The quiet you’ve heard from this place was just the sound of me lying low.
For about a year and a half I have been writing ‘The knight’s tale, a novel of the future.’ And now it’s done.
Though not quite the largest single work I’ve ever attempted, it is close to that, and easily the most complicated. The story was in fact pulled from a much larger epic first begun in 1976, which has occupied thousands of hours of my life in the years since. Over that time many aspects of the original concept were altered. The natural growth of scientific knowledge forced some of this. But more importantly, I have changed, and thus the way I saw the story I wanted to tell mutated.
From 1976 to 1980 I was involved with the publishing of Galileo, a magazine of science and fiction. ‘Science Fiction,’ imagining what was to come, was in the air I breathed. Ideas of what our future might be were the daily fodder of argument and the inspiration for making something out of nothing, which is just what we were attempting to do as we published a magazine without sufficient funds and with an unpaid staff sustained by coffee, pizza and enthusiasm.
The 1970’s were a dismal time for America–a bad economy, unemployment, political strife, racial unrest, overseas failures and entanglements. A lot like now, but without iPads, iPhones, and iMacs. The two Steves were still in the garage in Cupertino. It was during that period that I began to imagine a story of things to come and see them in terms of the past.
Being a lover of the book, what fascinates me most about the present is the palimpsest of what was written before, that lies beneath all that we read today. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is as enlightening about the future we face now as the best Star Trek episode ever was or could be. If you cast your mind back to Thomas More’s England of 1516, you will see that the world to come was not so much what he imagined in Utopia, as what he already had before him at the court of Henry the Eighth. The problem that science fiction has always been saddled with is dealing with what is and what was, not what will be. The future will always take care of itself.
The double entendre of the word ‘lies’ might have been missed. Most of what we imagine the future to be is a weave of selected falsehoods we tell ourselves for our own comfort or to feel some sense of retribution against those things in the present that we dislike. We are all going to die–You’ll be hurt–We will all be better off–Judgment day is coming–You’ll get yours–You’ll see. But always we tend to lie for our own benefit.
I had imagined a world that was a positive development of the present, a la 1976. What came to be, soon spoiled that lie. But I persisted. I reimagined my premise, recalculated my trajectory, and rewrote my story. I did this quite a few times in the years since.
To be fair, I never finished any of those versions. Already foolishly attempting to do a bit more than I should have at any one time, the present always strangled both the future and the past like a couple of twins in the tower. (I know, that was Richard the Third and not Henry the Eighth. But I like the imagery). And nevertheless, the story beneath persisted.
To repeatedly abandon a project can be disheartening. I have abandoned many through the years and know the smell of that rot too well. But this one would not die. To mix in another metaphor, it was a root that persisted. A radix. It showed itself every few years before being cut back again. This last time, as it sprang up between the cracks in other work, I let it grow. I wondered if it might at last make something of itself–with a little help from my iMac.
Now I have to find an agent and a publisher for it.