WHEN I WAS WRITING

 

A Literary Memoir

by

Tom Purdom

 

 

 

 

 

Installment Four: Through Time and Space with

Giacomo Casanova, Episode One

 

In the last fifteen years, Iíve written two groups of stories that take place in the same interplanetary future. One is a set of three novelettes that I call my military brat stories. The other contains four novelettes that chronicle the adventures of a character based on Giacamo Casanova. I started working on the military brat stories first, but Iím going to start with Casanova. The Casanova stories are more fun.

 

I started writing stories about a character based on Casanova because of my incurably contrarian nature: I wanted to write a story in which a technological development was an unqualified boon to the people who used it.

Science fiction, in my opinion, is almost inherently technophobic. To have stories, you must have plots. To have plots, you must have conflicts and problems. The necessities of drama nudge science fiction writers toward a dark view of the future. Tell a bunch of science fiction writers we are going to add several hundred years to the human lifespan and they will immediately start talking about over population, cultural stagnation, and other dreary consequences of a world in which we no longer have to be oppressed by the knowledge we are probably going to die long before most of us want to end our adventures.

One day I got a vision of a future in which people could become expert musicians merely by purchasing an implant. I pictured a world in which hordes of people had a wonderful time playing string quartets and eighteenth century trio sonatas with their friends.

Nowadays we think of music as something most people consume. Professional musicians play and the rest of us listen. For most of Western history, music was something people did. If you wanted music, you made it yourself. You sang, you danced, you played an instrument. Aristocrats could hire musicians to play for them but they usually played, too. Most of the music loving aristocrats we encounter in European history were enthusiastic musicians. Elizabeth Tudor played a type of harpsichord called the virginals. Frederick the Great was a flutist. The German prince who hired Bach to be his music director played in the concertos Bach wrote for his orchestra.

During the Baroque period, composers published thousands of sonatas and other pieces for soloists and small ensembles. The primary market for this material was the musicians themselves. Much of the literature written for consorts of viols, for example, was played by gentlemen who got together with their friends in the same way other people might get together to play cards. Even today, people who play the piano or some other instrument constitute a big segment of the audience at chamber music concerts.

In the future I wanted to write about, the trend of the last three centuries had been reversed. Instead of buying an expensive sound system, you bought a "performance system." "Information molecules" were implanted in your nervous system, you were provided with a learning program and a musical instrument, and in six months, after one hour of practice per day, you could play as well as the average graduate of Julliard or the Curtis Institute of Music.

Normally in a science fiction story about a technological development you get your plot from the problems created by the invention. James Blish once said that if a story idea arrives in your head background first, you should ask yourself "Who will this hurt?" Once you know the answer to that question, you have your story.

Itís a good piece of advice, but I wasnít interested in hurting anyone. I wanted to write about people having a good time with a new technology. I didnít want to write about people developing cancer of the nervous system or bashing their friends to death with their violin cases because of some unexpected mental effect.

I resolved the problem by expropriating a device that has been employed by a number of literary icons. I created a conflict by inventing a character who would have a disruptive effect on a small group of acquaintances. I took a character based on Casanova and let him tangle the sex lives of a group of men and women who spent their leisure hours playing Baroque music.

 

I first encountered Casanova in a book called Twelve Against the Gods, the Story of Adventure by William Bolitho. Bolitho argued that Casanova was a successful lover because he fell in love with every woman he pursued. Time after time, Bolitho pointed out, we see Casanova squandering huge sums and taking enormous risks just so he can win the favor of the woman who has become his current obsession.

I was only fifteen when I read Bolithoís book and I thought his portrait of Casanova presented an attractive picture. There are other ways to view Casanova, but his memoirs certainly make a good case for Bolithoís suggestion that he was a serial monogamist.

