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Regarding my being listed among the thirty-six Featured Authors in Barnes & Noble’s Other Science Fiction Categories, spanning the Middle Ages to 2099:
I was educated at Gilmour Academy and Santa Clara University and began writing seriously in the 1970’s, eventually writing three books: two novels and a nonfiction book on new information technology and its potential value to strategic analysis in the national security arena. My second novel, Heaven Engine (2004), fits the classification, Other Science Fiction.
Over sixty thousand science fiction and fantasy novels and story collections appear to be in print. The classification, Other Science Fiction, applies to a swath of writers of traditional literary fiction who in one or another pioneering work blend that venerable tradition with elements of science fiction and fantasy. The designation is essentially interchangeable with Other Speculative Fiction and Speculative Fiction, earlier terms which gained usage as many writers resisted being constrained to “pure” science fiction–admittedly a genre proven hard to define precisely–since their work showed a blend of various forms.
As in literary categories in general, two related ideas derived from religious writings–imprimatur and canon–have served in appraising Other Science Fiction. In this category of works of hybrid fiction, what merits an imprimatur, a rare mark of approval and distinction? In sum: Original experimental writing within a classic framework as judged by literary experts. A canon is a grouping of works by such writers chosen on the basis of their innovative, complex language and style; superior storytelling on its own merits as well as measured against earlier stories; drama transcendent of time and place; and authenticity based on a body of observed experience over time. In Other Science Fiction, authors such as Jane Austen, G.K. Chesterton, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, E.M. Forster, H. G. Wells, James Joyce and Mark Twain are featured. Scholars have especially analyzed forms of fantasy in the works of Austen, Chesterton, Conan Doyle (for example, The Lost World) and Conrad. But others listed here have been read in similar perspectives. In his revolutionary, modernist novel, Ulysses, playing out over a day in early twentieth century Dublin, James Joyce allegorically stretches Time to parallel eerily the adventures of his main character, Leopold Bloom, with those of Homer’s Odysseus in the ancient epic. E. M. Forster’s bizarre, echoing Marabar Caves in A Passage to India might well be called “otherworldly.” And Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee who visits King Arthur’s court is, after all, a time traveler. Other examples abound.
Other innovative stylistic blends displayed by the featured authors include the contemporary British writer Jasper Fforde’s interleaving of detective and science fiction/fantasy forms (along with stylistic flourishes typical in metafiction such as self-conscious playfulness and paradox); Gordon Randall Garrett’s science fiction detective stories in his Lord Darcy books; Eleanor Porter’s influential mix of realism and fantasy in Pollyanna; and Kenneth Graham’s enormously successful adventure-fantasy, The Wind in the Willows.
The fully acknowledged science fiction and fantasy masters on the list–chosen from the rich niche of thousands of books authored in that genre and ranging from the most prominent novelists such as Ray Bradbury, J.D. Robb (AKA Nora Roberts), John Sandford, Bram Stoker, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to the genre-famous such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Campbell, George Allen England, Gordon Randall Garrett, Greg Percy, and Murray Leinster–have all invented and dramatized seminal science fiction and fantasy devices, creatures and forms to leaven their storylines, innovations such as Wells’s time-travel machine, Stoker’s vampires, Percy’s sword-and-planet genre, Verne’s submarine, Leinster’s Universal Translator, and Bradley’s classic fantasy novels about mythical courtly times such as The Mists of Avalon. Here too, examples are many.
Most of the featured authors have passed, and most lived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Those writing today are John Sandford, Jasper Fforde, J. D. Robb and myself.
All the authors have written extensively; sold substantial numbers of novels and in some cases (J.D. Robb, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Sandford, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Zane Grey and Jane Austen) huge numbers; published with traditional publishers; been researched, studied and analyzed widely; and are introduced on the Internet through their own Wikipedia pages.
I am the exception here:
The newest author on the list, I have written one traditional novel framed as a science fantasy epic–the above-mentioned Heaven Engine (2004); self-published the novel with a print-on-demand technology through Penguin Books and its subdivision, Author Solutions; had marginal sales early (though for brief periods the novel has ranked in the top ten bestsellers in science fiction, science fantasy, and science novels on Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble and is now showing increased readership owing to burgeoning subscription services); and forgone a Wikipedia page. The judges selecting the Other Science Fiction list have evidently considered Heaven Engine to be a signature book in 2000-2099. Perhaps one way of looking at the novel is to see it as a work of literary fiction, a Quest Story, dramatizing a future in which the progress of technology, together with a supremely ironic suicidal disillusionment over the advanced human longevity of the times in an even more blatant entrapping biology and inscrutable vast universe, have led some humans to seek a transnatural secular heaven against enormous odds, an indefinite experience of suspenseful mathological “creatovery” in Ideality by newly formed postbiological beings of great mindfulness, beings made not in the image of any deity and whose story departs from both the literary tradition of “cathartic” tragedies in the Vale of Tears and the more recent tradition of epics of heroic defiance by heroes trapped in bloody mortality, victims of “natural selection”: which in the former case is to say, the tragic King Lear and ilk; and in the latter case is to say, the magnificent Ahab and ilk.
With respect to the shift which has occurred in the readership of Heaven Engine, readers have been obtaining the book through the growing number of media-streaming subscription-based services offering access to millions of books. An example service is Zeusfun which has some 80,000 subscribers. The company first uploaded Heaven Engine in mid 2019 and as of late 2021 there have been over 700 reviews averaging a rating of 4.5/5.0 stars. Certainly many more readers on Zeusfun than the number of reviewers have obtained the book.
