since I only needed something like 12 hours for my degree I go back and get it. (That was more than 40 years ago. I still need 6 hours, so you can tell how much a degree means to me.)
Anyway, I enrolled in an English course at night school. One week we were studying Moby Dick, and I'd been so busy delivering stories and articles that I didn't have a chance to read the required pages. But our professor was madly in love with the book (as I am, these days) and I knew if I got her talking she'd forget all about asking questions or making assignments. So I suggested, perhaps five minutes into the class, that Melville had begged the question, and the book would have been more interesting if we'd seen what happened to Ahab if, after a quarter century of megalomania, he'd actually killed the white while. What would he have done with the rest of his life, now that his only goal had been achieved?
The ruse worked. She and I argued it for two hours, and she never did ask me about the section I hadn't read yet.
But when I got home I started thinking about it, and eventually I decided that Melville had indeed missed a more interesting story, so I wrote The Soul Eater, about a hunter who is obsessed with killing a creature that lives in space and feeds on cosmic dust.
It was Carol who pointed out while I was writing it that I may have used Moby Dick as a jumping-off point, but by the end it owed at least as much to the legend of the Flying Dutchman. And it was Dick Geis who concluded that it was "the damnedest love story" he'd ever read.
Birthright: The Book of Man
This book was directly inspired, in an ass-backwards way, by a movie called Alice's Restaurant. Had to be the most incredibly boring film we'd seen in years, and after half an hour of this drivel, I muttered, probably more to myself than to Carol, "Why am I wasting my time with this turkey when I could be home doing something interesting, like writing the history of the human race from now until its extinction?"
And Carol whispered back, "So let's go home and get to work."
We walked out of the theater in the middle of the movie, and that night I plotted Birthright: The Book of Man, which not only sold here and in a few other countries, but created the future in which I've set perhaps 25 novels and more than a dozen stories.
Which just goes to show that you take your inspiration where you can get it.
I spent a couple of years during my starving-writer days writing a weekly article on the supernatural. I don't believe in it, of course, but by the time I was done I knew an awful lot about it.
One night Carol and I had one of our few major fights (we've had maybe three in 45 years). I stormed out of the room thinking she was the most evil woman in the Universe -- and suddenly I had my plot. I went right back in, kissed her, and thanked her for giving me a novel.
What happens to a world populated exclusively by covens and Satanists who give sanctuary to a man whose deeds are far more heinous than Hitler's? What happens to people who give lip service to Evil when confronted by Evil Incarnate, a man who tortures and slaughters because the alternative to torturing and slaughtering never has and never will occur to him?
And just to make it interesting, I had the planetary government hire an assassin to take him off their hands before he kills every living thing on the whole planet. If the assassin can actually get to him, past his layers and layers of defense, it poses another problem: who is the more evil -- a man who kills passionately, from compulsion...or a man who kills coldly and emotionlessly, from calculation?
I get a lot of my ideas from books, plays and screenplays where I feel the author has missed a better story than he told.
Like The Elephant Man, for example. Play (brilliant) or movie (a cut above mediocre), take your choice. They both got me interested in reading about John Merrick, the Elephant Man, and I finally came across his autobiography -- and found something so unusual, so aberrant, that they left it out of both the movie and the play.
It seems that the carnival owner, the man who knew full well that Merrick was a sensitive and artistic soul but treated him like an animal for more than a decade, came by the hospital where Merrick had found sanctuary. He was dead broke, and asked Merrick to come on tour with him until he could put together a grubstake. Sir Frederick Treves and all the other hospital staff assured Merrick he didn't have to go -- and yet Merrick did go back on exhibition, touring the freak shows of Europe all summer before returning to the hospital to die.
Now, that's the story that should have been told. The more I thought about it, the more I kept wondering: what hidden virtues were in that man to make Merrick willingly humiliate and endanger himself when he could have refused?
Finally, I decided the only way I could figure it out was to write the story, and since I'm a science fiction writer, I created Thaddeus Flint and Sideshow -- and when I was finished, the grudging affinity between Merrick and the carny owner finally made sense to me.
It seems to have made sense to a lot of other people as well. My editor, Sheila Gilbert, asked me to turn it into a series, and while I was doing so, Signet published Sideshow in October of 1982. It went through four quick printings and got universally favorable reviews.
