[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
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:
Here’s what they said…
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.