Hunter's Run Explored: An Interview with Daniel Abraham, Gardner Dozois, and George R.R. Martin

Jeff VanderMeer on January 26, 2008

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(The US, special limited, and UK editions of Hunter's Run.)

What do you get when three stellar writers team up on a high-octane SF novel? You get Hunter's Run, which has been described as "Predator meets Camus' The Stranger". Out from Eos this month, it is the brainchild of NYT Bestseller George R.R. Martin, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writer and editor Gardner Dozois, and critically acclaimed writer Daniel Abraham, one of the best of the next generation of fantasists. Hunter's Run mixes action and suspense with fascinating characters. Ramon Espejo comes up on the wrong side of the Enye, rulers of the planet of Sao Paulo. As Espejo tries to make sense of his fragmented memories, the stakes rise in a battle between powerful and ruthless species. Fans of all three writers should enjoy this well-crafted novel and, as with the best examples of synergy, it's difficult to tell who wrote what. (Completists may wish to check out the novella version still archived on Ellen Datlow's SciFiction.)

Now, collaborations between two writers are common. Collaborations between three writers are not. In part to satisfy my own curiosity, I recently conducted the following interview with Abraham, Dozois, and Martin, who talked about the process of creating the novel. Who came up with the idea for Hunter’s Run and how did the collaboration come to be?

George R.R. Martin: The story started with Gardner. The first time I read it, it was an untitled novella fragment that Gardner had submitted to a writer's workshop in Iowa in 1977. After a strong start, he had gotten stuck on it, and I suppose he was hoping that getting some comments and suggestions from other writers would help get him going again. I don't recall what suggestions I made, but I do remember liking the much so that a couple of years later, when Gardner asked me if I'd like to collaborate with him on the still-untitled, still-unfinished novella, I was glad to jump in. I can claim credit for being the first to suggest that the story should be a novel. It took a couple more decades and another collaborator to accomplish that, but the idea was sound. What was the process of collaboration like? Layering, taking separate sections as your own, or...? And how did you resolve any disagreements?

Gardner Dozois: There were a lot of layers here, since it consisted of George overwriting me, Daniel overwriting both of us, and then me overwriting everyone else for the final draft. The major problem was keeping the voice as consistent a possible from section to section, since we didn't want a particular section to stand out in a "Oh, this must be the part Dozois put in" kind of a way. This was occasionally difficult, since, as a good modernist, Daniel prefers things to be as stark and minimalistic as possible, where a lot of the effect of my work and George's depends on color and the richness of the detail and the emotionality of the prose (making it either "evocative" or "purple," depending on your tastes). I handled this by putting back in a lot of the color and detail work that Daniel had cut as unnecessary to the plot, and also by adding paragraphs rich with color and detail early on in the novel as well, so that there'd be a consistency of tone from beginning to end. As the one who was doing the smoothing draft, I got the final say most of the time, although, of course, I consulted George and Daniel on controversial points. Daniel, I assume when you were growing up, you always imagined you would be collaborating on a novel with Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin. Am I right?

Daniel Abraham: Of course, but I always imagined it more as a regency romance with overtones of William S. Burroughs. Seriously, it never entered my mind as a possibility until George made the proposal. But I read over the draft they had and the outlined notes for how to move forward with it, and it was a good looking project. Plus it was Gardner and George. All very Marlon Brando offer-you-can't-refuse. What did you each learn about your collaborators while working on this novel?

Daniel Abraham: [As Gardner mentioned] that I'm a modernist and they aren't. Gardner especially had to go back in after me and put back in a bunch of sections that I'd yanked out as being unnecessary. Gardner is much more interested in the lushness of the language and imagery. George is an absolutist on keeping the narrative voice closely identified with the protagonist. I think we all had to bend a little bit to make the story's voice work.

Gardner Dozois: I think that's what makes the book successful, in fact. In a good collaboration, you combine your strengths rather than your weaknesses to produce something that none of you would have been able to produce alone. Any of the three of us could have written a version of the novel by ourselves, but it wouldn't be the novel that you're getting here, and, in my opinion, it wouldn't be even remotely as strong.

George R.R. Martin: I learned that Daniel writes much faster than Gardner. Of course, pretty much everyone writes faster than Gardner. Even me. (Though some of my fans may have a hard time believing that). What do you think the novel gained from the collaboration that wouldn't have occurred if just one of you had written it?

Daniel Abraham: Apart from actually getting it finished? It's hard to tease out all of the things that would have been different, but I can throw out some examples. Gardner was the one who imagined this as a specifically non-Anglo protagonist. George was the one who laid in the Big Plot Twist. Especially in the novel version, I was the one who played up the murder of the European as a pivotal issue that Ramon's experiences in the wild both turned on and revealed. It's not a book that any of us would have written alone, and the other books--George's solo version, Gardener's solo version, mine--would probably all have been fine. They just wouldn't have been this.

