The Morning After

My first novel.

Like many first novels, it's a tad too ambitious. For my maiden foray into the world of authorship, I chose to write nothing less than a science-fiction version of Euripides' The Bacchae. Might as well go for broke.

The plotline and theme of Euripides' tragedy had long seemed to me as if they were ready-made for SF, and I just wanted to give it a try. My version is too crowded with incident, a little too experimental in style. It's a temptation for first novelists that I rapidly succumbed to: a chance to pack as much into your book as you possibly can.

Even though I'd go about it differently if I were writing the book today, An Exercise for Madmen is my first-born and I still have a soft spot for it. There are parts of the novel that work very well, and I did learn things about writing from the bumpier sections. As a piece of high-striving fiction from a rank isn't terrible.

The story concerns a medical research facility that has been located on an isolated planet as a deterrant against contamination should some lethal virus escape. It's a highly disciplined, tightly-organized, work-oriented community in which everyone has a place and functions well and contentedly in that place.

Then a stranger arrives on the planet, an alien from an uncharted area of space. The stranger insinuates himself into the community, and almost immediately his influence is felt. Discipline becomes lax, work goes unfinished or is sloppily done, the whole attitude of the community begins to change...until eventually it all erupts into one wild night of Dionysian revelry that leaves the place a shambles.

The next day the stranger is gone and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces. They go about doing so in a particularly chilling way.

I've never seriously attempted to write predictive science fiction, so I got a big kick out of seeing one piece of imaginary research in my book eventually come true. I had a group of scientists working on developing a laboratory version of a substance called luciferin that's found in mushrooms; it's what gives the fungus its "glow". The modified substance was to be used to trace cancer cells in the human body. Just such a substance is now available to hospitals and physicians; it's called Luciferase.

Review from Publisher's Weekly:

"In this first novel, Paul, who has previously published only short stories, makes an impressive SF debut. Her morality tale is delightful and imaginative....Zalmox changes the disciplined, hard-working Pythians into sexual revelers...until morning-after sobriety brings with it alarming consequences."

N.Y.: Berkley, 1978. ISBN 0-425-03809-2

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