Giacomo Casanova was born in Venice in 1725 and died in a central European castle in 1798. His travels took him the length and breadth of Europe-- from London to Moscow, from Holland to Constantinople. His active years spanned the decades when eighteenth century European society was at its height and he got a good look at the whole show. He fought duels, talked to famous people like Voltaire and Frederick the Great, engineered a famous prison escape, swindled aristocrats with scams based on numerology and astrology, tried his hand at careers in soldiering and the priesthood, and became wealthy operating a franchise of a French government lottery. He even played the violin in an opera house during a period when he was temporarily down and out.

He didnít become a legend, however, because of his conversations with celebrities and his prowess as a tourist. Casanovaís memoirs cover almost 4,000 printed pages in the standard English translation Willard Trask published in the 1960s. Most of the words on those pages depict Casanovaís love affairs. He conducted over 120 love affairs during the period described in the memoirs-- and he died before he could finish chronicling his amours.

There can be no doubt Casanovaís love affairs were the central activity of his life. The memoirs are arranged by love affairs. Each section, with very few exceptions, is the story of a love affair. The other items-- the duels, his travels-- are brought up almost in passing.

"Feeling that I was born for the sex opposite to mine," Casanova says in his foreword, "I have always loved it and done everything I could to make myself loved by it." Later he divides his life into three phases. In the first phase, he says, he attracted women by his person. In the second, his person had lost some of its appeal but he had acquired wealth. In the third, he had neither wealth nor person and he had to do the best he could.

He was definitely not the kind of man who simply grabs any woman who happens to be available. He pursued particular women who had aroused his interest, one woman at a time, and the women who captivated him were never merely sources of physical pleasure. He always gives you some sense of their personalities. Seventy-five percent of carnal pleasure, he says, is talk.

 

I had decided that the characters in my story would play Baroque music on period instruments-- replicas of the wooden flutes, lightly strung violins, and other instruments actually played in the period. They were playing eighteenth century music on eighteenth century instruments so it seemed reasonable to assume they would also have a lighthearted, eighteenth century attitude toward sex. The lover who commits suicide because he canít have one particular woman is a nineteenth century conceit. To the eighteenth century courtier, sexual affairs were pleasures, not tragic encounters with fate. At the start of my story, the viewpoint character lives in a milieu in which he goes home with the flutist one night and the harpsichordist the next and no one takes the whole business too seriously.

Casanova was an eighteenth century male but he went in for exclusive relationships. The Casanova character in my story, Joe Baske, creates problems because he pulls an attractive woman out of the group and introduces her to the emotional excitement of a true love affair.

Joe wasnít the viewpoint character in this story and I never indicated he was based on Casanova. He was a pivotal character, however, and I gave him traits based on the real Casanova. When I asked myself how he made his living-- an important aspect of all characterization, in my opinion-- I looked for something that would be a modern equivalent of Casanovaís gambling interests, and decided he would be a currency trader. Then I carried the idea one step further and said he specialized in the "Indian and Central European" currency markets.

To me, little throwaway details like that are an important aspect of science fiction craftsmanship. They are the details that tell your readers they really are peering into a future that is significantly different from the present-- in this case, a world in which India and Central Europe have become important powers in the global economy. Earlier in the story, when I introduced the information molecules, I underlined the Indian connection by giving the scientist who developed them an Indian name.

The information molecules had been chips when I first started planning the story. I changed them to molecules because I had already read several stories that involved implanted chips and I believe you should make all the details in a science fiction story as original as possible. Organic computers, possibly based on DNA molecules, are one of the future possibilities currently under research. They may not be any more probable than implanted skill chips, but theyíre just as possible, and they were less familiar.

I sent "Chamber Story" to Omni, a slick science-and-science fiction magazine which paid the top rates in the field and usually gave you an answer in a couple of weeks. The editor, Ellen Datlow, rejected it, as I had known she probably would. I submitted it to Gardner Dozois at Isaac Asimovís Science Fiction Magazine, Gardner asked me to make some minor changes to clarify the ending, and we exchanged a couple of letters and arrived at some phrases we could both live with.

