By Adam Roberts | August 14, 2007
Been away. Back now. Big pile of papers on the welcome mat when we turned the key and tried to swing the door, making it hard to open more than a sliver. Most of this pile was free newspapers, fliers, junk mail and the like. Some was more substantial material that needs dealing with. I've also been spending the day slowly getting a sense of the enormity of pile of outstanding emails I now must process.
The holiday enabled a certain amount of thinking; reflection, and specifically self-reflection, being a needful thing from time to time for a writer. Or for anyone. In part I have been pleasantly digesting some of the reactions to Headless (you can read them, below) and in particular the Deathray review and some of the reader comments posted (you can read them directly below) pendant to the sentiments expressed therein. This is what I've been thinking. My last three novels, Snow, Gradisil and Headless, are all--I can see, now--desert novels. A desert of water ice; a desert of orbital vacuum; a desert of the soul; and in all three cases the concomitant mental and emotional sensibilities, and aesthetics. In a way these three novels represent a sort-of trilogy, a thematic trilogy; and they are accordingly and necessarily rather barren. I can hardly complain if people find this offputting.
What are the words that Robert Bolt put in the mouth of King Faisal in conversation with Lawrence, T.E., CB, DSO? These: "I think you are another of these desert-loving English: Doughty, Stanhope, Gordon of Khartoum. No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees. There is nothing in the desert. No man needs nothing." One of the things that I love about that movie is the way we believe in Lawrence's love for the desert, the way it is never seen as mere romanticised orientalism, or topographic idealisation. He knows what the desert is, and nevertheless craves it. What sort of man craves nothing, anyway? What's wrong with water and green trees? (I summarise, in brief, the aforementioned reviews/discussion). I could say, of course, that it is almost always a mistake for a person to try and write too violently against their own grain. Doughty, for an instance, was an odd writer, creatively strange, stuck in weird ruts of his own that other people found rather baffling, ornate, clever, desertstruck ... what would it have benefitted him if he'd been persuaded by contemporary reviews not to be so odd? I'd say Nick Gevers (below) gets it right with Headless, as far as the book's oddity is concerned. There was a New Weird, briefly. Any chance of a New Odd?
Then my ponderings took another direction: my next Gollancz novel, Swiftly, is not a desert novel at all. It is, on the contrary, and in a rather peculiar and exaggerated manner, a novel about fertility. Certainly about fertiliser, in Rabelaisian (or at least Bakhtin's version of Rabelais) mode. My forthcoming Solaris novel, Splinter, starts in a desert, but very quickly smashes it up and replaces it with something again rather aggressively fertile. It might seem a little belated on my part, only now to be seeing larger patterns in the way my books are coming out. But then again, writing is a balance between what the writer plans and what emerges, in aleatory or at least subconscious tension with the Apolline planning. Perhaps there's some tectonic shifting happening under my very own feet, and I'm only slowly becoming aware of it. Maybe, and without directly informing me, my creative imagination has had enough of deserts for the time being. Maybe there will be some explosive growth, elephants bursting out of the Narnian ground and so on. Who can tell?