Keeping the Jungle Back

Under the Canopy grew out of two things I'd read, years apart, that suddenly clicked together rather nicely.

The first was Somerset Maugham's story "The Outstation", about two Englishmen who are overseers on an Asian plantation and isolated from their own culture. The upper-class Brit holds on to his Britishness in the midst of their "alien" environment; the working-class man wants to adapt to local ways. One of the two comes to grief.

Doesn't that sound like a good premise for a science fiction story? Move the action to a truly alien environment (another planet), get rid of the British class war, and make the conflict arise solely out of two different approaches to living.

The other thing that helped kickstart my novel was a Scientific American article about rainforests. That led to at first casual and then extensive further reading, as I got caught up in the ambience of the humidity and the insects and the omnipresent green and the pervasive smell of mildew. There was my setting: an entire planet covered with jungle rot.

I made the two strangers in this strange land both female. One is an autocratic woman who has built a little queendom for herself on this isolated world and refuses to budge an inch about anything. The other is her newly-arrived, more liberal assistant who can be both tactless and headstrong. The jungle claims one of them.

A third leading character in this story is the planet itself, which I made as close to a living figure as I could. I named the planet Gaea -- the "Great Earth-Mother" name from Greek myth that had not yet come into such common use in SF as it is today. Then about three months before Under the Canopy was scheduled to be published, John Varley's Titan appeared in the bookstores. Remember the name of the living planet in that one? Yup. Gaea.

I notified Varley of what was about to happen. He replied that writers who steal from the same source have to expect that sort of thing once in a while. 

Review from Publisher's Weekly:

"Barbara Paul has written a marvelous novel -- told with a fine wit and peopled with three-dimensional, idiosyncratic characters. It is very difficult to put down."

N.Y.: New American Library, 1980, ISBN 0-451-08619-8

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Page created June 28, 1995; last updated October 23, 2000.