A Novel by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Book One of War Surplus
The Cyborg and the Sorcerers was my first science fiction novel, initially published by Del Rey Books in June 1982, ISBN 0-345-30441-1, with cover art by David B. Mattingly.
It was reissued as half of Wildside Double #5 in September 2010, and as an ebook in February, 2011.
The cyborg code-named "Slant" was sent out as an Independent Reconaissance Unit during an interstellar war between Earth and its colonies. The fighting ended three hundred years ago, but Slant's computer does not admit this -- he is compelled to carry on as if the war were still raging.
Then he comes across a planet where his sensors register "gravitational anomalies." The computer interprets these as enemy weapons research.
The local inhabitants call the anomalies "magic."
The Cyborg and the Sorcerers
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
He lay back on the acceleration couch and wondered idly whether he had been officially decommissioned, and whether anybody left alive had the authority to decommission him. He had no idea, and there was no way he could find out. He had been under total communications silence when the D-series destroyed Old Earth's military -- and probably its civilization as well -- and since then, of course, there had been no signal at all from his home base on Mars. There could be little doubt that his superiors were all long dead; if the war hadn't killed them, the passage of time would have. The fourteen years of subjective time he had spent in space worked out to about three hundred years of outside time, and he doubted very much that anyone on Old Earth had been making breakthroughs in geriatrics after the war was lost.
- The Story Behind the Story:
In 1974 I flunked out of college and went to live in a funky old apartment in Pittsburgh, where I labored at various odd jobs -- cooking at the local Arby's, cleaning up the bio labs at the Mellon Institute of Science, etc -- while spending most of my time writing. I intended to spend a year or two trying to break into print, to settle once and for all the question of whether I was ever going to make it as a professional writer.
I wrote a couple of dozen stories -- fantasy, mystery, horror, and science fiction -- and started several others, some of which I later finished and some of which are still hanging fire. We'll get back to those fragments in a few paragraphs, but I also did some fairly serious market research, and eventually concluded that all the real money was in writing novels, not short stories, and that furthermore the odds of breaking into print were better for novels.
(This last is no longer necessarily true; things have changed since 1975. Besides, "odds" are meaningless in this case, because it's not a lottery -- editors buy the stuff they think will sell books, they don't randomly choose one submission out of every three hundred. But in 1975 I hadn't entirely absorbed that yet.)
At any rate, by the fall of 1975 I had still not attempted a novel, because I hadn't really had time once I concluded I ought to. I had sold one very short story and been re-admitted to Princeton, so I went back to school with the idea that I did have the potential to be a writer, but hadn't yet made it. I convinced myself and my family that I hadn't done better because I'd been concentrating on short stories, rather than novels.
In the summer of 1976 my parents expected me to come home to Massachusetts and get a job in one of the innumerable attempts to cash in on the Bicentennial tourist trade, earning money to help pay for my education. I really, really didn't want to do that -- I hate jobs like that. Instead, I went back to Pittsburgh and wrote a novel. I didn't write a novel because I really wanted to write a novel just then; I did it because I was looking for any excuse to not go sell tchotchkes to tourists on Lexington Green.
Having decided on this method of avoiding that unwanted summer job, though, I needed to do it right. The idea was to actually produce a good, publishable novel. I therefore went through all the unfinished fragments from '74 and '75, and pulled out the one I thought had the most promise as a novel.
The fragment I chose was very roughly what's now the first chapter of The Cyborg and the Sorcerers.
Back in '74 and '75 I had been gathering story ideas from anywhere and everywhere. I had been reading a lot of sword-and-sorcery, and following the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in the news; I put these together, and came up with the image of a Vietnam grunt in the court of a barbarian king. Neither party would be impressed with the other, I thought; the barbaric splendor of the court would just look primitive to the American, and the soldier would look unkempt and lazy to the barbarians, who probably wouldn't even recognize most of his weapons as weapons.
I liked that notion. I liked the whole image. Drastically altered, it wound up as Chapter Three, and it's what I was working toward when I started writing.
As for why it was altered -- well, I didn't want to use the notion of someone from our universe falling into a fantasy world, because (a) I thought it was a cliche, (b) I didn't want to have any question as to whether or not the soldier's weapons and technology would work, and (c) it seemed somehow unbalanced. Also, at the time I was pretty sure the market for science fiction novels was better than the market for fantasy novels (unlike today!). So I needed to find some other way of bringing the scene about.
