SFWRITER.COM > Canadian SF > Donald Kingsbury
Courting Science Fiction Stardom
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1984 by Robert J.
All Rights Reserved.
Abstract: A 6,500-word interview with Canadian science-fiction writer
Donald Kingsbury, contributor to Analog and author
of Courtship Rite [published in the UK as Geta],
The Moon Goddess and the Son, Psychohistorical Crisis,
and short novels in Man-Kzin Wars IV and VI.
Discusses Kingsbury's relationship with John W. Campbell and
Terry Carr, influences on his work, etc. An old interview,
conducted in September 1982. First published in
Science Fiction Review, Spring 1984.
epic Courtship Rite received special
treatment for a first science-fiction novel. The book was
published in six different formats over an 18-month period.
Early in 1982, Simon & Schuster distributed an advanced bound
galley to critics and booksellers. Analog serialized it
in the spring of 1982. Simon & Schuster released it simultaneously
as a hardcover and trade paperback in July 1982. The
Science Fiction Book Club brought out
its edition late in 1982. And Timescape's mass-market paperback
appeared in July 1983.
Courtship Rite is a sweeping saga of an energy-poor planet
where multiple marriages are the norm and cannibalism is a sacred
ritual. It received the kind of notices in the mainstream press
that most SF authors only dream of getting. Witness Publishers
Weekly: "An ambitious work, certain to gather a lot of
attention." And Kirkus: "A feat of nonchalant, assured
complexity; rich, teeming." Rare is the reviewer who doesn't
compare Don Kingsbury's Courtship Rite with Dune.
But who is this Kingsbury? The readers of Analog know him.
He's been appearing since 1952 in that magazine's pages,
commanding four covers. His stories are remembered for their
rare depth of characterization, for their rich explorations of
future human societies. Equally noteworthy are his contributions
to the oft-neglected second half of
Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
Born in 1929 in San Francisco, Donald MacDonald Kingsbury
spent his childhood in such diverse places as New Guinea, New
Mexico, and New Hampshire. His father was a mining engineer.
Kingsbury moved to Montreal in 1948 to study at McGill
University. He became a Canadian citizen in 1953 and now teaches
mathematics at McGill. Divorced, he lives with his two sons.
Kingsbury is 195 centimeters tall, a sprawling man with a
piercing gaze. Though the dust jacket of the hardcover
Courtship Rite has no author photo, it is Kingsbury
himself who appears in profile as protagonist Joesai in
Rowena Morrill's cover painting.
Accolades have poured in for Kingsbury's SF. Terry Carr has
said, "Kingsbury isn't yet a famous name but he soon will be."
In 1980, his novella "The Moon Goddess and the Son" was a Hugo
nominee. And Courtship Rite was a contender for the best novel
Hugo in 1983. I spoke with Kingsbury when he was in Toronto as
keynote speaker at the NorthStar Seminar on
Canadian Science Fiction,
held September 25, 1982.
Robert J. Sawyer: You were born in San Francisco and ended up in
Montreal, but there was a lot in between, wasn't there?
Donald Kingsbury: When I was a year-and-a-half, we moved to a
gold-rush town in the interior of New Guinea. My father hired a
converted World War One bomber to fly us in. They tell me I
stuck my nose right out the window and got a big shock as
100-mile-per-hour winds whipped by. I had Australian nannies and
we had 20 Black servants. My mother was a Southerner and she
easily fell into the old plantation mode. When the servants
chopped wood for the stove we didn't have electricity I'd
turn up and all the work would stop. They'd teach me about
woodcutting. I'd play around with the axe under their careful
supervision; they weren't going to let me get hurt. All my early
learning was in this manner: interacting with the adults. My
two sisters and I were the only children in the town. When I was
six, my parents decided it was time we got out of the wilderness
and into some proper schools. We spent six months in the Pacific
en route to California, travelling around China, Japan,
Indonesia, and Hawaii. That's one reason I like to wander around
the galaxy on paper: it's easy for me to fall into the traveller
mode. We left California when I was in the sixth grade and went
to New Mexico for a year. We lived in Tyrone which is an old
silver-mining town not far from Alamagordo where the A-bomb went
Sawyer: How were these moves reflected in your work?
Kingsbury: When you write, you take and alter things. Joesai
being a goldsmith in Courtship Rite comes from the time we spent
in New Guinea. A lot of the semi-desert in New Mexico probably
came out when I wrote about the planet Geta in that book.