Eros at Zenith
Eros at Nadir
One day in the early 1980s Carol and I decided to take a vacation up to the Lake Tahoe area. In preparation for it, I picked up a copy of Nevada Magazine in the hope of finding an ad for a nice resort. As I was thumbing through the pages, my attention was caught by a photo of a lovely naked lady, which on average is just about the very best way to catch my attention.
It turned out to be an ad for a limited-edition silver statue of a lady, leaning against a brass headboard. The plaque at the base of the statue said that this was Julia Bulette, who rose from the ranks of the working girls to become the madam of the biggest whorehouse in Virginia City, Nevada. She donated large amounts of money -- not bribes and payoffs, since prostitution was legal -- to the local police and firemen, and when a cholera epidemic broke out she turned the whorehouse into a free hospital. It wasn't until after a customer stabbed her to death that the local ladies decided she wasn't good enough to be buried in the local cemetery, so they planted her in Boot Hill, with only the brass headboard of her bed as a tombstone.
How could anyone read that and not want to write a book about it? So I proposed it to Sheila Gilbert, my editor at Signet, and she said she wasn't empowered to buy a mainstream or Western novel about a whorehouse, but she could buy a science fiction novel about one.
So I started working out stories to tell about an orbiting brothel called the Velvet Comet, and at some point Carol suggested that by that point in the far future we should be all through with sexism and the Comet had better appeal to both sexes. Furthermore, the cost of flying there from halfway across the galaxy would be prohibitive, so it made sense to make it the most luxurious location in existence, and make is a complete experience: not just a brothel with the most beautiful and best- trained prostitutes of both sexes (and a few aliens thrown in), but a two-mile-long shopping mall which would be the future equivalent of Rodeo Drive, a dozen five-star restaurants, and a lavish casino. No one would come to the Comet just for a roll in the hay.
I came up with four stories (the fourth after it is bankrupt and in drydock), and so I wouldn't feel I was telling the same thing over and over, I set each one about fifty years farther up the road, so the only continuing "character" was the Comet itself.
The Branch came about because I had a broken chair when I lived in Libertyville, Illinois. I took it in to get it repaired, and was confronted by a shawl-wearing Orthodox Jew who got furious at me for some reason -- maybe I was gnawing on a ham sandwich at the time; I honestly can't remember. At any rate, he started pointing out how all the non-pious Jews, of which I was a prime example, would suffer when the true Messiah finally arrived.
I was trying my best to be pleasant, since he was the only antique furniture repairman I could find in the phone book, so I suggested that things were looking up for him, since he was in excellent health and there was doubtless a very good chance that he'd live to see the Messiah and would he please give me a receipt for the chair? His eyes widened, his pupils dilated, and he explained to me that while he planned to live a long and happy life, he much preferred to be dead before the Messiah came, for -- and he quoted chapter and verse to me -- the Messiah of the Old Testament was not a prince of peace, but would come with sword and the fire to destroy civilization before building his new kingdom in Jerusalem.
And suddenly, instead of mollifying him, I began questioning him in earnest, and that night I began writing The Branch, the story of the true Jewish Messiah, who shows up about half a century from now.
Hazards (in progress)
Lucifer Jones was born one evening back in the late 1970s. I was trading videotapes with a number of other people -- stores hadn't started renting them yet, and this was the only way to increase your collection at anything above a snail's pace -- and one of my correspondents asked for a copy of She, with Ursula Andress, which happened to be playing on Cincinnati television.
I looked in my Maltin Guide and found that She ran 117 minutes. Now, this was back in the dear dead days when everyone knew that Beta was the better format, and it just so happened that the longest Beta tape in existence at the time was two hours. So I realized that I couldn't just put the tape on and record the movie, commercials and all, because the tape wasn't long enough. Therefore, like a good correspondent/trader, I sat down, controls in hand, to record the movie (which I had never seen before) and edit out the commercials as they showed up.
About fifteen minutes into the film Carol entered the video room, absolutely certain from my peals of wild laughter that I was watching a Marx Brothers festival that I had neglected to tell her about. Wrong. I was simply watching one of the more inept films ever made.
