OK… so my third novel will be out soon, on the back of the second. This is the one I was writing until last November, when I put it aside to write Destroyer. There’s about another month’s worth of work to do on it to get it ready.
(There’ll be a bit of a glut of stuff coming out from me over the next few months. I’ve been a full-time writer for nearly a year now, and a lot of the things I’ve worked on are all coming to fruition simultaneously).
But I’m worried it won’t find its audience, because it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. I talked with Paul Magrs about it, and he coined the term techno-cosy for it after I described the basic idea to him.
So I’m going to talk here a bit about the book, The Basilisk Murders, and hope people can give me some pointers as to where its audience might lie, and in particular what other books I might pattern its marketing after.
The idea came to me after reading The Name of the Rose, and it reminding me of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. Both of those books use conventional genres (the murder mystery and the fantasy quest epic) as a framework, and do something almost like a Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, or Michael Crichton book in a strange way. Those authors use a thriller framework as an excuse for infodumps which are the *actual* point of the book for many readers — finding out about guns, or art history, or chaos theory. Except that because Stephenson and, especially, Umberto Eco are far better writers than any of those people, they’re not doing infodumps — they’re not talking about *facts*, but about *ideas*.
I wanted to do something like that. Not a “novel of ideas” in the conventional sense, but a pure genre novel that talks about ideas. I was thinking also, a little, of Greg Egan’s first three novels.
Both Anathem and The Name of the Rose are set in monastic communities devoted to ideas, but I wanted to do a book that talked about some of the ideas that the San Francisco-based “rationalist” community has — these very science-fictional ideas about the nature of reality, intelligence, consciousness, and mortality, but which are combined in many of them with an “alt-right” or “neoreactionary” political worldview. A scientific conference would be the perfect place for discussion of that kind of idea, and after reading about a blockchain conference on Richard Branson’s private island, I had a setting of sorts.
The obvious genre for the plot would be the cosy mystery — after all, a bunch of unpleasant people on an island away from everyone else, that’s pretty much the archetypal cosy setting. But I wasn’t going to do And Then There Were None. Rather I realised that in terms of plot events and feel, Nev Fountain’s Geek Tragedy, a short novel about a script editor from an old 80s SF TV series investigating murders at a science fiction convention, would be a good basis for the structure.
(I haven’t actually used Fountain’s structure — the only thing that remains from his book is that many chapters are preceded or ended by an excerpt from the conference’s programme of events. But reading through his book and noting the plot beats down allowed me to figure out what I wanted to do with my own plot).
My main character, the journalist Sarah Turner, has the same writing voice as Rachel Edwards, the journalist character from my first novel, Head of State, and I think of them as being the same character, just in different fictional universes. But that character immediately takes the story away from being a cosy mystery in genre — cosies now have a very, very, tight formula, and that formula doesn’t allow for bisexual polyamorous sweary women as the lead character.
This book isn’t finished yet, but I think it’s going to be one I can be proud of (far more so than Destroyer, which I wrote almost grudgingly because the idea just wouldn’t let me go) — there’s a lot of good bits of writing, and I think it genuinely manages to be an interesting, light, fun whodunnit while dealing with some real ideas.
So I want it to find its audience, but people find books by genre branding, and I don’t know any genre this fits into. The closest I can think of in plot and tone are Fountain’s Mervyn Stone books, but when I went to Amazon to see what other books people who bought them bought, it was all Doctor Who stuff rather than anything else in the same genre. I can imagine people who like Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross, or Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers series might also like this, but it’s definitely not an actual science fiction or fantasy novel.
(Stephenson’s the best example, actually, for the way most of his work is not SF, but clearly appeals to the same stuff SF readers look for. “Like Cryptonomicon but only around two hundred pages” would be an apt description for the general feel I’m going for in the writing).
So… given that, can anyone point to other books that they think this sounds a bit like, so I can see what they do in terms of genre positioning, cover, blurb and so on? Any help would be useful.