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Songs of Earth and Power Omnibus, Page 75

Greg Bear

This experience haunted me for years. It happened at a critical period, late adolescence, in the winter and spring of 1970-1971; I was a late bloomer socially and a hider of deep emotions, what I have since characterized as a "warm hearted iceberg," and so it was inevitable that I should fall hard for the first young woman who consented to go out on a date with me.

  Actually, I fell for Kristine even before the date. She was tall and slender and coltish, wide-hipped and long-legged, hair close-cut in a shag, a style worn by Jane Fonda at the time, unaffectedly bohemian; quite my opposite. We were at San Diego State College and had happened into the same beginning drama class. I asked her to accompany me to the showing of a documentary of Fellini's Satyricon (or more properly, Fellini Satyricon) at the late, lamented Unicorn Theater in La Jolla. Kristine consented.

  I got lost and arrived late at her rented house on Ingraham avenue, near the beach, and we got even more lost making our way to La Jolla, but we made it in time to listen to a pretentious question and answer session with the documentary's director. After, we went out for a late night coffee and talk.

  I was smitten. Not once did I say any such thing to Kristine; but indications must have been plentiful. I asked her to pose for a painting I was planning, a surrealist, adolescent bit of memento mori called "The Madonna of Probability." I had sketched a rough of this picture a short while before our date, always with her in mind…

  She consented, with the proviso that she must pose with her clothes on. I didn't have the presumption or imagination or courage to imagine it would be otherwise.

  At the time, I was painting and writing in tandem, working on my first novel, which I called The Infinity Concerto. The central idea of the novel had interested me since I first gave that same title to a short story in my first years in college; some key elements I had conceived in high school, particularly the episode of the Chinese sorcerer whose power was limited to things golden or yellow.

  After that date, I expressed my buried emotions by making Kristine a character in the book. I worked on "The Madonna of Probability," actually quite a hideous picture, a young woman standing against a dull leaden sky carrying the swaddled skeleton of a child.

  Our only other "date" was a few hours in San Diego's Balboa Park, where I sketched her as we sat on a grassy stretch before the Globe Theater. The sketch was so inadequate that today I cannot remind myself of the full details of her face by looking at it; nor can I recall what she looked like enough to bring a picture to mind. I was idealizing her, not seeing her clearly; also, I was never an expert at human features. (To this day I have not sketched portraits of my beautiful children, perhaps for this reason, that I would be inadequate to the task.)

  During this outing, I told her I had made her a character in the book I was writing. She seemed flattered. I promised that when the book was published, I would send her a copy. I must have seemed very bizarre.

  When I dropped her off at her apartment, she stepped from my car, turned, leaned into the doorway, and asked why I was doing all this. I did not admit my infatuation; I was trying to play it cool, yet my feelings must have been more than obvious, even overbearing.

  We met in class, and at rehearsals for a silly student play (not written by me, thank God) in which she was to be an artist's model, and I some other role. I was not the artist in the play, but I painted a few deliberately awful pictures for background.

  We did not go out again.

  Writing the book, it soon became clear to me that the character of Kristine had to be removed from the narrative at some point, for reasons of plot; my character could not finish his arc of development encumbered by a partner. I remember writing these scenes in a kind of trance; she did not die, but was involved in a hideous accident that took her away from the protagonist's life, dropping her into the "mist of creation," a place where anything was possible. (I still have a picture of the Mist of Creation rising from an embryonic, incomplete farm scene, prematurely revealed, completed before the novel.)

  I had not spoken with Kristine for more than a month. She had turned down another date at one point, and I did not have the courage to ask again; it was obvious she sensed my infatuation and was not at ease around me, and who could blame her? One-sided infatuation is not a comfortable responsibility. In many respects, she was more mature than I, although we were the same age.

  After a time, I did not even see her on campus.

  I experienced odd moments. One evening, listening to the adagio of Mahler's unfinished tenth symphony, I had an epiphany of life and death as intense as anything I have felt before or since. It was not directly connected with Kristine. But hearing of a car accident at Sunset Cliffs, days later, I thought of her.

  I had already ended her part in the novel. The protagonist was suffering intense grief over his loss. The book was far from finished, but "The Madonna of Probability" was nearing completion. Adding the final touches one evening, I decided to call Kristine and let her know it was done, and she could see it if she wished. I did not phone immediately; the thought of calling bothered me. I blamed my reticence on lack of courage. Perhaps I did not want to impose on her any more. Still, something compelled me.

  The next day, in my last class of the day, an English class, I again fell into a strange mood and wrote a poem, part of which is now in The Serpent Mage. The poem strongly hinted of a loved woman's death. I dreaded making the call. At home, late in the afternoon, I stood in a dark hallway and dialed the number of Kristine's apartment.

  A room-mate answered. Hadn't I heard? she asked. Kristine had left school about two months ago and returned to Marin County. She had been killed there in an automobile accident. (Not in the Sunset Cliffs accident.)

