For Your Approval
The Family d'Alembert Series
NOTE: This information is for historical reference only. This series of books has been re-imagined, updated, and revised as the Agents of the Imperial Special Investigation Service series.
Roger Elwood, who was the editor at Laser Books, was also choosing books for the publishing company that, at the time, was called Pyramid Books. In that capacity, he'd been in contact with the estate of E.E. "Doc" Smith to publish Smith's earlier classic series and to make series out of some of his later works. One of these later works was a novella called "Imperial Stars" that appeared in the May, 1964 issue of If Magazine. The story was about a family of circus performers who were secretly undercover agents defending the security of the interstellar Empire of Earth. Smith had been intending to write more stories in this series, but unfortunately he died before any further works could be realized. There the idea languished for ten years.
Having bought several of my books for the Laser line, Roger knew I was a good writer, so he offered me a deal to novelize the original novella and then write nine more books in the series. To a young writer trying to establish himself, the idea of ten guaranteed sales was an irresistible temptation.
I had just a few things to work with. There was, of course, the original novella. There was a letter that Smith had written to his friend, Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, in which he made a few general remarks, primarily about the lead characters. And there was a chronology of the Stanley Dynasty from its founding up to the time "Imperial Stars" opens. (This chronology, with just a couple of significant changes, appears as an appendix to the final volume.) That was all I had to start with. There were no other notes, no outlines or story ideas, no descriptions of other characters. Fortunately, each chapter in the novella began with an encyclopedia entry, so there was some background on the general universe for me to work with.
People often asked me how much of the series was mine and how much was Smith's. The answer is very simple. If it wasn't in the first book or the chronology/appendix, it was entirely mine. Smith invented the universe and gave it its direction; I took that framework and built everything else: all further characters, all further situations, all further plots (including the story arc that threads through all ten books). In fact, a lot of the first book was mine, too, because in novelizing the story I nearly tripled its original length. In the original story, the villain -- who has organized a plot that encompasses two-thirds of the Empire -- never once appears on stage. This is a surprising lapse, since Smith was noted for creating some of the most memorable villains in science fiction. I corrected the oversight in the novel version.
A few words about the covers: Shortly after I completed the first book, I went to New York and met with Norman Goldfind, vice president of Pyramid. During the meeting, he uttered words no author ever expects to hear from a publisher: "What should we do about the covers?" After they revived me, the first two words out of my mouth were "George Barr." Not only is George a friend, but he's a Hugo-winning artist of enormous talent. In due course, George was contacted and ended up doing covers for the U.S. editions of the first four volumes.
Before the fifth book came out, Pyramid Books was bought by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, and the paperback line was renamed Jove Books. Apparently a new art director came along with the deal, because I received a cover proof for the fifth book that stunned me to my core. George Barr's elegant artwork had been replaced by glitz and flash. I'm told that the new artist, Stanislaw Fernandes, has won prestigious design awards in New York -- but that doesn't make me like the covers one iota more. To make matters worse, Jove reissued the first four books with new Fernandes covers, dropping the Barrs completely.
Jove was eventually bought out by Berkley Publishing. Unfortunately, the new art director decided not to make changes, and the whole rest of the series had Fernandes covers.
Ah well, I should be grateful for small favors. I have four books with beautiful George Barr covers. If you see them in a used bookstore, snap them up; those covers are the "real" ones.
A note on the title of Book #5: When I wrote the book and turned it in, it had the title The Bloodstar Conspiracy. A few months later, I remembered there had been a movie called "The Groundstar Conspiracy," and realized I had probably gotten my idea for the title from that. Not wanting to confuse people, I wrote to the publisher and told them to change the title to Appointment at Bloodstar, which they did -- but a copy of the manuscript had already been shipped off to England, and no one thought to tell the U.K. publisher about the change. Consequently, the British edition has my original title on it while the American edition has the revised title. I have no idea what the foreign language titles mean for any of the books.