And after it was over, I got to thinking: if they could be that funny by accident, what if somebody took those same tried- and-true pulp themes and tried to be funny on purpose?
So I went to my typewriter -- this was back in the pre- computer days -- and wrote down the most oft-abused African stories that one was likely to find in old pulp magazines and B movies: the elephants' graveyard, Tarzan, lost races, mummies, white goddesses, slave-trading, what-have-you. When I got up to twelve, I figured I had enough for a book...but I needed a unifying factor.
Enter Lucifer Jones.
Africa today isn't so much a dark and mysterious continent as it is an impoverished and hungry one, so I decided to set the book back in the 1920s, when things were wilder and most of the romantic legends of the pulps and B movies hadn't been thoroughly disproved.
Who was the most likely kind of character to roam to all points of Africa's compass? A missionary.
What was funny about a missionary? Nothing. So Lucifer became a con man who presented himself as a missionary. (As he is fond of explaining it, his religion is "a little something me and God whipped up betwixt ourselves of a Sunday afternoon".)
Now, the stories themselves were easy enough to plot: just take a traditional pulp tale and stand it on its ear. (The titles should give you a notion: "The Best Little Tabernacle in Nairobi", "The Insidious Oriental Dentist", "The Clubfoot of Notre Dame", "The Island of Annoyed Souls", and so on.) But anyone could do that: I decided to add a little texture by having Lucifer narrate the books in the first person, and to make his language a cross between the almost-poetry of Trader Horn and the fractured English of Pogo Possum, and in truth I think there is even more humor embedded in the language than in the plots.
So far Lucifer has made it through Africa (Adventures, 1985), Asia (Exploits, 1992), Europe (Encounters, 1993), and after an eleven-year hiatus is currently working his way across South America (when there are enough stories to collect as a book, it'll be Hazards; Intrigues will take him to the South Pacific and Australia, just in time for World War II.)
If I could write only one thing for the rest of my life, it'd be Lucifer Jones stories.
In his finest novella, Space Chantey, Ray Lafferty wrote the following:
"Will there be a mythology of the future, they used to ask, after all has become science? Will high deeds be told in epic, or only in computer code?"
It made me realize that I wanted to spend at least a part of my career creating myths of the future, peopled with larger-than- life characters possessed of colorful names and pasts -- but I was stuck for a plot for the first one.
Then Carol saw a movie on television one night, a Sergio Leone film called Duck, You Sucker! (which is titled A Fistful of Dynamite these days), promptly rented it, sped ahead to a speech she wanted me to hear, and made me sit down and listen to it. James Coburn, playing a disillusioned IRA explosives expert who has been betrayed by those he trusted most and is now fighting as a mercenary in Mexico, gives a short speech about how once he believed in God and country and freedom and justice and nobility...and now all he believes in is the dynamite.
"Now go write the book," said Carol.
I did, and more than 20 years later it's still in print.
Stalking the Unicorn
In America, where the works of J. R. R. Tolkien have spawned literally hundreds of usually-dreadful imitations, the term "elf- and-unicorn trilogy" has become a perjorative among my fellow writers.
And, since I am a contrary kind of guy, when I finally sat down to write a fantasy novel after more than a dozen science fiction novels, I decided to write a book that featured both an elf and a unicorn, but had nothing to do with Tolkien or with anything else that was currently being written in the fantasy field.
I decided to set my fantasy in New York City, which is as bizarre as any mythical kingdom I've ever read about. My knight- errant is a private detective from "our" Manhattan, and his quest involves a stolen unicorn.
Since I didn't think the reader would willingly suspend his disbelief for any great length of time, the entire story takes place in the course of one evening, between nightfall and sunrise -- and since fantasies tend to celebrate what is best and worst in us, I chose to have my story take place on New Year's Eve, perhaps the finest night of the year for celebration.
There is a great deal of humor and charm in Stalking the Unicorn, perhaps too much, because for some critics and readers it obscured the fact that, despite all the invention and surprises, this is a pretty bleak world that my detective has entered, certainly different and probably more interesting than his own world, but just as riddled with the effects of human frailty. The honorable people in this book are, alas, no more effective than the honorable people in Mallory's world; and while the dishonorable people may be charming and witty and engaging, that does not make them any the less dishonorable. When Mallory finally confronts his ultimate opponent, a demon known as the Grundy, he is also confronting the only explanation that I have for why our world is the way it is.
