TT: Let’s Do It Together!

JANE: Last week, when we started talking about collaborations, proper and improper, you said you could think of dozens of collaborations in SF without even trying very hard.

Hauling the Book Along

All right, I’ll give you a harder challenge.   Can you find an example of an author who has done both what you would consider proper and  improper collaborations?

ALAN: Oh that’s easy! Just look at the many writers that Arthur C. Clarke “collaborated” with over the years. Many, but by no means all, of these collaborations are the usual marketing exercises where Clarke contributed nothing but the basic idea and then left his collaborator alone to make of it what he would.

When the collaborator was a genuinely skillful writer, the result is best considered as a reasonably good stand-alone novel by that writer, so to that extent they can be regarded as successful. But when the collaborator was less skilled, the result was generally dire.

For example, I refuse to admit that that Clarke’s standalone novel Rendezvous With Rama had any sequels…

JANE: As much as I wanted to find out more about Rama, I agree.  The sequels didn’t have the same sense of wonder and mystery.

Since we’re not admitting those “improper” collaborations exist, it seems unfair to blame Clarke for doing such without another example.  Can you provide at least one?

ALAN: Yes, and I have documentary evidence for it. In an Afterword to Richter-10 as by Arthur C. Clarke and Mike McQuay, Clarke remarks that:

“…this is the first time that I have given an idea to another author to develop entirely as he wished. But it may not be the last: I’ve discovered that this gives me all the fun of creation—but none of the lonely hours slaving away at the keyboard.”

So clearly we need to look at his dual bylines with a degree of scepticism.

JANE: Indeed we do.  Simply supplying a seed idea is not a collaboration!

Before I become too dismayed by this tendency in an author who still provides the “C” in the “ABC’s” of SF, can you supply an example of Clarke doing a proper collaboration?

ALAN: I think I can.  I might be on slightly shaky ground here, but I suspect that the novels he wrote with Stephen Baxter were genuine collaborations.  After all, Baxter and Clarke were friends. Also, the Afterword to their novel The Light Of Other Days talks about the thinking behind the story and the authors consistently refer to themselves in the first person plural.

At one point they remark that “Any errors or omissions are, of course, our responsibility.”  So it does look like they were both involved.

Furthermore I’m sure that there are Clarkean stylistic flourishes all through the four books that they co-authored.

JANE: Can you provide examples?

ALAN: Yes – but you might disagree with me. After all, style is a very subjective thing. But it seems to me that these words, again from The Light of Other Days, are pure Arthur C. Clarke:

“Fingers of green and blue pushed into the new deserts of Asia and the North American Midwest. Artificial reefs glimmered in the Caribbean, pale blue against the deeper ocean. Great wispy machines labored over the poles to repair the atmosphere. The air was clear as glass, for now mankind drew its energy from the core of Earth itself.”

JANE: Ooh…  That’s nice.  I agree.  Either Clarke or Baxter doing his best imitation – which is part of quality collaboration.

ALAN: A completely unambiguous example of a proper Clarke collaboration is his final novel, The Last Theorem. This was completed by Frederik Pohl when Clarke finally admitted that he himself was too old and too frail to finish it. In his blog, Pohl was at pains to point out just how closely Clarke was involved in the writing process. At one point he says:

“There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do the book, but I looked forward to Arthur’s notes. When they arrived, they amounted to around a hundred pages of notes and drafts, some sketchy, some quite completely fleshed out.”

And then later on he remarks that:

“Arthur promised to go over every page as I wrote it and to make comments as useful as he could generate.”

The whole blog post about the writing of the novel makes fascinating reading. You can see it here.

So clearly Pohl considered the novel to be a genuine collaboration, and he should know because he was one half of probably the very best SF collaboration of all time

JANE: Should we talk about Fred Pohl as a collaborator next?

ALAN: It’s certainly something he was really good at. There was a time when he appeared to be collaborating with pretty much everyone in sight! Perhaps it was something in the water.

Let’s collaborate on that topic next time.



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