Now that there a number of reviews of both Adrift on the Sea of Rains and The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself available in various places on the Internet (see the reviews tab), it’s been interesting seeing the difference responses to the two books. And there has been quite a striking difference – even for those who have read both novellas.
When I wrote Adrift on the Sea of Rains, I deliberately wrote it as literary fiction. It’s a science fiction story – astronauts! moon base! the Bell! – but I wanted to use a literary fiction mode of telling it. I focused the prose on the landscape of the Moon and the internal emotional landscape of the protagonist, Vance Peterson. I slathered it in technical detail. But I didn’t use a typical science-fictional narrative structure.
For The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, I decided to use a narrative structure more commonly used in science fiction. It’s a puzzle story – but the solution to the puzzle is only made available to the readers, not to the characters in the story. In other words, I added an intellectual dimension to the story that’s visible only to the reader. That’s something science fiction does quite a lot. I tricked it up, of course, using a glossary and a coda, and indulging in some authorial sleight of hand by trying to distract the reader into thinking the two narratives – Elliott on Mars and Elliott travelling to Gleise 876 d – were the whole story.
And from the reviews I’ve seen so far, and comments made to me by friends and acquaintances, I’ve discovered that sf fans who read a lot of literary fiction – and perhaps hold it in higher esteem than sf – prefer Adrift on the Sea of Rains. But those who enjoy science fiction far more than other modes of literature, they like The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself better.
I didn’t consciously set out to target each of the novellas at different types of science fiction reader. To be honest, I thought Adrift on the Sea of Rains would only really appeal to space geeks. I had imagined most sf readers would stumble over the level of detail – acronyms! equations! Apollo Lunar Module control panels! – but in fact the most consistent complaint I’ve seen to date is on the lack of quote marks around dialogue.
All of this is making Apollo Quartet 3, Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, more of a challenge to write than I had initially anticipated. This doesn’t mean I plan to aim it squarely at another type of genre reader – fantasy fans, for example. That just wouldn’t work. But it does mean I’m going to have to think carefully about what I want each of the two narratives in it to achieve. And how I think they might be read.
And when I look at the list of books I have to use for research, and the themes and motifs I want to cover, and the narrative structure I want to use… I have to wonder why I didn’t chose to write space opera, or some similar form of sf that allows me to use a straightforward linear narrative in a world I’ve made up from whole cloth…