  I ran outside and stood in an empty lot nearby, in shock. When I returned to my room, I simply sat, stunned. For weeks I went through the motions of being alive, but inside, I was shattered. I had faced the death of loved ones before - grandmother, uncle, acquaintances. But none seemed quite so immediate, so strange and final. And what haunted me - frightened me - was that I had seemed to know what would happen to her from the very beginning, from the time I first imagined her holding a symbol of death.

  I went through various rituals, trying to escape this not wholly appropriate grief. There had been little enough between us. She had been friendly and kind and little more. And now I was going through the fire. I was facing not just the ultimate end to all possibilities of love, but a metaphysical puzzle straight out of The Twilight Zone.

  I had modeled a character in the novel after a living woman, and then had removed her; and the living woman had died. I didn't take the more bizarre aspects of this too seriously; that way lay true madness, and I have never fancied madness. But it seemed obvious that I had sensed Kristine's impermanence; in the plot of my life, at least, I had known she would be removed.

  In bed one night a few weeks after, I gathered all my mental forces and tried to break through the barrier of death, to communicate with Kristine. I had done this once, five years before, to communicate with a recently dead uncle: nothing had happened then. But what I now experienced burned and horrified me; I imagined a kind of shell of Kristine, memories present but soul gone, having a relation to the living woman like that of a flake of dead skin to live flesh. She or it seemed to occupy a sphere of newly dead around the Earth, protecting us from harsh outer realities much as dead skin protects the pink growing flesh beneath. I doubt this was any genuine revelation, but it hurt me so much that I recorded it in a diary, then ripped that page out and threw it away. Here were truly things I did not want to know.

  I worked on my novel in a kind of heat. I had to see how it all turned out. The protagonist wandered through the last chapters, bereaved, experiencing more and more revelations, until at the end, he was restored to a more solid world, and regained Kristine.

  With such wish-fulfillments, I began to purge myself. I finished the novel, took out a student loan for one hundred and twenty-five dollars to have it retyped, submitted it once - re
ceiving a kind rejection slip from Betty Ballan-tine - and shelved it.

  The work was neither complete nor mature. Its core was true, but its form was awkward; the emotions and ideas were fine, perhaps more intense than anything I would write later, but it was not publishable.

  Too amorphous, too tied in with half-understood emotions, the book languished for years. Occasionally I would give thought to revising it, but I was working on other books and stories that would eventually sell and be published.

  Then, in 1979, the book reshaped itself in one evening of inspiration. In a heat, I wrote the details down in a small blue notebook. The plot was completely different, but much of the core remained. Arno Waltiri, Opus 45, Kristine, the quotation from a nonexistent book by Charles Fort, and the ensorceled Chinese were still there. My early protagonist - originally the son of Arno Waltiri - had evolved into Michael Perrin. Intricate plot and carefully worked out fantasy elements replaced much of the amorphous surrealism.

  Here at last was a book that could be written and sold. Still, I waited a few years before I broached the idea to Terri Windling over lunch in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. She asked to see the proposal.

  Eventually, The Infinity Concerto became part of a package contract with a very different novel called Blood Music. (They are still joint-accounted in the United States; Blood Music has sold much better. Yet a third proposed novel, Eon, was rejected by the publishers because they did not want to risk a three-book contract with a fledgling writer.)

  I knew that The Infinity Concerto was really only the first half of a longer novel, but the second half would have to wait, to be written separately and published as a second book. In due time, the second half was proposed and written and published.

  I dedicated the first part to a beloved teacher, Elizabeth Chater, who had read the first version in 1971 and given me much needed praise and support. The second part, the part with Kristine, I dedicated to her. It was my way of sending her a copy.

  Adolescence is far behind me now. I'm a full-time writer. I do very little artwork. I've been married twice, and now I'm a father of two; I've been through a few traumatic times, and many more joyous ones. Yet in that winter and spring, life laid down the brick on which I now stand. I gathered themes I'm still working with.

  As for the obvious mystical elements of those months… I've had weaker but similar instances of what might be called clairvoyance or second sight. They have not come so frequently as to convince me that they are irrefutable evidence for psychic phenomena; but I cannot deny the multiple documentation of painting, manuscript and poem, of my strange foreknowledge of Kristine's death. I remain, oddly enough, a skeptic in psychic matters, perhaps because I wish to believe so strongly. I resist easy and comforting answers.

  How does this final work compare with the first version? I suspect the first version was better in some respects, more true and immediate. But the ideas and emotions are better worked out in the final product. I think the balance favors the newer version; I did not so much distill and reshape the ideas as guide them with a steadier hand.

  Since those years, I have gained a reputation as a writer of science fiction. It may surprise some that my first novel was fantasy, and that it was grounded in such experiences. Almost needless to say, I am very fond of this book, and pleased to see it bound in one volume for the first time, revised and polished a little more: one novel in two parts, as originally intended.