At some point while I was working on the story, it had occurred to me a character based on Casanova would make a great series character. He could travel all over some future society the way the real Casanova had traveled over Europe, and he had a built-in reason for getting into trouble. I was certain it was a wonderful idea. I knew it could be developed into something I would like. So naturally I put it aside and wrote other things.

 

I wrote "Chamber Story" in 1991 and it appeared in the August, 1992 Asimovís. It was the third story I sold Gardner.

Between 1973 and 1988, I had sold two short stories. Every time I tried to write a short story, I found myself thinking it had to be a novel, and ended up writing a novel proposal-- three sample chapters and an outline of the rest of the book. Unfortunately, none of my novel proposals sold. I had sold five novels before 1973 but my novel writing career seemed to be coming to an end, too.

I hadnít stopped writing. Like a lot of other writers, I had discovered that science fiction credits opened up opportunities in other fields. My science fiction had given me credits that helped me get non-fiction magazine assignments and my magazine articles had given me credits that helped me land assignments in a field that is sometimes called "business writing" or "corporate writing"-- reports, brochures, press releases, and other kinds of writing for private businesses and institutional clients like the University of Pennsylvania. Itís an interesting kind of work. It pays a lot more per hour than science fiction usually does. But for me it was always a sideline-- a way to earn money.

I reentered the short story market almost by accident. Sara and I had developed an imaginary couple named Harold and Millicent who were the essence of well-bred propriety. We liked to have Harold and Millicent conversations in which we would speak to each other in clipped, understated exchanges and we had gradually learned many interesting facts about our alter egos. Harold was a Tudor-Smith. Millicent had been born a Cuddleby-- of the Puddleby Cuddlebys. The dog Harold walked every day was a Skye terrier named Dunkirk. Millicent slept until noon and spent her afternoons playing the harpsichord and doing good works.

One day I decided I would write a short story about Harold and Millicent. I did it mostly as a little present for Sara-- something she and I could both enjoy, even if nobody bought it.

The story I ended up with was the kind of thing I call an "offbeat" story-- stories, like Shirley Jacksonís "One Ordinary Day with Peanuts", that develop a kind of zany logic. Some of my favorite stories fall into this category. In my contribution to the genre, Harold and Millicent are living in an upgraded, more sanitary eighteenth century London. They maintain this idealized London by exercising the special powers of a lady and a gentleman. Lady Millicent has a Look; when she Looks at individuals who arenít behaving properly, they shrivel up and withdraw from her presence. Sir Harold can part crowds with a few murmured Pardon mes and If you pleases, and usually finds some way to convince people they should make a fine fellow like him happy by doing what he wants them to do.

I wrote the story even though I knew it could only sell to two markets: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Isaac Asimovís Science Fiction Magazine. Asimovís was supposed to be a pure science fiction magazine but my friend Gardner Dozois had become the editor and he had widened the range and included some fantasy and an occasional offbeat story. Ed Ferman rejected it for F&SF but Gardner sent me a postcard telling me he was buying it for Asimovís. I started thinking about other story possibilities and "A Proper Place to Live" became the first item in a string of short stories and novelettes.

 

I sold the Harold and Millicent epic in August of 1988. Our son, Christopher, got married right after Labor Day and my writing career took another unexpected turn a few days after the wedding. I became a music critic.

The road that led to this strange metamorphosis began with Abbot and Costello. One night when I was ten years old, I listened to their weekly radio show while I was lying in a darkened bedroom. Their guest that night was Fritz Kreisler, who was then one of the worldís most popular violinists. Kreisler traded a few jokes with Bud and Lou and started playing a piece that lasted about three or four minutes. Suddenly, the darkness was flooded with gold.

