My Favorite Bit: David Brin talks about Existence

David Brin is one of those authors that I probably don’t need to introduce. So let me tell you about the first time I met him. At the Denver WorldCon, I had signed up to do one of the inaugural Strolling With the Stars walks as one of the Stars. I ‘d just won the Campbell and, despite that, was having a severe case of imposter syndrome because the other star was David Brin. He was incredibly generous. I hadn’t sold a novel yet at that point, but he asked me about my fiction and then engaged me in the sort of “What if” discussion that I suspect he must go through when writing.

I shall always be grateful to him for his kindness that morning and for giving me a peek at his process. And now, he’s going to give you a peek as well by talking about his Favorite Bit of his newest novel, Existence.


Before I tell you about my “favorite bit” from the new novel EXISTENCE (June 2012:, I’d like to offer an aside — one piece of advice that I give students of writing.

Whatever their favorite genres, I recommend that new authors make their first major project a murder mystery.

The reason is simple.  All other genres let the author get away with flaws in plotting and suspense, by distracting the reader with genre-specific  razzle-dazzle, e.g. romantic tears or dying dragons or scifi tech-speak. But in a murder mystery, there is only one question; did the dramatic, whodunit revelation pay off?  Was it simultaneously both surprising and well foreshadowed?

Does the reader experience a pleasurable moment of self-loathing? “It was all there but I just missed figuring it out! I’m sooooo stoooopid!”If that’s how your reader feels, at that crucial moment, then she or he will buy your next book. That’s the wonderful, ironic fact.

I always try to have one or more suspense arcs in my novels — sometimes half a dozen, running in parallel. And I also circulate my manuscripts-in-progress to up to fifty harsh pre-readers, as quality control, before ever letting the publisher’s editors see it.  Achieving that special “aha!” moment is the one thing I fret over, above all else.

Which brings us to my “favorite bit” from EXISTENCE. In fact, there are several such moments and all have been fine-tuned to wreak maximum sado-masochistic tension and release from the customer. But one of them stands out.  It occurs when a diverse team of investigators are interrogating an “alien artifact” in order to determine whether its passengers — virtual beings who claim to carry a message for Earth — are for real, or an elaborate hoax.  And, if they are truly alien, how much of their message to believe. This process of peeling away layer after layer of deception and truth makes up one major theme.

My favorite moment… and that of more than a dozen pre-readers… comes when a Russian member of the commission has a sudden epiphany.“My God, I don’t believe it.!  It’s a…”

And no.  I will not finish that sentence here.  Nor did I give it away in the fancy-schmancy lavish premier-trailer that renowned web artist Patrick Farley made for EXISTENCE. ( )  A gorgeous 3-minute taste of the book that doesn’t give away any major spoilers, nor will I do so here.

But I’ve explained WHY it is my favorite bit. And why I always tell myself — even plunging into the heart of the sun or a distant galaxy — to write a mystery whodunit! And to make the surprised reader shout:

“Dammit, I shoulda seen that coming, it’s soooo obvious!”


Existence amazon|barnes&noble|indiebound


David Brin is a scientist, technology speaker, and author.  His new novel from Tor Books is Existence.   A film by Kevin Costner was based on The Postman.  His fifteen novels, including New York Times Bestsellers, have been translated into more than twenty language.   Earth, foreshadowed global warming, cyberwarfare and the world wide web. Davidappears frequently on shows such as Nova and is in demand as a speaker about future trends. His non-fiction book — The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? — won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.

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3 thoughts on “My Favorite Bit: David Brin talks about Existence”

  1. Très cool. The Uplift novels gave me many hours of great reading, and I’ve enjoyed your non-fiction columns/posts as well.

    Now I just have to learn how to write a whodunit . . .

    Grrr . . .

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