Gardner Dozois: To comment a bit on Daniel's answer, the Big Plot Twist, if he means by that what I think he means (tiptoeing carefully to keep from giving major spoilers here!), was actually part of the plot from the very beginning--in fact, that was my original idea for the story in the first place, what the best way to hunt down a specific guy on the run would be. George was more fascinated by Maneck, the alien, than I was, though, and worked up a lot of the complexity of the character; he also did most of the stuff where Ramon and Maneck are exploring the differences between them and by so doing roughing out a picture of what it means to be human, what it means to be alien, and the common ground between them...and it was also George who had the idea of setting the novel in the same universe as my solo novel Strangers, and using some of the races and background I'd worked out for that. I was the most interested in the relationship between Ramon and the guy he ends up sharing the raft with. Daniel, who turns out to be a whiz at plotting, came up with most of the "wilderness adventure" plotline, and a lot of the "mystery" aspect, including the twists and turns of the Ramon-vs-the legal system section at the end, most of them I never would have come up with on my own in a million years. George, what’s your favorite part of the novel?

George R.R. Martin: Probably the interaction between the protagonist and his alien "keeper," Maneck. There's something very primal and powerful about throwing together two characters from vastly different backgrounds for a long and perilous journey, and just letting it play out. Genly Ai and Estraven on the ice and Huck and Jim on the Mississippi are classic templates for that sort of thing, and the models for our own river journey. I also love Gardner's future history, which he originally set forth thirty years ago in [the novel he mentioned,] Strangers, a much-neglected classic of the 1970s. "Shadow Twin," the novella version of Hunter's Run, was set against a similar background, but not necessarily the same one. When we set out to expand the novella to a novel, I suggested we make the linkage more explicit. It worked very well, I think. I wish Gardner would write some stories in his Strangers universe, it's a very rich one. And some enterprising publisher needs to bring Strangers back into print. Have you discussed doing another collaboration? Anything definite?

Gardner Dozois: We've talked about it. Nothing definite has come out of it yet. The most natural thing to do would be to write a direct sequel to Hunter's Run, and I'm sure the publishers would like that, but none of us really have any concrete ideas for that, so unless somebody takes fire with the idea, it's probably not going to happen. Another three-way collaboration of some sort, not related to Hunter's Run, is a possibility I wouldn't rule out, never say never, but there are no specific plans in the works for one. What is each of you currently working on?

Daniel Abraham: I'm doing the final edits on the Long Price Quartet books. The third one of those--An Autumn War--is coming out this summer, and I'm waiting for notes back on the last of them--The Price of Spring. I'm also working on a new series under a pseudonym for Pocket Books and writing the scripts for the Wild Cards comic book coming out from the Dabel Brothers. After that, there's a couple of projects that I'm looking forward to: another fantasy series to follow up the Long Price books, maybe a mystery. I'm also raising a two-year-old, so watching a lot of Sesame Street is in the schedule too.

Gardner Dozois: I'm mostly working on editing original anthologies. I have two major ones in the works that are co-edited with George R.R. Martin, a cross-genre anthology called Warriors, from Tor, that will contain stories by Big Name science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and even romance writers, and a tribute anthology to Jack Vance called Songs of the Dying Earth, stories written by other top authors in the world of Vance's famous novel The Dying Earth, which is coming out from Tor in the U.S. and HarperCollins in the UK. With Jonathan Strahan I'm editing an original anthology called The New Space Opera II, a follow-up on our The New Space Opera anthology from 2007, both from Eos, and with Jack Dann I'm editing an original fantasy anthology called Dragons, a follow-up to our 2007 anthology Wizards (Penguin-Putnam). My most recent anthology is Galactic Empires, a six-novella anthology just out as an original from The Science Fiction Book Club.

George R.R. Martin: Let's see, I'm editing Warriors and Songs of the Dying Earth with Gardner, and also writing a story for each book (something my co-editor somehow weaseled out of doing, clever fellow that he is). I am also editing a new Wild Cards triad for Tor. Inside Straight, the first volume of what we're thinking of as "Wild Cards, the Next Generation," is scheduled for release [this month], and we've already delivered the next book, Busted Flush. Next up is Suicide Kings, the concluding volume of the triad. And of course, I am working on A Dance With Dragons, the fifth volume in my fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. That's the project that takes up most of my time, as it has for years. These are huge and complex books, and always seem to take much longer than I expect.

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