One of the things that made Sonora an interesting place to live in was its
population of individualists -- the original "No-Name City," with lots
of boots, vests, and wide-brim hats, covered-over sidewalks -- but pickup trucks
these days instead of horses. (How many people remember that the stagecoach
full of French hookers that Lee Marvin hijacked in the movie Paint Your Wagon
was heading for Sonora?) Some mining still went on in the area, and other traditional
occupations included ranching and logging. But on top of that there was a population
of transplanted ex-professionals from all walks who seemed to have woken up
one morning and said, "To hell with this job. I'm going to do what I
want to do!" . . . and they ended up in Sonora. We had a former UCLA psychologist
running the bookstore, a SAC pilot who owned caves, an aerospace engineer running
the health-food store, a biblical fundamentalist with a sandwich shop, and the
hairdresser demonstrated twenty-board simultaneous chess in the ice-cream parlor.
There was even a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, pot-smoking, fornicating Jehovah's
Witness. And, of course, this strange English guy with an office over the hardware
store, who wrote science fiction. No two of them seemed to share views or opinions
on anything, and yet everyone tolerated everyone in a kind of way that said
"Well, that's just the way the guy is." There was no concept of any
norm that anyone "ought" to conform to. A microcosm, perhaps, of how
the world could one day be.
I had been thinking for some time that I wanted to do a book on the subject
of World War Two, the history of which had always interested me. A standard
WW2 s.f. theme has been the alternate history where the war ended differently.
The thought of churning out yet another of the same was unappealing. So, I turned
things around to a storyline where time travelers from a very different postwar
world alter the outcome into the history that we know. This was The Proteus
Operation, my first book published with Bantam. It was also a lesson in
the dangers of over-researching a book. I got so carried away in the politics
of the prewar period, background to the Manhattan Project, biographies of Churchill,
Roosevelt, Einstein, Teller, Szilard, and others, and various related issues,
that six months went by between my writing the Prologue and commencing Chapter
One. Our second son, Michael Robert, arrived just in time to get the dedication.
And, true to tradition, Jackie and I had another son, Edward Joseph, to coincide
with the next book, Endgame Enigma, which added a bit of espionage-thriller
flavor to an s.f. background and dealt with simulating a full-scale space colony
on Earth, including how to camouflage the give-away of terrestrial gravity.
Three sons in a row, after three daughters in a row, restored my faith in mathematics
by showing that statistics do work in the end, provided one gives them long
By this time, 1985, I had been a full-time writer for six years. One of the
benefits of this situation was having the time and the freedom to read and think
and talk about things that mattered to me, instead of--as it now became
clearer had been so true of the past--playing the game of pretending that I
cared about things that primarily served the interests of others. Preoccupation
with such matters as liberty and rights had a lot to do with the writing of
The Mirror Maze, my third book with Bantam, eventually published in 1989.
Interestingly, it produced more excited responses from Eastern Europe and the
former Soviet nations (maybe because the Russians are depicted in a Western
novel as good guys for once, and end up cooperating with their Western counterparts
to foil the real bad guys.)
Life had by this time reached that settled, idyllic state where experience
told that a change wasn't far off. When I was younger, growing up in London
in the 1940s and 50s, my father had sometimes taken me to spend summers with
his family in Ireland. He was from a village in County Cork, and at that time
every farm in the vicinity, it seemed, belonged to some branch or other of Hogans.
But never mind electricity--there was no running water in many of the houses
in those parts then; the women carried the water in pails from springs in the
fields, and milked cows straight into jugs to be set on the table for tea. As
a teenager I used to go hiking and camping around western Ireland with bunch
of pals from London, but after that pretty much forgot about the country until
I found myself living in California in the late 80s with thoughts of moving
back. And I realized that I had no idea how much, if anything had changed. Before
uprooting the family and taking a Californian wife there, it seemed a good idea
to find out. I decided that a reconnaissance visit was called for. Harry Harrison,
the well known s.f. writer, and his wife, Joan, had lived there for a number
of years, so one day I called from the States to ask questions and see how closely
some of my impressions approached to reality. Harry said, "We can do a
lot better than that. Why not come over and spend a week with us and check it
out for yourself?" So I started putting arrangements in hand for an exploratory
visit back the other way across the Atlantic.