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Rating: 4.6/5 from 588 votes.
In essence, Heaven Engine is meant to be a new literary experience, one written in the spirit of the unprecedented personal and transformative revolutions in technology–aka “artificial life”–emerging in our time. Its style and form are composed to dramatize in themselves–through the experience they create–the plausibility of the premise.
I am also one of Barnes & Noble’s Fifty Featured Authors, Science Fiction and Fantasy, High-Tech/Hard Science Fiction, Nineteenth Century to Present. Here is a recently published Barnes & Noble short list, selected from the full list of fifty authors, of eight of the current writers; in some versions of this short list, the earlier novelists Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells are also included.
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High Tech and Hard Science Fiction
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In a further sign of the increasing interest in Heaven Engine, Leapfrog Press, a widely respected book publisher focused on publishing and promoting experimental literary fiction, recently “scouted” Heaven Engine as showing a potential appeal to readers beyond its present interest largely to writers and literary workers. Westwood Books has made a similar appraisal. Several marketing companies have also made contact. Additionally, as of July 2018, Cloud 9 Booksellers has priced a hardcopy first edition of the novel as a collectible at $1,000 and as of January 2020 a British bookseller has priced a first edition as a collectible at over 1,100 pounds (albeit Heaven Engine, first published in 2004, is established in print, i.e., Nook and Kindle versions of the print-on-demand first edition continue to sell for under $5 and hardcopy versions through Amazon and Barnes and Noble remain for sale typically in the range of $20-$30).
Heaven Engine, adventurous in theme, form and style, and within the Republic of Letters perhaps what F.R. Leavis called “a highbrow novel,” dramatizes a distant pivotal future. Specifically: In their new, hard-won longevity, technologically advanced but radically dwindled and disillusioned humans–they have largely left Preventive Earth to live on six massive space stations: Republic, Princedom, Utopia, Leviathan, Demostar and Nirvana–ironically have become psychologically exhausted in their long lives, stymied by the ensuing demise of novelty–“the dreadful sameness of human experience,” “the curse of familiarity”–as they strain against the chains of their very “design” as severely constrained creatures of natural selection and as they despair over their “home,” the brutally impersonal, violently meaningless, inscrutably vast Cosmos. A growing plague of suicide ravages. The operative term in Heaven Engine for this future existential threat is “Disnovelling.”
Heaven Engine has in places departed from some traditional thinking about the forms of narrative, for example, Aristotle’s “Unities.” The novel has multiple points of view, lengthy time spans, many settings, a panorama of actions, and other stylistic features not typically considered standard in fiction. For example, Heaven Engine contains several frames of reference, notably aspects of theoretical mathematics.
Apropos, the late John Updike, with whom I had an occasional snail-mail correspondence while I was composing Heaven Engine and who described the novel as conveying “fascinating prospects,” early posed the fundamental dramatic question about the Longevitites with whom I was populating the story: “How do they keep from being infernally bored, as human consciousnesses would become in any indefinitely prolonged situation?” In Heaven Engine a defiant band of Homo sapiens dares an immortality project to escape to an infinite, engrossing life in Ideality, an eternal experience of mindful creating, a Mathematica Dramatica. To be or not to be turns on whether these intrepids can “save human psychology from Accident.” Two immense questions arise: Might there be an Ideality both endless and endlessly engrossing? Can the human, since its beginning and for centuries restrained in the smothering embrace of the poet’s Heavy Bear, that Darwinian beast, transform itself to gain such a happy realm? (As Marvin Minsky once said, such would be a case of “non-natural selection.”) Herewith a two-front battle against the despairing Tedium of Disnovelling, the battle whose outcome shapes the story. (In an Epilog currently being written for a later edition of Heaven Engine, the barest glimpse of the experience of a Mathematica Dramatica is offered as a compressed drama about discovering infinities from countable to uncountable, the latter revealed through Cantor’s Diagonal Argument; Cantor is unnamed but the dawning of his beautiful insight is likened to “a graceful cantering.”)
The drama is experienced in tailored forms both by humans of that time and, thanks to protean technology, by resurrected humans and fictionals from earlier periods (“tourists of the future”). Heaven Engine is a version tailored to a twentieth century archetype, Centwen. The novel displays a form and prosody that lyrically compress a vast sweep of future history using poetic overviews of crucial periods (“Cogspells”) done in a style of narration in which are mingled elements of versification–intonation, stress, tone and rhythm–meant to stamp the reader vividly (“The Twilight Zone at last in highlight shown”). The chief features of the style include “rollercoasting” in rapidly coursing and impelling passages and “obstopart,” a blending of passive observation with active participation in the situations of the future. The story is told through a blend of first-, second-, and third-person narration, confessional to objective; a style of the postmodern, it allows the various points of view to add their own outlooks to what precedes them in the narrative and intensifies the force of the presentation. The characters speak in different fonts to help capture their voices and reflect their personalities. Wordplay, poetic devices, punning, jokes and other familiar stylistic touches pervade. After all, if traditional literary forms would lose power in a new history, they still would serve as forms suitable for a prelude–a transition–to a radically new adventure in Ideality. It would be their Final Act, and their preservation in those last moments of the Old World brings a precious nostalgia which heightens the drama of reaching the New World.