Realms of Darkover®, the newest Darkover anthology, will be released in May 2016. You can pre-order it at Amazon (and it will be available at other outlets soon). Here’s a contributor interview to whet your appetite!
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s beloved world of Darkover encompasses many realms, from glacier-shrouded mountains to arid wastelands, from ancient kingdoms to space-faring empires. Now this all-new anthology welcomes old friends and new fans to explore these landscapes of time and place, history and imagination.
Michael Spence describes himself as an expatriate Virginian living less than five hundred kilometers from the Canadian border, along the northern event horizon of the St. Paul-Minneapolis paradox. He is the narrator of several Darkover novel audio books, including of Marion's The Heirs of Hammerfell. Recent publications include "Dark Speech" (with Elisabeth Waters, in Sword and Sorceress 30), "The Music of the Spheres" (Music of Darkover), "Requiem for the Harlequin: Two Perspectives on Time, and a Celebration of Kairos, in Three Stories by Harlan Ellison" (Sci Phi Journal), and "Why the Sea Is Boiling Hot: A Tale from the Archives of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences" (Imagine That! Studios), a Finalist for the 2014 Parsec Award.
Deborah J. Ross: When and why did you begin writing?
Michael Spence: When? Not sure; I only know that I was doing story fragments and rudimentary stories by sixth grade. Some were submitted as school assignments. One collection of fragments appeared on a stack of monogrammed memo slips discarded by an aunt. A novel got outlined in eighth grade and then abandoned. Junior high saw an attempt at audio drama and some Man from U.N.C.L.E. fanfic. High school Star Trek parodies placed fellow high-school students on an all-female starship (all but one, that is: me. Wish fulfillment, you ask? Naah. Well, okay, the starship part was).
Why? Hm. Some will tell you they read an atrocious story and knew they could do better. I saw a couple of stories like that, even a novel published as part of a media tie-in series (no doubt filling a last-minute hole in the schedule, albeit with silly putty). But also there's the fact, at least in my experience, that writers simply are cool -- you would agree, wouldn't you? -- and I wanted to be one. As Diane Duane's enticing title says, So You Want to Be a Wizard ... well, being a writer comes pretty durn close.
I might have quit for good in college, though, after a creative writing course with a then-prominent "literary fiction" author who had no time for SF. That I resumed it later ... "and who deserves the credit, and who deserves the blame? Ay!" Elisabeth Waters, that's who. We'd been friends during high-school years, and after college I lost contact with her ... but one day in a bookstore near the University of Virginia I picked up The Keeper's Price and saw Lisa's story "The Alton Gift," and some years later her impressive "The Blade of Unmaking" appeared in Sword and Sorceress 14. A mutual friend put us back in touch, and once when she and Marion were going through some stressful times I wrote a lighthearted Darkover novelette for them, noteworthy only in that it's the first piece of that length that I actually finished. I look on that as the moment I finally became something resembling a writer.
Sometime afterward, we were discussing story thoughts, and I mentioned an idea I was struggling with. Shortly thereafter she emailed me to say she had a possible solution, and would I like to collaborate? The result was "Salt and Sorcery" in Sword and Sorceress 16, the second of the Treasures of Albion stories, and we've been working in that world since then.
At about the same time, I took a short break from dissertation work one afternoon to do a short piece called "One Drink Before You Go." I submitted it to S & S, but Marion bought it for Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Worlds. That was my first fiction sale.
DJR: Is there a particular kind of story you prefer? How does it shape your work?
MS: Fiction, to me, is a thought-experiment laboratory for life; which, among other things, means that cardboard or cliché characters are best avoided. I've always liked stories that pose problems that the characters have to solve -- those with well-drawn, authentic characters being the best -- and the more unexpected the solution, the better. The problems can be physical (as in Andy Weir's The Martian, which I'm enjoying the heck out of right now), social (hello, original Star Trek), or psychological, but they need to ring true.
If you just now thought, "Asimov, Clarke, Campbell, Heinlein" ... you're absolutely right. My teachers. With substantial leavening from Harlan Ellison and others.
Also, I like it when the route to the story's solution involves a field I'm unfamiliar with, such as matters equestrian (see Judith Tarr's "The Cold Blue Light," in your Stars of Darkover, which reminds us that communication between horse and human exists already, on a level unknown even to the MacArans), figure skating (Elisabeth Waters's "Ice Princess," in her Magic in Suburbia), or securities analysis (H.F. Saint's Memoirs of an Invisible Man).
