Stephen Goldin discussing "Eternity Brigade"
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I'm Stephen Goldin. I write science fiction and fantasy. While the promo for this chat says I'll be talking about The Eternity Brigade, I've got over 40 professionally published titles, and I'm more than happy to talk about any and all of them--or writing in general (I wrote The Business of Being A Writer), or any other subject in the universe.
A book I'd particularly like to interest readers in is Polly!. Polly is a character I especially love, and I'd like to introduce her to more people. She's a very friendly lady, and well worth knowing.
I'd also like to point out that, through the month of July, all my novel-length ebooks are half off or better at Smashwords. If you're not familiar with them, or you'd like to fill out your collection, this is a great time to do so.
A final commercial plug (at least for the moment): I invite people to take advantage of my ROGO Program (Review One, Get One). If you review one of my books and post it on Amazon and at least two other public places (eg., LT, a blog, another book retailer, etc.), you get a coupon for another of my ebooks absolutely free. (You can work your way through my entire collection this way.) And I like honest reviews, even if they're not all flattering. You can find exact details and rules of the program here.
Thanks. Nice to see you back in print after all these years. Congrats!
There's not a sequel (yet, though several are planned, when time and the universe permit), but there is a book that precedes it: Jade Darcy and the Affair of Honor, and yes it is part of the sale--half off if you use coupon code SSW50 when purchasing at Smashwords. My wife, Mary Mason, and I also have the rough draft of a prequel, Jade Darcy: Run Out Of West ready. It's set 5 years before Affair and details Jade's arrival on the planet Cablans and the people and events she encounters in her first week there. Unfortunately for Jade fans, there's a lot of other very interesting things going on in our lives at the moment, so it may be a while before this appears--but when it does, it may answer a few questions readers have.
So many good books to write, so little time...
The Family d'Alembert series is fun, but seriously outdated now. (Superspies of the future having to use phone booths to make calls from the field, eg.) I recently did a thorough rewrite and update of them as my Agents of ISIS series series that I think is even better.
In the case of the d'Alembert series, I'd always felt tied down by the E.E. Smith connections. In the mid-2000s it looked as though the Smith Estate was going to let it die and I'd put too much of my life into the series to see it disappear. So I tossed out the entire original first book, which was the only part of the series Smith had anything to do with, and wrote Tsar Wars, with a new universe, a new plot, new characters, new everything. It wasn't simply a matter of updating technology; I tried to make everything a little more mature, a trifle more realistic--which is hard to do, 'cause it's still space opera, but I tried.
For the other 9 books in the series, which had always been original with me, I kept the same plots but rewrote them to fit the new characters and new universe. I like to think I'd become a better writer in the 20+ years since I finished the original series, and I hope it shows in the new series. Maybe you can think of it as going home again and revisiting your past and making it better this time around. I have a good feeling about it.
(Then, of course, the Estate re-issued the old versions in ebook form. Both series now exist side-by-side, giving people the opportunity to judge whether "pure Goldin" is better than "Smith-bound Goldin.")
Back in the early 70s, Harlequin Books, the Romance monolith, decided to try their hand at the science fiction field with a series known as Laser Books, with Roger Elwood as editor of the line. Harlequin had made--and is still making--a fortune by producing books to a tightly controlled formula and thought they could do the same with sf.
Harlequin was perfectly honest and upfront about what they wanted to do. The Laser Books formula was: a) science fiction; b) action-adventure; c) about 60,000 words; d) with an upbeat ending; and e) with a male protagonist.
When fans heard about the formula, they went ballistic. You couldn't produce good science fiction according to a formula, they said. Science fiction is about expanding the boundaries of consciousness, removing all limits. You can't contain it within a tight little box.
(Of course, if you'd asked all the science fiction fans, particularly in the early 70s, to make a list of their top 25 all-time favorite sf novels, each list probably would have had at least 15 titles fitting more or less within those boundaries. But you can't expect facts to stand in the way of grand theories.)
So there was great resistance to the Laser line from the very beginning. It didn't help that Seeds of Change, the book Harlequin chose to be the showpiece of the line and which was given away for free per a special deal with the author, was hardly a knock-'em-dead book. It garnered lots of scorn and derision even before the other books in the line went on sale.
Ironically, a lot of fears were not that the new line would flop; rather, people were worried it would be too successful. I heard a lot citations of Gresham's Law that the Bad drives out the Good; too much schlock means there won't be room in the marketplace for gems, and the whole genre would end up mired in mediocrity. Many fans reviled the line, and there were talks of boycotts.
After publishing for about a year and a half, the Laser Books line folded. Like all publishing lines, they published some good books and some bad. I heard from backstairs sources--and there are absolutely no figures to back this up--that fan boycotts had absolutely nothing to do with it. In the publishing industry, a publisher considers itself successful if it routinely sells about a third of the copies it prints. Laser Books, so I hear, were selling nearer to 50%. Other sf publishers would have considered that a success, but Harlequin--used to the phenomenal sales of their romances--thought it was a disappointment and not worth continuing.
