Sunday, 26 February 2017

That First Time…

You never forget your first time in print!

For those thinking it’s a bit early for me to reminisce about that story accepted last April and published in September, I’m thinking farther back, and no, not that online acceptance in the late ‘90s. I’m thinking 1985.

The editor who gave me my first break is the late Neville Coleman, founder of Underwater Geographic, Australia’s premier diving and conservation quarterly. I read from the first issue, cover to cover, and learned to dive in late 1986, but the previous year I offered the mag a short story and Mr Coleman was impressed enough to take it, and serialise it over two parts.

I can’t photograph the spreads to publish here, those magazines are boxed and in storage along with so much of our older paperwork, but I can tell you I illustrated the story myself with two paintings. I considered myself a keen painter at the time and was more than happy to put brush to board.

The Island of the Sun God was an early adventure in my “Ocean” series, begun around 1982 and featuring a near future in which the code of the Cetacean languages had been broken, allowing direct interspecies communication to take place at a sophisticated, linguistic level. The title stems from a best guess at what cetaceans would call their world – we call it “Earth” after the stuff beneath our feet, what would be more natural than for dolphins to call it “Ocean?” This interpretation stems from the Italian underwater filmmaker Bruno Valarti (Not sure if this is accurate, I can find no reference to him online by this or other permutations of spelling, but the name has always stuck in my memory) who made documentaries on the theme in those days. I came up with the idea that humans and cetaceans would become partners in the exploration and protection of the ocean realm and this opened up a world-spanning possibility for adventure. I paired human scientist-explorers with orcas as “Ranger Patrol Teams,” and conceived of pairings as deeply bonded and inseparable friends.

In this story, one of the patrol teams was on downtime, and an orca told his human partner a story from the oral heritage of his people, of an eclipse which had challenged his ancestors’ sun-worship, and a great hero who had swum into the west to seek the place the sun rests in order to learn if the sun would ever leave its children again. Naïve, yes, and rooted in ancient stories and fears of humans, but it made for a good tale.

I had hoped very much more would come of this placing. It almost did. The story was fresh in the minds of folk attending the Oceans ’86 Congress, I remember the noted Scottish underwater photographer, the late Walt Deas was most interested in its potential, and there was some talk at the time of the late, great Carrie Fisher expressing interest in the concept. It went no further, sadly, and I was unable to place another story with Underwater Geographic, though I did become their Marine Mammal Correspondent for some years, publishing several articles in the late 1980s, during which period I worked for an all-too brief time with dolphins at an ill-fated oceanarium.

I wrote a great deal of “Ocean” material, dozens of stories, I had three anthologies prepared but an agent I had around 1990 was a non-starter (that was her description of the material after agreeing to work with it – my experience with agents has not been a sanguine one to date. This was about the time David Brinn’s Sundiver and Startide Rising were winning some of science fiction’s most coveted awards, so I can be forgiven for being bitter about it.) I planned a sprawling series of novels and short story collections spanning history from the immediate to far future, and the first four full length novels were completed, with inroads on others set many centuries hence. All in all it was an enormous body of work and I would still love to do something with it, rework it, bring it into line with the future we have lived into, and explore ideas afresh.

Some years ago a private project (Wild Dolphin Project, Jupiter, Florida) announced it was intending to use computers to try to generate linguistic pulses to allow some level of communication across the species barrier, and the project was covered in National Geographic as recently as April, 2015. I was most interested, as this was the sort of move that heralded the future world I conceived of (based originally, of course, on John Lilly’s pioneering Project Janus, now an artefact of history in its own right, while conceptually remaining the progenitor of what the WDP team are doing.) I recall I was majorly over-optimistic, expecting such research breakthroughs quite quickly, and in so doing placed the roots of the future close enough for that future to be swiftly overtaken by contrary events. Also, in those days, climate change and the bitter controversy over it had not yet taken hold of the public consciousness, another factor which would be a major shaping influence on such an opus. If I do go back and rework this concept, it will take on a very different character.

I hope I get the chance. If I can get a foothold in the wider market, I certainly have a great deal to offer at both short story and novel levels, and “Ocean” is a massive concept which remains quite unique. It’s sobering to discover how many of the industry professionals mentioned in this essay are gone now, Walt Deas in 2008, Neville Coleman – to whom I owe eternal gratitude for that first placement – in 2012, Carrie Fisher just a few months back. Time’s merciless passage waits for none, and I sincerely hope I have the chance to reawaken these concepts in some new and dynamic package in the years ahead.

Cheers, Mike Adamson

PS: The photo at top was found on a search for royalty free images.

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