Nightside City (Del Rey, 1989) was long my favorite of my science fiction novels, and when it was first published I had high hopes for it. I thought it was pretty darn good. It got good reviews. So I started writing a sequel, called Realms of Light. When the early sales figures came in, though, I stopped. I'd written a little over 10,000 words, along with an outline and notes.
Then in 2005 I began writing online serials of works that readers wanted and publishers didn't. The first two were Ethshar novels, but I decided to see if I could do Realms of Light the same way. The project lasted from November 2008 to November 2010 and was only partially successful, but the novel got written and was published by FoxAcre Press (ISBN 978-0-9818487-7-8) -- it's available here.
Below I'll tell you about it. Over there to the right you'll find a list of links that can take you to the various parts of this page.
Carlisle Hsing had escaped from Nightside City to the safety of Prometheus, and had no intention of going back -- until a billionaire made her an offer she couldn't refuse...
Realms of Light
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
I'm a creature of the night, born and raised in eternal darkness -- except the darkness on Epimetheus wasn't as eternal as I might have liked. That was why I left Nightside City, where I'd lived my entire life up to then, and came to Prometheus.
And on Prometheus the darkness isn't even close to eternal. What little darkness there is ends every eighteen hours at sunrise, then comes back again at sunset.
What's more, the normal Promethean business hours are during daylight, two days out of every three. Some people go as far as adjusting their circadian rhythms to an eighteen-hour cycle, but most people use a twenty-four hour day, where three days equal four cycles. Office hours come when daylight coincides with the normal waking cycle, on two of those three days.
I didn't like it. I'd had bad experiences with daylight, and didn't care for it much, even when the sun was so small and dim compared to what almost killed me back on Epimetheus.
And this whole optical illusion of the sun moving across the sky made my skin crawl. I knew Eta Cass A wasn't really moving any more than it ever had, that it was the planet's rotation, but that didn't help; it made me dizzy to think about it. I couldn't handle working with the sun overhead, so just about as soon as I'd found myself a residence office I liked I bought a nice piece of software to play receptionist, and figured I'd do my work at night, when everyone else was off. I slept away as many of the daylight hours as I could, and stayed away from windows as much as possible for the rest of them.
At least I'd landed in a city that wasn't right under the moon; I don't think I could have lived with that thing hanging directly above me every time I went out in the open.
A lot of offworlders complained about the earthquakes, but they didn't bother me; we'd had a few on Epimetheus, too. You get used to them. And the lava glow in the distance wasn't any worse than the dawn above the crater rim back home.
The heavier gravity was tiring, and the air smelled strange at first, but I got used to those things, too. There were other ways Prometheus differed from Epimetheus, dozens of them, the algae and the oceans and the rest, but the only one that seriously glitched me was daylight.
One thing hadn't changed. I was still calling myself a detective, a private investigator; it was all I knew. Having office hours that didn't match anybody else's had its good points and bad, in that line of work.
Being on an unfamiliar planet, though -- that was all bad for my job. I didn't know my way around the urban software, didn't have any contacts, had no word of mouth bringing in work. I had enough money to live on for awhile -- about the only pleasant surprise I got when I landed on Prometheus was the lower prices -- but I needed an income.
I put notes out on the net, looking for work, of course; I billed myself as an expert consultant on my home world of Epimetheus as well as pitching the investigative work. I talked to some of the software in city hall -- this was in Alderstadt, near the north end of Terpsichore in the Nine Islands, which was where my flight in had landed -- and tried to learn the circuits.
Strange set-up they had there. The policy software wasn't permanent; every few years they ran a sort of popularity poll called an election, and whoever won got to plug her own software in until the next election. It was something like a referendum, except instead of asking a question they asked you to pick a person. And chances were the only names on the ballot were people you didn't even know. Seemed like a stupid system to me, but the people I asked about it argued that it acted as a sort of automatic debugging.
Nightside City always did fine with traditional debugging -- you catch a mistake, you rewrite it. You don't pull the whole system off-line and put in a new program.
This election thing confused me. What was the point in learning my way around the master program when in a year or two it might get pulled and replaced? It took away some of my incentive, and I didn't really get the hang of Alderstadt city services beyond the basics.
Banks and corporate data and nets are pretty much the same everywhere, though. So are people. I figured I could function, even in Alderstadt.
Then I got my first case, tracking down a data pirate for an off-planet shipping line that picked me because they were in a hurry and my name came up first in a random search. I pulled it off -- not as easily as I could have back in Nightside City, but well enough. This artist in margin retailing had figured that knowing what cargos went in and out would give her an edge in pricing, and I found her for the shippers.
When I gave them her name and com code I'd suggested that they just make a deal with her and split her take, but they were having none of it. I got the impression they didn't think much of my morals. Anyway, they got all flashed and turned her in to the Procops, and the whole thing got out on the net.