On a personal level, Laser Books came along at a perfect point in my career. I had sold a number of stories and had two completely written but unsold novels on hand: Herds and Scavenger Hunt. Roger liked Herds right away for the new line, and it ended up being Laser Books #2. Scavenger Hunt though, at about 95,000 words, was way too long for the formula.
Roger commissioned a brand new book from me, Caravan. Meanwhile, we continued to talk about Scavenger Hunt. Roger asked if I could shorten it to 60,000 words; I said no, I thought it was already the bare minimum length it could be. Then he suggested cutting it in half and publishing the two halves separately. But it would take a lot of extra work, since Laser Books didn't want to appear to be publishing a serial. I would have to write the "first" book as though it came to a definite ending halfway through the original story. Then I'd have to write a new beginning to the second half to make it look like it was a whole new story. I wasn't really thrilled with this process, but it got the book published. The two halves, published as Scavenger Hunt and Finish Line, were eventually published as Laser Books.
After the rights reverted to me, I pasted the mass back together, revised and updated. The story is now back to the 1-volume Scavenger Hunt that exists today as God and the Author (one and the same) intended it to be, and I'm so much happier.
I did try to point out to Roger that the "male protagonist" limitation was wrong, and I outlined a book that would have been perfect for Laser except for the female protagonist. But Laser couldn't be flexible enough, so I ended up selling that book, Assault on the Gods, to Doubleday instead as my first hardcover.
I should point out that my wife at that time, Kathleen Sky, wrote two books for Laser as well: Birthright and Ice Prison. I also wrote my novel And Not Make Dreams Your Master under contract to Laser, but the line folded before that one could be published, and I ended up selling it elsewhere.
So, all in all, I considered Laser Books a reasonably positive experience. Not perfect, by a long shot, but far better than a lot of people seem to think.
Er, what was the question again?
Thank you for your answer. I have started collecting them and have about 3/4 of the set. I have read a few of them and found them entertaining.
Absolutely. Most of them were at least competent, and some even better than that. I don't think they should have been lambasted as badly as they were
Thank you for allowing your fans to converse with you. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to gain much valuable insight.
I would be very interested to find out what your inspiration was for Eternity Brigade. What prompted you to write it in the first place. Did the Vietnam War have a part to play, also: the Final edition - what was the story with the rewrite (which I have not read yet)?
You obviously felt passionately about the subject matter; but, I was also curious if it was based on any particular personal accounts you had in mind while writing the book.
Thanks for writing. Excuse me a moment while I search the crowded memory-attic and dust cobwebs off some of the recollections.
Of course the Vietnam War had something to do with it; the war affected virtually everything that happened in a nearly 2 decade era, even issues that had nothing to do with war--music, clothing, everything.
I was lucky enough to get out of participating in the war, even though I was the prime age. But I wasn't on the protest side, either. Someone on the UCLA campus once asked me where I stood, and I replied that I was rooting for Switzerland.
But it was impossible to be unaffected. With thoughts of war, fighting and soldiers all over the place, an idea occurred to me about soldiers being reincarnated to fight over and over again forever, and how insane that could become. The result was a short story called But As A Soldier, For His Country, which Terry Carr published in his UNIVERSE 5 anthology. The story's now available in ebook form here for free.
When I wrote it I thought it was deep and meaningful. Looking back on it, it now seems shallow and nihilistic, the views of a young man who hasn't thought hard enough about the issues involved in what he's writing.
A few years later I read The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. The power of that book affected me deeply. It made me think. I went back and took another look at my older story, and suddenly saw a lot of things in it that I hadn't said before. I saw deeper layers to the character, and other characters, that needed saying. As research, since I had no first-hand information, I also read Haldeman's War Year, a non-sf novel that gave me a lot of information on what it was like to be a grunt in a useless war. Putting all these ingredients in a blender and mixing vigorously gave me The Eternity Brigade.
I thought I was finished with the book--but about 25 years later, Olga Gardner Galvin, the publisher/editor of ENC Press, told me she loved the book and wanted to republish it. She gave me some wonderful suggestions for how to expand some scenes and further elucidate on sections I'd just glossed over before. I also brought it more up-to-date historically and technologically. Though eventually Olga and I had artistic differences and I ended up publishing the book myself, I'm very grateful to her for the work and insight she contributed to what I call the "final edition" because I don't want to look at that book again.
I think this latest edition is the culmination of a long journey into (and out of) darkness. and I hope you'll give it a try to see how far I came in the intervening years.
I don't like to brag, but I'm gonna do it anyway. Polly! has just been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction. This list requires a high rating by a critic with professional credentials, so it makes me even prouder of the book than I was before.
For a few more days (through July 31) Polly! is available here at half price.
If that sort of thing appeals to you, you might check out these books.
I Shrine of the Desert Mage
II The Storyteller and the Jann
III Crystals of Air and Water
IV Treachery of the Demon King