My latest novel, Immobility (Tor Books), began as an imaginary book.
It started out on the website The Hypothetical Library, a collection of covers and descriptions for books that don't exist.
Chuck Orr, the person behind the site, asked me to come up with the title and basic premise of a book that I "wouldn't pursue" but that would sound like a book that I'd actually write.
In 2010, I came up with a title--Immobility--and imagined a post-apocalyptic detective named Josef Horkai.
Horkai wakes up after being frozen for a number of years--he's not sure exactly how many--to find himself paralyzed from the waist down. He's been recruited by people he can't remember, but who claim to be his friends, to rescue something stolen. They tell him he's a fixer, someone who solves the problems that nobody else can and that they need his help.
Even though it doesn't quite ring true, he doesn't know what else to do but go along with them until he figures out what's really happening. So he sets off, "carried around on the back of an 'assistant'" and increasingly feeling "like he's being asked not to solve a crime but commit one."
It was a lot of fun to imagine a book that I wouldn't actually have to write. Chuck did a great hypothetical cover for it, we got a hypothetical blurb from author Jeff Vandermeer.
I thought that would be the end of it.
Then an editor at Tor saw the page and wrote to me saying that it sounded like a good idea for a real book. Would I want to write up a proposal?
I'd been feeling that way as well. After writing the description, I found myself still thinking about Immobility. I'd started plotting it out in my head, and even began taking notes. I felt more and more like I wanted to write it.
It turns out to be tricky to transform a hypothetical book into an actual book. At a certain point, I had to decide how closely I wanted to follow the hypothetical description. Did I really have to be bound by it? And if so, how closely?
I printed out the blurb for the hypothetical book and taped it above my desk, thinking I'd refer to it as I wrote, but I quickly took it down and threw it away. Yet the differences between the hypothetical description and what I wanted to write ended up being part of the book. The hypothetical book haunted me while I was writing the real one.
Immobility ended up being a novel about the main character not knowing what was real and what wasn't, partly because of the gap between the hypothetical description and what I wanted to write. The hypothetical book Immobility, in the end, is pretty different from the actual book Immobility. They're relatives, but not identical twins. More like kissing cousins.
Now the real book is published, and I find myself in danger of losing my hypothetical library card. I had told Chuck that I "wouldn't pursue" writing the novel, and then I did. The card catalogue of the Hypothetical Library is short one book since Immobility is no longer hypothetical. It seems fitting to offer a new hypothetical title to replace it.
So, here's a hypothetical sequel to the real novel Immobility. It's called Extinction.
When Josef Horkai is woken up from storage it's a lifetime later, or maybe two. He wants his revenge on those who have manipulated him, but the "humans" have died out.
What's left are lab-manufactured beings, as the so-called mules that carried him once were, and they've been trained to keep manufacturing themselves. But in the process they've lost a sense of their purpose and developed a new, and confused, mythology. A mythology that has Horkai, or someone like him, at its center.
But when the religious brothers from Granite Mountain come after what's left, Horkai has to take sides with one of three groups: those who want to preserve humanity, those ready to surrender their humanity for good, or the befuddled lab-created who have taken him in and seem to be looking for a reason to worship him.
Extinction is a dark and incisive novel about the moral and immoral choices that lead to the extinction of the human race.
I have no plans whatsoever to write this hypothetical book. For now.