Distal Muse Archives


by Mark W. Tiedemann

     The last Muse was somber.  The death of a giant, especially a well-loved one, is never pleasant.  Gordon Dickson left us plenty to remember him by, though, and we should spend some time enjoying it.  That's what he wrote it for, after all, to read and enjoy.
     On to something a bit less sturm und drang.
     There is a Guest Book on this site.  Some folks have checked in and left notes that they have seen the place and approve.  I'm hoping that over time this becomes more active and may lead eventually to a forum, which one signer suggest.  Till I figure out what "spare time" I can find, kill, skin, cook, and serve up to run a forum, we'll try the following.  A few people made comments and asked questions and, as those accrue, I'll try to answer them here.  Be patient, don't run off, and we'll see what we can manage.
     So, I'm going to use a couple of your comments to leap off into some editorial flights here and now.
     The first came as a surprise.  Attila Torkos is a reader from Hungary.  He's pleased I'm continuing the Asimov robot series.  Apparently, he compiled a chronology of Asimov's future history which was used in David Brin's "Foundation" novel and he has offered it to me to be used in whatever forthcoming Asimov novel I may write.
     I've seen a couple of these chronologies now and I'm amazed at the amount of dedication and work people have put into this.  It turned out that one at least helped in writing the second book, Chimera, and proved most valuable in composing the third, Aurora.  Mr. Torkos has offered to let me publish his chronology in the latter.  I thank him and must explain that such decisions aren't up to me.  The publisher has to make that call, since the publisher--in this case, ibooks--owns the franchise.
     This lead me to think about the reaction of certain people to these novels.  I read over the customer reviews on Amazon.com and some of the comments led to me to realize that most people don't quite understand the nature of these books and others like them.
     The Robot City novels are all part and parcel of a franchise.  That is, the writers themselves, while they may lay claim to the plots and a lot of the "accessories" in the stories, do not "own" the novels themselves.  The universe depicted was assembled by the late Isaac Asimov in association with the publisher and put forth rather like the bible of a television program.  There are continuing characters--in this case, Derec and Ariel--and there are certain constraints on background--the caves of steel, robots and the Three Laws--and the individual writer is not free to change these things at will.  This leads to a certain kind of material which occasionally feels a bit anachronistic, but is consistent with the original model.
     All this is engaged upon by the writer as part of an arrangement with the publisher.  I was, so to speak, hired to write these books.  I did not, as seems to be an assumption, wake up one morning and think to myself "Gee, wouldn't it be cool to write a new Asimovian robot novel!"
     That said, I have been enormously enthusiastic about the project.  Ibooks has allowed me enormous creative freedom and I've been having a ball reimagining a lot of Asimov's original ideas, which by now means have run out of possibilities.  But it is rather like writing an "original" script for an existing tv show.  I can't just scrap all that's gone before and do something wholly my own.  There would be no continuity.  And in fact there would be no point.  The idea behind these novels, and others like them, is to explore the rest of the house that Isaac built.  It remains the same house, but not all the rooms have been opened up.
     In many ways, this is like a collaboration.  I've had to reread Asimov's robot novels (not an unpleasant task by any means) and I've had to conduct mental "conversations" with what has already been written to come up with new material.  Science fiction is by no means the only field that does this, nor even the one that does it most.  Sequels to great novels have been written in many genres--some that ought not to have been written as well as great continuations.  But SF shares with mystery fiction the richness of ongoing serials like no other field.
     James Bond is still saving the world, from the creative minds of new writers.  They must hew to the original, of course, otherwise it's not James Bond, but beyond the constraints of MI6 and fashion and a certain world view, the books are original to the writers.  Just as new Sherlock Holmes novels have been written.
     Now we're seeing new Dune novels.
     Some worlds are too vast and attractive to leave alone.
     But, as deeply involved as a writer may get in constructing these "further adventures", at the end of the day we don't "own" the characters and the worlds, which has certain drawbacks when it comes to making editorial changes and when it comes to exploiting resources outside the scope of the franchise.
     So thank you for your offer, Mr. Torkos.  I've turned your information over to my editor who may or may not be in touch with you about using your chronology.  I am really glad you enjoy the book and hope you like the next two as well.