Someone wrote me a letter saying, "That doesn't look like an
alien environment to me; it seems just like New Mexico." Well, I
thought about it and said, "Yeah, you're right." I wanted Geta
to be a harsh planet, so I took Earth and censored the lush parts
that I'd come to know. I didn't want to make it uniformly harsh,
though. That's often a weakness in SF: they take five square
kilometers of the Earth and make a whole planet out of it. In
Frank Herbert's Dune, it's all desert; in Star Wars they've got
planets that are all rain forest or all ice. That doesn't strike
me as reasonable. Human beings live between the freezing point
and the boiling point of water, yet, in that small range, you can
find tremendous climatic variety. In the north of Geta, it's
very cold and elsewhere there are forests admittedly not very
lush ones and there are many, many places where it is harsh,
harsh desert. Australia might be a model for it. All the
Australians live along the coast; it's pretty uninhabitable in
Sawyer: What made you choose science fiction as your means of
Kingsbury: Science fiction is a testing ground for new
ideas about society in a world where conventional ideas are
beginning to limp. It's immunization against future shock. The
science-fiction reader is quicker on the draw than the TV watcher
when challenged by a new reality. If I had been confined to
writing a novel about group marriage consummated in contemporary
North America, I would have had to deal with jealousy and the
interactions of a hostile society. Without the constraint of
being stuck in our culture I could ask: How would the sexes
distribute family burdens among many members? How would they get
along if they saw an addition to their family as a helpmate
rather than a rival? What limitations would such a loyal,
close-knit group have?
Sawyer: It sounds as though the idea appeals to you.
Kingsbury: I've thought about group marriages. The
problem is finding partners. People who might be right for the
experiment may not be right for you. I know of one group
marriage: they tell people they're just two couples. That's
what I love about science fiction: you can explore the different
things that human beings can get involved in. Workable, fine
cultures can be enormously different from one another. Most
people feel if you stop being a conservative you start being a
pervert. Deviations from societal norms can be quite disgusting,
but they can also be quite beautiful.
Sawyer: How did you become interested in science fiction?
Kingsbury: When we came back to the States, I discovered Brick
Bradford comics. I can't remember any of the other comics I
read, but I do recall reading Brick Bradford. I might have
reacted the same way to Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, but the
newspaper we got didn't have them. Brick Bradford was their one
science-fiction strip. When I first came across it they were in
the middle of an adventure: the States were being invaded by
these strange people in big fur caps and long winter coats. They
weren't called Russians, but you knew that's what they were meant
to be. They were invading in a fleet of zeppelins. Brick
Bradford got involved with a scientist who managed to put up
something like the DEW line, only it wasn't radar: it was a kind
of repelling ray that disintegrated the zeppelins. In the next
adventure Brick got involved with the great Dr. Timmins. They
built a sphere that shrank and they went into the eye of a
Lincoln penny, finding planets orbiting around atomic nuclei
suns. I used to read that strip carefully, cutting them out and
putting them in a scrapbook. That was my first introduction to
Sawyer: What about traditional SF literature?
Kingsbury: When I was ten, I hated reading found it a
drudge and a bore. We got all these stories about boxes that
cranked out salt, filling ships which sank to the bottom of the
sea. Fairy tales. What a bunch on nonsense! I wasn't
interested. I figured maybe it's because they were only feeding
us kids' books. I wondered what the adults were reading. The
book I happened to pull out of the library was Seven Famous
Novels by H.G. Wells. My mother had used to read to us from The
Invisible Man as bedtime stories, so I knew Wells's name. After
reading The Time Machine, I was hooked.
Sawyer: How did you get introduced to Astounding magazine?
Kingsbury: I'd never heard of it until the War when I was
on paper drives, collecting newspapers and the like. We'd pick
up these strange books with covers showing bug-eyed monsters
carrying off nubile young ladies: Superscience, Astonishing,
Thrilling Wonder. I would take these home and read them. There
were a couple of Astoundings mixed in with the others. I didn't
differentiate between them at all at the time. One day in 1944 I
noticed a copy of Astounding on the newsstand. It had an
intriguing cover by Timmins. I bought a few issues, but hadn't
been impressed, so I'd skip an issue or two. I always looked and
evaluated whether a particular issue was worth a quarter or not.
Then I saw the cover for A.E. van Vogt's "Mixed Men" with a guy
falling toward a planet. Couldn't resist it; loved the story.
