Cover of Sly Mongoose by Tobias BuckellTobias Buckell, author of Crystal Rain and Halo: The Cole Protocol, has some interesting news about his shift in focus for his upcoming novels. Fans of his Xenowealth saga will be disappointed to hear that further novels in that series, Duppy Conqueror and Desolation’s Gap, are being put on hold. Most interesting, though, is the reason why he’s put them on the shelf.

So a few sharp eyed folks noticed the title of the novel I was working on, Arctic Rising, is not the title of the novel I’d previously mentioned as coming up next, which was Duppy Conqueror.

Sadly, the sales have not been as strong as everyone around me wanted. Crystal Rain did somewhat okay in hardcover in libraries and online sales, but not as much on the book shelves (particularly at Borders). It did get Wal-Mart distribution in paperback, however, which was nice. Ragamuffin, sadly, suffered from very low orders (almost no presence in Borders in hardcover) and limped out there. Sly Mongoose was a nice rebound in the big picture, selling more copies than Ragamuffin but not quite as much as Crystal Rain: but mostly online. Sly Mongoose was hardly carried in actual bookstores, but has sold fairly briskly online. Last checked, I think over 60% of sales have been online with Sly.

It’s been a symptom of: bookstores order 100, sell 50, then order 50 the next time, and sell 25, and then for the third book order 12.

Sly Mongoose got incredible reviewer love, my agent and editor both are happy with everything I’ve done. About half or more of my income, despite the slowing bookstore orders, still comes from writing novels. So I’ve been pretty chipper. But as I finished the Halo book and looked back at restarting Duppy Conqueror, which I have somewhere between 10-20,000 words of, my editor and I sat down to chart out what we could do to get bookstores re-interested in me (particularly now that I had NY Bestseller next to my name with the Halo novel).

This is frustrating, for obvious reasons. As Buckell mentions, his first three novels, Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose got a lot of love from reviewers and hardcore SF fans, but in the end, it’s the bookstores and libraries that make the calls. I remember how difficult it was to get a copy of his books from my local bookstores; Hell, I’ve seen more foreign language copies in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic than I have here in Canada.

I suppose it’s a bit of a humbling moment for us bloggers, though. As much as we love a novel, as much as we might push an author, we’re just one small voice in the literary sea.

The Cole Protocol by Tobias Buckell

So my editor, agent and I, decided to reboot. We didn’t want to change my name (this is usually what authors do at this point to ‘fool’ the bookstores, often quite successfully), but send a signal with whatever I work on next that I’m doing something different, that is not associated with the Space Opera series to see if we can dream a bit bigger and go for the brass ring. I had two novels I owe Tor still, so why not?

We settled on Arctic Rising. Since writing Mitigation (soon to be in one of the Year’s Best anthologies) with Karl Schroeder and Stochasticity for Metatropolis, I’ve wanted to write some nearer future stuff that took advantage of a great deal of research I’ve been doing. Arctic Rising, if you’re read Mitigation, will be very familiar. It’s a novel about the resource rush to develop the north polar region after the ice melts.

And yes, there will be blimps.

I’m playing with ideas about seasteading, climate adaptation and mitigation, re-terraforming, future politics, post-democratic tribalism and feretting out really cool ways to blow shit up in the 30-50 year timeline.

This will most likely be out in 2010, not 2009. But both my agent and editor think it’s pretty groovy, though all I gave them was a fairly odd first chapter (since ditched as I found my bearings) and the pitch.

I’ve described it to my friends as “if Michael Chricton was on crack and hadn’t disbelieved in the concept of global warming, and he collaborated with Bruce Sterling at the height of cyberpunk, you’d get Arctic Rising.”

So far, 6 chapters in, it’s been a great deal of fun to write.

As unsettling as the reasons for leaving the Xenowealth books behind are, I have to admit that Arctic Rising sounds intriguing. One of the strengths of Buckell’s Xenowealth saga was that each of the novels stood up on their own, with only loose connections to one another. This means that, unlike many other series, fans won’t be left hanging as they wait for the (hopefully) eventual release of Duppy Conqueror and Desolation’s Gap.

Buckell’s in a nice position, though. If most authors saw declining sales, they’d be lucky to get a chance to turn it around – goes to show the type of respect and confidence that Tor has in Buckell. Regardless of what he’s writing, I expect Buckell will continue to impress. Hopefully the success of Halo: The Cole Protocol is only the beginning and Buckell gets the wider recognition he deserves.

  • Joe Sherry March 20, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    On one hand, “aww, crap.” On the other hand – anything that keeps Buckell publishing new stuff is a win. I hope his new stuff sells and lets him keep doing what he loves (which in turn rewards US, the readers) and that the new stuff helps him sell the occasional series novel for Xenowealth.

    I think about that a lot with Elizabeth Bear. As much as her Promethean Age novels are easily my favorite and I’d rather she focus on those to the exclusion of everything but Shadow Unit, she has to do what the publishers will buy and what sells.

    As does Tobias Buckell (and everyone else).

    I’m really glad he has the chance to keep selling. He seems like a good guy and he writes damn good stuff.

  • Kevin March 22, 2009 at 6:20 am

    I thought the lack of Buckell’s books was just local to our bookstores here and purchased mine online. We have a Borders and a Barnes and Noble but both are lacking in the Science Fiction/Fantasy sections.There have been several good books such as Kenyon’s Entire and the Rose series, the new hard cover Dresden Series books, etc that just don’t make it to the shelves here.