The book had a couple of printings, and Mallory has come back half a dozen times at shorter lengths. One of these days I'll put him in another novel.
Historical sidenote: This is the only title I've ever changed at editorial request. My original title was Yes, We Have No Nirvanas. My editor, Beth Meacham, convinced me that no one under the age of 40 would understand the reference, and I'm sure she was right -- but I still prefer the original.
The Dark Lady
We were invited to the wedding of Dick Smith and Leah Zeldes up in Michigan. I don't remember my function -- it wasn't Best Man and it wasn't just a member of the audience; I participated in some very minor way -- and I needed a tux, and this took place before I owned one.
So the wedding party got my measurements and thoughtfully rented one for me -- even the shoes.
As we were getting dressed for the wedding in our hotel room, I realized that while they got the tux right, they'd messed up the shoes. I wear a 13, and these were about a 10. And they hurt like hell. I kept trying to find a way to stand or walk comfortably in them, and I couldn't, and I guess I started muttering and bitching, and finally Carol said, "Stop growling at me. I'm not the Dark Lady."
I'd never heard of the Dark Lady before, and I found the term so evocative that I forgot all about my shoes and started writing notes on a hotel scratchpad so I wouldn't forget about it. Turns out it was from Shakespeare -- count on Carol never to use a mundane reference -- and by the time I got home I had the book pretty much mapped out.
In 1984, in a security vault deep beneath the British Museum of Natural History, I was permitted to inspect the record tusks of the greatest mammal ever to walk the Earth, an animal known only as the Kilimanjaro Elephant.
Everything about this animal, from his life to his death, is shrouded in mystery and legend. His ivory was almost twenty percent heavier than the second-largest recorded set of tusks; he was a monster even among his own kind. No white man ever saw him. If any black man saw him during his lifetime, the fact is not recorded. Historians think, but do not know, that he died in 1898; they think, but do not know, that he died on the southeastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro; they think, but do not know, that he was killed by a runaway slave. And that is the sum total of their knowledge of this awesome creature.
The moment I first read about the ivory in the early 1980s I knew there was a story to be told -- many stories, in fact; as many stories as there were people whose lives had been touched by the pursuit of the ivory. I became obsessed by it, and finally outlined a mainstream novel.
Then my agent, Eleanor Wood, always more level-headed than I, reminded me who and where my audience was, and suggested that I follow the tusks not just until they were locked away by the museum in 1937, but out into space over the next few millennia.
So I did. And got a Nebula nomination here and a Clarke nomination in England.
I knew after I'd been to Kenya and had previous read a ton of books about it that I wanted to write a novel about its history -- which in my case meant an allegorical science fiction novel. But the history I wanted to cover took place from about 1890 to the present, and the obvious choice was a "generations" book. I hate obvious choices, and besides, the early history was all made by whites and the more recent history was all made by blacks, and since whites and blacks don't intermarry in Kenya, I couldn't tell a generations novel even if I wanted to.
So I put off writing it. Then, on my next trip to Kenya, a 20-year-old white Kenyan girl that Carol and I were dining with offered the opinion that Kenya, pleasant as it was, was probably a much nicer place to visit just before her birth, when Britain still controlled it and government services were much more efficient and the poverty was, if not less widespread, at least less visible.
Perry Mason, our 52-year-old private guide, who was also at the table, said that no, she was mistaken. He had been in Kenya since 1952, having come there to fight the Mau Mau and stayed on to become a white hunter and then a safari guide, and in his opinion Kenya was probably at its best in the 1940s, the so-called Golden Age of East African hunting, before all the racial conflict began.
The next night, while visiting with Ian Hardy, an 80-year-old retired hunter who lived up in the Aberdares Mountains, the subject came up again. He had arrived in 1935, and thought Kenya must have been just about perfect a decade earlier, before the great herds were decimated and the farmers began fencing off the land and the hired help started getting notions of independence and equality.
But Karen Blixen had left Kenya in 1931, mourning the passing of her beloved country, which she felt must have been pristine and beautiful just before she arrived in 1912.
