Kevin J. Anderson is stranded in the lounge of an auto-repair shop in Gunnison, Colo., quoting Rush lyrics. He is reminded of a line from Headlong Flight, one of the tracks on the band's latest album, Clockwork Angels. "All the journeys of this great adventure/It didn't always feel that way," goes the song. "That's what we'll be talking about later on, calling this a 'great adventure,'" he says over the phone. "But right now, it's kind of a pain in the butt."
A science-fiction and fantasy novelist by trade, Anderson wound up in Gunnison after his car broke down on the way back from a hiking trip. What makes being there a pain is that he's supposed to be at home in Monument, Colo., some 300 kilometres away, getting ready to fly to Toronto, where he will launch Clockwork Angels – the Novel, which he wrote in collaboration with Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.
Even if the best-selling science-fiction author hadn't just finished a steampunk epic based on the band's latest album, odds are that Anderson would be thinking of Rush anyway. "Rush always has inspired a lot of my writing," he says. When he wrote his first novel, Resurrection, Inc., in 1988, he was thinking of Grace Under Pressure, which had come out four years earlier. "As I was writing that book, Grace Under Pressure was a focal point for me, and I intentionally tried to make sure that all of the lyrics from the album showed up in some disguised fashion in the book," he says. "Every song from Grace Under Pressure – at least in my head – inspired chapters and scenes and characters."
Anderson naturally mentioned Rush in the acknowledgements, which brought the book to Peart's attention. "That's how we became friends," he says, "but there have been many other points where the theme of one of their songs gave me an idea to hang a story on." He mentions One Little Victory from the Vapour Trails album, which is about being up against insurmountable odds and looking for small triumphs instead of a big win. "I used that as part of the framework for a Dune trilogy that I wrote with Brian Herbert, called The Butlerian Jihad," he says, "where there is the human race against a seemingly undefeatable enemy, and they have to fight for one little victory, one battle at a time."
Clockwork Angels – the Novel grew out of discussions Anderson and Peart had about steampunk, the retro-futurist fantasy genre that imagines a Jules Verne-ish world of steam-powered aircraft and clockwork computers. "Neil likes steampunk," Anderson says. "I had written some of that in earlier books, and he was talking to me about it because he had these images in his head that he thought might make good ideas for songs."
Over time, those ideas became a broader story, which in turn became the basis for something bigger. "Clockwork Angels – the Novel came about in a very organic way," Anderson says. "It wasn't like they tried to tell a story in the album, and needed a novelist to translate it into something that made sense. The story is told in two different ways, and you can either receive it through the music, and make up the details of the story yourself, or you can read the novel and see what Neil and I came up with as our interpretation.
"I hope that if you read the novel, it's a great novel whether or not you've heard the album," he says, "but when you hear the album and you read the novel that they should be greater than the sum of their parts."
Kevin J. Anderson will be signing copies of Clockwork Angels – the Novel at FanExpo Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit fanexpocanada.com.