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Dan Simmons: A Man for All Genres October 2002

Dan Simmons grew up in the Midwest and based his first novel, World Fantasy Award winning Song of Kali (1985), on a year he spent in India traveling on a group Fulbright Fellowship for educators. Later horror novels include Carrion Comfort (1989) and Summer of Night (1991) and its sequels. Simmons has also written SF, in the four-volume sequence of novels beginning with Hugo-winner Hyperion (1989), followed by The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion; and more recently has turned to action-suspense novels, including The Crook Factory (1999) and this year's Hard Freeze. He returns to SF with a far-future, two-volume epic dealing with Homeric themes, Ilium, due 2003, and Olympos. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter.

May 1997 Locus interview

Official Website

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

“The most frequent question I’m asked as a writer is ‘Why do you write in so many genres?’ To that, my honest answer is, ‘I grew up in the Midwest. Everyone there knows — it’s in our DNA — that it’s important to rotate the crops. Keep growing the same thing in the same field for enough years and nothing will grow. Celebrating diversity, when it comes to growing crops and writing books, is more than a slogan.’

“Even so, I don’t recommend writing across genres to beginning writers of any age. First of all, the essence of most successful writing careers that don’t begin with a giant literary success — say with someone like Tony Hillerman or Jack Vance or Donald Westlake — is to do approximately the same thing very well year in and year out until the wider readership suddenly ‘discovers’ you. Secondly, too many mainstream authors think they can slip in and out of other genres without knowing the neighborhood they’ve decided to go slumming in — just witness the atrocious ‘SF’ books by self-styled literary authors who don’t have any idea that what they’ve written about has been done better by a score of SF writers in years and decades past. A writer has to know the best of each genre — the best writers, the best styles, both the classics and little-known titles — before he or she should venture into the form. And even then they should go humbly.

“The truth is, it’s not a great career move to create a readership and then, in effect, abandon them. There’s a unique bond of trust between readers and authors that I don’t believe exists in any other art form; as a reader, I trust a novelist to give me his or her best effort, however flawed. More than that, I expect a certain consistency — in style, in subject matter, in themes, perhaps even in characters. When one moves from horror novels to SF epics to historical espionage novels to suspense thrillers to hardboiled noir to mainstream novels, as I have, it means that new readerships are constantly being courted and created, while some old relationships are broken. And the computers keeping track of sales for the bookstores and chains are also confused — Simmons’s first detective novel may be his 20th published book, but he’s a new writer to the computer that’s only checking sales in the mystery genre. ‘Order one copy for the store!’

“Why write across genre lines then? For me, it’s not only the matter of rotating crops so as not to deplete the soil, but the appeal of trying to master the different styles, learn the necessary tropes and protocols, and to honor the best writing in these various genres. It’s pure celebration, in the same way my first SF novel, Hyperion, was a celebration of the various forms of SF, from Jack Vance to cyberpunk.

“Finally, there’s the simple fact that I would be bored silly if I read in only one genre or one type of author — so why write in only one form?


Ilium is, like the Hyperion novels, an expansive and — I hope — generous celebration not only of SF but of SF’s kindredship to the great epics of our literary history.

“I had thought for years it was time to pillage Homer the way I had with Keats for the two Hyperion books, and that I had done enough reading over the years to use the themes and some of the imagery and ideas in The Iliad in a fun way with SF. It is a very, very complex tale. I have more respect for The Iliad now than I’ve ever had, and I’ve always thought it was possibly the finest piece of literature there was. The Iliad is just a small part of Ilium — one of four braids that run through the thing — but it’s integral to the whole.

“I don’t think it will grow into four books like Hyperion, but who knows? I’m contracted for two. But at least if it grows into four books, I know what the model for the other two books would be. People have said Ilium and Olympos are based on The Iliad and The Odyssey. But they’re not. Ilium and Olympos are both based on The Iliad themes. So if I do two more, I know where I’m going for inspiration."

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the October 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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