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Steve Utley Silurian Franchise Now Accepting Bids
© Steve Utley
February 09, 2006

I joke about being the author of the "perennially soon-to-be-finished" Silurian Tales, a series of loosely connected stories which I began writing in 1993 — before I knew it was going to be a series, and so long in the writing that it may last clear into the Devonian. It spans 25 to 40 years in the lives of a number of recurring characters, scientists and other visitors to mid-Paleozoic time, who are trying to do the work that is important to them while coping (or failing to cope) with isolation, boredom, privation, their own and one another's shortcomings, and, increasingly, the implications of time travel (so called) in accordance with the many-universes hypothesis advanced by quantum physicists. This is as close to Max Shulman's formula for "a tale of action and passion, a guts-and-glory story of men with untamed hearts, of women with raging juices," as I know how to get at present.

The component stories originally appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and the online magazines Sci Fiction and RevolutionSF; several have been reprinted in year's-best anthologies or translated, and there have been nibbles from book publishers — and sooner or later (I tell myself), one of them must take the hook. In a sanguine mood (and incidentally while under the influence of Edgar Lee Masters' wonderful Spoon River Anthology), I have tried to imagine what could ensue from that.

OUR STORY THUS FAR

It should go without saying

that we are most gratified

by the critical acclaim

lavished on our chronicle

of life and love way back in

mid-Paleozoic time,

while our publishers declare

themselves ecstatic over

the volume of units sold.

We have striven to cleave to

the facts, or as nearly close

to the facts as possible,

giving credence only to

the credible, eschewing

melodrama (luckily,

the potentialities

for such were few, or, at least,

difficult to realize

on a human scale) — and this,

please note, in the face of an

editor's insisting that

"subtlety's all well and fine,

but this Henry Jamesian

approach (not a bad thing in

itself, a few people still

read Henry James) is at odds

with your raw material —

a space-time anomaly,

trilobites, sea scorpions,

infinite universes.

You are peering at specks

through a microscope, while all

around you is spectacle

and phantasmagoria."

Actually, we were told in

so many words, "It needs

more action — let's punch things up.

How about if one of these

time-travelers suddenly

and unexpectedly died

in the Paleozoic,

and he's an organ donor,

and a medical team has

to get the organs back to

the twenty-first century

where some kid needs new kidneys,

or a blind girl is waiting

for new corneas, and she

doesn't find out till later

that they were taken out of

her long-lost father — no,

wait, she starts hallucinating

after the operation,

sees prehistoric monsters,

and maybe you could work in

something about Atlantis!"

We shall be writing sequels

until the cash cows come home.

It's all well and good, of course, for a fellow to look ahead, but in my case, because my imagination is inflamed by the many-universes hypothesis (which posits universes infinitely replicating themselves to accommodate all possible outcomes of every action), I find myself looking in several directions ahead. The day could also arrive when I realize that I'm done with the subject, or even heartily sick of it. This in itself wouldn't be so bad — presumably, I'd simply go on to something else. But . . . what if readers don't want me to go on to anything else?

Hey, it could happen; precedents exist. Generations of readers have been variously disappointed that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote two, not three, dozen Tarzan adventures, that Conan Doyle wrote just so many Sherlock Holmes stories, that Robert E. Howard wrote just so much about the other Conan. Readers being only human and human nature being what it is, there are probably even people who can't get over the fact that Frederick Schiller Faust's entire output, written as by Max Brand or under about twenty other pen names to boot, amounts to a mere 530 books' worth. So, what if all anybody wants from me is even more Silurian tales than I care to write?

Fortunately, publishers being publishers, the solution to the problem has already been devised and tried out and honed to perfection, which is why, for instance, you can now read the sequel Margaret Mitchell never wrote to Gone With the Wind, and also why there are now more Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and Conan stories not written by Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming, and Robert E. Howard (respectively) than ever those gentlemen wrote (respectively). And what's good enough (if good is the word) for Mitchell, Doyle, Fleming, and Howard is good enough for me: I shall become a franchise! Moreover, I shall do Mitchell &c. one better and not wait till I'm dead.

I might actually enjoy myself. I mean, what would I really have to do, beyond providing guidelines, overseeing the product to ensure that it is up to standard, and cashing checks? How much trouble would it be for me to provide explanatory boilerplate to be inserted early on in works "inspired by the famous stories of Steven Utley"? Barren mid-Paleozoic landscapes hardly tax anybody's powers of description, and as to the quantum weirdness underlying the series' premise, there are popular works on the subject, designed expressly for the lay reader who doesn't know quantum physics from kumquats. If all else falls there are the original stories I wrote. I believe I am the living proof that knowledge of advanced mathematics is not an absolute prerequisite to grasping the principle of uncertainty. Why, if I've learned anything in my decades as a writer of sci and fi, it's that less knowledge, fewer principles, and greater uncertainty equal something.

Persons interested in getting in on the ground floor can contact me through the editors of this publication. Writing samples are required, and little tokens of appreciation would be nice, too.


Steve Utley's work has been gathered in three collections: This Impatient Ape, Career Moves of The Gods and Ghost Seas (1997 Ticonderoga Publications). A new volume, The Beasts of Love, is available from Wheatland Press and gathers 31 stories published between 1973 and 1997, plus a swell introduction by Lisa Tuttle.

 
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