War World: Discovery
Edited by John F. Carr
Pequod Press, 387 pages, $42.50 (hardcover)
Series: War World 9
Genre: Military SF, Shared World
In my day job as a public librarian, I learned something interesting about science fiction and fantasy. A few years ago, I had a great idea for a display of fiction books: collaborations. So I raced around the fiction shelves in search of books with two or more authors listed on the covers.
To my surprise, the only books I could find outside the science fiction and fantasy fields were a few mystery novels by Rita Mae Brown and her cat Sneaky Pie, and a single detective novel by Swedish husband-and-wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. In SF and fantasy, however, I found plenty of examples: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, Poul Anderson & Gordon R. Dickson, Frederik Pohl & Cyril M. Kornbluth, Jack Williamson & Frederik Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee, Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Mercedes Lackey & just about everyone.
So what’s going on here? Surely SF and fantasy can’t be the only genres in which two or more authors collaborate?
Certainly not. There are plenty of collaborations outside SF/fantasy—but there’s a cultural difference. In other genres, the usual practice is for co-authors to choose a single name as a byline. Thus, cousins Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay wrote detective stories under the name Ellery Queen, and husband-and-wife team Judith Barnard and Michael Fain wrote as Judith Michael.
Now, this sort of thing went on in SF as well: Earl and Otto Binder wrote as Eando Binder, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore used both Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O’Donnell as pseudonyms, and Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merrill wrote two novels under the name Cyril Judd. It’s far more common, though, for two (or more) SF/fantasy writers to use all their own names on their books.
And I’m not claiming that two-name collaborations never occur in mainstream fiction. In fact, they’ve been happening more often in the last decade or so, particularly in the suspense/thrillers genre.
I’ve yet to see a convincing explanation for this difference in genre culture. Perhaps it has something to do with the tradition of fierce individuality in SF/fantasy; perhaps the custom dates form the early years of the field when just about all the authors knew each other personally.
The fact remains that SF in particular is a highly collaborative field. And the simple matter of authors teaming up is only the tip of the iceberg. Let us examine the different ways that SF authors work together.
A variation of the simple co-author team is the senior-junior author arrangement. Here, a well-known author joins with a less familiar name. Anne McCaffrey’s collaborations with various authors (Jody Lynn Nye, Margaret Ball, and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough) fit this mold. Nowadays it’s almost forgotten that SF’s most successful team, Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, started out as another senior-junior partnership; when they wrote The Mote in God’s Eye, Pournelle was definitely the lesser-known of the two. On the covers of most senior-junior collaborations, the junior author’s name appears in marginally smaller letters than the senior’s.
A recent variation on the senior-junior arrangement is the author-successor partnership. Here, an aging author writes a book or books with an up-and-coming name who will, presumably, take over when he/she goes to the great word processor in the sky. Thus, Arthur C. Clarke wrote the Time Odyssey trilogy with Stephen Baxter, who is arguably the closest thing to a Clarke successor. Similarly, Anne McCaffrey’s collaborations with her son Todd were a step along the way in turning the Dragonriders of Pern series over to the younger McCaffrey.
Another type of senior-junior partnership enjoyed a vogue in the 1980s and 1990s: the franchised universe. In these cases, the senior author created a background and perhaps a few scenarios, then a junior author or authors wrote the actual books. When the books are printed, the senior author’s name generally appears in giant letters near the top of the cover, while the junior partner’s byline is in much smaller type toward the bottom. You may remember such examples as Isaac Asimov’s Robots in Time series, Arthur C. Clarke’s Venus Prime series, or anthologies set in the Man-Kzin Wars period of Larry Niven’s Known Space universe. Franchised universes have become scarce nowadays, perhaps because sales never met publishers’ high expectations.