In the meantime, more projects unfolded on the more immediate front. Lou Aronica,
the publishing chief of Bantam-Spectra, and I had been talking on and off for
some time about trying to mix Sherlock Holmes with James Bond. Holmes's intellectual
puzzles were fascinating (although I've always thought his logic pretty shaky),
but a bit tame for the modern reader. And while Bond brings in some excitement,
he had to be the most inept secret agent ever conceived, spending all his time
getting out of situations that no professional would ever have gotten into.
The result was The Infinity Gambit, which dealt with a British former
SAS counter-terrorism specialist turned freelance--an experiment in more mainstream
writing, outside the s.f. genre.
This was about when I published with Ballantine again, also. Giants' Star
had concluded the trilogy that began with Inherit the Stars, and in my
own mind I was happy with the thought of leaving behind the world of those earlier
books and going on to explore other things. Readers didn't quite see things
that way, however, and Owen Lock, who had succeeded Judy-Lynn del Rey, ganged
up with Eleanor Wood, my agent, in persuading me to add a fourth book to the
series. I had no idea what direction it might take until Eleanor came up with
the beginnings of an idea that eventually produced Entoverse. Although
it all worked out fine in the end, I wanted it to be the last. The outline that
I submitted to Owen ended: ". . . on the way back to Earth the ship blows
up. Everyone of note is killed, and I can't be talked into writing a fifth in
this series." Apparently Owen, on reading it, grinned and said, "It's
okay. Jim wouldn't do that to us." And of course, he was right.
Entoverse also combined another line of thought that had been going
around in my head for some time. Years previously, when I was at lunch with
a couple of editors in New York, one of them had asked if I thought I'd ever
write a fantasy novel. I replied maybe, but if so it probably wouldn't be the
kind of fantasy they had in mind. My view on the question that's always being
asked about the difference between science fiction and fantasy is that s.f.
might extrapolate the currently accepted principles of physics or incorporate
them as a subset into something lager, but it doesn't violate them. With fantasy
even this restriction goes away, which is to say that "magic" can
happen. But since I'm not much into magic, how would I ever be likely to produce
anything that qualifies as fantasy?
Well, one way would be to create an environment with laws of its own in which
a world with weird effects could evolve, but supported by a substrate of everyday
physics that the world inside it doesn't "see." An obvious approach
was to make it a computer environment: the hardware runs according to regular
physics, but supports an internal world governed by whatever rules the programmers
write in for driving the system. The fun in developing this was the notion of
information "quanta" in data space playing roles analogous to those
of particles in ordinary space, and finding counterparts of mass, gravity, electromagnetism,
and so on to afford the basis of a process via which constructs of sufficient
complexity could eventually emerge to be capable of perceiving the world that
had evolved with them. Making it work required a computer about the size of
a planet, and a suitably mysterious candidate had been thoughtfully left behind
by the aliens in Giants' Star, together with the pieces for constructing
a reason why anyone would want to build a computer that big.
My books were finding their way overseas also, and I got invited to conventions
in Japan, Poland, Russia, Germany, and England, which offset any risk of life
drifting toward monotony.
Many good stories arise simply from putting a character into an unusual situation
and seeing what they make of it. In pondering this angle as a way to come up
with the next book, I asked what would be the most unusual situation that somebody
could find themselves in, and decided it would be waking up dead. (This kind
of illogic starts to come naturally after a couple of years of living in Ireland.)
Well, not literally "you," obviously. But suppose that nobody recognized
you, and everyone you knew insisted that the "you" you thought you
were was dead? And that was how the trail began that led to The Multiplex
Man, published in 1992, by Bantam again.
