Patrick Swenson is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Ultra Long Goodbye. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Book Three of the Union of Worlds
Dave Crowell and his partner Tem Forno take on a case to help a retired Envoy find someone from Crowell’s immediate past. The connection to the previous Ultra scares makes the case extremely important, but the results could create political unrest on several of the eight worlds of the Union. Crowell is asked to not only find this person, but also to bring him death.
With the help of Dorie Senall—now governor of the domed city of New Venasaille on the colony planet Ribon—and an incomplete but unusual set of Tarot cards, they travel through the jump slot to Barnard’s Star and come across a shocking discovery. When Crowell realizes that newly gleaned information could aid in the previously impossible search for his dad, who is stranded on a far-off Ultra world, he considers making an ill-advised, sideways run at an antimatter universe.
With time running out and the consequences of traveling in and out of the Union of Worlds building, Crowell must answer the ultimate question: Can he finally make peace with the Ultras?
What’s Patrick’s favorite bit?
The Ultra Long Goodbye is about . . . well. Goodbyes. Certainly this is fitting considering it’s the third book of a trilogy. I’d like to think the books stand alone, but in all honesty, everything is tied directly with the books that preceded this final volume.
The book also continues to play with identity. When The Ultra Thin Man came out from Tor, it was a one-book contract, but I’d thought maybe it could go longer. I planted some subconscious seeds within it, not even knowing what they might mean. One of the first reviews of that book was a starred Publishers Weekly review that loved what I did with “Shakespearean riffs on identity.” My main character Dave Crowell is human. His partner Alan Brindos is human, but he becomes transformed, and suddenly his identity is in question. Book two was written and published two years later.
Fast forward seven years to the publication of The Ultra Long Goodbye. A long time between books, but only a year has passed in the book. In those seven years between books, a lot has happened in our own world. Covid, for one thing. My kid now identifies as non-binary, and their deadname Orion was changed to Artemis. (They were the first to remind me that in the myth, Artemis kills Orion.) As my kid self-identified within the LGBTQIA+ community, I did a lot of growing myself. So did my main character. Dave has come full circle in book three, and his partner since book two is from the same alien race that caused some of the conflict at the start of the series Dave now must understand his own identity as he continues his search for his father, missing since he was a boy.
Even at this late stage (Dave is also transformed due to aging effects of crossing the brane of several universes), he still does not understand the “Ultras” (the more insidious aliens that sought to conquer the known worlds of humans) or what the Ultras truly want.
This book has more plot twists than the other two combined. One of my early readers said there were so many that she wasn’t sure what characters were real and which ones were copies (because copying of humans into other versions of themselves plays big in the trilogy). Identity again, and appropriate. When the final “ah ha!” twist revealed itself, it was a revelation, and didn’t come to me until nearly halfway through my first draft. Everything had built up toward this moment after two and a half novels.
It was delicious. At least to me it was. I didn’t see it coming. I’ve always been an organic writer, trusting in the subconscious, and it definitely worked out this time, the final spin on identity evident, with heartfelt but ironic goodbyes informing the last scenes of the entire trilogy.
In the end, my favorite bits are those last scenes organically pulling the trilogy and its themes together. We are who we are, but sometimes you have to change directions and look past the light on the horizon and see what follows.
Patrick is the author of Rain Music, a dark fantasy with ghosts, music, and magic set on the Olympic Peninsula at the site where he runs the yearly Rainforest Writers Village writing retreat. His first novel, The Ultra Thin Man, appeared from Tor Books. The sequel, The Ultra Big Sleep, debuted soon after. In 2000, he began Fairwood Press (fairwoodpress.com), which has published over 120 book titles to date. He’s a graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop. He has sold short fiction to Unfettered III, Unbound II, Gunfight on Europa Station, Seasons Between Us, Crooked V.2, Like Water for Quarks, Madam President, and others. He has been a high school teacher for 38 years.