With The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild (paperback), science fiction writer W. Mahlon Purdin is concluding the ScreenMasters trilogy he started in 2017 with The Rise Of Farson Uiost and continued later that year in Sargasso. In the following email interview, he discusses the origins of and influences on this story, as well as his plans to continue this series.
I always like to start with an overview of the plot. So, what is the ScreenMasters trilogy about, what is The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild about, and how does The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous books in the trilogy, The Rise Of Farson Uiost and Sargasso?
The Rise Of Farson Uiost was written as a story about humanity coming to a crossroads where all of our misconceptions and preconceptions were swept aside, leaving us in a situation where only our very best would do. What would we do without our prejudices? If freed to just be basic human beings, what would we do?
This trilogy was the opportunity to create a world where all of the sources of prejudice —impediments to our success — were removed. Age, beauty, education, fear, food, health, height, language, longevity, overpopulation, politics, religion, and wealth were all swept away with the ScreenMasters’ arrival. Everything that used to work in our broken world was useless in the new one. The true characteristics of our nature were suddenly in full prominence. Kindness, forgiveness, love, truth, understanding, intelligence, openness, and ingenuity were all we had. People, in this new world, would have to communicate without hindrance. This book offered the fibril frame, an intricate and pervasive interface among all people allowing the truth to flow freely. Everyone knows what everyone knows. No secrets.
The first volume, The Rise Of Farson Uiost, is also the story of two children, adopted to the same family but unrelated, who came together through separate, horrible tragedies only to find their best friend standing beside them. Farson’s and Karina’s love powers this first volume and gives the reader a glimpse into the achievements and accomplishments of a new race of human beings, set free in eternity to become a race of greatness. In Farson, the beginnings of the Emers’ world, now called Emerald Earth, begin to reveal themselves in adventure and exploration. Sargasso, the second volume in the series, is the story of the Emers and humanity finding a safe harbor where all the good of humanity flourishes in great power and wisdom. The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild, the third volume, brings the reader to an understanding of how all the years of hatred and violence on old Earth came to be. It shows us how the life of a young girl, ruined by prejudice and avarice, became a life of wonder and grace. Her story mirrors the violence of old Earth and the old human race, and guides us into a true utopia that no one of the previous age could have possibly envisioned. No one, that is, except for Farson Uiost.
Where did you get the idea for The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild, when in relation to the other books did you come up with it, and how did the story evolve, if at all, as you wrote it?
Sitting at home one night, about ten years ago, I received a phone call. At first it sounded like a solicitation, and I almost hung up. “Are you William Purdin?” Yes. “William Mahlon Purdin?” Yes. There was a slight gasp and a pause. “Do you have a sister named Marsha Louise Purdin?” Yes. I was wondering how she knew of my deceased sister. “And, you have another sister named Judith Carol Purdin?” Yes. Then the caller started to cry. Through her tears of relief, I learned that she had been looking for me for many years. She told me a story from the life of my grandmother, a person I had never met. She told me of the Rothschilds’ deal to marry her off, how she ran away, was captured and held by a “ranger” in Oregon who raped her endlessly, resulting in two children: my mother Ida, named after her mother, my grandmother; and my aunt Esther, whom I also never knew. She told me that, in desperation, Ida had appealed to the Rothschilds to return with her two children, but she was shunned. Ida Marie Rothschild then went to Paris to appeal to her grandparents, who helped her, but denied the return to the Rothschilds’ fold. Then in despair for her helpless children, she hung herself in Paris, hoping her death would set her children free.
Is it a true story? I don’t know. I have been unable to find my grandmother’s birth certificate. It is not where it should be. There is no notice of her death that I can find, and I have been looking. But it’s a good story, and one that actually may be true. I wanted to tell it. So, I incorporated this story into The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild.
The story did evolve as I wrote it, but I remained true to the story I was told. The teller was Valerie Harmon-Curtis, of Florida, who was married to Esther’s son. The years after Ida’s suicide were not part of the original story, obviously, and were written to give Ida Rothschild a new life of purpose and import. It was the least I could do.
It sounds like The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild, and this trilogy, is a sci-fi space opera. Is that how you see it, or is there some other genres at work in this story as well?
Yes. I didn’t really plan a space opera in the beginning, but by the end of volume three, I knew I was writing one. The saga starts in 1884 C.E. with Ida Marie Rothschild’s birth and ends (if that’s the correct word) in 7772 E.E. in “The Battle Of Emerald Earth.” It covers well over 7,000 years of evolution and experience. I recently did an interview with HopePunk writers, and we felt a strong affinity. I have also written twenty-seven books of poetry, and all of these books are peppered throughout with poems and songs.
