Newsletter #50

Dear People,

I turned in THE LEGIONS OF FIRE not quite a month ago–140,845 words including the front matter. I’m overall pleased with the novel, the first of a four-book fantasy series for Tor, but the thing that pleases me most is that I had a chance to use my background in history and Latin, my undergraduate majors. This is an extremely erudite book, even for me. 

Which, of course, isn’t anything you or readers in general should be interested in. More to the point, there’s a story (several interwoven stories) and plenty of action. (I don’t recall ever getting complaints that there isn’t enough action in my books.) The plot is intricate and comes together neatly at the climax. The structure is very similar to that of the Isles novels, but the characters are completely different from those of the earlier series.

But what _I’m_ proud of is the erudition. Vanity comes out in various fashions; that’s apparently mine.

I’m still in the process of relaxing; well, trying to relax. I’ve banged out several short essays: for the Nebula Awards anthology, on Golden Age SF; for a collection of Manly Wade Wellman’s stories about Hok, his stone-age hero; and for the Hammer’s Slammers role-playing game that Mongoose Publishing in the UK is doing. These essays aren’t real work, but they trick my subconscious mind into thinking that I’m working–which it believes is all I should ever be doing.

Obviously I’m not ready to start another novel. I’m not even ready to start seriously plotting the next one (an RCN–Leary/Mundy–space opera). I’m beavering away in Polybius and Nineteenth Century travel memoirs, jotting down notes with a serious expression. Some of these notes, transmuted, will wind up in the current book, while others may appear in later projects. In any case, it’s a good way to imprint neat stuff on my memory.

The most recent RCN novel, IN THE STORMY RED SKY, isn’t quite out; it should appear at the beginning of May. I haven’t seen the final cover, but Jennie assures me that she and the artist, Steve Hickman, have made sure that the holographic foil overlay will be impressive even though it can’t go over the actual hologram in the painting (the lines were too fine) as it did in the previous volume. The image itself (lovely and striking even without foil) is up.

My author copies of the pb of WHEN THE TIDE RISES, the immediately previous space opera, have arrived, so they ought to be in stores by the time you read this. The RCN novels are a lot of fun to write. I like the characters, and the setting allows me to use my interest in history in ways that stretch my mind also.

I realized as I proofed the final draft of LEGIONS that for good or ill, I’m my own man. For good _and_ ill, more accurately. I write books that nobody else would have written, and I write them in my own fashion.

The third Belisarius omnibus, FLAMES OF SUNSET (containing The Tide of Victory and The Dance of Time), is scheduled from Baen in both hardcover and trade paperback in August, 2009. The striking art is by Kurt Miller.

The cover (also by Kurt Miller) for the Baen mass market (but slightly oversized) edition of THE COMPLETE HAMMER’S SLAMMERS, volume 1, is also up. The release date is October, 2009. The contents are the same as the Night Shade hardcover, as will be the case with the other two volumes. (Though I think it would be great if you ran out and bought the hardcovers right this minute.)

I mentioned the Mongoose RPG booklet. They did a really good job. I’ve never gotten into role playing (I’ve done both board games and miniature games, but RPGs were after my time), but I’ve seen a fair amount of RPG material over the years. This booklet is a cut above anything in my experience. I don’t know exactly when it’s to be released, but I think the material is complete.

And I did another interview with Stephen Cobb for his podcast, The Future and You; he split it over two shows. It struck me again that I say things which most people do not. I don’t guarantee I’ll be correct, but I _will_ be honest and you won’t be in any doubt as to my opinion on whatever question I’ve been asked.

Speaking of modern technology, there’s a David Drake Facebook page which a fan put together for me. I have looked at it, and my webmaster, Karen, will be looking in regularly. I think this is fine, but it just isn’t me.

I haven’t done any translations from Ovid since the most recent newsletter. I may glance through the Metamorphoses shortly to see if anything calls to me. Heck, maybe it will even give me notions for the next volume in The Books of the Elements, my Tor fantasy series. I wonder if Ovid ever discusses Britomartis?

The website hasn’t changed much beyond the regular updates on the FAQ and News pages (new titles going up, older ones relegated to the Archive). I was in Toronto for Ad Astra last week, and there’s a picture of me in the Royal Ontario Museum. The museum’s very nice display of fossils includes a set from the Pre-Cambrian Burgess Shale (small, but Deeply Significant).

I was most taken by the giant sea-turtle, Archelon, mounted so that it (actually a casting) swims through the air toward the viewer. For some reason, the turtle’s silent majesty moved me in a fashion that the even bigger dinosaurs did not. Perhaps in a former life, I was a turtle. I suspect things weren’t as peaceful even then as I’d like to dream they were, however.

A couple people at the con mentioned that I’d answered their fan letters twenty-odd years ago and how much that impressed them. In one case I’d apparently written a two-page letter, which surprises me; ordinarily I’d have sent a postcard, though I’ve always made an effort to reply to anybody who was polite.

But that got me thinking about online communication as a contrast to the letters and occasional face-to-face meetings which were the choices in past times. Something over a thousand people are getting this newsletter directly. That’s a larger audience than I could imagine in 1980, even if I were on a panel at a worldcon.

My newsletters are on a roughly bi-monthly schedule. I have friends who blog, giving fans a daily or weekly update on their thinking and activities. And there are plenty of people who update their Facebook pages multiple times a day, and who Twitter. If I were on Twitter, I could inform any number of cell phones that I’m sitting in Toronto Pearson Airport at the moment. There are lots of ways to communicate instantly.

But to communicate what? Would people have come up to me this weekend to thank me for Twittering them decades ago?

I’m in regular correspondence with a few friends. Most of them email me, but with some I respond by surface mail after I’ve printed out their letters and have digested the contents. I think better after a reasonable delay, and I believe my friends do also.

For example, Barry Malzberg mentioned The Brooklyn Project by William Tenn, which precedes A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury by four years but which reads like a deliberate satire of the later story. In checking original publication of the Tenn (which I’d read but didn’t remember) I found that it was in the same issue as Bradbury’s Mars Is Heaven, making it virtually certain that Bradbury was familiar with the Tenn before he wrote A Sound of Thunder.

The Tenn is very intelligent, written in a sophisticated fashion, and was genuinely original. Yet it’s the Bradbury that everybody, including me and Barry, remembers vividly while the Tenn story slipped out of our minds till we happened to reread it in a context of familiarity with the Bradbury.
That sort of synergy, of real communication, wouldn’t have happened if Barry and I limited ourselves to blogs. Could it? Sure; but we all know that it wouldn’t have.

So I’m not against instant communication. But I’m not going to blog, and anybody who emails me through will get a real reply (though probably one that would fit on a postcard, just as in past years).

And I’m going to continue writing letters to friends.

–Dave Drake

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