The next issue I bought had "Dead Hand" in the Foundation series
by Isaac Asimov.
"Mixed Men," "Dead Hand," and Murray Leinster's
"First Contact" fell practically one right after the other.
After those three stories and their lovely illustrations I was
hooked. I always found a quarter every month after that.
Sawyer: Do you still have those issues?
Kingsbury: Oh, yes. My 1945 collection isn't in good
shape, though. I felt there were a lot of bad stories mixed in
with the good, so I tore out and saved the ones I liked. I took
the serial installments of The World of Null-A by
A.E. van Vogt out of there, too, and
made a book out of them.
Sawyer: How did you get started as a writer?
Kingsbury: When I was sixteen, back in the days when $30 a
week was a very good wage, anything an editor would have paid you
for a story was a lot of money. I always wanted to be a writer;
I never stopped to consider if it was a good way to make a
living. It said "unsolicited manuscripts must have return
postage" on Astounding's title page, so I figured someone must be
sending these stories in. I set a goal of writing two pages a
day. For the first story I wrote, I fulfilled that faithfully,
no matter how long it took me. If I got to the bottom of the
second page and I was in the middle of a sentence I stopped and
went to bed. I had to get the spelling right, which was very
painful for me.
Sawyer: What was that first tale about?
Kingsbury: It was a simple story about a bunch of guys who
built an atomic rocketship and go to the Moon in 1965, get out of
the ship, look around at a bleak landscape, pick up some rocks,
and head back to Earth. I wasn't into having them find
vegetation on the Moon because I didn't believe in that. I was
writing SF, not Fantasy. I had them finding exactly what Apollo
really did find.
Sawyer: But it didn't sell.
Kingsbury: No. I was dejected at its rejection. I'd
expected to make a sale. I felt obviously someone was going to
buy it and give me a hundred dollars so I could take girls to the
movies and be a big shot in high school. I took it pretty bad;
I cried a lot. But I sat down and wrote another story. I just
kept doing that. Finishing something is a lot of reinforcement
in itself. Pick a size you can deal with and work up from there.
Don't start with a novel. I know lots of people who tried to
begin with a novel and never finished it so today they aren't
writers. I turned out twenty-five short stories before I sold
"Ghost Town" to Campbell.
Sawyer: Were you only submitting your work to Astounding?
Kingsbury: No. If Campbell rejected it, I sent it to Planet
Stories or Thrilling Wonder. There was no
Fantasy & Science Fiction. One didn't have anything to do with
Amazing, then. Amazing was hollow-Earth people, a real bunch of nuts at the
time. I wouldn't read it. I'd look at a copy once in a while,
but it was just garbage. One of my stories was rejected by John
Campbell because it had sex in it. H.L. Gold rejected it
"because we've already done sex to death."
Sawyer: When did you graduate to writing longer works?
Kingsbury: I took my first crack at writing a book when Galaxy
magazine announced a contest: $1000 for a novel by an amateur.
They ended up having Fred Pohl write the winning novel under a
pseudonym because the amateur ones they got in were terrible. I
didn't finish my entry, The Finger Pointing Solward, by the
deadline. In fact, I'm still polishing the manuscript today, 35
Sawyer: Your published output was quite small in those
early years, wasn't it? The only other thing was the article
"The Right to Breed."
Kingsbury: Campbell kept sending that back for revisions.
"No fire," he'd say. "Give me fanaticism!" I re-wrote
it but he sent it back again. "Worse. Now you're slyly
winking at the reader saying I'm not this fanatic; these aren't
my real opinions." So I wrote it the way he wanted and it was
a great success. While a student at McGill University in
Montreal, I tried to write the Great American Novel. I had a
story in my files about a pregnant girl running away to a hot,
sandy Venus. My agent said, "What's Venus doing in this story?
Put it back on Earth." Well I did and I made a novel out of
it. I got lost, disappeared from the SF scene, doing it, but it
never sold. I didn't keep up my connections with Campbell. That
was a bad, bad mistake.
Sawyer: How did you learn to write?
Kingsbury: In the early days, I always kept a copy of Wells'
Seven Famous Novels and The World of Null-A by
A.E. van Vogt on my desk, along with some Westerns. Whenever I was having trouble
writing a particular passage, I'd look to see how Wells or van
Vogt handled something similar. The Westerns were helpful for
atmosphere description, landscape and action detail. Van Vogt
had this thing about 800-word scenes: shorter than that you may
not be saying enough; longer, you may be saying too much. I
found that a good guide in trying to pace myself. Van Vogt ended
up doing a review of Courtship Rite for the dust jacket.
