Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Dark Angel

The best way to build a career in genre fiction is to find a groove and stick with it. Write an open-ended series about a jazz/blues/reggae-loving detective with a permanent life crisis. Write a ten volume fantasy trilogy. And then do it again. Write a series of novels and stories set in a future history. The last is how I started out, but after a bunch of short stories and three novels (400 Billion Stars, Secret Harmonies, Eternal Light), I veered off into the left-field with the Chinese-Messiah-on-Mars chop-socky epic Red Dust. And I followed that up with Pasquale’s Angel, an alternate history novel set in Florence in the early sixteenth century, a couple of decades after Leonardo da Vinci kickstarted an Industrial Revolution.

I’d long had an ambition to write something about Leonardo da Vinci, if only because I was fascinated by his undisciplined genius, and more than half in love with the cloudy myths that obscured the realities of his life (if you want a bracing antidote to those myths, try Charles Nicholl’s Leonardo da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind, or Serge Bramly’s Leonardo: The Artist and the Man). He didn’t see any boundaries between arts and science, an attitude that was catnip to a novelist whose day job was a scientific research, and who’d had to make a choice between science and the arts at a tender age. That was the prevailing attitude of his age, of course, but Leonardo also seemed to be a man out of time, dreaming of technologies impossible to realise with contemporary materials and power sources. Any SF writer worth their salt must surely sympathise.

As it turned out, for much of the novel, Leonardo is a shadowy, mythic figure raised above and isolated from the world he’s created - you don’t need to be a critic to unriddle that metaphor. If there’s one consistent thread in my work, it’s identification with those caught up in plots that are larger than they ever understand: and so here, as our hero hooks up with consulting detective Niccolo Machiavegli, prowls the mean streets and tries to foil a filthy Spanish plot to bring down the government of his city state.

Did I also mention that it’s a noir novel?

I had a lot of fun writing it, and even more fun researching it. Luckily, one of the greatest living Leonardo scholars, Martin Kemp, was working in St Andrews University at the time, which meant that I had access to a couple of shelves of research material in the library. I never did dare to approach Professor Kemp about my funny little idea, though. And I’ve still never visited Florence. One day, one day . . . But it won’t be the same as the Florence of my mind, with its dark satanic mills, and acetylene-lit streets crowded with every kind of vaporetto.

I like the cover of the new paperback a lot. Although I also very much like the cover of the original hardback and paperback, in which Jim Burns captured Pasquale to the life; authors often dislike seeing renderings by others of their hero and heroine because they don’t match up with their internal pictures. In this case, Jim read my mind with perfect fidelity.


Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Pasquale's Angel was my introduction to your novels, and I have been hooked ever since.

May 27, 2009 3:28 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Leonardo was great fun. It's amazing how many of his schemes were related to dredging and harbour design. His familiarity with the seabed led him to argue that the fossil shells that he knew about up mountains couldn't have been deposited there during the Biblical flood, as bivalve molluscs couldn't move fast enough in 40 days. In this he was hundreds of years ahead of everyone else.

This is the book of yours that I most want to read. It's good that it's being reissued.

May 27, 2009 6:28 pm  
Anonymous Sergey said...

In my humble opinion, "Pasquale" is the best novel of Renaissance epoch ever written... One of my favourite novels of all times. You could feel the spirit of epoch, you are nearly walking through the streets of the city - it's more important than to know precisely the chronology, artists etc.
A-a-a-and I always suppose that you were in Florence.
Bulgakov also never were outside of Russia and Ukraine but he created I believe the most powerful image of Jerusalem.
Anyway you should visit Florence in the future;)
Look on it as on pilgrimage to Holy Land - there are no miracles - but the land is the same.
Is there any possibilty of return to Pasquale's world?

P.S. By the way, have you seen this? :)

May 27, 2009 8:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that you managed to get back the rights to this novel and to have it reprinted by your current publisher... dare we hope for a sequel?
Jean-Daniel Breque

May 29, 2009 3:29 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Thanks for the kind words. Pete - yes, Leonardo was fascinated with everything to do with water (and air). And casually threw off all kinds of observations like the one about fossil shells - no wonder more than a few people later thought he was some kind of time traveller. Sergey - the 'cat is the measure of all things' cartoon much appreciated (I'm currently dealing with a boisterous kitten).

As for a sequel to Pasquale's Angel, well, one was planned, way back at the end of the last century, but I switched publishers but couldn't get the rights back, so that made it too difficult to sell. It was going to be set about fifty years after Pasquale's little adventure, featuring a shipwrecked Englishman who gets involved with Pasquale's grandson, the search for the Fountain of Youth, and the discovery of gold in California. I was semiseriously thinking about reviving it a few years back, but then Wild, Wild West was made...

June 01, 2009 6:20 pm  
Anonymous Sergey said...

The 'cat is the measure of all things'
Completely agree...

June 02, 2009 3:43 pm  

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