Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Edward M. Lerner

A physicist and computer scientist, Edward M. Lerner toiled in the vineyards of high tech for thirty years, as everything from engineer to senior vice president. Then he began writing full time.

His novels run the gamut from near-future technothrillers, like Small Miracles and Energized, to traditional SF, like the InterstellarNet series and Dark Secret. Collaborating with New York Times bestselling author Larry Niven, Lerner also wrote the Fleet of Worlds series of Ringworld companion novels. Much of Lerner's short fiction has been collected in Creative Destruction and Countdown to Armageddon / A Stranger in Paradise. His nonfiction articles on science and technology centerpiece Frontiers of Space, Time, and Thought: Essays and Stories on The Big Questions.

Lerner's 2015 novel, InterstellarNet: Enigma, won the inaugural Canopus Award for interstellar-themed fiction. His writing has also been nominated for Hugo, Locus, and Prometheus awards.

Lerner's new novel is Déjà Doomed.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

For Déjà Doomed, I (like to) believe the title will draw readers straight in—and not merely because of the word play on the—precognitive? trick of memory? delusional?—phenomenon of déjà vu.

If the as-yet unidentified someone(s) of the title is doomed from the get-go, that immediately begs several questions. Who is doomed? Doomed to what, exactly? Who or what brought on this impending catastrophe? And what—if anything—can my unsuspecting, soon-to-become targets do about it?

Add in the wonderful cover art by Christina P. Myrvold—the lunar setting and the mysterious alien artifact—and I choose to think the average browser will be hooked.

What’s in a name?

Ah, character names. My main goal in naming characters is simple clarity. Most any name by itself can be distinct enough, but most novels (and Déjà Doomed is no exception) have lots of characters. So: no two characters should have similar-appearing or (planning ahead for an audio book) similar-sounding names. Dale and Gale won’t do, nor Kirsten and Kristen. And no recurring characters should have eminently forgettable, super-common monikers like Joe or Ann.

When characters come from very different backgrounds—as do the Russians and Americans in Déjà Doomed—decidedly ethnic names can serve as useful reminders to the reader. So, for my Russians, I used nothing as commonplace in both cultures as Anna. I’ve got an Ekatrina, with its diminutive Katya. Now there’s a name.

Many writers are into wink-wink, nudge-nudge cleverness in their character names. Arthur Miller did it with his “low man” protagonist Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Herman Melville did it using biblical references with Ishmael and Ahab in Moby Dick. For my taste, that sort of thing is heavy-handed. I’d rather let the characters speak for themselves.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

First off, he’d be amazed I turned out to be a writer at all. At that age, I had no such aspirations. But once he got over that shock, the subject of Déjà Doomed would be no surprise at all.

I’m a child of the early Space Age: eight years and a few months old when the Russian launch of Sputnik changed everything. I’ve been an avid reader of science fiction for as long as I can remember. By my mid-teens, I’d decided to major in physics. By virtue of my age, I also grew up through the Cold War, so the Great Power rivalry elements of Déjà Doomed also come naturally.

What else (besides the mere fact of the book) might surprise that younger me? The computer aspects, for sure. Computers were far beyond my experience—or most anyone’s experience—in my teen years of the Sixties. Little did I know back then that physics would turn out to be my gateway major to computer engineering.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

For me, beginnings are definitely harder. Well before I start to write text, I know—in an outline sense—what happens when. That’s not enough. It’s still typically a good 60 to 100 manuscript pages into a novel before I have my final sense for all my major characters. Till that happens, some of any story remains at risk of changing to fit how the characters will react to one another and to circumstances.

Beyond letting me get to know the characters, the first few chapters—sometimes with a few iterations—turn out to involve experimentation. Settling upon the overall pace of the opening. Deciding which parts of the story will be told in-line and which will be flashbacks. Choosing details to be scattered like Easter eggs, as (hopefully subtle) foreshadowing.

As for endings, at all times I (think I) know how things will end up. That’s not to say the perceived ending never evolves as I write, only that there’s always an ending in mind.

Finally (pun intended), there’s the very end of the end. Every book’s closing sentence or short paragraph—something wry, or poignant, or a hook for a possible sequel—always comes seemingly out of nowhere late in the writing process.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see some of my experiences in my characters, though not me.

But opinions differ. People who know me well have commented they do see me in some of my protagonists. Perhaps they’re more objective about it than I am.

Whoever’s right, I hope never to experience personally the sorts of challenges I routinely inflict on my characters. Those guys are expected to earn their room-and-board for what’s typically a year of taking up space in my brain.
Learn more about the author and his work at his website.

My Book, The Movie: Déjà Doomed.

The Page 69 Test: Déjà Doomed.

--Marshal Zeringue