And, of course, F. C. Selous, Teddy Roosevelt's white hunter, left Kenya in 1910 because they had already ruined a once-perfect country.
Later in the trip, I spoke to a couple of black Africans, one a student and one a minor political office-holder. Both were sure that Kenya, although it certainly had its problems, was well on the road to becoming a Utopia
And finally I had my fictional structure -- the vision of a receding or forthcoming Golden Age that in truth never was and never will be.
There are not many authors that I'm addicted to, but one of them is Robert Ludlum. I love his intricate plots, and his unique brand of fictional paranoia. In a typical Ludlum book, by the halfway mark everyone is trying to kill the hero -- the bad guys, the good guys, his friends, his enemies, his lover, his family, the government, everyone...and the second half of the book is a race to find out why before they can pull it off.
I decided that I wanted to try to bring that particular form of paranoia to science fiction and see how it worked. I was looking for a crossover audience, so my future of 2065 reads a lot more like 1990 with a few bells and whistles added, so as not to scare that hoped-for readership away. I like to think I pulled it off. I do know that halfway through the book only one person in the entire world isn't out to kill the hero (and pretty soon everyone's out to kill her too).
One day I was being interviewed by some fanzine editor, and he was asking me who the most lethal character I ever created was -- Jericho (from Walpurgis III) or perhaps the Angel (from Santiago)?
I don't remember my answer, but I know he started me thinking about who the most dangerous person in a fully-populated galaxy might be, and what skills might he possess? Would he be built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, or master his weapons like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name? Or would he be as brilliant as one of A. E. van Vogt's mutants or supermen?
And the more I considered it, the more I kept thinking: wouldn't it be interesting if the most dangerous, lethal character in the galaxy wasn't a warrior or an assassin or a genius, but a very frightened little 6-year-old girl?
So I wrote the story.
And by the time I finished Soothsayer, I knew that I'd never be able to draw anyone more dangerous and deadly than little Penelope Bailey, whose greatest desire was to be anyone else.
The Widowmaker Reborn
The Widowmaker Unleashed
A Gathering of Widowmakers
One night I was in the conference room at the late lamented GEnie -- there will never again be networks or conference rooms half as good -- and people were discussing clones, and stories about clones, and it occurred to me that I was tired of clones coming off the table (or out of the vat, or wherever newborn clones come from) and functioning as if they'd had a lifetime of experience and knowledge.
So the framing device for the first three Widowmaker books was that the Widowmaker, a top-notch bounty hunter with scores of kills to his credit, able to defend himself better than anyone alive at the time, comes down with a disfiguring, debilitating and eventually fatal disease. And shortly before it can kill him, he has himself frozen in a cryonics lab/chamber until such time as they discover a cure for his disease.
But inflation eats away at his principle, and after a century he's out of money and it looks like they're going to have to wake him and toss him out -- but then someone hears that he's still alive and offers enough money to keep him frozen for a few more years if they'll clone him and send the clone out to clean up a very hazardous situation.
They no longer have to grow them up from embryos and babies -- who the hell wants to read about the Widowmaker wetting his diaper and learning to eat solid foods? -- so the clone is created as a 22-year-old man with the Widowmaker's physical gifts, and after a month's intensive training he is as skilled on offense or defense as the original... he'snot a 22-year-old man. In terms of emotional maturity and experience, he's a 2-month-old child in a 22-year-old man's body, and as such he doesn't fare too well. He falls in love with the first woman he meets, he believes everything everyone tells him, and so on...and in the end it proves his undoing.
Well, I couldn't tell the same story twice, so for the second book I decided that cloning had progressed to the point where they could imprint all of the original's memories and experiences on his clone. This clone is the Widowmaker, cold, crafty, competent, and cunning, possessed of the original's memories -- but the original has been in cold storage for 106 years, and those memories are a century out of date. Imagine an Abe Lincoln or a Doc Holliday trying to function in 2006.
For the third book, they developed a cure for the original, who is an old man and wants nothing more than to be left alone and tend to his gardening. But the two clones made hundreds of enemies, enemies the original has never seen and doesn't recognize, and they all want him dead.
