Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Tale of the Novels: Seas of Ernathe

I've posted here about the new editions of my earlier novels, but I haven't talked much about the books themselves, how they came about, and what they meant to me when I wrote them. Well, where better to do that than here on Pushing a Snake Up a Hill, which by the way is a pretty good summary of how my writing career has often felt.

Let me start with my first book, Seas of Ernathe. It's not just my first novel, but my first novel of the Star Rigger universe, a future history that I've enjoyed writing in, and that seems popular with readers. It's not the first story in the Star Rigger chronology, though. In fact, it's the last! It's set in a time long after the skills of starship rigging were lost to humankind. It's about the rediscovery of the art of rigging.

How did that happen? Do I always do things bassackwards? No, not always. But in this case, I didn't actually know much about the history at the time I was writing. I can't say exactly why this particular story popped into my head, but here's how it happened:

Go back to 1974 or 1975. I was living with some friends in Providence, Rhode Island, just off the edge of the Brown University campus (from which I'd graduated in 1971), working on short stories while waiting tables, teaching scuba diving, and diving for quahogs in Narragansett Bay to make ends meet (barely). I'd sold a couple of stories: the first to Boston's Fiction Magazine, for a promise of $50 (collected years later), and the second to Galaxy. In both cases, the magazines went bust not long after publishing my stories—not my fault, I swear! In any case, the story published in Galaxy was called "Alien Persuasion," and was my first expedition into the tricksy Flux of rigger space, where star-pilots navigated through a sensory web in a hyperdimensional realm that was objectively real, but that took a tangible form based on images projected from the rigger's mind. (Remind me to tell you more about that when I write about Star Rigger's Way.)

During this time, I'd been submitting short stories to some of the original anthology editors—in particular, Robert Silverberg for New Dimensions and Terry Carr for Universe. Both had responded with encouraging rejections. On one occasion, in 1974 (or possibly 1975), Terry Carr wrote back with another rejection—but with a twist. He asked if I'd like to write a novel. It seemed he had made a deal with a new SF line to sign up new writers and shepherd their books into print. If I could just send him an outline and three sample chapters...

I stood dumbfounded, his letter in my hand—then flew to my Olympia manual typewriter and began pounding out an idea for a novel—a completely new idea, one that had come into my mind just at that moment, when needed. It made use of my star rigger background, indirectly, and also my underwater experience as a scuba diver. The story was set on a watery world called Ernathe. Visitors to that world wanted to know what strange tricks of the mind enabled sea creatures of that realm, the Nale'nid, to focus on reality in ways that enabled them to travel instantaneously, and to manipulate matter in a variety of ways. Could this be connected to the secret of the lost art of star rigging? Perhaps, perhaps...

I wrote the novel in a little less than a year, if memory serves. By the time it was finished, I'd moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was living with a different set of roommates and working the night shift sorting boxes for UPS. Seas of Ernathe was published by Laser Books in the summer of 1976.

I clearly remember the moment I first saw a copy—not, as you might think, an advance copy from the publisher. No, I was walking down Mass. Ave. in Central Square when I encountered Drew Whyte, an SF fan I had gotten to know during the previous year. Drew always had bags of books with him. On this occasion, he had a copy of my new book, which I had not yet laid eyes on. He passed it to me. There it was. My first novel. In print, at last! I had done it! It was real! Huzzah!

Cover art by Kelly Freas

I hated the cover instantly. Noted SF artist Frank Kelly Freas had been hired to do all the covers for the Laser Books series. Apparently he wasn't given much money or much time, because to say the least, the Laser covers were not the highlight of his otherwise distinguished career. Lord, I didn't know whether to cheer or weep. I settled on cheering.

Seas of Ernathe stayed in print for a year or so, and then it was gone. But it had set me on an important writing path, starting with making the transition from short stories to novels. The next two books were also star rigger books; more on those later. For now, I'm happy to say that Seas of Ernathe is back in print, from E-reads. You can get it as an ebook from a variety of outlets, including Baen Webscriptions and Fictionwise, both of which offer it in multiple, DRM-free formats, including for the Sony Reader, the Kindle, and the iThing. You can also get it as a trade paperback wherever fine SF trade paperbacks are sold! Here, I'll make it easy. :)

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At 8:12 AM, Blogger Charlza said...

Hmmm...I might have to try this out on my iPhone. I added your blog to my google reader account and this was the first new article I'd read from you :)

At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually have a copy of the Laser Books edition of Seas of Ernathe. Obviously I must've picked it up used somewhere, definitely a case of don't judge a book by it's cover!



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