The next morning I told my mother I wanted to take violin lessons. We were living in Connecticut then and she enrolled me in an inexpensive violin class. The lessons cost a dollar and you got a cheap violin, complete with case. Six weeks later, we moved to Florida, to a rural environment, and I never took another lesson.

Nowadays music is so ubiquitous you have to make an effort to avoid it. In my teens broadcast music and recorded music were still relatively rare. Radio programming consisted of the kind of stuff you see on TV today-- dramas, comedies, soap operas, variety shows, and a small number of music programs. The long playing record and the high-fidelity sound system were just coming in. The people who owned equipment like that were mostly upper income types who went in for symphonies. My family owned a small portable record player but nobody played it much. Now and then I would hear a snatch of symphonic music on the radio, like thunder on the horizon.

I didnít start listening to music until I settled in Philadelphia at eighteen and started going to the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1961, when I got out of the army, Sara and I became orchestra subscribers. We sat in the same seats in the middle of the second balcony for twenty-five years. When Christopher reached nine, we compared the cost of an orchestra ticket with the cost of a babysitter and added a third seat.

My other youthful experience with live music took place at the Gilded Cage coffeehouse. I had started frequenting the Cage when I had dropped in one evening and noted a sign that said they had folk singing on Sunday afternoons. Like a lot of people my age, I had been lulled into folk-- and pseudo-folk-- by the thin tenor of a fat guy named Burl Ives. I had even owned some Burl Ives records at one point.

At the Gilded Cage, local amateurs and professionals sat around a big round table in the center of the main room and took turns singing for several hours every Sunday. I became a Cage regular because I came back every Sunday and gradually got to know a few people. It was the perfect place to hear folk music. The performers were the kind of good local musicians who created traditional folk music in the first place and you heard them in the kind of small-scale setting the original musicians had played in.

I discovered Baroque music around the time Sara and I started thinking about marriage. A friend of hers put on a Baroque recording and I immediately knew I was hearing something I liked. After I got out of the army and we bought our first sound system, I started building a record collection that focused on early music-- the standard term for Baroque, Renaissance, and other Western music created before 1750. Around 1970, I fulfilled an old ambition and taught myself to play the recorder. A little later, I bought a harpsichord kit from the Zuckerman company and built a replica of a seventeenth century Flemish harpsichord (an adventure in itself), so Sara and I could play together. For the next few years, we spent part of our evenings playing Baroque dances and songs and exploring the lower levels of the sonata literature. By the time the gods decided I should be a music critic, I had been listening to recorded and live music for over thirty years, done a little music making myself, read a couple of thousand pages of program notes and album liners, and worked my way through a few books like Robert Doningtonís The Interpretation of Early Music. I had acquired the kind of background I refer to as a "journalistís knowledge" in polite company and a "science fiction writerís knowledge" when Iím among people who really understand things. Youíre not a true expert, but you can talk to experts. You can ask intelligent questions and put the answers into context.

Science fiction writers tend to explore subjects and acquire that kind of background as they write SF. Itís one of the reasons many of them add non-fiction to their output.

None of this activity would have earned me a criticís gig at a major newspaper. My elevation required a quirkier, less conventional publication.

In 1981, a Philadelphia writer and editor named Dan Rottenberg had taken over a center city neighborhood weekly called the Welcomat. Dan had transformed the Welcomat into something unique-- a paper that published nothing but opinion pieces. He had, in effect, created a market for a dying form, the personal essay. Anybody could write an opinion piece for the Welcomat, on any subject that interested them. If Dan liked it, he would buy it and your words would reach the 85,000 well educated, affluent readers who lived in downtown Philadelphia.

We lived in West Philadelphia, in the area around the University of Pennsylvania, from 1968-1987. I didnít find out about Danís transformation of the Welcomat until 1984. I had always harbored a secret desire to write opinion pieces. I sent Dan a couple of articles, he bought them, and I eventually sold him about thirty pieces, on subjects that included gender relations, science fiction, model airplanes, parenthood, urban affairs, and any other topic that caught my fancy.