Sawyer: Indeed: "Science fiction here takes another step
up, acquires a new beauty . . . "
Kingsbury: I was thrilled. It's great when one of your
boyhood heroes pats you on the head.
Sawyer: Did you ever meet
A.E. van Vogt?
Kingsbury: Oh, yes. I decided to fly out to the Jet
Propulsion Lab to see the Voyager Saturn fly-by. I noticed one
of the people who was also going to go was A.E. van Vogt. I
wrote him a letter saying I'd been a long admirer of his and I'd
like to meet him. I told him anecdotes about how I'd been
thrilled as a youngster by his stories and how I'd read his
essays on how to write SF. He replied with a very nice letter.
When I got to Pasadena, there he was watching the big TV screens.
It was just like we were in a control room on board a spaceship
watching Saturn go by that's the way our minds work. I had a
very nice chat with him and his wife and he invited me out to
dinner. It was a delightful evening.
Sawyer: Do you adhere to any sort of writing regimen?
Kingsbury: One of the troubles with being a bachelor is you've
got to do everything for yourself. I try to catch up on
household affairs, then block out two weeks in which to get as
much writing done as I can before dirty dishes and laundry bury
me. During those two weeks I'm a grumpy, unsociable slob. I can
write very fast once I'm going, but, even with my word processor,
I never really turn out more than 2,000 words a day.
Sawyer: So you use high technology to help you write?
Kingsbury: Fitting, isn't it? After I got the contract for
Courtship Rite, I went out and bought a word processor because I
couldn't face the idea of typing the drafts over and over again.
I got an Olivetti dedicated word processor. It's obsolete now,
but was a good machine at the time. Now I have an IBM Personal
Computer with WordStar. I belong to the
school that says once you've had a word processor, you can't go back.
Used to be I'd avoid doing minor revisions just to keep from having
to re-type a page.
Sawyer: There seem to be connections between your novelette
"To Bring in the Steel" and Courtship Rite. Or am I mistaken?
Kingsbury: All my stories, including "Ghost Town," are
in the same series. I was impressed by Asimov's Foundation
series and got involved in creating my own future history.
Copycat! I never read any Heinlein. When he was turning out
juveniles I considered myself too old to read them. Besides, I
couldn't afford hardcovers: they were some ridiculous price like
three dollars. He quit writing for Astounding about the time I
started to read it.
I have most of my unpublished stories in my files, but they
don't fit the background anymore because it's developed. In
early versions of my universe, the first Moon landing was in 1965
and World War Three started in 1968. In that war, ICBMs were
launched from the Moon. Once you make the massive effort to get
the Moon colony going, you could have a pretty devastating power
position over the Earth. What I missed was that if you have the
sophisticated rocket hardware to get to the Moon, then you would
also have more economical technology to bombard the Earth from
elsewhere on the planet. That idea is not in my future history
I jumped to various parts of my galactic history. One story
was about a guy who was getting upset with the way the galaxy was
going and sent a bunch of people out to this planet called Geta.
I don't really remember much about it because it was all plotted
in my head and I never wrote any of it down. That was the seed
of Courtship Rite. I sketched out what the region looked like at
the time. There was this finger of stars pointing across a black
abyss, which I called the noir gulf because I was flunking French
at the time. If I ever went back and wrote a story about where
the people in Courtship Rite came from, I'd probably discover
many interesting things I don't know now. In one of these
stories, I had a planet that supported itself by raising
colonists to sell: just a big child-raising factory. Another
involved the planet Lager, which also appears in "Shipwright."
That's the one that Campbell and Gold rejected because of the
sexual content. "Shipwright," incidentally is contemporary in
setting to Courtship Rite.
Sawyer: You've been with the SF scene since the 1940s.
What changes and trends have you observed?
Kingsbury: The quality of storytelling and writing is
steadily improving. It's harder and harder to sell a story
that's patchy. SF has an inexhaustible supply of discoveries.
One thing I've noticed in the last few years is the rise of
Fantasy. Some people thought that was going to kill the SF
market, but SF publishers absorbed Fantasy, Fantasy didn't absorb
Sawyer: What Fantasy do you like?