Lately, in the odder corners of the field, there have been a number of “collaborations” with long-deceased authors, especially those whose works have passed out of copyright. Jane Austen is a frequent target; currently there are two different books titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (one by Seth Grahame-Smith and the other by Steve Hockensmith, if you can’t resist), and we’ve also been treated to Mansfield Park and Mummies (by Vera Nazarian) and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (by Ben H. Winters). The true SF reader will naturally gravitate toward Winters’ joint effort with Mr. Tolstoy, Android Karenina.
Of course, another collaborative model that’s akin to the franchised universe is the familiar media or game tie-in book. In this case, the franchised universe is itself a product of collaboration; in addition, the “universe” has an existence outside the books—the original movie, TV show, or game that inspired the whole thing.
A rather more interesting type of collaboration is what’s known as the “shared world.” In this type of collaboration, all the participating authors have a hand in creating the universe, the characters, and the plots. The grandaddy of all shared worlds was the fantasy series Thieves’ World, conceived and coordinated by Robert Lynn Asprin. Well-known SF examples include Harlan Ellison’s anthology Medea: Harlan’s World and C. J. Cherry’s Merovingen Nights series.
In the final analysis, though, the entire SF field is, in a way, a great big collaboration among all the authors out there. Isaac Asimov reacted to stories of robots run amuck by creating the Three Laws of Robotics. Many Golden Age authors considered John W. Campbell, Jr. to be an unaccredited collaborator on most of their works. Gordon R. Dickson responded to Asimov’s Foundation series with his own Dorsai books, which in turn helped inspire the whole subgenre of military SF. After reading Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War. And so the collaboration continues, a worldwide multi-threaded conversation that’s been going on for the better part of a century . . . and shows no sign of tapering off any time soon.
War World: Discovery
About twenty years ago, Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr brought about a shared world series called War World. The five anthologies and two novels of the original series featured stories by a raft of authors, including Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, Mike Resnick, Susan Schwartz, S. M. Stirling, Harry Turtledove, and William F. Wu. The stories were as diverse as their authors, ranging from pure military strategy to humor to surprisingly tender fables. The last volume, the novel Blood Vengeance, appeared in 1994, and the fun was over.
At least until 2007, when John F. Carr brought War World back in War World: The Battle of Sauron. Apparently, his intent is to bring the entire corpus of War World stories back into print, supplemented with a substantial number of new stories, portraying the saga in chronological order (the original volumes jumped around haphazardly through history). War World: Discovery is the first volume in this grand reissue.
The War World is Haven, a just-habitable moon of a gas giant called Cat’s Eye. In the future, Haven will become a battleground between humans and the Saurons, a genetically-enhanced master race bent on universal domination. In the beginning, however, Haven was a peaceful colony that soon became a prison planet, a dumping ground for malcontents and undesirables of all types. When criminal gangs take over the place and start causing trouble, the Imperial Marines are sent to bring peace to a planet everyone considers a hellhole.
Of the fourteen stories in this volume, four are republished; the other nine are brand-new. Work by ten authors is included. And while the price tag is a little steep, if you’re a fan of War World and want to see how it all began, it’s worth it.
Tor, 304 pages, $24.99 (hardcover)
Genre: Adventure SF
You probably think you know what to expect from Gene Wolfe: A big, literary book; if not strictly fantasy, certainly far enough in the future that advanced science looks and acts like magic; a grand epic with characters out of mythology.
Well, Wolfe still has a few surprises up his sleeve, and Home Fires is one of them. The setting is North America in a future that’s not so terribly unfamiliar. Skip Gryson and Chelle Sea Blue meet in college and fall in love. They soon marry, and start about the business of living happily ever after, but war intrudes . . . interstellar war.
Chelle, a military woman, is sent to distant stars to fight nefarious aliens. Skip stays home, becomes a lawyer, and builds a tremendously successful practice. Decades pass, yet Skip waits faithfully for Chelle’s return. Finally, the day arrives.
Of course, relativity has worked its magic; decades to Skip have been months to Chelle. Her military service, and the injuries that sent her home, have changed her—much as Skip’s years have changed him. Yet the two (somewhat to their mutual surprise) are still in love.