In September of 1987, with our son fully embarked on adulthood, Sara and I sold our Victorian house in West Philadelphia and moved into a three-story rowhouse on the southern edge of center city. In August of 1988, I discovered that the Welcomatís classical music critic had left the city and it occurred to me I might step into the slot. I had written three articles on music for the Welcomat, including a personal look at the early music scene in Philadelphia. I had also written a number of brief previews of upcoming concerts for After Dark, the arts and entertainment section of the Welcomat.

It was an attractive thought but I didnít really feel qualified. I knew people who were real experts on music-- the kind of people who could compare ten different recordings of Beethovenís Eroica and explicate the structure of a Bach fugue the way I could discuss the structure of a novel.

I had been thinking about the matter for several days when I mentioned it, hesitantly, to Sara as we were walking to the grocery store. She told me I should apply for the job, so I picked up my courage the next morning and called Derek Davis, the After Dark editor.

"I understand Bill is relocating," I mumbled. "And you donít have a replacement. Iíve been thinkingÖ.maybe I could try itÖ.."

The next thing I heard was a huge shout. "GREAT!"

After I had been a critic for a couple of years, I realized many musicians think critics go through the same kind of disciplined training and rigorous selection processes the musicians have been enduring since they were in grade school. I have done my best not to disillusion them.

Derekís decision had a huge impact on our lifestyle. I had known that critics received free tickets, of course, but I hadnít quite understood what that meant. Before, we had averaged one or two concerts a week during the music season. Now we averaged three or four. There were periods when we went out every night for seven days straight. Philadelphia has one of the liveliest, most extensive music scenes in the United States and I could now attend every concert I wanted to, without worrying about cost. I was, in fact, obligated to attend everything I could.

The Welcomat was an offbeat, unconventional paper but the Welcomat music critic occupied an important position in the Philadelphia music community. Philadelphiaís daily newspaper lineup had been reduced to one morning paper and one afternoon tabloid. The weekly newspapers that served major neighborhoods had become a significant source of publicity for music organizations.

I had serious weaknesses as a music critic but I had strengths, too. My corporate writing had included a year and a half as a part time science writer for the University of Pennsylvania and my work as a science writer had developed my ability to explain specialized fields to a general audience. If you can explain molecular biology and computer simulations to an audience that doesnít know much about either, you can probably explain things like the difference between a modern grand piano and the kind of piano Mozart played in the 1780s.

Since I was writing for the Welcomat, I could take a highly personal attitude toward my subject. I could write from the viewpoint of an explorer and an enjoyer, instead of an Olympian authority. A local cellist told me he and his wife liked reading my column because I sounded like I really had a good time going to concerts. Somebody else told me that she felt one of my strengths was the fact that I knew what people didnít know. Real experts often lose touch with the audience theyíre writing for. I could still remember all the things that had puzzled me when I had been an untutored member of the audience.

By the summer of 1990, I had completed two full seasons as a music critic. I had written almost a hundred weekly columns and reviewed over two hundred concerts. I wrote "Chamber Story" partly because I had begun to feel I could write about music without making a fool of myself.

 

I returned to the Casanova series because of a Philadelphia writer named Kiki Olson Gomez. Kiki wrote a weekly woman-about-town kind of column for the Welcomat. One week she discussed a conversational gambit people sometimes throw out at parties-- who would you invite to dinner if you could invite anyone who had ever lived? Most people, Kiki pointed out, come up with ponderous, deeply philosophical possibilities like Moses, Jesus, and Gandhi. If she were given such an opportunity, Kiki said, she would invite people it would be fun to have dinner with-- people who were good conversationalists.

I thought that was a sensible idea and I started thinking about the historical figures I might squeeze into a dinner party in our little townhouse dining room. I came up with eight guests, equally divided among the sexes in proper British dinner party style. For the women, I chose Mary Shelley, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jane Austen, and Elizabeth Tudor. For the men I chose Casanova, Machiavelli, Castiglione, and Winston Churchill.