Kingsbury: I like Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster series. If
it has "Swords" in the title and "Sorcery" in the title, I tend
to avoid it. My advice to people trying to write Fantasy is, for
God's sake, take out all the swords and the sorcery. If you've
got anything left over, go from there.
Sawyer: Have you ever considered writing any Fantasy
Kingsbury: I've plotted out my own Fantasy novel, called Planet
of Magic. In the story, Earth is the repository for the galaxy's
sinners. In "To Bring in the Steel," the little girl is reading
Planet of Magic. That's a reference to this fantasy that I
intend to write someday.
Sawyer: Do you think fantasy is easier to write than
Kingsbury: It's always going to be difficult to find people to
write hard, technology-oriented, Analog-style SF. You not only
need a speculative ability, you also need a writing ability:
those two high-level skills have to occur in conjunction. Some
people who are highly trained in science make poor speculators.
A lot of writers see all the money in the SF field and decide to
move in, but, if they lack that speculative knack, they end up
Sawyer: How do you perceive the speculative knack as
Kingsbury: Prediction is the key. In my first published
story, "Ghost Town" , I said man would be on the moon
by 1965. My friends thought a thousand years from now, maybe . . .
I bet all my friends in high school that we'd be there by '65.
It's a bet that I lost, but not by much. You have to predict
something that seems a little bit preposterous. It'll always
come sooner than you think.
Let me give you another example. In the first edition of
Willy Ley's book Rockets and Space Travel, he said he didn't see
how Uranium-235 could possibly be applied to rocketry. This was
before the A-bomb. I wrote him a castigating letter me, a
15-year-old kid arguing with the great expert saying of course
you could apply atomic energy to space flight. Willy wrote me
back saying he could not comment because the military wasn't
allowing anyone to talk about U-235. I linked that with the fact
that I hadn't been able to find any recent information on U-235.
In 1939, everyone had been talking about it freely. I notice
you've got the facsimile edition of the July 1939 Astounding in
your bookcase there. The editorial is about U-235 and atomic
energy. Suddenly in 1940 boing! all references to U-235
disappeared from the journals. Yet I knew they couldn't have
just lost interest. My natural speculation was that a military
project was afoot and, considering the complete silence, I
assumed it must be a realistic, practical military project. They
weren't thinking of using U-235 in the Third World War; they were
planning to use it in the Second! I argued this with my friend
Bruce Knight. I was saying there must be a secret atomic bomb
project and we're going to drop an A-bomb on the Japanese very
soon. He pooh-poohed me. We argued until three in the morning.
The next day, while I was mowing my lawn, Bruce came down the
street white-faced. "Guess what," he said. "What?" "You won
the argument." "What?" "They've just dropped an A-bomb on
Japan!" "WHAT?!" That's the way the speculative mind works.
You pick up on detail. If you'd been alert, you would have
sensed it in the air.
Sawyer: It's rare in SF for female characters to be handled
well, yet you excel at them. Why?
Kingsbury: Partly it's because I understand women. I have
two sisters, so there were always a lot of women around the house
having hen sessions. To them I was just part of the woodwork. I
saw that facet of the world that some men never see. Partly it's
because I didn't understand women at all. I got very interested
in what their goals were and how to please them, how to turn them
on. With that kind of empathy, your preconceptions get blown
away. I used to write controversial articles for the McGill
University newspaper. One, called "They Sent Her to the
Butcher Shops," was about the old abortion laws here in Canada.
The afternoon after it appeared, a pregnant student dropped by my
office. We talked about it. That opened my eyes to a lot of the
unjust ways society was treating women. It became easy for me to
write about women without turning them into cardboard.
Stereotypes are just verbalizations of inadequate mental
Sawyer: You are one of the few authors to have written for
John W. Campbell, Ben Bova, and Stanley Schmidt. What continuity
did you perceive between them and what differences did you notice
in their editorial styles at Astounding / Analog?
Kingsbury: Campbell set up a style that was very amenable
to working with authors. When Bova and Schmidt picked up, they
very much tried to work in the Campbell tradition. It wasn't an
idiosyncratic Campbellian way of doing things that they were
imitating slavishly. It was a very successful method of
developing authors, which is what an editor wants to do. Ben
paid a lot of personal attention to his authors. By the time I
got in contact with him, I wasn't a complete amateur so I don't
really know what his total slush-pile treatment was. I
approached Ben for the first time at an SF convention. There had
been two atomic rocket motor projects under way, and the best,
most imaginative of the pair had been canned. I asked him if
he'd be interested in a scoop article on the cancelled project
and he said no. "We're not interested in reporting what's been
done; we're interested in speculation. In what way might this
open up things in the future? In what way is this on the
forefront?" I said it could fit those parameters. With his
permission, I submitted it. Ben was impressed. That was a very
personal contact with the editor. Of course, I had a good piece
of buried research to talk about. With a good product like that,
it's not hard to get personal attention from an editor. Ben's
very good to you when you have something to offer him. The next
thing I sent him was "Shipwright." He sent it back to me,
which disappointed me a little, but it was only for revisions.
