For those who don't subscribe to the monthly Tor-Forge newsletter, here's my recent interview (motivated by the paperback re-release of Juggler of Worlds):
Q: How do you describe Juggler of Worlds?
A: Juggler shows what happens when a paranoid government agent really does confront vast alien conspiracies.
Sigmund Ausfaller comes by his paranoia honestly. He was ten when his parents disappeared amid a conflict with the Kzinti—and everyone knows the Kzinti eat their prey. He grew up to watch aliens for a living. It’s up to Sigmund to make sense of things when the super-secretive Puppeteers, who have made worlds and species across Known Space dependent on Puppeteer technology, suddenly disappear.
The Puppeteers had good reasons to hide. The last thing they want is Sigmund bringing the military might of the human worlds down upon their heads (of which each Puppeteer has two). It’s left to the Puppeteer operative known as Nessus to somehow keep humanity at bay. Puppeteers being philosophical cowards, they’re generally incapable of leaving home. Nessus can, and that makes him insane in his own way.
Q: Sigmund Ausfaller. Nessus. Don’t I know those names?
A: If you’re a Niven fan, then yes. Sigmund played minor but pivotal roles in two of Larry’s early, award-winning stories (“Neutron Star” and “The Borderland of Sol”). Nessus most prominently figures in what is perhaps Larry’s best-known novel, Ringworld.
More than any other reason, the book came about because I felt Sigmund had leading-man potential and unique insight into the panorama that is Known Space.
Q: Juggler sounds like some kind of secret history. I’m reminded of the Ender’s Shadow books, which parallel Ender’s Game and its sequels.
A: Exactly! Events in some of Larry’s stories that seemed independent or random or coincidental … aren’t. Sigmund and Nessus—and their interstellar game of cat-and-mouse—lie behind much that readers thought they understood about Known Space.
Our model was the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. While Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are hangers-on at the Danish court and minor players in Hamlet, they are, of course, the central characters of their own play.
Wherever Stoppard revisits a scene from Hamlet, some dialogue repeats—interspersed with muttered asides and interior monologue Shakespeare never imagined. Unless you’ve memorized Hamlet, it’s hard to know where Shakespeare leaves off and Stoppard begins—yet much of the Stoppard play happens aboard a ship far from the Danish court!
Juggler interleaves events old and new, and occasionally dialogue, in the same way.
Q: Then Juggler overlaps chronologically with some of Larry’s stories and with your earlier collaboration, Fleet of Worlds.
A: To get away from the theater metaphors, Juggler is a mosaic in which other stories are some of the tiles.
Events are examined from new points of view. Heretofore unsuspected linkages emerge. Players in past stories are sometimes revealed—by reason of self-interest, nobility, or ignorance—to have told partial truths or been honestly mistaken.
It took planning, but we’re happy with how everything fits together. Where we revisit specific circumstances—say, the expedition in “Neutron Star”—it’s always from a different character’s point of view and the event is surrounded by heretofore unsuspected causes and unrevealed consequences.
Q: So who is the titular juggler, Nessus or Sigmund?
A: We leave that to the reader to decide—fully expecting opinions to change over the course of the book.
Q: What’s your next project, Ed?
A: Next up, also from Tor (out in October), is a Lerner solo. Small Miracles is a near-future technothriller of nanotechnology and medical nanobots. In a few words:
When Brent Cleary was caught in a gas pipeline explosion, it took more than one small miracle to keep him alive. Too bad the small miracles have an agenda of their own….
Q: Thanks, Ed. It was a pleasure talking with you.
A: My pleasure.