MIND MELD: SF/F Writing Dream Teams

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SF/F has a long history of collaboration ranging from two authors teaming up to shared worlds, we could list dozens of books that are the products of collaboration. But not everyone has worked on a story in this manner. We asked our panelists this question:

Q: What ‘dream’ writing team-up would you like to see?

Here’s what they said…

Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress is the author of 26 books of SF, fantasy, and writing advice. Her fiction has won multiple Nebula and Hugo awards, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

The dream writing team I’d like to see is Ursula LeGuin and Karen Joy Fowler. Both have graceful, eloquent styles and a deep feeling for the human condition: perspicacity tempered with compassion, but never sentimentality. In addition, they would bring the perspectives of two different generations. That would be a story that I would give anything to read.

Angela Slatter
Angela Slatter writes speculative fiction. Her short stories have appeared in Dreaming Again, Steampunk Reloaded, Strange Tales II & III, 2012, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Shimmer. Her work has had Honourable Mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies and has three times been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award. She is a graduate of Tin House 2006 and Clarion South 2009, and she blogs at http://angelaslatter.wordpress.com/.

My dream team literary link ups would be:

  • Ursula K Le Guin and Margaret Atwood – because, well, definition of self-evident! Ursula K Le Guin and Margaret Atwood!!
  • Alan Moore and Kelly Link – it would be like a fever dream.
  • Kim Newman and Lisa L Hannett should do a creepy Western horror-fantasy mash-up.
Lev Grossman
Lev Grossman is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels The Magicians and The Magician King. The New Yorker named The Magicians as one of the best books of 2009. In 2011 Grossman was awarded the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer by the World Science Fiction Society.

Off the top of my head, I’m going to say Joe Abercrombie and William Gibson. Gibson for his marvelous sense of self-awareness — that way he’s able to sniff out the hidden weaknesses of a genre, the complexities that it glosses over and compromises on, and write novels that look those things directly in the face. He’s done it for science fiction, and I’d love to see him do it with fantasy. And I’d pair him with Abercrombie because who knows, maybe he’d need a veteran fantasy writer to ride shotgun? And because Abercrombie is simply awesome.

James Bloomer
James Bloomer has a PhD in particle physics (he studied Tau Leptons at CERN) and has probably forgotten more physics than most people ever learn. He won the 2010 James White Award and his stories have appeared in a selection of magazines. He writes software for a living. You can find him on Twitter @bigdumbobject.

I don’t have particularly fond memories of collaborative works of fiction, with The Difference Engine burning a large raging hole in memory. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling! Together! Two of my favourite authors and yet I didn’t like the book at all. In fact I blame it for triggering my intense dislike of Steampunk. Somehow writing fiction together is not at all like making music together, where collaboration has often produced works of art that transcended the individuals. Written fiction seems to suit a much more singular vision.

So it is with trepidation that I suggest two more of my favourite authors to work together: Neal Stephenson and Adam Roberts. I’m hoping that the extravagant lengths of Neal Stephenson’s recent novels will be tamed without losing that spark of ultra-geek coolness. His meandering, (sometimes) witty tangents can merge with the high concept, intelligent ideas of Adam Roberts, who can also coax out poetic prose that was more prominent in Anathem than Reamde. Their big Science Fiction ideas will crash head on, Adam Roberts pushing uncomfortable, thought provoking moments into plot moments with the pace of the opening of Snow Crash.

To be honest the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a bad idea. It’ll never work. And actually why would I want it to work? Why dilute what makes an author great? Instead I’d just like a new novel by Adam Roberts and a new novel by Neal Stephenson, please, forget the collaboration.

Mike Cobley
Mike Cobley was born in Leicester, 1959, went to school in Clydebank, then attended the University of Strathclyde, to study engineering. He began to write with a serious intention in 1986 and is thus far the author of the Shadowkings Trilogy, one short story collection, Iron Mosaic, and his space opera sequence, Humanity’s Fire published by Orbit. In addition to a controlled videogame addiction, he is also an unreconstructed heavy metal fan, and finds inspiration in both.

So, come up with a writing partnership/dreamteam, eh? Hmm, Harlan Ellison put out a collection of stories that were collaborations between himself and other writers, Partners In Wonder, I think, and the range of subject matter and treatment was practically mind-expanding. But in this instance I’m thinking about novel-length pieces, something of a rarity when you look into it. But if the two guys I’ve got in mind were, in some parallel universe, entangled by quantum circumstance into a true, intertwining collaborative venture then what fabulous blend might result?

Okay, this is it – George RR Martin….and James P Blaylock. Because I want, with every fibre of my writerly soul, to read a steampunk version of Game Of Thrones (or A Song Of Ice & Fire, you pendants wanna get in on the act). I imagine a smokey landscape of cities and towns knitted together by rail and road and dirigible, a patchwork of clans and families and companies, a gallimaufry of would-be kingdoms of the coin, jostling for influence while a powerful but resentful monarchy vies with a council of aristocrats and academics for the future of the imperium…

And I guess if they don’t do the decent thing after all, I’ll just have to sit down and write it myself.

Kari Sperring
Kari Sperring grew up dreaming of joining the musketeers and saving France, only to discover that the company had been disbanded in 1776. Disappointed, she became a historian instead and as Kari Maund has written and published five books Celtic history and co-authored a book on the history and real people behind The Three Musketeers (with Phil Nanson). Her first novel, Living With Ghosts (DAW 2009) won the Sydney J Bounds First Novel Award, was shortlisted for the William L Crawford Fantasy Award and was on the Tiptree Award Honours list.

