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Writing Illegal Alien
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1997 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
Originally written for Larry Segriff's December 1997 "First Contacts"
column on Barnes and Noble Online, a "monthly roundup of what's hot in
the science fiction and fantasy fields."
Dare I mention the O.J. Simpson trial? Certainly the
reviewers are bound to bring it up
when discussing my novel
Illegal Alien, so I suppose I
should come clean.
I'm a news junkie, and have a TV in my office. While I was
writing my novel
Starplex (Ace Books, October 1996;
a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist), the
Simpson trial was on all day long. As a Canadian, I knew I was
looking at it with an outsider's perspective; in Canada, we have
a somewhat different judicial system and we don't have
megacelebrities like Simpson.
When Ace Books had bought Starplex, they'd also contracted
for a sequel to it. But as I was finishing Starplex, I
realized there wasn't any room for another story there. Still,
that outsider's view of American justice kept tickling at the
back of my mind. A title popped into my head one night
Illegal Alien and the rest immediately fell into place:
a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. I asked my
editor Susan Allison if I could write that instead of the
Starplex sequel, and she enthusiastically agreed.
Whether you think Simpson was guilty or innocent, there's no
doubt that race played a role in the trial, and members of
different races saw the proceedings and outcome quite
differently. Still, when all was said and done, the Simpson case
really didn't matter on a large scale. There was no way
to bring back the dead, after all; all that was at stake was
O.J.'s personal future. But what if an alien had apparently
killed a famous human? What if the fate of the entire world
depended on the results of the subsequent trial? That's what
Illegal Alien explores.
I've won both the United States's top science-fiction award
(the Nebula) and Canada's top
mystery-fiction award (the Arthur Ellis),
so I'm comfortable in both those genres, and I wanted to
produce a book that would appeal equally to readers of either.
Also, as a long-time fan of courtroom drama (two of my favorite
movies are To Kill a Mockingbird and Inherit the
Wind), I hate it when books spend three-quarters of their
length just setting up the trial; in Illegal Alien, I
devote the bulk of the novel to courtroom pyrotechnics. I hope
you enjoy it.
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