Dan Simmons book signing at Murder by the Book
Dan Simmons’ new book, The Fifth Heart, was released on March 24th. Not coincidently, Murder by the Book hosted a signing and reading by Mr. Simmons on that same day. It’s always good luck to get a book signed by the author on release day…or at least I’m starting a new tradition that says it is so.
Book signings are hit and miss as far as entertainment value. Sometimes you can tell when the authors have been on the road for a while. This was not the case with Mr. Simmons, who seemed genuinely excited to share his book and other thoughts with the 40 or so people gathered. And it was the first day of the tour; he was flying to Phoenix later that evening.
The only other book signings I’ve been to on release day were for my own books or JoSara MeDia books. Those are always exciting because…well…there’s beer…and my mom makes cookies.
If you haven’t been to Houston’s Murder by the Book, I highly recommend it. We don’t get to the store as often as we like, as it is a hike from Tomball. But the people there are knowledgeable and patient, and they are voracious readers as well, with good recommendations.
Dan mentioned that the book he is currently working on (tentatively titled Omega Canyon – see below) would be his thirtieth book. It’s a great thing to see an author as enthusiastic as Dan doing a book signing for his 29th book.
I haven’t read all 29 of Dan’s current books, but I’ve read the majority. Murder by the Books signing policy says that in addition to the current book you can bring three other books to sign (you can bring more, but you have to wait until everyone goes through the line once to get the rest signed). My Hyperion books were in bad shape, as was Illium. I couldn’t find Olympos, and the rest were paperbacks. So I took Drood, The Terror and The Abominable (which I reviewed for SFSignal) to be signed.
If you haven’t heard about The Fifth Heart, it is another typical can’t-place-it-in-a-genre book, typical of Simmons. But, also typical of Simmons, it is incredibly well researched (see question below), and so well paced that I read a hundred pages without realizing it. This is what it is about from the book jacket:
In 1893, Sherlock Holmes and Henry James come to America together to solve the mystery of the 1885 death of Clover Adams, wife of the esteemed historian Henry Adams – a member of the Adams family that has given the United States two presidents. Clover’s suicide appears to be more than it at first seemed; the suspected foul play may involve matters of national importance.
Holmes is currently on his Great Hiatus – his three-year absence after his performance at Reichenbach Falls, during which time the people of London believe him to be dead. Holmes has faked his own death because the great detective has used his incomparable powers of ratiocination to come to the conclusion that he is a fictional character.
This leads to serious complications for James – for if his esteemed fellow investigator is merely a work of fiction, what does that make him? And what can the master storyteller do to fight against the sinister power possibly named Moriarty that may or may not be controlling them from the shadows?
One of the many reasons I enjoyed Drood was the constant “is this real?” nature of it. This premise appears to be more of the same…in a good way.
Reading a passage covering a conversation during a dinner party can be boring. Dan Simmons reading about a dinner party with Sherlock Holmes, Henry James, Teddy Roosevelt and others was quite entertaining. The gent who introduced Dan said he most likely wouldn’t be doing this long of a reading at anywhere else along the book tour. Dan said that could be a good thing or a bad thing.
After the reading, Dan asked for questions.
Do you like writing or researching better? The two are very intertwined, Dan said, and mentioned several examples, including a scene from Black Hills. In the scene, he needed to know if the Ferris Wheel at the Chicago World’s Fair went clockwise or counter-clockwise, so he could accurately describe the view. He found examples of descriptions implying both directions which seems false…until his research found that Ferris made it to where that wheel could go in both directions (this fact is used in the scene in the book). He also mentioned the quote from Robert Frost: ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.’
What was the best and worst criticism ever received? Dan talked about the political blowback on Flashback (discussed here and many other places) as an example of poor criticism. He also mention readers enjoyment and support of Wilkie Collins, the addict and narrator of Drood…who Dan described as the lying-est narrator he has ever written.
Will you write another Hyperion book? The answer was a very short “No”…which I’ve read he has stated several times.
His next book
To answer the “what are you working on next” question, Dan went through a fairly detailed description of the plot of his next book, Omega Canyon. Set mostly at Los Alamos, it follows an Austrian Jew who is working on the atomic bomb. But he finds that his wife and daughter, whom he thought killed by the Nazis, are alive, but will be killed if he does not spy on the Manhattan Project for the Germans. He and Richard Feynman (who, as a Physics major, I’ve enjoyed reading a lot about) try to build a failure so technically correct that the Nazi scientist will buy it, while some commando (I didn’t catch were he came from) searches for the Austrians family. Sounds great! I’m ready to read it…finish up the signing tour and get back to writing!
Conversations during signing
I enjoy authors who talk to their readers, and I really enjoyed Mr. Simmons. He was talking to the gent in line in front of me, while doodling on the signature page of his book….all the while mentioning his older brother, a cartoonist who had passed away the previous year.
While he was signing my copy of The Abominable, I mentioned to him that I had reviewed that book for SFSignal. He asked if it was a favorable review, and when I said it was, he said “Well, as long as it was well written. Because it’s more important that the review is well written than the book right?” I laughed along with the folks in line behind me.
Then I asked how his WindWalker cabin was coming along, prompting a sigh…I didn’t venture to ask if there were construction problems. I asked if it were close to Pikes Peak, as I’ve signed up to run the Pikes Peak Ascent (a half marathon up the mountain) in August. He looked at me like I was crazy (I’m used to that) then invited me to train by running supplies up to his WindWalker cabin.
And then a photo op. All in all, one of the more enjoyable and informative signings I’ve attended.
What were his comments about the political blowback for Flashback? That book really had an aggressive right-wing slant, so different from all of his other books. Did he say anything about that?
Patricia, he said that the original novella was written in Reagan times, and he was using Reagan era defense spending for the rationale of the US going belly up (and thus everyone taking Flashback). And he was using Japan as the economic superpower that took over. But he convinced himself that wasn’t realistic. So when the novel came out, it was at the beginning of the Obama presidency, he blamed the demise of the US on spiraling national debt and deficit spending. He said he got a lot of flack from liberals for that…whereas if he would have published the book when the novella came out and used Reagan defense spending, he would have gotten flak from conservatives. His point: if you try to write historically accurate novels, you are going to piss some faction off.
OK, thanks that is good to know. I’ve always wondered what his thoughts were about that. Though one can hardly call Flashback a “historically accurate novel”. By his own statements it was originally written for an entirely different period of history! Not to mention its depiction of a dystopia that so far hasn’t happened.
By “historically accurate” I was referring to how he described his process for writing fiction that includes historical figures and places, where it appears that he is meticulous about making that part of the fiction accurate; he won’t have a historical figure in a place where he actually wasn’t according to research.
Certainly, fiction by its definition is not 100% “historically accurate.” But there are certainly novelists who take liberties and shortcuts. I don’t find Simmons fits in that class; he seems to enjoy the research immensely.