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Fate of Worlds: An Interview with Edward M. Lerner
conducted by Dave Truesdale

© Edward M. Lerner
Edward M. Lerner
Edward M. Lerner
Before taking the plunge in 2004 into full-time writing, technologist turned author Edward M. Lerner spent thirty years in high tech at every level from engineer to senior vice-president. He worked at such places as Bell Labs, Hughes Aircraft, and Northrop Grumman. He delivered high-tech products and systems to government agencies (including NASA, the FBI, and the Defense Department) and commercial customers as varied as AT&T and McDonald's. Along the way, he visited a satellite factory, flew the space shuttle training simulator, wandered around the space station trainer, and watched a space shuttle launch. Sooner or later, all that experience shows up in his fiction. Lerner was born in Chicago, has lived in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, and now lives in Virginia

Edward M. Lerner Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: Energized: An Interview with Edward M. Lerner
SF Site Review: Juggler of Worlds

Fate of Worlds
Juggler of Worlds
1970 saw the first publication of Larry Niven's Ringworld, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It proved so popular that three direct sequels have been written: The Ringworld Engineers (1980), The Ringworld Throne (1986), and Ringworld's Children (2004). The Ringworld is a space artifact, a circular artifice some 600 million miles in circumference, surrounding an Earth-like sun. The alien(s) who built this "Big Dumb Object" as these artifacts have come to be known in science fiction circles, have disappeared -- having died off or abandoned the immense structure. Along with humans, alien races inhabiting Niven's Known Space universe have sought to plunder the Ringworld of its technological secrets and other treasures, leading to all manner of political intrigue and war.

Three years following 2004's Ringworld's Children, Edward M. Lerner teamed up with Larry Niven and began writing prequels to the original Ringworld novel. Known as the Fleet series, the books are: Fleet of Worlds (2007), Juggler of Worlds (2008), Destroyer of Worlds (2009), and Betrayer of Worlds (2010).

In August of 2012 came Niven and Lerner's capstone to both the Ringworld and Fleet series, Fate of Worlds, which closes out both series in a single triumphant work of vivid imagination and colorful adventure, fraught with enough action, intrigue, surprises and human drama to satisfy any SF fan.

Ed Lerner was kind enough to answer some questions about the series and his feelings about the end to this marvelous journey, the five books he wrote in six years based on the classic Ringworld novel that wowed fans and critics 40+ years ago. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading an Ed Lerner novel, his Fleet books are an excellent place to start. Pure quill SF for the intelligent reader looking for the often forgotten Sense of Wonder.

Now that both Larry's Ringworld books and yours and his Fleet series have come to an end, I'd like to know who wrote what in the Fleet books. I'm guessing you and Larry got together with where each book would go, but that you wrote most of, if not all, of these books. Could you explain how the Fleet of Worlds books were written?
Let's begin with the how. Larry and I were together on a panel at Worldcon 2004, of which the topic was My Favorite Planet. That is, what world, real or imaginary, would each panelist most like to visit? My choice was the Fleet of Worlds.

(For anyone new to Known Space, the Fleet appeared in Larry's 1970 classic novel, Ringworld. Though the Fleet was an awesome setting -- five worlds in formation, shooting through space at relativistic speed, home to the truly alien Puppeteers -- we barely get a glimpse it. We see only bits of one world of the five. I wondered: what of the other worlds? We meet a single Puppeteer, by his own admission insane and not representative of his species, and briefly the avatar of a second. We never see even two Puppeteers interact. I wondered: what of Puppeteer society? What sort of economy, culture, infrastructure, and -- well, everything -- enabled a trillion aliens to coexist in so little space?)

When my turn on the panel came around, I told Larry why he should write a story set in the Fleet of Worlds. He said he didn't have a plot for that story. A few months later I contacted him to say, "Well, I do."

Within the year, we had delivered Fleet of Worlds to our agent.

