Monday, December 8, 2008

Author Allen Steele Frowns at the Face on Mars

If you have the opportunity to attend Vericon IX at Harvard University in late January 2009 and the distinction of meeting guest author Allen Steele, please don’t ask him about the “face” on Mars.
It’s a sensitive subject, as Steele explained in an interview at WindyCon XXV, several years after the publication of his novel Labyrinth of Night (1992):
Steven Silver: In Labyrinth of Night, you introduced an extinct alien civilization, but you never really followed up, in that or subsequent works, with the impact that had on humans.

Allen Steele: Another problem I had with Labyrinth of Night was the reception of it. Labyrinth of Night had to do with the "face" on Mars. I first got the idea for using the "face" on Mars as the springboard for a science fiction novel after I read an article about it in Analog that was written by Richard Hoagland. Analog is usually a fairly trustworthy source for science articles, but by the time the novel came out, the "face" on Mars had graduated to the pages of the Weekly World News. Not only that, but after the novel came out, I started getting letters from the UFO buffs and pseudo-scientific types who thought that I had some kind of inside word on this things. I've had people come up to me at conventions and they have the "inside dope" on these things. It was all very X-Files. "Meet me tonight at 10:00 and I'll show you the secret government files on this." I thought "Oh no. I really don't want to keep going through this."

I feel like one of the problems with Labyrinth of Night is that I might have inadvertently fed something, even though I said at the beginning of the book that I don't really believe that the
"face" on Mars is actually there. I had a lot of people write me
e-mail when the photographs showed that that particular land form had eroded away leaving only a vestige of what it had been asking if I was disappointed and I thought, no, I'm happy as hell we've got it settled. It's all done with. Not only that, but there's no possibility of a sequel now. So that's why I never went back to it. The cooties themselves, the aliens, I thought were very interesting and I sort of want to do something with them, but you can't do that without approaching the whole Cydonia artifact issue again, and I really have no desire to do so.
Allen’s Steele’s fifth collection of short stories, The Last Science Fiction Writer, will be published by Subterranean Press in the very near future.

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