I figured that wouldn't hurt me any, though it didn't do the margin artist any good and she only missed reconstruction by about half a stop-bit. Yeah, my name hit the net -- and it was big enough news that IRC caught it.
The Interstellar Resorts Corporation has been pissed at me for years, ever since I let a welsher skip out, and they put the word out on the net that I was still on their gritlist. IRC isn't as big on Prometheus as they were back home, where the casinos owned about half the planet, but they're big enough that people don't like to annoy them. I'd thought I'd got away from them when I left Epimetheus, but now it looked as if I hadn't.
I was back in the detective business, but I wasn't exactly top of the market. Just like old times.
I got work, though. Sometimes I got people who figured that if IRC was warning them away from me, then that was a point in my favor. I kept eating, and a lot better than I did back in Nightside City, thanks to the lower prices, and I did it without even bleeding my savings, such as they were.
I'd been in Alderstadt for almost a year, gotten myself settled in pretty well, gotten to know the locals, made a few friends, when I got this call. I was there and awake and not doing much of anything, so my software put it through.
"Carlisle Hsing?" a voice asked, and I knew from the sound it was synthesized, which meant I was dealing with software or with someone who wasn't interested in being recognized -- and in either case they didn't mind if I knew it. You can synthesize undetectably if you want to pay for it.
"Yeah?" I said, leaning back in my chair -- a floater, a nice one. Came with the office. Beat the hell out of the place I'd had back home on Juarez Street.
"I represent someone who wishes to hire your services. Would it suit you to be in the lobby of the Sakai building on First Street in American City at 22:00 tomorrow? Your expenses will be reimbursed."
I reminded myself where in the cycle we were and where on the planet American City was, and figured that 22:00 would be comfortably dark, not to mention well after business hours.
That part sounded all right.
"Do I get a name?" I asked.
"No," it said.
"Then I'll need an advance," I told it.
The Story Behind the Story:
In the mid-1980s the big thing in science fiction was cyberpunk, as exemplified by William Gibson's Neuromancer, and I took a shot at writing something vaguely cyberpunkish with Nightside City, a story about a 24th-century hardboiled detective named Carlisle Hsing on the not-quite-tidelocked planet Epimetheus.
When Nightside City was first published, I had high hopes for it. It got good reviews. I liked my protagonist a lot, and I liked the world that Sheridan Simon and I had created; I didn't want to abandon Hsing and Nightside City. It took me a little while to come up with a plot for a sequel, but then Ed Bryant made a casual remark about the movie "Chinatown" at a convention, and my mental gears began turning, and it all fell into place. I started writing Realms of Light.
Then the early sales figures for Nightside City came in, the publisher expressed no interest in a sequel, and I stopped. I'd written a little over 10,000 words, along with an outline and notes.
That was how matters stayed for fifteen years. I would occasionally look at the opening chapters I'd written, maybe add a paragraph or two, just for my own amusement, but I had no way of getting it into print, and it made more sense to spend my time and creative energy on writing things I'd get paid for.
But then in April of 2005 I had another novel that had been dropped by a publisher -- The Spriggan Mirror had been under contract to Tor, but they cancelled the contract, leaving me with four and a half chapters.
I had readers nagging me about it, and finally I said, "Okay, I'll put the first chapter on the web, and if you send me enough money I'll post the second, and so on, and we'll see if you'll pay me enough to make it worth writing the whole thing."
I didn't expect it to work; it was mostly intended to shut people up about it. I thought I'd take in maybe $400 before readers lost interest.
Wrong. Six months later I'd written and posted all twenty-eight chapters and been paid for them.
I tried it again with The Vondish Ambassador, and it worked again.
So I figured that here was a way to finally finish Realms of Light, and I launched it as an online serial in November 2008.
Alas, a sequel to a single twenty-year-old SF novel didn't go over as well as new volumes in a fantasy series, but I did write the entire novel, and here we are.
Back in 1989 I had thought about a third Carlisle Hsing story, The End of the Night. It had only gotten as far as a single page of notes.
That's probably as far as it will ever get, but the publisher at FoxAcre Press would very much like to see a third volume, so maybe someday...
Factoids, In-Jokes, & Trivia:
- "Hsing" is the Wade-Giles spelling of the Chinese word for "star" -- a bit of an in-joke there. Wade-Giles has been replaced by Pinyin, which implies that Carlisle Hsing's direct-male-line ancestors had left China and adopted a westernized spelling before the end of the 20th century.
- Fifteen chapters of the first draft were posted to the web between November 2008 and November 2010.
- First complete edition: FoxAcre Press, November 2010, ISBN 978-0-9818487-7-8, with simultaneous e-book.
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