New Release Interview: Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer


sawyer-redplanetbluesPut Alex Lomax on Mars, and what do you get?

A private eye willing to learn all the secrets the red planet holds—no matter the cost of what he digs up!

Robert J. Sawyer has long been one of the best science fiction writers working in the field, a writer possessed of weaving sci-fi within noir-ish mysteries to produce a finely wrought tale. He has done that again with Red Planet Blues, available today in bookstores.

Mars has long fascinated writers and readers a like. It’s not a surprise. Humanity loves making what is unknown known. The red planet is the epitome of that, a dot in the sky, featured in so many science fiction novels I can’t even count them all.

And Robert J. Sawyer has gone back.

Here is a bit more about Red Planet Blues:

Robert J. Sawyer, the author of such “revelatory and thought-provoking”* novels as Triggers and The WWW Trilogy, presents a noir mystery expanded from his Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated novella “Identity Theft” and his Aurora Award-winning short story “Biding Time,” and set on a lawless Mars in a future where everything is cheap, and life is even cheaper…

Alex Lomax is the one and only private eye working the mean streets of New Klondike, the Martian frontier town that sprang up forty years ago after Simon Weingarten and Denny O’Reilly discovered fossils on the Red Planet. Back on Earth, where anything can be synthesized, the remains of alien life are the most valuable of all collectibles, so shiploads of desperate treasure hunters stampeded to Mars in the Great Martian Fossil Rush.

Trying to make an honest buck in a dishonest world, Lomax tracks down killers and kidnappers among the failed prospectors, corrupt cops, and a growing population of transfers—lucky stiffs who, after striking paleontological gold, upload their minds into immortal android bodies. But when he uncovers clues to solving the decades-old murders of Weingarten and O’Reilly, along with a journal that may lead to their legendary mother lode of Martian fossils, God only knows what he’ll dig up…


Shawn Speakman: RED PLANET BLUES is published today. Tell Unbound Worlds readers a bit about your new book and its main character, Alex Lomax?

Robert J. Sawyer: RED PLANET BLUES is my twenty-second novel. About half of my previous ones are, to one degree or another, science fiction/crime crossovers, going right back to my first, 1990’s GOLDEN FLEECE, through my Nebula Award-winning THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT, my Hugo Award-winning HOMINIDS, and TRIGGERS, my hardcover novel from last year that comes out in paperback today, alongside the RED PLANET BLUES hardcover. But RED PLANET BLUES is my first novel to have a professional detective at its main character.

Alex Lomax — the one and only private eye on Mars — is a classic noir hard-boiled detective, very much in the mold of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, although he’s also got a hefty dollop of that other great character played by Humphrey Bogart: Rick Blaine from CASABLANCA.

Alex was enormously fun to write. He’s rough around the edges, quick with a quip, fancies himself quite the womanizer, and isn’t above bopping someone on the nose. Of all my protagonists — and I say this as a guy who has had both dinosaurs and Neanderthals as main characters — he’s the one least like me, and writing him was quite a refreshing change from the ivory-tower academics who tend to people my novels.

Speakman: The book is a fun combination of science fiction and crime/mystery noir. What made you want to meld those two sub-genres together?

Sawyer: All the things that have fascinated me in life involve picking up clues. In science fiction, the reader picks up clues from background details that help him or her understand the universe in which the story is set. In mystery fiction, which I’ve always loved, you pick up clues to solve the crime. And in science — especially my two favorite ones, paleontology and astronomy, which are observational as opposed to experimental — you pick up clues from nature that help you develop theories.

Speakman: You mention paleontology. Martian fossils are featured prominently in RED PLANET BLUES. Did you have to do research into paleontology? And, if so, what did that research comprise?

Sawyer: I’d intended to become a paleontologist professionally; I was accepted to major in that at the University of Toronto, and even had a residence room assignment, when I decided I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to make the crazy dream of being a science-fiction writer work. I’m friends with Phil Currie, one of the world’s great dinosaurian paleontologists — in fact, I hope to see him next week at my Edmonton book-tour stop. Well, Phil always wanted to be a science-fiction writer, and I always wanted to be a paleontologist, and it amuses us both that, in some alternate universe, he’s me, and I’m him.

I already knew all the terrestrial paleontology I needed for this book, but it did present interesting challenges. Even at its ancient wettest, Mars was never very wet — and most Earthly methods of fossilization require percolating groundwater. I had to work out a way in which remains of life forms from Mars’s Noachian era might have been preserved, especially once the great desiccation occurred, eliminating Mars’s open bodies of water. That was a lot of speculative fun.

Speakman: Originally, RED PLANET BLUES was a novella and a short story that expanded into a novel. Talk a little bit about the process that took it from a short form to a long form?

Sawyer: Some of my publisher’s press materials phrase it that way, but that’s not precisely true. RED PLANET BLUES isn’t an expansion of my previous novella “Identity Theft,” which was a Hugo and Nebula finalist form 2005. Rather the novel starts with “Identity Theft” — it’s the first ten chapters — then adds thirty-seven more chapters of all-new material. RED PLANET BLUES is the longest novel I’ve ever written; even if you’ve read the original novella, you’re getting your money’s worth with new material.

There is indeed also an Alex Lomax short story — in fact, the last short story I ever wrote; I gave up writing short fiction in 2005 to free up time for scriptwriting and other things. That story, “Biding Time,” won Canada’s Aurora Award and was reprinted, to my delight, in a mainstream mystery anthology, THE PENGUIN BOOK OF CRIME STORIES, edited by Peter Robinson. I initially intended to incorporate “Biding Time” into RED PLANET BLUES — I think it’s one of the very best stories I’ve ever written — but it just didn’t fit into the flow of this novel, and so I left it out in the end.

RED PLANET BLUES was much harder to write than I’d thought it would be. First, the original novella was in a very distinctive noir voice, and I had to re-read Hammett and Chandler to capture that again, since it had been seven years since I’d first written about Alex Lomax. And I wanted to play fair with my readers. It would have made the novel easier to tell if I could have changed a few details from the novella, but I decided not to do that; I kept true to the worldbuilding, rules, and characterization I’d established with “Identity Theft.”

Speakman: Noir is known for its sequels. Will we be seeing more from this world and Alex Lomax?

Sawyer: There’s no book sequel under contract, but I may very well write one at some point. At the moment, I’m more excited about trying to get an Alex Lomax TV series off the ground. Since my novel FLASHFORWARD was adapted into a critically acclaimed series for ABC, and since I was one of the scriptwriters for that show, I’ve found that I can get just about every Hollywood or Canadian studio meeting that I want, and as we gear up to the summer sales season — the studios hear pitches mostly in June, July, and August — I’m getting ready to shop the RED PLANET BLUES television series.

Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer is in fine bookstores now!

Take a trip to the red planet…

Shawn Speakman is the author of The Dark Thorn, an urban/epic fantasy hybrid novel featuring Richard McAllister, a homeless knight who finds himself embroiled in a long-running war between the Church and the fey Tuatha de Dannan. When Shawn isn’t writing, he maintains the websites for authors Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, and David Anthony Durham, as well as runs The Signed Page. Learn more at!