Dydeetown World

I want you to read Dydeetown World.

Mainly because I really, really like the novel. Authors are asked all the time which books are their favorites.  I usually hedge because I like various books for various reasons.  The Keep because it gave me an international audience, Sibs because it wrote itself so quickly, The Select because it made me so much money, The Haunted Air because I love the theme.

But Dydeetown World has a special place in my heart, though I haven’t the faintest idea why.  So it bothers the hell out of me that no one’s reading it.

Maybe it’s the title.  I’m the first to admit it’s a sucky title.  Reminds people of diapers.  I hadn’t thought of that when I named it.  The Dydeetown of the title is the UN building which, in this future, has been turned into a whorehouse.  (Some might say that’s truth in advertising at last, but let’s not get sidetracked.)  When the new tenants moved in, the complex was renamed Aphrodite Town; over the years the name devolved to Dydeetown.  On my future Earth, everything’s for sale, thus… Dydeetown World.

This story developed from an opening hook that had lain fallow in my notebook for years.  The plot, characters, tone, milieu, just about everything in the story sprang from that one sentence:

I gathered from the medium-size Tyrannosaurus rex running loose in his yard that Yokomata discouraged drop-in company.

You have no idea how badly I wanted to open the story with that line, but it simply didn’t work.  I’d need too much backfill.  So it wound up opening section 4.

It started as a short story – five, maybe six thousand words tops.  A quiet little SF tribute to Raymond Chandler whose work has given me such pleasure over the years.  As part of my usual process, I took all the tropes of noir P-I fiction and gave them my own twist.  I’ve got a down-and-out private investigator with an addiction, I’ve got the tired, seamy city, I’ve got the seedy club owner who’s the go-to guy for anything illegal, I’ve got a full crew of various underworld sociopaths.  Only one person in the whole cast has any decency, and that’s a clone of Jean Harlow who’s a Dydeetown whore with (you guessed it) a heart of gold.  She’s the “Dydeetown Girl” of the novella’s title.

But that wasn’t the title I started with.  The working title was “Lies” because that’s mostly what the story is about.  We all say we revere the truth, but sometimes a lie can be stronger than the truth, better than the truth.  There are vital lies – the ones that can give you hope, can give you the strength to keep going when the truth would break you.  And sometimes, under the right circumstances, a lie can become the truth

I set it in the far future I had developed for the LaNague Federation science fiction stories (four novels and a handful of shorts) written early in my career.  But “Lies” was going to be different.  Rather than bright and full of hope like its predecessors, this story was going to be set on the grimy, disillusioned underbelly of that world.  I wanted to move through the LaNague future at ground level, take a hard look at the social fallout of the food shortages, the population-control measures, the wires into the pleasure centers of the brain – things I’d glossed over or mentioned only in passing.  But despite the downbeat milieu, the story would be about freedom, friendship, and self esteem.

Beneath its hard-boiled voice, its seamy settings, and violent events (Cyber/p-i/sci-fi, as Forry Ackerman might have called it) were characters trying to maintain – or reestablish – a human connection.  I disappeared into the story, and had a ball writing it.  So much so that it came in at three times the projected length, with a new title: “Dydeetown Girl.”

A novella.  One that none of the sf magazines wanted because it was too much like detective fiction; and which the detective mags rejected because it was “sci-fi.”  I began to fear my ugly-duckling hybrid would be doomed to perpetual orphanhood.  The wonderful Betsy Mitchell was editing for Baen Books then and bought it for one of their Far Frontiers anthologies.  From there it went on to reach the Nebula Awards final ballot for best novella of the year.  It didn’t win, but just seeing it listed was sweet vindication.  The ugly duckling had become a swan.

Betsy prodded me for a sequel.  I said I didn’t think there was any story left.  She said, “What about those urchins?”  (I won’t go into an explanation of that reference, but this is an example of what good editors do: They inspire as well as edit.)  That triggered a second novella called “Wires” which Greg Benford said had one of the best opening lines he’d ever read.  The second novella triggered a third, “Kids,” that resolved all the leftover issues from the first two.  (I had a thing for plural nouns as titles.)  Both were published in Baen’s New Destinies anthologies.  I rewrote all three into a novel and called it Dydeetown World. Easton Press published a leatherbound signed first edition and Baen did the paperback with a marvelous cover by Gary Ruddell.

I recently reread it to spruce it up and got a little verklempt at the end.  Not simply because I wrote it – I’m the first to admit I’ve written my share of flawed fiction – but I find Dydeetown World ultimately uplifting.  Its future Earth is a dirty, mean world, but it can’t prevent the bond that can form between an adult and a child.  And let me tell you, once that bond is formed, you’re risking all kinds of hell should you try to interfere.

Although written for adults, Dydeetown World wound up on the American Library Association’s list of “Best Books for Young Adults” and on the New York Public Library’s recommended list of “Books for the Teen Age.”

Remember that opening hook with a Tyrannosaurus rex used as a guard animal?  Think about that: in a story written in 1985 I used a dinosaur cloned from reconstituted fossil DNA, but I tossed it off as background color.

If only I’d thought to stick a bunch of them in a park…

So that’s how Dydeetown World came to be.  I want you to read this one, damn it.

Dydeetown World