Years later, I thought of another story. I think everyone assumes that if you could actually meet your clone you'd get along just fine with him. But when I got to thinking about it, I had to admit that I never saw siblings that didn't fight, regardless of their underlying love for each other -- and when you're a trio of the most dangerous killers in the galaxy...
A Miracle of Rare Design
I find the story of Sir Richard Burton -- the Victorian explorer, not the Elizabethian ex-husband (sorry about that) -- fascinating. Here was a man who threw himself into his travels, totally assimilating the exotic cultures he visited. He was the first Christian to participate in Islamic services in Mecca, he lived with the Maasai and the Kikuyu, he and John Henning Speke had a race to discover the source of the Nile, he translated The Arabian Nights and a number of erotic Arabian works, he learned the languages and customs of every group of people he visited, and wherever he went he always lived like a native.
And each time he came back to England, he was less and less comfortable as a Victorian gentlemen. He'd seen too much of the world, experienced too much, ever to be happy in his "own" millieu again. He wound up as the governor of an almost-unpopulated Caribbean island, translating works than no one else wanted to read.
And since I found his story fascinating, I decided to science-fictionalize it and put my own twist on it. My "Burton" is a man who undergoes cosmetic surgery to become each of the races he is studying. Each time he is changed back he is less and less human in his outlook and interests, until at the end there is nothing human left at all, just a unique creature that appropriates the most fascinating features of each race he has temporarily joined.
A Hunger in the Soul
I think I saw or read one too many heroic epics about Henry Stanley, intrepid journalist, finding Dr. David Livingstone in the dark heart of Africa, and I finally lost my patience with this drivel.
Stanley, Spencer Tracy's saint-like film portrayal notwithstanding, was not a nice man. He was a glory hound who wantonly wasted more black lives than just about any hunter or explorer in African history, and his two major missions were both unnecessary.
David Livingstone wasn't lost. He was an explorer and cartographer who knew exactly where he was, and since he was also a doctor and a tireless campaigner against slavery, he preferred to stay where could do the most good. (Stanley may have found him, but Stanley couldn't convince him to come back to civilization.)
Then, having found a man who wasn't lost, Stanley went on another mission that cost hundreds of more black lives, this time to rescue Emir Pasha, a man who didn't want to be rescued.
Since no movie or literary popularization had ever felt compelled to make even the slightest genuflection toward the truth, I decided to tell the true story, thinly disguised as science fiction, in A Hunger in the Soul.
I had always wanted to write a book about a bar that was frequented by interesting people. Strange, perhaps, since I don't drink, but whenever I read the tales of Sprague de Camp's and Fletcher Pratt's Gavagan's Bar, or Larry Niven's Draco Tavern, or Craig Rice's Joe the Angel's City Hall Bar, or Ross Spencer's Wallace's, whenever I saw Rick's Cafe Americaine in film or the Gold Monkey on television (back in the bygone days when I actually watched television), it made me want to write about the kind of bar I'd like to hang out in.
And one day I finally decided it was time. So I populated it with bigger-than-life characters like Catastrophe Baker and the Reverend Billy Karma and Silicone Carny and the Cyborg de Milo and Hurricane Smith (and his insectoid bride) and a bunch of others. Each of them would tell heroic stories about themselves or some other equally colorful characters, with obvious embellishments, and there'd be a lot of fun poked at science fiction, from adventures such as "The Ship Who Purred" to such observations (this one graciously loaned to me by the late George Alec Effinger) as "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from doubletalk".
But along with all that I needed a unifying theme that made it more than a bunch of humorous tall tales and parodies held together because of the location. So I divided it into three sections. Part 1 is Legend, in which these heroes swap their difficult-to-believe stories at The Outpost while a war is getting closer and closer; Part 2 is Fact, in which they have to go out and fight the enemy, and most of them do not begin to fare as well as the stories in Part 1 would lead you to anticipate; and Part 3 is History, in which the war is over and the survivors gather again at the Outpost to exchange the tales of their adventures in Part 2, embellishing and editing like crazy, and since they are the survivors, you realize that of course their accounts will eventually be accepted as history.
The point of the book is not only that history is written by the winners, as we all know; but also that the best history is written by the best embellishers and storytellers, and that colorful history, whether true or false, always forces out uncolorful history, whether true or false.