‘I’ve been asked to imagine some collaborations by SF Signal,’ I say to my friend M. ‘And I don’t know where to start. There are so many wonderful possibilities.’

‘I do it by surname,’ he says. ‘You know: A Naked Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice and William Burroughs; Golden the Ship Was, Very Heavily Armed, by E. E. Doc and Cordwainer Smith; The Stainless Steel Rat Gives in to Entropy, by Harry and M John Harrison.’

‘Hmmm… ,’ I say, though secretly I’d rather like to have had the chance to read that Harrison: two writers who, I suspect, might have sparked off one another rather well.

But seriously, collaboration is a very fertile space. Indeed, my all-time favourite writer, Alexandre Dumas père, wrote many of his books in collaboration (and wanted to give credit to his collaborators, but his editors refused on commercial grounds). I’ve often thought that, were he around today, he would turn his hand to sf and fantasy and he would work well and happily – and openly, in our current climate – with collaborators. I would love to read a space opera combining his verve and swashbuckling style with the skillful world-building and envisaging of alien cultures of Julie Czerneda. And when he had finished that, I’d love to read a sweeping historical fantasy by him and Judith Tarr, whose attention to historical detail, beautiful style and fine characterisation would bring new depth to Dumas’ broad sweeping approach.

Cross-cultural collaborations are intriguing to imagine, too. One of my favourite sf writers is Justina Robson – spiky, intelligent, complex, challenging. Marrying her scientific insights and twisty imagination with the edgy modernity of Chinese writer Wang Shuo could produce something wonderful: rich, strange, chewy. Two writers with different cultural backgrounds but strikingly similar depth and sensitivity to nuance and identity are Geoff Ryman and Aliette de Bodard. I don’t know what they would write – it might be sf, it might be slipstream, it might be magic realism – but I know I would pounce on it and devour it, should they choose to team up.

And then there’s the unfinished novels that sit out there and taunt us. Several writers have turned their hands to Jane Austen’s Sanditon, but the continuation I dream of reading is by Sherwood Smith, whose skill with character and social hierarchy is peerless, and whose writing is infused with a deep understanding of 18th and 19th century literature. And then The Mystery of Edwin Drood strikes me as a prime candidate for entry into Charles Stross’ Laundry series: Dickens with deep ones could only lead to fun.

11 thoughts on “MIND MELD: SF/F Writing Dream Teams”

  1. I suspect this is a topic that might be usefully asked to book bloggers and readers as much as authors.

    I’d love, for example, to see Elizabeth Bear and Steven Brust to collaborate on a fantasy novel. That could be scary good.

  2. An interesting concept. How about Peter Hamilton and Jack Vance? What strange hybrid would emerge from that? Ian Banks and Richard Morgan? Jack McDevitt and Alistair Reynolds? I know! C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner… oh, wait.

  3. This would never work, but I’ll throw out Cormac McCarthy and Ted Chiang.

    McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize winning, genre-crossing novel, THE ROAD is a far cry from his stronger novels, including BLOOD MERIDIAN, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, AND SUTTREE. Aside fro his literary sentiments, McCarthy is the best author I know of at getting at the raw power of human emotion. Under Chiang’s high concept science fiction/philosophy mentorship, I would love to see a novella between the two.

  4. Hm. Is this just making up a mashup of most favouritest works, or is this about two authors with similar/complementary writing styles?

    Anyway.. I.. I don’t think I have any ‘dreamteam’ – I don’t quite believe that a team framework can produce top-level results as far as SF writing goes.

    Still, there are some pairups that would be amusing in one way or another.
    Combining G.R.R.Martin and P.F.Hamilton would, I think, produce a complete singularity of a supernovel, jam-packed with awkward unfortunate-implications sex and rape, in the format of a trilogy of 2000-page tomes. The uncomfortable obsessions that plague both writer’s works would definitely feed off of each other in a most deliciously repulsive manner.

    Next, I’d like to see what happens when you pair U.K.LeGuin and O.S.Card.. The sheer presence of those names on a cover would set the blogosphere ablaze – people already can’t seem to stop mentioning both of those authors at every opportunity far exceeding the actual need, so a co-op work would, without doubt, be the go-to talking topic for a generation of people, at least.

    Well, I am being a bit mean. But hey, as reality tv shows have proven, people are drawn to negativity far more. There’s money in this, y’hear?

    1. I disagree. I think “The Mote In God’s Eye” by Niven/Pournelle is one of SF’s all-time great novels. C.L. Mooore and Henry Kuttner wrote some incredible work as good as it gets – Vintage Season, “Fury.” “Gladiator At Law” by Pohl/Kornbluth is considered an all-time great.

      I would agree in contemporary terms. The current explosion of author teams seems to be to cover weakness or double the output of a more famous or burnt out author. Not a scenario for greatness.

  5. Not really what you’d call similar writers, but writers with some overlapping thematic or stylistic concerns:
    Steph Swainston and Steven Erikson
    Mary Gentle and Elizabeth Hand
    Chris Wooding and Tim Lebbon
    Glen Hirshberg and Margo Lanagan

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