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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Family d'Alembert Series vs. the Agents of ISIS Series

The "Family d'Alembert series" is today considered a "classic" in the field of space opera. Personally I don't feel old enough to be involved with creating a "classic" even though I admittedly started young, but for the moment I'll go along with that description. Let me explain here how I came to create the series, and the differences between the Family d'Alembeert series and the new Agents of ISIS series.

In the May 1964 issue of If Magazine, E.E. "Doc" Smith published a novella entitled "Imperial Stars." According to a letter he wrote to his friend Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, Smith intended to turn this novella into a series of books. Unfortunately he died before he could get around to it. He left behind no manuscripts, no story arcs, no further plot ideas or concepts of where to go next. He'd created a single novella and the concept for a prospective series, but not a series itself.

A decade later, I was commissioned to expand the novella into a full-sized book and then create nine more books in this universe, thus turning Smith's idea into what became known as the "Family d'Alembert series." I'd read and enjoyed Smith's earlier Skylark and Lensman series, so I was eagerly anticipating this assignment.

Unfortunately, it was not all I'd hoped for. The novella certainly had action aplenty, as befitted a Smith story, but the writing, the universe and the characters were hopelessly old-fashioned even for the 1960s when it was published, let alone the 1970s and later when I'd be writing the follow-ups. The text used bizarre words like "ultratoilsomely." The heroes were two-dimensional and way too goody-goody to be believable. The history and development of the universe were painfully naive, with an anti-communist screed straight out of the 1950s McCarthy era. And while Smith was noted for the excellence of his villains, the ultimate bad guy here never once set foot onstage. Clearly this novella needed a lot of rehabilitation.

Having to stick closely to Smith's creation hampered me considerably, but I did as much as I could to make the characters and universe more believable, and I tried to come up with stories that were exciting enough to please Smith's legion of fans. I got letters of praise that told me I was succeeding, which was most gratifying.

Still, as decades passed, the initially creaky concept grew more and more outdated. Finally, in the mid-2000s, I decided to update the whole series. Since the original novella was the source of most of the problems, I tossed out "Imperial Stars" in its entirety. I created a universe without what I perceived as Smith's flaws, yet which could still accommodate the stories of books 2-10 that I'd created for the old universe. I wrote an entirely new first novel, Tsar Wars, to introduce the re-envisioned universe and slightly more believable characters. I made major modifications to the remaining 9 books to fit the new beginning.

The result is what I now call the Agents of ISIS series, something I feel is more appropriate for the 21st century. I make no pretense that the books are ultra-realistic; they still retain their space opera roots. But I've tried to make the characters a little more interesting. And unlike in the Family d'Alembert series, the heroes no longer have to find a pay-phone to make a call when they're out in the field--they can use their wristcoms.

I understand the attraction people have for a classic that's stood the test of time, so there'll be plenty of readers paying money for the books in the Family d'Alembert series. But as someone who's intimately familiar with both series, I must say that, because I'm a more experienced writer now, the Agents of ISIS books are better written and have more interesting characters. And, in ebook format at least, the Agents of ISIS books are considerably cheaper than the reissued d'Alemberts. I've also recently reformatted the ISIS ebooks, so they should be pretty clean.

The ten books in the new series are:
  1. Tsar Wars
  2. Treacherous Moon
  3. Robot Mountain
  4. Sanctuary Planet
  5. Stellar Revolution
  6. Purgatory Plot
  7. Traitors' World
  8. Counterfeit Stars
  9. Outworld Invaders
  10. Galactic Collapse
Go here to learn where you can buy them. Pleasant reading.

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