Science fiction is on the verge of becoming the mainstream genre of serious literature, and it needs one more step: the natural connection of SF with the ancient global epic tradition. It’s making this connection that has been my life work. The Odyssey, the Japanese Heike, Beowulf, the Mayan Popol Vuh, the Indian Mahabharata, the African Mwindo all chose the vitality and economy of the narrative action poem to carry the core myths of their societies.
My new tale Apocalypse is a hard science fiction epic poem that takes on the greatest challenges we face in this century, envisages a set of ingenious technological responses to them, paints a picture of a global military conflict, and recalls the finest as well as the darkest moments in human history.
“I have read never anything like this before” sums up the reaction of the science fiction writers Kim Stanley Robinson, David Brin, the poets Jan Schreiber and Emily Grosholz, and the SF critics Chris Pak and David Crossley.
Feeling thirty years ago that the SF genre was not yet ready for epic poetry, I published my first two epic SF poems, The New World and Genesis, with traditional highbrow literary presses: Princeton University Press and Saybrook (a Norton imprint). For poetry (which is a small world these days) they were best sellers; they’ve recently been reprinted in second editions by Ilium Press, and are still selling. Genesis, the Mars terraforming epic, was adopted by NASA’s long range futures group as recommended reading, and I was a NASA consultant for some years.
But the connection I wanted hadn’t been made. Science fiction writers read them (and celebrated them) but the science fiction readers that I loved, with their hope and imagination, had been burned too often by unreadable subjective free-verse stuff, and largely missed my work.
But thanks to three visionary book people, my e-editor Tony Daniel (Baen Books), my print editor John Lemon (Ilium Press), and my amazing agent Sara Megibow (KT Literary), and two of the greatest living SF writers, Kim Stanley Robinson and David Brin, the puzzle that had haunted me, of how to bring together the fragmented parts of our literary culture, may have been solved. By means, I might add, that would have been science fiction four decades ago when I first began to write in the genre.
What’s happening is this. On July 15th 2016, tomorrow as I write this, Baen Books, the brilliant, rambunctious cutting-edge unashamed SF/Fantasy press, will start a ten-week electronic serialization of the poem on its very popular subscriber website , one epic “Book” at a time. At the end of the serial, Baen will publish the whole book as an ebook. And—here’s the kicker—Ilium will simultaneously issue the book in inexpensive but handsome hardback and paperback editions. It’s going to be something of a first in publishing history: an epic poem that is fast-paced science-based speculative fiction, published in both the new media and the old and by two different but complementary presses.
Apocalypse is my best work: I think I’ve mastered the combination of easy idiomatic hard-hitting narrative with the poetic resources of passion, image, songlike flow, and richer philosophical significance. I hope you will read it.
PS I’m going to be at WorldCon 2016 (MidAmerCon II) this summer, August 17-21. I’ll be on some interesting panels:
Space and Human Speciation
Futuristic Crime Investigations
Mars Needs Poets
Science Fiction as Epic