My Science Fiction
I'm a mass of contradictions. So I write two kinds of novel
Ventus and Lady of Mazes: Trying new ideas
I want to have my cake and eat it too. I like to read SF that simultaneously entertains me and stretches my mind. I want sex and philosophy, new visions of the future and lots of explosions. So when it comes to writing SF, I try to have it all too. As a result, I've evolved a strategy: I write two kinds of book, with lots of overlap.
One kind of novel tries to see how far I can push the genre in new and spectacular directions. The two books that exemplify this addiction best are Ventus and Lady of Mazes, both of which are far-future adventures that play with current SF cliches like nanotech and transhumanism, and reinvent them. In Ventus, you start out thinking you're reading a fairly typical high-fantasy novel, and then the story slowly mutates until you find yourself in a galaxy-spanning hard-science fiction epic. What were gods have become AI; what were spirits have become nanotech embedded in the rocks, the trees, and floating in the air itself. Nothing is quite what it seems; and the book becomes a meditation on humanity's relationship with nature and our desire to tame everything wild.
Lady of Mazes turns that perspective around, to show that we need to acknowledge the wilderness within ourselves. In the shifting realities of Teven Coronal, Livia Kodaly learns a radically new way to be human--without becoming typically trans-human. I present at least three entirely new systems of government, trot out the principle that technology is legislation, and generally have fun with your gray matter while telling as rollicking an adventure tale as I can.
These books are highly focused, and for them I've used the principle that the story makes the world. They're hermetically sealed; people keep imagining that they're somehow set in the same universe as my other books, but sorry, they're just not. This is because there's nothing in these stories that isn't there to reinforce their central message.
In contrast, my other novels are designed to sprawl every which way, and include all possibilities.
Playgrounds of the Mind: Permanence and the Virga books
I've always searched for the perfect SF world: a milieu in which I could set any kind of story, where even the most banal activity--like, say, doing the laundry--would become amazing to describe and imagine. Larry Niven has famously called such environments playgrounds of the mind.
For me, a playground of the mind is usually a re-invention of some classic SF trope; or it's the invention of something entirely new. With Permanence, I wanted to create an entirely new kind of star-faring civilization. It had to be possible with the physics we know now. And it had to be wildly different from anything else out there. Thus was born the Cycler Compact, a culture situated mainly around brown dwarf stars.
In the Virga books, I've pushed even further, to create an innovative science fictional world. Once again, it had to be a playground--somewhere I and my readers could revisit in our imaginations long after finishing the books. Virga is that kind of a world.
I've been blessed with excellent cover art for all my books. My first artist at Tor Books was Alan Pollack, and the French version of Ventus had art by the acclaimed French illustrator Manchu. The cover art for The Claus Effect was by Alberta illustrator Verne Busby.
Since Lady of Mazes, my covers have been by Stephan Martinere. George Krauter did covers for my Analog serializations, and also did the interior black-and-white illos. He won the AnLab Award for his Sun of Suns cover.
You can view other artwork by some of these artists online:
- Alan Pollack has his own site (the original art for Permanence can be seen there). Mr. Pollack's cover for Ventus was his first foray into stricly science-fictional themes for a cover; previously he had made his reputation doing fantasy cover art. (I'd like to think that Ventus was a breakthrough piece for him, but of course, that's just my own ego talking.) He continues to have great success; one of his covers was reprinted as the cover illustration for Spectrum 8, the latest in the annual series of highly-respected best-of fantastic art collections.
- Verne Busby is a professional illustrator, one of the partenrs at Totino-Busby. He produces artwork for corporate clients, and also creates fine art, some samples of which can be found on the website. I love the cover for The Claus Effect, it's very atmospheric and, somehow, nails the color-palette of the novel that David and I had in mind as we were writing.
- Stephan Martinere's site is rich with examples of his design and illustration work. He works on gaming design these days, but he's also done film work (much of the look of I, Robot is his) he he's told me he loves doing book covers most, even though they probably pay him the least. His enthusiasm shows--his covers for Lady of Mazes and Queen of Candesce are my current favourites.
- Acclaimed French artist Manchu has done book covers for many of the greats, including Philip K. Dick and Philip Jose Farmer. I'm honored to have him on the cover for the original French translation of Ventus.