A idea of Virtual Reality was becoming popular by the early nineties. The alien
civilization in the "Giants" series had taken VR to its ultimate by
means of a direct neural I/O technology that bypassed the normal sensory system
to produce total illusions indistinguishable from the real thing. How it worked
was something I'd left to the reader to figure out as an exercise. The Genesis
Machine had been written around a hypothetical account of the research and
theoretical breakthroughs that led to the discovery of that great fable of science
fiction, "hyperspace." In a similar kind of way, the background to
Realtime Interrupt told the story of how various developments from corporate,
academic, and government domains came together to yield a direct neural I/O
interface capability, and the bizarre things that became possible as a consequence.
Marvin Minsky, who had helped in the conceptual stages, got a walk-on part in
Meanwhile, Owen Lock of Ballantine had been pressuring me again, this time
for a sequel to Code of the Lifemaker, showing more about the aliens
mentioned in the Prologue. After he had cajoled me into accepting a contract,
he casually mentioned in a bar in Manhattan one night, "Oh, I finally got
around to rereading Code of the Lifemaker last week. I'd forgotten: They
all got wiped out about a million years ago, didn't they."
"Owen," I said, "that's what I've been trying to tell you. It
makes it kind of tough to come up with a follow-up story about them."
"Oh well, you're a resourceful writer," was his response. "I'm
sure you'll think of something." And he refused to discuss the matter further
for the rest of the evening.
Now, to me, "sequel" implies a story that follows on from the one
before and involves the same characters that the reader has come to know and
wants to see more of. That meant it had to revolve around the central figures
from Code, whom we'd left out at Titan, solidly in the twenty-first century.
On the other hand it had also to feature the aliens, who were extinct before
humans existed. How to reconcile two such irreconcilables? I didn't want to
resort to a cop-out like time travel, which hadn't been anticipated in any way
in the first book; nor was I happy with something weak, along the lines of,
"Well, actually they weren't all wiped out. . . ." and so on.
Finally, a way out suggested itself, resulting in The Immortality Option,
published in 1995. (Hint: A major help on this book was Hans Moravec of the
Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Hans has written a lot on
uploading consciousness into computers or other non-organic hardware.)
I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but the Atlantic is relativistic.
Irrespective of what time a flight leaves the U.S., it invariably arrives on
the other side at some ungodly hour of the morning, usually gray, overcast,
Such was the dawn when I disembarked at Shannon on the west coast of Ireland
off a Pan Am flight from JFK, having changed planes the previous evening after
a transcontinental haul from California. That was when I discovered that--according
to local wisdom, because Pan Am completed on the New York run--Aer Lingus, the
national Irish airline, didn't fly a connection to Dublin. "So how do I
get there?" I groaned to the Colleen at the information desk. All I wanted
was a room and a bed. "No problem," she replied brightly. "The
train from Limerick will get you there in a couple of hours."
"But we're not in Limerick," I pointed out.
"Ah yes, well, that's true enough. Youll have to get the bus."
By the time I collapsed into a taxi outside Heuston Station in Dublin, I was
just able to mumble to the cabbie, "Get me to somewhere I can sleep--anywhere."
I ended up at a guest house on Lansdowne Road, a block or so from the international
rugby stadium of the same name. No recollection of checking in. Pillow. Bed.
I was awakened late in the afternoon by a din of voices, drums, horns, and
pipes out on the street. Civil insurrection? Brian Boru's army risen from the
dead? I got dressed hurriedly and went down to the residents' lounge to find
the beaming owner and his wife handing out glasses of whiskey to guests, friends,
and family alike--indeed, seemingly anyone who cared to walk in off the street.
Ireland had just beaten Bulgaria.
Thoughts of wet mornings, lurching buses, and gray Victorian railroad stations
in the rain were soon forgotten. Not only was there running water, but a bathroom
and shower in the room (Europeans haven't discovered water pressure yet, but
that's another story), electricity, TV, and computer stores. I could get to
like this place, I decided.
But that was before the saga of the house (again). We'll come to that part