In his history of science fiction The Million Year Spree, Brian Aldiss had decided Frankenstein had been the first science novel and Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley should therefore be canonized as the first science fiction writer. Aldiss quoted a description of Mary Shelley talking animatedly about various subjects and concluded she would be quite at home in any modern gathering of science fiction writers. Jane Austen spent much of her life visiting rich relatives and making polite conversation, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a lively Greenwich Village party girl, and Elizabeth Tudor is the one monarch I would happily elect to the White House if she were eligible.

Machiavelli may seem like an odd choice, but he was a successful diplomat and bureaucrat who liked to sit around in cafes and gossip with his buddies. Castiglione was the author of a Renaissance guidebook called The Courtier which tells you how to get along in courts, and he had spent much of his life standing around making conversation. Winston Churchill was a veteran of the British dinner party circuit and he was obviously a raconteur who would have made the perfect male foil for the female politician at the table.

It occurred to me this group would make a wonderful cast for a story. I sat down at my computer and began sketching in future versions of their characters and plotting the first novelette in the series I had been keeping in the back of my mind.

Some writers plan stories in their heads as they stare out the window or go for walks. Others sit around with clipboards or notebooks. I sit down at the keyboard-- a typewriter keyboard up until 1983-- and write notes.

I write down ideas as they come to me, without trying to be systematic. Iíll develop ideas about the background for a few paragraphs, then abandon that train of thought when it begins to run down and switch to a character sketch or a plot possibility. Every now and then Iíll write a brief outline, to see how the plot is developing. Usually the notes are as long as the finished story-- longer in most cases. The more you know about your story, the easier it is to write.

In the end, I dropped Jane Austen and Castiglione. I didnít need that many characters. For plot purposes, I added another character based on a historical figure who has always fascinated me-- T.E. Lawrence. In real life, Lawrence became an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force after his exploits in Arabia, and isolated himself in a rural retreat after his RAF service. In the story, the Lawrence figure is a former secret agent who engaged in violent activity and now lives in an isolated lunar habitat, after spending several years as a medical technician.

The Churchill character became a flamboyant politician who earned his living as a freelance journalist. For a writer, some of the most interesting passages in William Manchesterís biography of Churchill are Manchesterís descriptions of Churchillís career as a freelance journalist and book author. Churchill was a nephew of the Duke of Marlborough but he was the second son of a second son and he didnít have the inherited wealth his position in society implied. In his account of the runup to World War II in the 30ís, Manchester compares Churchillís earnings as a writer with Hitlerís. Hitler had the advantage that he was a dictator, but Churchillís sales from his best selling history of World War I beat Hitlerís sales from his best seller, Mein Kampf.

There is some evidence the real Casanova spied for the Venetian Republic. I suspect this mostly meant he sent back reports on the things he learned in the normal course of his travels. My Casanova character picks up some extra cash engaging in similar activity for an international peacekeeping agency. In the first story, Joeís spying work advances the plot by getting him into extra trouble and providing him with critical support at the climax.

 

I laid down two rules for the series as I developed the first novelette. Joe would travel to a different part of the solar system in each story and he would cope with a dramatic situation created by an advance in science and technology.

I decided to place the series in an interplanetary setting largely because I thought it would give the stories an extra appeal for science fiction readers. (It would also scare off some general readers who might be potential customers, but thatís one of the prices you pay when you write genre fiction for genre readers.) I had recently taken on one of my reading projects and read everything I could find on the things the Apollo missions and our robot probes had taught us about the solar system. Our picture of the planets and their satellites has become a lot more detailed and I felt I could add to the interest and verisimilitude of the stories by exploiting that hard won knowledge.

At the climax of the first story, for example, Joe is being chased through a small crater and he tries to escape by climbing the crater wall. When I was young, we generally pictured lunar craters as rugged places, with sheer cliffs and dramatic rocky surfaces. The inside of a crater does look that way, but we now know the outside of most craters is a gentle slope that looks like a sand dune. In the story, two of Joeís pursuers drive a tractor through an opening in the crater, and he realizes they are going to drive up the crater from the outside and head him off before he can reach the top of the wall.

I decided the first story would revolve around a powerful personality modification technology. Personality modification raises questions I have always found fascinating. In fiction, we generally assume people have no control over their motivations. But what if you could choose what you want? What would you want to want?

When the story opens, Joe is facing a personal crisis. His last romantic adventure got him into trouble with powerful people and he was forced to leave the Earth. Now he is in love with the Mary Shelley character and he is beginning to realize she is never going to accept him. The real Mary Shelley ran off with Percy Bythe Shelley in her youth and lost him when he died in a boating accident. My fictional character has reacted to a similar youth with a personality modification that gives her total control over her sexual and romantic impulses.

Joe is seventy-four years old when the story opens-- one year older than the first Casanova was when he died-- and he knows he may have decades of life ahead of him. Does he want to continue the kind of life heís been leading? Wouldnít he be happier if he modified his emotions and avoided all the trouble his romantic feelings have caused him? His confrontation with his basic nature creates a psychological plot that moves in tandem with an action plot-- an attempt to inflict an involuntary personality modification on the Churchill character.

 

When I invent a character, I sometimes ask myself how they would score if you could measure their important traits on a test. For Joe (and the real Casanova) the critical traits are sexual desire, romantic feeling, and monogamy,

I assume the real Casanova would fall somewhere around the middle of the population on the distribution curve for the sexual desire scale. He might even be somewhat undersexed; he had to be patient and he sometimes had to do without for long periods. For romantic feeling, he would fall toward the extreme end of the distribution curve. And he would be way below average, obviously, on the monogamy scale.

I assumed in the story that many of our traits are heavily influenced by our physiology and could therefore be modified by physiological alterations. In the story, Joe reflects that his feelings about women might be different "if my mother's body had washed another combination of chemicals across my brain cells when I had been developing in her womb." At the time I was planning this story, a researcher had conducted experiments that indicated a wash of testosterone at the right moment could be responsible for sexual orientation and the news media had given the idea a big play.

I had also been intrigued by an article in Science News that described research on monogamous and polygamous voles. Voles are a type of rodent and the mountain vole and the prairie vole have different sexual personalities. Prairie voles form permanent partnerships. Male mountain voles race around their dark tunnels mounting every female they can locate. The researcher had traced the different behavior patterns to a small structure in the brain.

I didnít limit the personality modification technology in the story to purely physical techniques. The conspirators who are stalking the Churchill character plan to modify him with Freudian techniques, based on his relationship with his mother. But I did assume that many of our traits could be altered by changing our biochemistry.

Interestingly, an anthropologist named Helen Fisher has recently written a book, Why We Love, in which she presents the evidence that sexual desire, romantic love, and monogamous behavior are influenced by three different brain structures and three different chemical paths.

Fisherís own research involved brain scans of volunteers who were currently experiencing all the feelings we associate with romantic love. Specific areas of the brain became active when her subjects looked at pictures of the person they were in love with. She surveys all the evidence for her viewpoint-- including more research on monogamous and polygamous voles-- and discusses the evolutionary basis of all three emotions.

Fisher essentially defines romantic love as a tendency to become fixated on a particular individual. It is found throughout nature, she argues, and it should have been favored by natural selection. The female who gives her heart to a strong whistle, a good mating dance, or a fine set of antlers is picking a mate who will give her sturdier, healthier children.

Monogamy and polygamy are also traits that affect successful reproduction. Prairie voles live in open spaces where a permanent partner can help them protect their young from predators. Mountain voles live underground and the male who can take advantage of random meetings fathers more children. In humans, our long childhoods obviously favor males who stick around and help their mates raise their offspring.

