Author Essay and Excerpt from Red Planet Blues, by Robert J. Sawyer
Read what author Rob Sawyer has to say about his new novel, the genrecrossing science fiction hardboiled mystery, Red Planet Blues!
The Mystery Behind Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
Okay, okay! No need for any rough stuff. I confess! This is how my twentysecond novel, Red Planet Blues, came to be.
In February 2004, Mike Resnick approached me with an offer I couldn,t refuse: write a “sciencefictional hardboiled privateeye novella” for an original anthology he was editing for the Science Fiction Book Club called Down These Dark Spaceways.
That story, “Identity Theft,” went on to win Spain,s Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción, which, at 6,000 euros, is the world,s largest cash prize for sciencefiction writing. It was also a finalist for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award (“the Aurora”), as well as for the top two awards in the sciencefiction field, the Hugo and the Nebula.
In a slightly modified form, “Identity Theft” makes up the first ten chapters of the novel Red Planet Blues. The remaining thirtyseven chapters are all new (of the 105,000 words in the novel, 82,000 appear in Red Planet Blues for the first time).
After almost a decade, what drew me back to the world of “Identity Theft”? In part, it was that I loved the main character, hardboiled Alex Lomax, the one and only private detective working the mean streets of Mars. In part, it was because readers kept asking me for more Alex Lomax mysteries. And in partlet me be honestI was looking for another project that would make a good basis for a TV show, like my 1999 novel FlashForward, which was adapted into the ABC TV series of the same name.
But there also was a practical reason related to the realities of modern book publishing.
Science fiction and fantasy have long shared shelf space in bookstores. But as fantasy has grown, fueled by the popularity of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Game of Thrones booksnot to mention the renewed interest in J.R.R. Tolkienscience fiction has been getting squeezed out.
But online bookselling has changed things, perhaps for the better. In a brickandmortar store, your book ends up on precisely one shelf, for instance either science fiction or mystery. But online booksellers let you be on as many virtual bookshelves as you wish, allowing you to reach varied readers in ways never before possible. I love reading mystery as well as science fiction, and I wanted to reach across to those, like me, who appreciate detective stories and intricate whodunits.
I,ve always felt that science fiction has much more in common with mystery than with fantasy, anyway. Science fiction, after all, is about things that plausibly might happen; fantasy is about things that never could happenin that sense, they,re antithetical genres.
But science fiction and mystery both prize rational thought, and both ask the reader to carefully pick up the clues the author has salted into the textin mystery, of course, to solve the crime, and in science fiction to puzzle out the unfamiliar backdrop against which the story is being told.
Red Planet Blues isn,t the first time I,ve combined mystery and SF. My first novel, 1990,s Golden Fleece, was a murder mystery set aboard a starship. And Ace recently reissued my Nebula Awardwinning The Terminal Experiment, which is a hightech whodunit, and my Seiun Awardwinning Illegal Alien, which is a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. But Red Planet Blues is the first novel in which I,ve made a professional detective the main character.
And having a sciencefictional detective does make sense. It,s become increasingly hard to tell traditional detective stories set in the present day. Everyone knows about CSIstyle forensics: it,s almost impossible for a killer not to leave behind fingerprints or DNA. And our public and private spaces are increasingly covered by surveillance cameras; there,s almost no room lefton Earth anywayfor the traditional whodunit.
But Red Planet Blues is set on a lawless frontier Marswhere the security cameras have been smashedand it involves a technology that lets people transfer their consciousnesses into gorgeous android bodies, which don,t have fingerprints and don,t shed DNA. But who is actually inside any given body is anyone,s guess, letting me tell a goodold fashioned mystery ... out on the final frontier.
Oh, and did I mention Red Planet Blues has fossils in itof ancient Martian life? Look at Tony Mauro,s fabulous cover art carefully and you,ll see one of them in the lower right. Whether gumshoe Alex Lomax turns up a freshly killed astronaut or the fossilized remains of the pentapod Shostakia, he learns the hard way that the red planet has always been a world of life ... and death.