I didn't insist that the soldier be specifically Vietnam-era, so I decided to move the whole thing into the future and have the barbarian court on another planet.
But then there's the question of how you could have relatively primitive humans on another planet, and why the soldier would show up there, rather than a first-contact team of scientists and explorers...
Well, an interstellar war that bombed a colony planet back to barbarism would fit, and the story started to develop.
I needed a few more things -- someone for the soldier to talk to, for expository purposes, and a reason that the soldier can't just leave, or go native. There has to be some reason he stays a soldier, combat-ready, on this peaceful planet with a tech level so far below his own.
About then I read a comic book called Astonishing Tales, published by Marvel, featuring a character called Deathlok the Demolisher -- a cyborg soldier in a desolate future who talks to the computer in his head. A set-up like that would take care of all my plot problems.
So I wrote the opening scene, setting up the situation, and then I put it aside until the summer of '76, when I needed a novel. Then I pulled it out of the pile and started typing. I followed my original plan through to the scene in palace in Teyzha -- by this time the king had become a council just because it seemed more reasonable for a post-holocaust situation. I wrote that scene... and then didn't know what happened next.
So I made it up as I went along, until finally, in August of '76, I came to what was clearly the end, where everything was resolved, and I had about 75,000 words, so I gave it the title Slant and sent it off to DAW, and went back to college.
Yes, this means I wrote an entire novel in eight or nine weeks.
DAW rejected it in October, and I sent it to Ace. Ace rejected it by about, oh, April or May of '77, I think it was, and about then I came across a brochure from the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, so I sent it to them, and in September got a letter back saying it was unpublishable.
I put it aside. By this time I'd dropped out of college to get married, and rather than get a real job -- well, even if it hadn't sold, I'd written a novel, and I'd sold one short story and gotten a lot of favorable editorial comments on several others, so I figured I'd give the writing one more shot. I wrote a second novel, The Overman and the Basilisk, and on my first wedding anniversary, in August 1978, I mailed that off to Del Rey.
And as long as I was at it, I sent them Slant, too. Which was rejected a couple of months later.
The Overman and the Basilisk wasn't rejected; it seemed to have vanished. I assumed it was lost in the mail, gave up writing, and set up a business dealing in old comic books. It was just getting off the ground when The Overman and the Basilisk got accepted.
The editor retitled it The Lure of the Basilisk, renamed me Lawrence Watt-Evans, and asked what I had for them next. I quickly wrote The Seven Altars of Dusarra, and then decided it was time to take another look at Slant.
It wasn't all bad -- the plot was basically sound, the set-up was good, the characters were okay, but it was really clumsy writing. What I wound up doing was treating that first version as my outline and rewriting the entire thing, and this time I took a lot more than nine weeks doing it. In fact, it was a little over nine months. I submitted it to Del Rey under the title War Surplus, and they bought it -- but retitled it The Cyborg and the Sorcerers.
And there we are.
Publishing history:North America:
- First U.S. printing: June 1982, ISBN 0-345-30441-1
- Second printing: April 1983, ISBN 0-345-30441-1
- Third printing: ISBN 0-345-30441-1
- Fourth printing: ISBN 0-345-30441-1
- Fifth printing: November 1986, ISBN 0-345-34439-1
- Sixth printing: August 1987, ISBN 0-345-34439-1
- As half of Wildside Double #5: September 2010, ISBN 978-1434408730
- As a Wildside ebook: February 2011
- Futura reportedly briefly distributed the Del Rey edition rebound; details unknown.
- British rights recovered, sold to Grafton Books, October 1988. Grafton edition 1990, ISBN 0-586-20748-1, with cover illustration by Geoff Taylor.
- Portugese-language rights sold to Companhia Melhoramentos of Brazil, October 1988; contract cancelled amicably, August 1991, due to currency instability making it impossible for them to meet payment terms.
- Russian edition 1995, published by AST in an omnibus with The Wizard and the War Machine in the Koordinaty Chudes ("Coordinates of Wonder") series. Russian title, Kiborg i Charodei. Translated by A. Komarinets. ISBN 5-88196-324-5.
Here are the covers of every edition published to date. Click on an image to see it full-size.
The Wildside Double #5 omnibus should be fairly easy to find, but here are a few places that have it:
And the ebook is available:
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: