Enclosed is the May ‘89 L.A. Style you couldn’t find. I’m on page 89. Sci-fi femme, for God’s sake. But what the hell, they spelled my name right. About the Essence picture, it may be my natural contrariness showing through, but I hate that picture. It’s me under about an eighth of an inch of makeup, which kept trying to melt off under those bloody lights and weirdly bleached out—me with most of the me removed. I wouldn’t want to see it anywhere else.
Finally, to the most important matter this letter covers, please take the outline and chapters of Justice that I sent you and TOSS THEM OUT. I’m keeping the characters’ names and the concept of contagious empathy but probably nothing else. The story was beginning to feel the way an earlier novel called Blindsight used to. Always just a little out of reach, and never very interesting. Ask Felicia how many times I rewrote Blindsight. No, don’t ask her. Even she doesn’t really know. Thoroughly bad business.
Anyhow, I feel so much better about what I’m working on now that I can’t even describe it. It’s based on the Gaia Hypothesis, the notion that the Earth itself is a living organism. Unhappily, Dave Brin has just had a book published or will have it published soon, on his notions of Gaia. We met at LAX on our way to the same convention and he told me about it. I managed not to kill him. I’ve been fascinated by Gaia for years, and scared to tackle it because it’s so massive, but Dave and others who worked with Gaia have stayed close to home with it—Earth only. My idea has much in common with the problems of transplant surgery and blindly responsive immune systems. The transplants are people who go to settle on living worlds of other solar systems. Five shiploads of people, five other solar systems. These people can expect no help from Earth in their lifetimes. No new colonies, and no useful communication. They have all the material goods they need, all the technological help they need, to deal with problems they expect. What they don’t expect is to be treated as organs, transplanted to blindly and persistently rejecting planetary organisms. I’m talking about nasty little things. Microorganisms that find the human body intolerable and that damage human eyes when they’re blown or otherwise transferred into those eyes. The organisms die. The eyes are eventually blinded. People who go to sleep in apparently convenient places might awake to find themselves encapsulated in a kind of plant gall, rather like the way oysters encapsulate offending material in pearls. I plan to play with every immune response I can find a use for. I feel so good now that I’m digging around in biology again. I should have known better than to try to ignore it.
By the way, that huge paragraph above is talking not about one book, but probably five. At least three. They will deal with worlds with and without their own intelligent species, and, under the circumstances, intelligent species with their own particular biologies, sociologies, and psychologies, are likely to be the worst possible complications. A world doing all it can to be rid of humanity is bad enough. Fun fun fun! I’m researching now and playing with ideas but I know by the way this feels that I’ve got something good. It will probably have to be offered book by book because it will have no onstage characters in common. Oh, but speaking of characters, have I got some juicy ones demanding to be heard. Like I said, fun, fun, fun.
I have a convention and a week of Clarion coming up, so I can’t quite hide out with thirty or forty books and my typewriter. That’s what I feel like doing. You see, this is what I’m like when I’m in love.
Today, in 2006, LIVE held a tribute to socially conscious sci-fi writer Octavia Butler. Above is a letter that was read that evening by Merrilee Heifetz who was Buter’s agent. Listen to the whole event here…