There's also much fun to be had in stories that reveal unsuspected connections between parts of a created universe. (Peter David does this particularly well, even in his throwaway dialogue.) This plus my background in choral music gave rise to "The Music of the Spheres," in Music of Darkover; that story is for, among others, the people who find themselves thinking, "Right, I did read Darkover Landfall. Why in the world would they then call the place Cottman Four?"
You'll doubtless see all of this as you read "The Snowflake Fallacy." As Shelley Berman once put it, "God knows, I'm obvious."
DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover. What about the world or its inhabitants drew you in?
MS: I had known of Darkover for years before I finally read it. I remember as a college kid meeting Marion Zimmer Bradley at Philcon in the early 70s; she had a table in the back of a meeting room with a stack of books and a sign:
READ MY LATEST
(AND MAYBE THE LAST?)
The book, of course, was The World Wreckers.
Darkover, besides having one the most wonderful names for a planet, is an interesting mix of cultures -- rather refreshing to some of us who've noticed the homogeneous, not to say monotone, nature of various Star Trek worlds. Indeed, Marion seeded so many distinct elements in "The Planet Savers" that it's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that the story was intended as a one-shot.
Also, I've appreciated the fluidity with which SF and fantasy combine in Darkover. Wizards and starstones, or technicians and matrixes -- both paradigms have their place.
DJR: What do you see as the future of Darkover? Is there another story you would particularly like to write?
MS: As you noted in your introduction to Realms, Darkover is indeed alive and well and in capable hands. You didn't include your own hands in that comment, so I will. Meanwhile, I don't have a future Darkover tale in mind yet -- actually, I have to catch up with the post-MZB work. I still have your Clingfire Trilogy to read....
DJR: What inspired your story in Realms of Darkover?
MS: Not sure how to answer this without spoilers ... so everyone out there please feel free to skip this section before reading the story. Ye've been warned ...
When we got the invitation to contribute, I told Lisa I wanted to explore the Overworld -- an idea used in various Darkover novels, to the extent of actually building a Tower there. Today we talk about the world of atoms and the world of digits (i.e., cyberspace), but the Overworld stands apart from both. It's a world in which mental activity is "real." We could call it the world of minds or, if you like, of souls. (I almost entitled the story "Noöscape" but, happily, relented -- imagine a demented voice from the shadows cackling, "No escape from the noöscape! Heeheehee..." And calling it "Psychoscape" would probably have conjured up the ghost of Robert Bloch, and then we'd be sorry.) It truly comes into its own when those souls meet and interact, so perhaps we could call it the world of interpersonal connections.
In fact, this is a concept that has fascinated me for some years, ever since I said, "Here I am!" to someone on the telephone and immediately wondered, "Wait. Where is 'here'?" For it was true: I wasn't physically "here" where that other person was, nor was he where I was, yet for the immediate purpose we were both "here," together in something I thereafter called "phonespace." You and I, like so many before us, are speaking to the reader in "bookspace" -- the limits of which spit in the eye of time. And then there's "cyberspace," which is likewise meaningless without connection; for want of that you'd be just one person fiddling with a keyboard. All of which means that the interaction of persons involves something that ignores our usual assumptions about place, time, and so forth. (Incidentally, that affects questions about the location and nature of heaven and hell -- in both of which I firmly believe.)
And for fun, I wanted to try telling a Darkover story that didn't look like a Darkover story, and in fact, very little of the action takes place on Darkover itself. The more interesting way to explore the Overworld, it seemed, would be from the viewpoint of someone who had no idea whatsoever what it was -- and what better candidate than a Terranan? The story evolved, and when it seemed clear how a young girl of Terran extraction might best cope with her situation, I realized that the story was also an homage to two creators from my younger days, John Broome and Gil Kane (plus, more recently, Geoff Johns).
But then came the question: how the heck would her predicament come about in the first place? That led to some reasoning that gave rise to the story's title and put its date considerably prior to the Compact era.
DJR: What have you written recently? What lies ahead?
MS: Recently, Elisabeth and I wrote "Dark Speech" for Sword and Sorceress 30; it's set in the Treasures of Albion world and does allude both to magic and a sword (the latter being standard issue for the city cops) but more directly addresses academia, with our usual grin and cocked eyebrow. I've also turned "One Drink Before You Go" into an audio script, if any producers out there are looking for material...
At least two more Treasures stories are now in process. One addresses the Treasure guarded by Lord Logas, a senior faculty member in the College of Wizardry at the University of Albion. The other features Magistrix Judith from "They that Watch" (S & S 27), chancellor at the University and an equestrienne in her own right. While not a wizard herself, she nonetheless brings a unique background to the school.
There's also a novel taking form -- my response to the "many-worlds hypothesis" of quantum mechanics -- if I can get a handle on it. We shall see.