Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Letter from Diane Duane, best-selling author of new YA novel A Wizard of Mars

Dear Amazon Reader,

"What the heck ... let's go to Mars!" That's what one of those little voices in the back of my head said some years back, when I was contemplating where I'd be taking the Young Wizards series after Wizards at War.

When you're a writer, you learn to live with these little voices. As a former psychiatric nurse, I know that they're just one more way that the creative urge expresses itself to help you get the work done -- a friendly voice being something you're more likely to listen to than some vague, disembodied Spirit of Creativity. I treat these suggestions as if they came from one of the "shoulder angels" or "shoulder devils" you see in cartoons. When they pop up and whisper something, you can pay attention or you can brush them off, but the final choice is always yours.

This time I listened. Mars has turned up in the YW books in the past, but only as a bit player -- Nita's sister Dairine stops off there briefly on her wizardly Ordeal, not wanting to pass by without visiting Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano in the solar system (and a must-see for alien tourists in our arm of the galaxy). Surely, I thought, the planet next door merited a little more attention from me than just that single mention. For not merely as an astronomy geek from childhood, but as someone who's spent a lot of time in and around science fiction, I've had Mars on my radar for a long time.

Many of the great names in the science fiction and fantasy fields -- Wells and Heinlein and Bradbury and even C. S. Lewis -- have been interested enough in Mars to "visit" there, each bringing along the best scientific knowledge of the moment, and his or her own particular vision of what the Red Planet meant to them and what it might eventually mean to humanity. Other writers -- Edgar Rice Burroughs, particularly -- have gone there packing less science and more romance. But regardless, Mars has usually seemed to elicit good things from those who visit there in literary mode: visions of beauty and of terror, the unexpected and the seriously strange.

And for me, the fascination with Mars itself became an issue, a question to be answered. Why does Mars command so much attention from both the scientific community and the general public? What is it with Mars, anyway? Specifically, why has it so often been where invaders come from? ("Invaders from Jupiter?" Nita says at one point. "Invaders from Venus? It just doesn’t sound right. But invaders from Mars...") Is this just the effect of much piled-up popular culture, or do Earth and Mars have something else going on? If so, what? And what if that long-buried issue should suddenly come up to be resolved?

That last one is the question I found myself dealing with as I wrote this book ... and it was a whole lot of fun. In the process I got to nod "hello" to a lot of my illustrious forbears in the field who've left their literary footprints on the planet (or their name: a surprising number of craters on Mars have been named after science fiction writers). I also got to do some goofy things, which is a writer's prerogative as long as she's careful about it and doesn't disturb the main flow of story business: watch for a cameo by a well-known Martian of 1950s vintage). Most important, I got to push my characters into situations that challenged them in some very different ways from the usual ones, their personal dramas playing themselves out on an alien landscape that's a little less alien because they can see Earth from there.

And -- as a happy side issue -- I had help from NASA in scouting my locations for the main story events. The Mars Global Surveyor satellite completely mapped the surface of the Red Planet before its sad demise, and NASA's made that data available to anyone who wants it. So with the right software to process the data for you and create the imagery, you can seem to stand on the surface of Mars yourself, and take a look around.

So, all in all, Kit and Nita and I had a serious party in our stay on Mars. In A Wizard of Mars, the party's still going on. And we can't wait for you to join us there!

All the best,

Diane Duane


Maurice Mitchell said...

Barely anyone has written about Jupiter and Venus gets no love. Mars, however, has endless fascination for us. It's really nice to hear the perspective of someone as to why Mars holds such a fascination with science-fiction.

Paul said...

Maurice, I agree! Diane wrote a wonderful letter.