He said he liked it very much and was surprised to receive it
because he'd started to think of me as a writer of fact articles.
"Shipwright" was in my Finger Pointing Solward series.
Courtship Rite was supposed to be the next story a novelette in the
series, but it just wasn't working. I read an article by Jerry
Pournelle in Galaxy which stimulated me to write "To Bring in the
Steel." I spent a week writing that and another week typing it,
editing a little bit. I shipped it out to Ben Bova, who bought
it. The next thing I sent him was that novelette version of
Courtship Rite. He sent it back saying make a novel out of it.
He told me he was leaving Analog, so I didn't have any more
communication with him. I finished "Moon Goddess and the Son"
and shipped it off there. I didn't hear about it for a long time
because Stanley Schmidt was in the midst of moving in. I got a
favorable reply from Stanley, but he said I'd have to cut 4,000
words out of it because it was longer than he could print. Stan
was also a little bit worried about the sex involved. I said you
shouldn't worry about it: the girl in the story is moral. She
gets involved in a few little things, but, after all, she's
mostly interested in preserving her virginity throughout most of
the story. He printed it and it was nominated for the Hugo. A
story that's going to be nominated for the Hugo is not too hard
When Stan moved in, he really tried to write personal stuff
to all his authors. Of course, as time goes on, that becomes
harder and harder to do as your slush pile grows. He's committed
to encouraging new authors. He knows he can't live off of the
old ones. He can't really afford the old ones: once they become
known, they go somewhere else. You've got to keep cultivating
new ones; I think he does that fairly well. He's getting better
and better at it. Some of the stories he published when he
started were a little bit weak, but that was because it takes a
while to establish contacts and get your authors going. Analog
is beginning to show the fruits of some of Stan's initial
Sawyer: He made you take 40,000 words out of
Kingsbury: That wasn't really an editorial judgement, just a
constraint of the magazine. I'd sold Courtship Rite to Pocket
Books and we thought it would be good marketing to have it
serialized in Analog, advertising of a kind. I knew it was going
to be too long for them. My agent suggested I send it there
anyway. Stan liked it, but felt it was 40,000 words too long for
his needs. I tried to get him to commit himself to buying a cut
version prior to my actually doing the cut, but he didn't see how
the novel could survive that drastic an edit. And I didn't want
to do all that work cutting if it wasn't going to be bought. So
we compromised. I did the first installment on speculation. It
was hard work, even on my word processor. He said okay, go
ahead, so I had the horrible ordeal of cutting the next three
installments, all of which would have been 30 or 35 thousand
words long, down to 20,000 words. I think I managed pretty well.
Sawyer: When did you acquire an agent?
Kingsbury: I had my first agent when I was 20. I thought
every young, aspiring author should have an agent, which is not
true. There's no real difficulty in selling short stuff on your
own. My agent was a nice old man who didn't know much about SF.
I paid him to be a critic, which was not unreasonable: he was
spending time on me and I wasn't up to publishable levels yet. I
found his critiques fascinating.
I started looking for an agent again after I sold
Courtship Rite. I didn't want to negotiate the contract myself; that's
very slippery business. Jerry Pournelle recommended Eleanor
Wood. She's Robert Heinlein's agent, as well, so I figured I
couldn't go wrong in having her. She's certainly worth her ten percent.
Sawyer: I understand there are two versions of "Shipwright"
Kingsbury: That's true. In the one that appears in Analog,
there's a scene where the two engineers are going through a bar
and are picked up by women. In the version that appeared in
Terry Carr's Best SF Stories of the Year #1, the men work in a
strip joint. They strip for the women who pick them up, which is
the way that culture works. Analog felt that was a bit strong
for the magazine field. I prefer the version that appears in
Sawyer: Do you have a good relationship with Terry Carr?