I read Why We Love around the time I finished the fourth (and probably final) novelette in the Casanova series. Itís always nice when you can claim your science fiction stories rest on a scientific base-- even if the scientific base comes along after youíve written the story.

 

I sent the first Casanova novelette to Gardner and he asked me for a change in the title. I had called the story "Lunar Passage"-- a reference to Joeís psychological passage and his physical journey across the Moon.

I muttered a few grumbles and started playing around with titles. I had read that Ernest Hemingway titled his stories by jotting down possibilities after he had finished the story. Hemingway is supposed to have written down two hundred titles before he came up with the title for one of his novels. I thought it was a good approach and I often use it when I finish a story and donít have a title Iím satisfied with.

At some point, as I was sitting in front of the computer free associating, my fingers produced a play on musical titles that involved lunar gravity-- "lunar g" as we unreformed space cadets call it. Music played an important role in the story. Joe had retained the ability to play the Baroque violin that he had acquired in "Chamber Story" and the final twist revolved around his musical prowess.

My first thought was "Minuet in Lunar G". Joe was based on an eighteenth century figure, and you might, with a little effort, feel that the characters in the story performed a multi-partner dance. Then I remembered that I had heard a number of pieces-- including movements of symphonies-- that were labeled Romance. I got out the one-volume Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music that my son and his wife had given me the Christmas after I became a music critic and looked up the musical meaning of romance.

In modern instrumental music, the term refers to a piece that is lyrical and simple. Originally, in 15th century Spain and Italy, it had "signified a ballad." From the early eighteenth century, the term was applied to extravagant and sentimental tales. If I called the story "Romance in Lunar G" I would be making a play on musical titles and I would be using a word that could have three relevant meanings: a love affair, a musical form, and a picaresque adventure story.

The first title set a pattern. All the stories have titles that begin with the word Romance and sound like instrumental musical titles: "Romance in Lunar G", "Romance in Extended Time", "Romance with Phobic Variations", and "Romance for Augmented Trio."

Novelists who write series thrillers often brand their books by stamping them with titles that adhere to a pattern. John D. MacDonaldís Travis McGee books all had colors in the title-- Pale Grey for Guilt, Bright Orange for the Shroud. Donald Hamiltonís Matt Helm series carried titles like The Removers and The Devastators. Thereís no reason why we novelettists canít do the same thing.

 

I still kept in touch with the aunt who had told me I should be a writer. Aunt Zena had spent her life working for a Hartford insurance company and taking care of her mother.  She was now living by herself in her retirement.  I usually sent her copies of my science fiction stories. When I started writing my weekly music column for the Welcomat, I sent her a copy every week. I mailed her "Romance in Lunar G" when it appeared in the November 1995 Asimovís and she sent me a letter that gave me one of the better moments my writing career has brought me.

She had come home from shopping on a snowy day, Aunt Zena wrote, and discovered the manila envelope containing the magazine. She had made herself a pot of tea, settled into a chair with the story, and discovered the local PBS radio station was playing Mozartís Don Giovanni. She had spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in her apartment, the snow falling outside, drinking her tea and reading my first Casanova story with Don Giovanni playing in the background.

 

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Continued in Installment Five: Through Time and

Space with Giacomo Casanova, Episode Two

 

 

Copyright 2005 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.

 

("Romance in Lunar G" has been reprinted in Isaac Asimovís Valentines, an anthology of science fiction love stories edited by Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams.)

When I was Writing: Installment One

When I was Writing: Installment Two When I was Writing: Installment Three

When I was Writing: Installment Five

When I was Writing: Installment Six

When I was Writing: Installment Seven

When I was Writing: Installment Eight

When I was Writing: Installment Nine

When I was Writing: Installment Ten

Grieve for a Man (complete text)


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