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild but not on The Rise Of Farson Uiost and Sargasso?
Yes. The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild was inspired by the brilliant poetic novel The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, mostly for its way of telling the story through snippets and short tales about the people who had died in Spoon River. Masters let their epitaphs tell their stories. I have been an avid reader of many genres and of The New York Times, where I worked once, and which I have read every day for over forty years. So, much of my writing has a journalistic feel to it.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of them have a big influence on The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild?
In the 1990s, there was a television series entitled Space: Above And Beyond, which, to me, was one of the greatest series ever aired. Its grittiness and practicality definitely influenced me in writing The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild. Obviously, I have seen every episode of Star Trek, including Discovery. But, honestly, Captain Kirk and all of his successors are always in a fight of some kind. As Sun Tzu said, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” There have been way too few science fiction movies like Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt (his best role?) and The Martian with Matt Damon. where humanity overcomes adversity not with guns and epic explosions, but with brains and imagination.
I write utopian novels that offer my readers a vision of the future they may never have thought of — a brightening of our prospects, if you will. I wrote a column challenging all science fiction writers, of all our subgenres, to write a utopian vision of peace and prosperity. I want them to see just how tough it is to do, and how strong a moral imperative beckons us to do it. Too many — way too many — modern science fiction writers write of a darkening future that is just like today, only much, much worse. We owe it to our readers to try harder, to hope harder, and to merge our creativity with a vision that, if you believe the arc of history quote, and I do, promises a future, with effort, that is much, much better than today.
As you said, you also write poetry. How, if at all, has writing poetry influenced your prose writing, and are there any poets who were a big influence on The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild?
The lyric nature of poetry lends itself to deep thinking. My poetry gave me the vehicle to write about many topics, broadening my view of the world, and the fact that I have continued writing poetry for over sixty years has given me a chance to evolve a perspective and grow as a writer.
A.E. Housman’s poem “I did not lose my heart in summer’s even…” tells of a soldier in a mortal struggle with a man he came to love. Thomas Hardy’s great poem “The Man He Killed” tells the same story but in an even more heart-clenching way. I fought in Vietnam, and have written poems like those myself. The waste of human life through aggression and senseless attachment to others’ call to war is a theme immemorial. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 inspires me in its commitment to the power of love. That poem and the Bard’s great sonnet, CXVI, deeply helped me express the love between Farson and Karina, and also between Brittany and Ian, and Viera and Voul. Langston Hughes’s moving work “Dreams” is the lead-off poem of “BOOK I: The Beginning” in The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Now, The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild was originally released in 2016, but my understanding is that you revised the book quite a bit for this new version. What exactly did you do to it and why did you feel those changes were necessary?
In 2016, before I had an agent, I put it up on Amazon so I could print out a copy and see what it looked and felt like at that point. I took it down from Amazon, and put it up on IngramSpark. Eventually all three will be on IngramSpark. Farson has been revised eight times, and Sargasso five times.
Writing Ida was a personal experience for me, as I mentioned, and integrating that into the story was an idea that came late to me. In the first rendition some integrating was there but not to extent in the final edition, and Ida Rothschild’s life and role in the book was greatly intensified. Some of these changes occurred while writing The World Of Nor [which is the fifth book of the series; we’ll get to that], basically because of ID>>Karo28689’s prominence in that story.
I know Amazon has a “used copy” on sale for $55, but that had nothing to do with me. I have never promoted the books on Amazon and have no plans to do so.
Now, as we’ve discussed, The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild is the third and final book in your ScreenMasters trilogy. But you have more books in this series in the works: I’ll Ask Her In The Morning, which is slated to come out later this year; The World Of Nor, also due out this year; and The Battle Of Emerald Earth, due out in 2020. Is there anything else in the works?
I have three more books in this series I would like to write, making nine in all. The WorldMakers, ZZ>Arkol25609 And The Age Of Man, and the final one — which is already written, but I will add to it — Walking On Emerald Earth. If I complete them all, it could be called an ennealogy. So, yes, they are all part of the series, though I’ll Ask Her In The Morning might be considered a side story since it is the story of CT<<Dinsil2371, a robot and an important character in all of the books. This book is about his previous human life.
Lastly, if someone enjoys The Dreams Of Ida Rothschild, what sci-fi space opera of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
For space operas, [Isaac Asimov’s] The Foundation Trilogy for its scope, [Frank Herbert’s] Dune for its character development and imagination, and [Orson Scott Card’s] Ender’s Game for its treatment of violence versus understanding and compassion.
Two more series come to mind: The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, for its amazing, detailed planet building, and Allen Steele’s important series, Coyote, for its detailed exploration of a new world. Not to mention Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End just for the fun of it.