SF author Marjorie B. Kellogg told Tor.com that her new book (written with William Rossow), Lear’s Daughters, is about the first scientific expedition to a newly discovered planet where nothing turns out to be what a preliminary probe had led them to expect.
“Specifically the climate and the inhabitants; there is also a minerals prospector along, the source of the expedition’s funding, in search of a source of cheap lithium, which has become integral to a new solar energy collector back home on a climate-changed, suffering Earth,” Kellogg said in an interview. “This is nothing new. It’s who the inhabitants turn out to be and what the weather is doing and why, and how the lithium fits in that provide the turns and twists of the story.”
The book was a product of boredom at theatre parties, Kellogg said. “No joke. Way back when, I was living with a guy who ran a theatre in New York, and I had to attend all these opening night bashes, etc. At some point, I met the husband of the theatre’s manager, who turned out to work for the New York NASA think tank, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, studying (at the time) planetary atmospheres, though clouds became his specific area of expertise. This was my current collaborator, William Rossow. We were both avid SF readers and were both restless with our forced attendance at these parties, plus I had already written my first SF novel, A Rumor of Angels. So we bonded, first by talking about science fiction, but soon by passing the dull, crowded evenings in a corner somewhere, hatching possible SF plots.”
The first result was the duology from which Lear’s Daughters is the much revised descendant. “Published originally in the ’80s, before climate change became a household word, the book was orphaned twice and generally misidentified in the market. It was my current editor, Sheila Gilbert at DAW Books, who suggested that the book’s time had finally come,” Kellogg said. “So we updated the science, strengthened the references to the terrible conditions back home due to Earth’s disrupted climate, and then I rewrote the book from stem to stern. In the intervening years, I’d written five other novels, so there was a lot of writer growth and experience I could bring to bear on this spanking new version.”
The toughest technical challenge for Kellogg was taking the hard science that Rossow was providing and working it gracefully and comprehensibly into the story, which would have been nothing without it. “First, I (a non-scientist) had to understand it, and then I had to pass it in clear and interesting dialogue and prose,” she said. “When a plot hinges on some rather complex information, one runs the risk of putting off the more casual reader. But fortunately, most SF readers are the equal of whatever a writer can throw at them.”
Kellogg said that the book, at its core, is about environmental issues—global climate change and our responsibility to the planet—as all her books have turned out to be. “I began writing SF (as opposed to just reading it) because I felt this crucial subject was being ignored by the creative community in my day job (I am a working theatrical set designer). Okay. Not easy to write a play about weather,” she said. “Still, I believe climate change is the issue of our century, should have been the issue of the last century, and we can only hope it’s not too late to turn our attention to it at last, as it seems the new administration is finally willing to do. No wonder Bill and I found cause to collaborate, as climate issues are central to his work as well. It was vastly satisfying to both of us when Bill’s old boss, Dr. James Hansen, much beleaguered and censored by the Bush Administration, agreed to give us a quote for the cover. He said: ‘The solution that the alien race finds for their climate disaster may be our best chance on Planet Earth, too, if we fail to put the clamps on coal emissions in the next few years.'”