They set off on a Caribbean cruise, and that’s when the trouble starts. Their ship is hijacked, and suddenly they are up to their necks in pirates, alien spies, and a war that has come to the home front.
Home Fires is an adventure story, a love story, and the flip side of the standard “going to the stars to fight aliens” story. The book is fast-paced and quite accessible, and shows that Gene Wolfe is as much at home writing adventure as he is writing epics.
Empress of Eternity
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Tor, 336 pages, $25.99 (hardcover)
Genre: Far Future/Clarke’s Law
Empress of Eternity
But suppose you’re in the mood for a grand, far-future epic? Then you’ll definitely want to take a look at L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Empress of Eternity. Modesitt takes a break from his long-running Recluce Saga to present not one but three far-future societies, in three widely-separated eras across geological eras. All three exist on Earth; an Earth whose main continent is split down the middle by an eternal, imperishable canal. The canal is a complete mystery; no one knows who built it (if indeed it was built), why it exists, or how it remains undamaged across millions of years. Where the canal meets the sea, an indestructible building stands, empty and enigmatic.
In parallel stories, scientists from each of the three eras seek to uncover the secrets of the canal. Similar patterns repeat, and we come to understand that the three societies are somehow linked. Still the canal remains unknown, unexplained, unresponsive . . . until one of the societies, the Vaniran Hegemony, breaks apart in religious war. One faction produces a fearsome weapon that can seemingly destroy anything, even to the point of shattering the structure of the universe. Through the same forces that have entangled the three eras, this ultimate weapon now threatens all three eras with destruction.
Now the forces responsible for the canal react, and the three scientific teams find themselves working together to save their civilizations and the rest of life.
Modesitt is an old hand at making big, epic stories accessible through sympathetic and believable characters. He’s a superb storyteller, and here he’s produced a standalone novel that is more than a little reminiscent of the best time-spanning tales of Arthur C. Clarke. If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading his work, you could hardly find a better introduction. And if you’re a long-time Modesitt fan, you definitely won’t want to miss this book.
Little Brother’s World
T. Jackson King
Fantastic Books, 214 pages, $13.99
Genre: Other Worlds
Little Brother’s World
Life on the colony planet Mother’s World is safe, secure, and regimented by the Church of Flesh. Society is structured around citizens’ genetic inheritance: good genes are rewarded, bad genes discouraged. All citizens have their gene codes tattooed on their arms, so that everyone knows their place and things runs smoothly . . . for most, anyway.
But this is science fiction, and we know that all the interesting stuff is happening at the margins of the society. In particular, there’s the Alor City Dump, where outcast scavengers make a living off the garbage of the more fortunate.
Little Brother, an orphan, has grown up in the Dump and knows no other life. Little Brother is different—he has no gene code. One day, while scavenging, he finds a girl named Sally hiding in the garbage. Sally is a Breed, with one of the most valuable genetic legacies on the planet.
Little Brother rescues Sally, and there his problems start. Before he can sell Sally back to her family, her parents are murdered. Sally’s family, it seems, has attracted the attention of the Church of Flesh.
So now Little Brother and Sally go on the run, through the underbelly of Mother’s World. In the course of their flight, Little Brother finds out why he is the only person without a gene code . . . and also learns that he, unexpectedly, holds within his hands the power to topple the caste system and bring change to Mother’s World.
If you’re sensing a whiff of André Norton or Robert A. Heinlein, you’re not mistaken—those are the first two names in T. Jackson King’s list of acknowledgments. The influence is certainly there, but Little Brother’s World is no mere imitation of Star Man’s Son or Citizen of the Galaxy. Rather, it takes the sensibility of those sorts of books and makes of it something fresh and new. T. Jackson King is doing his part to further the great conversation of science fiction; it’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.
Don Sakers is the author of The Leaves of October and A Voice in Every Wind. For more information, visit www.scatteredworlds.com.
"The Reference Library" copyright © 2011, Don Sakers