I began to write at the age of twelve, when in school the class was given an assignment to write a story. Most of the kids groaned, but I thought it was a great idea. I wrote a war story populated with the stereotypical ethnic mix of soldiers in the war-movies I’d seen. The teacher suggested I keep writing.
I created a hero named Joe Kelley, based on a Tim Kelly from a black-and-white TV show called Soldier of Fortune, which I used to watch with my father. Joe Kelley lived on an island off the coast of Zanzibar and I gave him safari-cars, a cargo schooner, a flying-boat airplane, equally adventurous brothers and sidekicks, and even a feisty girlfriend, named after a girl I liked at school. In fact, I named several characters after my friends and was popular for the first time in my life. I wrote dozens of stories with titles like “Alone on an Island” and “Lost in the Jungle” and illustrated them all with full-page, full-colour pictures of airplanes crashing, Aztec temples, sperm-whales battling giant squids, etc. Sometimes I made the mistake of doing the illustrations first and lost interest in the stories.
I won a couple of Scholastic awards for short-short stories with surprise endings, but then I got intellectual and wrote about a grandmother living alone, neglected by her family. My mother loved that one but the Scholastic awards didn’t. But then it was the Sixties and I hitchhiked to San Francisco, moved into the East Village with painters and musicians, and finally fled to Canada to avoid being sent to Vietnam, and there was very little writing going on. It was not until I became settled in Montreal, with a job in the McGill University Library that gave me access to about three million books, that I started writing again, particularly science-fiction. I’d been reading it for years, but several things inspired the change:
The Voyager space probes produced gorgeous pictures of Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons. Who needs interstellar travel, I thought, when you have exotic backgrounds like this? I wanted my characters to visit exotic places for their adventures like James Bond did. But these places seemed a bit cold and sterile and I needed a place for more visceral adventures, so I created a post-apocalyptic Earth devastated by global warming, flooded cities, mass-migration, and social collapse, which at the time were fanciful new ideas. Also, I loved the huge space-habitats of Gerard K. O’Neill, but I thought the virtually unlimited resources of the Asteroid Belt, the virtually free shipping of solar-sail, and the virtually endless supply of solar energy meant that those people up there had no use for Earth anymore and would ignore the third planet just as we ignore the third world. I had political transportee rebels mining Mars and a rival civilization in Jupiter orbit that was rough and tumble like the Gold-rush Old West.
Atalanta is a smart ship, named for the beautiful, powerful, and fleet demi-goddess from Greek Myth, and just about all my spaceships are named for mythical figures. Artificial intelligences have always appeared in SF, notably in Star Trek, where Data was a beloved character, but most speaking ships have been used only for comic relief. My Atalanta is a main character. I followed the Asimov rule that artificial intelligences are programmed to preserve human life, because to me the alternative ends in Terminators. I gave Atalanta a muscular lesbian ex-assassin named Loris, as a captain, and a handsome child-of-wealth rebel/spacer/poet named Ali Karil, as an astrogator, using my own poems for his work, for a touch of romance. Their camaraderie was influenced by the Modesty Blaise stories by Peter O’Donnell.
PROGENY’S CHILD and its sequel THE BRAZEN ANVIL were one book to start with. I did actually try to get them published and received some nice personal responses among the rejection slips, but the consensus was that I spent too much time waxing poetic about the solar system, which slowed down what they thought was supposed to be a faster-paced story. But I’m comfortable at both speeds, and since I don’t need to publish to live, I decided to stick to what I enjoyed writing. Besides, every publisher wanted the manuscripts printed in a different font and there were complex rules of preparation which quickly became a chore.
PLANETSCAPES and THE DARK LORD’S KINGDOM were written much later, in my seventies after the installation of my pacemaker, when I thought I’d better try writing shorter fiction. I wanted to explore the adventures of Karil and Loris and Atalanta as agents of Galilean Security and make use of a dozen intrepid minor characters. And I got to try various experiments. I wrote a story honoring The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, which became “Seven Against Earth”, then a nod to James Bond that became “No Single Spies”, a dark Film-Noir type detective story which became “Down and Out on Callisto and Ganymede”, and a kind of Iliad-inspired war story about the Martian Rebellion called “The Topless Towers”.
THE SIRENS’ VOICES, though written early, had to be the climax of the Atalanta stories. I was always a fan of The Odyssey, and admired James Joyce’s modern stream-of-consciousness parody in Ulysses, but I thought the story should use all the incidents of the Odyssey in their original order. I was sure that I could do that in science fiction, with Jupiter as the Cyclops, a Ganymede brothel as The Lotus Eaters, the Asteroid Belt as The Wandering Rocks, a hell-hole prison on Venus as Hades, etc.
THE EARTHBORN MEN is an attempt to do the same with The Argonautica, which began as a story, then became a novella, and finally evolved into a novel. It was actually my second book and has no connection to the others as it takes place centuries later and the whole second half is set on a terraformed Mars, using the exotic geography and romantic placenames of that planet.
There is also FALLING ASLEEP IN REALITY CLASS, which is available on joesworlds.net. It is not science-fiction but a kind of Henry Milleresque memoir concerning the Sexual Revolution, the Vietnam Protests, LSD trips, and the quasi-religious Communal Movement of the Sixties, featuring true stories and a collection of rants that later found their way into Progeny’s Martian Rebellion teachings. Viewer discretion is advised.