This is not my most important science fiction novel. It is not my best. It was not my best-received. But it is far and away my favorite science fiction novel. Except for Lucifer Jones (who isn't really science fiction), I never had as much fun writing anything in my life.
Lara Croft: The Amulet of Power
I wrote this because I owed a book to del Rey from an old contract, and this is the one they wanted. To this day I have never played any of the Lara Croft games or been able to sit through a Lara Croft movie all the way to the end without falling asleep despite Angelina Jolie's 40-inch bustline and tight t-shirts.
Del Rey had the game-book franchise; someone else had the movie-book franchise. They told me that the current game ended with Lara, who was kind of a female Indiana Jones (only prettier) buried in the rubble beneath the temple at Edfu, and the next game, which would come out shortly after the novel, would begin ten months later with Lara showing up alone and disillusioned in Paris. My job was to get her from the temple to Paris in the most exciting way.
Well, I've been to Edfu, and indeed I've been all the hell over Africa (and Paris as well), so I made it a mystical quest book -- she's after an amulet with supernatural powers, and, in true Robert Ludlum style, everyone wants her dead. The guys who want the amulet think she has it and keep trying to kill her; the guys who don't want the amulet to ever be found think she's on the track of it and keep trying to kill her; the creatures produced by the amulet don't want her to learn how to control them and keep trying to kill her. Even her oldest African friend tries to kill her.
When all is said and done, the book is actually a Resnick travelogue. If she sleeps in a hotel or lodge or tented camp and no one tries to kill her, Carol and I stayed in that hostelry and enjoyed it; if they put a snake in her bed or threw a knife through the window, I'm gently suggesting that you not stay there on your next safari or trip to Paris or the Seychelles. Ditto with the restaurants: if she enjoys her meal, this is a Resnick-approved restaurant; if someone tries to poison her or shoot her, I am suggesting that when you're in that vicinity you give that particular restaurant a pass.
Hardly classic work, but it was a lot of fun.
Lady With an Alien
Watson-Guptill is a high-class outfit that publishes coffee- table art books and the like. Recently they realized that their readership was aging, so they decided to start a line of young adult novels, each about the creation of a famous painting, to interest the next generation in art.
My agent, Eleanor Wood, heard about it, and sent them a copy of The Dark Lady, which had recently won France's biggest prize -- but more to the point, it's narrated by an alien art critic who is dubbed "Leonardo" by his human co-workers because they can't pronounce his name.
A couple of weeks later we heard from Watson-Guptill: they wanted a YA science fiction book about any of Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings.
I had no idea what to write about, so I began looking through the Leonardo's paintings on the internet, and suddenly a science fiction story fell right in my lap. Leonardo created a famous painting titled "Lady With an Ermine"...but Leo's ermine didn't look like any ermine I've ever seen. So I wrote Lady With an Alien, which was well-enough received that I promptly signed for three more YA art novels. Added bonus: I got a great cover artist for free.
One of the things I've noticed is that our greatest military men, men like Douglas MacArthur (I'm talking of skills, not personalities) and George Patton (ditto) and Tommy Franks (who actually seems like a very nice guy), do not make history by toeing the company line or thinking in standard patterns.
So when it came time to write a military book (Starship: Mutiny) I decided to make my protagonist a thinker rather than a standard hero type. In fact, I think maybe four shots are fired in the whole damned book, only one by him, and that one at a target which to this day he cannot identify. I also think the press is the greatest enemy our military has had for the past half-century, and I saw no reason to assume it'll get any better three millennia up the road. My protagonist is bright enough to use the media to his advantage whenever he can, but in the end it bites him in the ass, which is only to be expected.
For the second book, I came up with a real conundrum when reading some of Kendell Foster Crossen's old mystery stories that he wrote under the pseudonym of "M. E. Chaber", to the effect that even half a century ago the average price a jewel thief could get from a fence for stolen merchandise was about five percent of market value. Which gave me an interesting problem for Starship: Pirate: once you become a pirate, how do you support a starship and crew on five percent of market value for your plunder? Clearly you don't -- so what do you do? Once I answered that, the book practically wrote itself.