     I've worked very hard on these novels--harder than I expected to, but not without a lot of joy in the result.  (That I'm bone tired is perhaps an indicator of how much fun I've been having with them.)  The effort apparently shows, at least according to Ray Riethmeier from Minnesota, who says Mirage may be the "single best post-Asimov contribution to his Robot/Empire/Foundation tapestry so far."
     Thank you, sir.  I'm very glad you enjoyed the work.  I hope my own universes rate as much praise.  Compass Reach--much delayed--will be out at the end of this month, opening up a new universe for people to explore.
     Yes, Mr. Riethmeier, the SFBC has bought rights to Chimera and I presume they'll take the third novel as well.
     He goes on, then, to say he's pleased I'm an admirer of classic progressive rock, particularly ELP and Yes.  "Jon Anderson," he says, "must have written 'And You And I' with Asimov's 'Foundation' in mind..."
     I must confess I never put the two together.  What an idea.  I'm going to relisten to that and see how it fits.  I always regarded "And You And I" as an essentially religious song.
     But as to my taste in music, I have threatened to do a long piece on my appreciation of these bands and that music.  It will probably take more than one of these, but an opening salvo would be--
     ELP and Yes are, to my mind, science fictional in that they are very much future-feeling endeavors.  Emerson, Lake & Palmer blatantly so.  "Karnevil 9" is nothing less than a mini science fiction opera.  So, too, is Yes's "Relayer", which is ostensibly about war, but has such a depth of Orwellian darkness and the possibility of Armageddon leading to a bright future at the end.
     Half of science fiction is purely aesthetic.  The look and the feel, the textures, the smell of the air, the touch of alien things--ideas are fine, but the most vivid stories give us all the sensations.  Without them...
     Well, look at it this way: Star Trek made the impression that it did as much because of how it looked as much if not more than what the stories had to say.  It is, indeed, that obsession with appearance that has driven the quality of SF film since.  Not that it wasn't important before, but "special effects" became a standard by which to judge whether or not a film was Important.  A ridiculous standard, true, but we can't deny it.  Today we look at the original Star Trek and moan over some of the cheesiness, but it is important to remember what it ran against at the time.  It was head-and-shoulders above any other SF show in just appearance.  It looked like the future.
     And progressive rock sounded like it.
     At least, to me.
     I'm a classical buff, too.  My favorite composers are names we all have heard but perhaps too many of us don't listen to.
     Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, Hanson...
     Interestingly, I rediscovered these composers and their work through the work of bands like Yes and ELP.  I wonder how many of us have gone through that.
     A great deal of Rock harkens back to blues and country.  The standard keys and the progressions utilized can be found flourishing in the Twenties and Thirties.  Fifties rock'n'roll is the purest form of that hybrid.
     For the most part I can't stand it.  Buddy Holly was a great artist, but he has little to say to me.  Elvis stopped being The King when he was drafted.  Heresy, I know, but the Fifties artist that I still listen to today is Les Paul.
     Les Paul and the jazz masters.  Miles Davis, Bird, Gillespie, even a great deal of Brubeck.
     Future music.  Music that leads, that points a way, that recognizes that what we hear becomes part of who we are and helps us go where we want to go.
     Too burdensome for music?
     Well, too burdensome for pop music, certainly.  No depth, the information is quickly absorbed, and very little is left.  The test of time, as cliched a notion as that may be, is still the most valid because it means that you haven't tired of something after a thousand listenings.
     It is one of the things the Grateful Dead recognized early on.  Their answer was to endlessly vary the music in live sets that were unpredictable.  The studio work is solid, but it was always the live work that contained the true scope of their potential.
     For an idea to evade the fate of becoming a cliche it must be so structured as to avoid being "fixed" in time or in concept, becoming something fluid, fractal, frangible, and endlessly flexible.  This is true for writing as much as music.  When you reread something and find precisely the same things that you found the first time and nothing more, then the work is ephemeral in the worst sense.  The same holds true for music.
     For me, musical expressions from bands like ELP and Yes never seem to "fix" into one thing.  I always hear something new upon relistening.  It is the same thing you experience listening to Beethoven or Shostacovich--always something new.  It mutates as you grow, suggests new things to an expanding awareness.  Future music--in that it always seems to be waiting for you when you get to where you're going.

copyright © 2004 by Mark W. Tiedemann