Why I Wrote Glass

by stephenpalmersf

After I sold Memory Seed to Tim Holman at Orbit Books I faced the next novel. I had prepared this second work before the two book deal was struck over the winter of 1994/5: it was called Glass and it was the sequel to Memory Seed. Tim seemed happy with the idea and the book, although we hit a problem about half way through where the plot wasn’t working too well; but its recapitulation of Memory Seed concepts was hardly mentioned. Tim liked the darker flavour of Glass and he liked the dark ending:

Then: a sound, as of abstract trees moving under the breath of an abstract breeze. ‘That is it,’ said Dwllis. ‘That is the Gwmru broadcast, the whisper of all those shifting memories.’ But it was faint. The sound of Gwmru was barely audible over the cycling, phased white noise of the carrier wave. For almost half an hour they listened, before the sound faded, crackled, and then, with a resonant sound as of a door closing, died for ever.


Although Tim didn’t know it at the time, I had plans for a third and final part – Flowercrash. This novel wasn’t finished when we worked on Glass, but it was on the way. Alas, it wasn’t published by Orbit. We decided to go with Muezzinland instead, which, later, also wasn’t published. But Flowercrash found a home a few years later with the Cosmos Books imprint. The whole thing was a trilogy in a loose sense, bound together by theme and by a trio of artificial characters: noophytes in Memory Seed and Glass, embodied gynoids in Flowercrash.

Glass however was not popular with its readers, and today receives the lowest average score on Goodreads of any of my novels. The commonest remarks were along the lines of “waste of a novel,” because of the recapitulation of main theme: an isolated city, an advancing plague, a slow reduction in scale and a ramping up of tension to the end point of the book. This was a deliberate ploy, but at the time I didn’t realise it would be viewed negatively. The idea of recapitulation is one I use a lot, so to me it didn’t seem to have any problems. And it was clear from the latter sections of Memory Seed that the noophytes were leaving and had a plan to go somewhere; there were plenty of clues in Glass as to who or what some of the mysterious beings were, most notably Tanglanah; and the gnosticians, an obviously alien race, showed that Glass was not set on Earth, which matched the noophytes’ plan.

I think the main problem with all this is that most readers had no idea there could be a continuing plot after Memory Seed, which does have a pretty definite ending. I suspect most readers thought I was copying my own debut through a lack of ideas. They knew nothing about Flowercrash and perhaps didn’t have the time or the inclination to pursue some of the mysteries in Glass. I like a good mystery, but probably many of my readers don’t.

If I was to have published something along these lines again I might be tempted to go along the Factory Girl route, i.e. publish the whole work in one go. Factory Girl is one book in three volumes in a way Memory Seed/Glass/Flowercrash is not, but at least simultaneous publication would set the idea in my readers’ heads that the work is a whole…

Anyway – lesson most definitely learned.


Glass ebook