Kingsbury: Well, I certainly like Terry Carr. He's reprinted
every one of my Analog stories and that has certainly given a
boost to my career. When David Hartwell moved to Pocket Books
from Berkley he was bemoaning that he had worked for three years
developing a stable of authors and now he was back at square one
at Pocket, with an offer he couldn't refuse. Terry said, "Well,
you know, I've been buying these stories from Don Kingsbury. I
don't think he's committed to anybody. I know he's written this
novel, Finger Pointing Solward, which is just lying around. Why
don't you get hold of him?" When David flew back to New York, he
ran into me at Lunacon and said, "I was going to give you a phone
call; come down and have a beer." He published Courtship Rite
and is going to do an expanded version of "The Moon Goddess and
the Son." The manuscript for that is long overdue and they're
starting to put the thumbscrews on me.
Sawyer: What about what happened with Dell?
Kingsbury: I don't consider the top management at Dell
very businesslike or very sane. I first got connected with Dell
at the Hugo awards banquet at SunCon. The man I was sitting
beside, unbeknownst to me, was their editor. He was asking me a
lot of questions and I was blabbing away the way unpublished
authors do. So he said, "Send it to me at Dell." Well, I did
send him Finger, and the first part of Courtship Rite, the
novella version I'd done for Ben Bova. He said Finger needed
some work, and since Courtship Rite came earlier in time, it was
probably better to publish first. That languished for a while in
the offices, as these things often do. David Hartwell at Pocket
was very interested in seeing Courtship Rite, so I asked Dell if
they would send the sample back to me. They responded by
offering me a contract: $5,000 up front; $5,000 more upon
completion of the manuscript. I sat down and wrote it. It took
me longer than I'd thought; it always does. Don Benson, the man
I'd originally dealt with, had left, so it became the
responsibility of Jim Frenkel, the chief editor at Dell. He very
much like the book. He gave me an extensive, interesting
criticism of it. I made a second version, which wasn't so bad,
since I had a word processor. Some of his suggestions I took and
they improved the book a lot. The first two chapters are
substantially improved because of Jim Frenkel's suggestions. I
referred to the God of the Sky in male terms. He thought maybe I
should do it in female terms. It's a popular thing nowadays to
refer to God as a woman. I didn't think it particularly fit.
Women gods tend to give the impressions of soft, motherly types
that take care of you. On the other hand, it could have been
female, because it turns out to be a ship and we normally refer
to ships as she. Of course, the Getan language has a different
tense structure than ours. The God of the Sky is actually
referred to in the neutral gender. They have structures which
can refer to an individual without identifying their sex.
When I got the manuscript finished, the upper levels of Dell
decided to kill their entire SF line, so they never accepted the
book. My agent, Eleanor, wasn't displeased. She said Pocket
Books still wanted it. They advanced me $30,000.
Sawyer: What books can we look forward to seeing by you in
Kingsbury: I'm under contract with Simon & Schuster for the
novel-length "Moon Goddess and the Son" and they have an option on
The Finger Pointing Solward. I'm certainly going to do some
revisions on it, though. The draft they have was written in
1970. Since then, I've written Courtship Rite and "Shipwright,"
bringing the background details of that universe into sharper
focus. My ability to plot is a lot better, too. Finger is about
the same length as the book version of Courtship Rite. I think
they'll buy it. They certainly have first dibs on it.
Sawyer: You were up for the Hugo in 1980: "Moon Goddess
and the Son" versus Barry B. Longyear's "Enemy Mine." Barry won
and you lost.
Kingsbury: I went to the Losers' Party and celebrated.
When Barry Longyear tried to get in, we kicked him out.
Sawyer: Courtship Rite copped a well-deserved Hugo
nomination. Are you excited?
Kingsbury: Oh, yes. I'm jumping up and down. The
competition looks pretty stiff, though.
Sawyer: The first novels in years by
Arthur C. Clarke,
Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein.
Kingsbury: I really like Courtship Rite. It's my personal
feeling that it can take on anything that was published in 1982.
Certainly it'll be a good contest. As they say, may the best man
[2007 bionote] Robert J. Sawyer is the author of 18
science-fiction novels, including the Hugo Award-winning
the Nebula Award-winning
The Terminal Experiment,
and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award-winning
More Good Reading
More about Canadian SF
Encyclopedia Galactica entry on Don Kingsbury
Rob's interview with Isaac Asimov
Rob's reminiscence of A.E. van Vogt
Rob's profile of Terence M. Green
Rob's profile of Edo van Belkom