As for who wrote what, Larry calls collaborating with me a spectator sport. That's droll (and from one of the genre's masters, quite the compliment), while failing to do himself justice. I wasn't starting from scratch! I built on Larry's rich legacy of memorable worlds, species, futuristic technologies, storylines, and characters. I had fairly free rein to make use of his Known Space universe.

As you surmised, I wrote the first draft of all five novels in the Fleet series. They're my plots. In the process, I contributed new worlds, species, technologies, storylines, and characters. I like to believe they will prove memorable, too. (I'm especially fond of the Gw'oth species: scary-smart starfish.) Larry weighed in whenever some premise of mine failed to gibe with his notion of, say, Puppeteer behavior. When he offered such feedback, I adjusted. One does not mess with the proprietor of a universe!

When did you learn that Larry was going to end the Ringworld novels and that he wanted to close out the Fleet series? I'm guessing that this event was in preparation for Greg Benford and Larry's new venture, the writing of Bowl of Heaven and its forthcoming sequels.
The end game was a bit more complex than that. Larry had considered the Ringworld story arc closed with Ringworld's Children (2004). In that novel he went as far as (spoiler alert!) moving the physical Ringworld off-stage, a full thousand light-years from Known Space. To wrap up the Fleet series was a mutual decision. Larry and I were both ready for a change of scenery. Certainly I wanted the Fleet series to end on a high note… not run on until readers lost interest.

One storyline of the Fleet series -- the destiny of New Terra, a human colony world unknown to everyone in the Ringworld story arc -- could only be concluded after the Ringworld books. That's how Fate of Worlds ended up concluding two series.

Now that the Fleet series has come to its conclusion can you tell us what thoughts and feelings you have about working within the Ringworld universe and the characters you've come to know all these years? With this final installment, Fate of Worlds, you have the entire gigantic Ringworld vanishing (in a most breathtaking, creative fashion), and this leaves the various species who have been looting it for its secrets and treasure now turning to the cowardly Puppeteers, to rob them of all they have reclaimed from the Ringworld. This leads us to the final stories of not only this grand-scale mystery and the consequences for all the species of Known Space, but how the characters we've followed all these years come to play out in this most cataclysmic event. Louis Wu, Proteus, Achilles, Sigmund Ausfaller, the Gw'oth ensemble mind (the Ol't'ro), the infamous Kzinti, and the pair of separated alien lovers Nessus and Baedeker -- all of their stories are neatly resolved amidst the large-scale chaos of the vanishing Ringworld and the complicated plotlines you've woven.
First off, there's a deep satisfaction. Writing these five books -- and, it's probably worth mentioning, I set out to write just one -- has been fulfilling. Known Space is a great playground, and I'm grateful to Larry for letting me borrow some of his toys. That said, as with all farewells, this parting was bittersweet. Five books in six years in a single expanding storyline -- that was intense. As after any major project, completion was followed by a period of wondering, "Now what?"

All authors have favorites among their characters. Larry is attached to his fearless starship pilot, Beowulf Shaeffer, in whose adventures -- years before Ringworld -- readers met Puppeteers and first encountered several worlds of Known Space. I've become attached to Sigmund Ausfaller, the paranoid intelligence agent. Sigmund was a shadowy figure in some of Larry's early stories, more plot device than character. Those stories were written in first person, from Beowulf's point of view, and we learned little about Sigmund. After Sigmund's starring role throughout the Fleet series, however, we know all about him. It turns out (and I say this from reader feedback, not merely expressing authorial opinion) that paranoia doesn't preclude a protagonist being charming and sympathetic.

Fate of Worlds seems to display just as much energy, invention, and crisp, colorful writing as the first book, where many other long-running series in SF have shown their age and the final books reveal how tired the writers have become.
To which I can only say, "Thanks."

(Edward M. Lerner's next novel Dark Secret, a solo space opera, will be serialized beginning with the April 2013 issue of Analog.)

Copyright © 2013 Dave Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award four times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

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