So today is an odd and interesting anniversary for me. Ten years ago today, on July 26, 2006, my science fiction novel Life Without Giamotti first appeared in print. I self-published it under my own imprint, and while technically it was the second novel I released–Romantic, Memoirs of a Great Liner came out the previous year–it was certainly a momentous occasion at the time. In the past ten years I have gone on to much bigger and better books, such as the four novels that were published by Samhain Horror between 2013 and 2016 (Zombies of Byzantium, Zombie Rebellion, Doppelgänger and The Rats of Midnight), and I have another even more “serious” book (Eyes of War, co-written with Lucas Erickson) currently in process. Ostensibly there should be no reason to celebrate this little book, which has had few readers and achieved far less reach than my other books. But strangely, I do still love this book. And on its tenth anniversary–it’s still available and technically in print–I thought it was worth a celebratory blog post. Who knows, maybe some of you might actually like to read it? (The Kindle version is only 99 cents!)
Life Without Giamotti is hard to summarize. In 1976, Paul Conlon, a bookish 16-year-old from a wealthy East Coast family, finds himself stifled by his suffocating prep school life and begins writing strange stories on sheets of notebook paper as a means of escape. He invents an anti-hero, Steven Giamotti, a snide Brooklyn-accented punk anarchist who is deliberately the opposite of the milquetoast Preppy friends Paul finds exasperating. Writing the Giamotti stories is just an adolescent phase, but in the year 2000, when Conlon is now a successful science fiction author and a promising historian teaching at Columbia University, his long-forgotten character Giamotti suddenly appears where he has no business being: in one of Conlon’s “serious” historical novels. After leading a revolt of the novel’s characters, it becomes clear that Giamotti, who has somehow gained both intimidating intelligence and the power to move between different planes of existence, is seeking not only to gain entry to the “real” universe in which Conlon (and the rest of us) live, but perhaps to destroy it, thus erasing forever the distinction between what is real and unreal. Giamotti’s quest takes over 60 years and involves numerous twists and turns, and no one who encounters him can be entirely certain of what side they’re on or whether Giamotti will ultimately betray them.
In 2008, a copy of All Giamotti’s Children, the sequel to Life Without Giamotti, was photographed beneath the main sign at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The original book was also read there, but I do not know for sure that a copy remains in the McMurdo Station library.
If it sounds unconventional, that’s because it is. Life Without Giamotti is a very odd novel and one that a “mainstream” publisher would never have taken a chance on. Structured in four roughly equal sections, which can be read in any order, each one takes place in a different setting and is told from the point of view of a different character who encounters Giamotti and his quest. Many readers have been at first baffled but then intrigued by the novel’s curious structure, and I’ve heard from people who have read the book in various sequences and permutations. It was a very difficult and exhausting novel to write, and when I finished it in March 2006 I felt like I’d given birth. Putting the novel through its various stages of publication, including working with artist Eduardo Rodriguez on the cover art, was an eye-opening and fascinating experience. If I say so myself, of all my books Life Without Giamotti is the book that came into being the closest to being exactly the way I wanted it. After 10 years I still think it holds up remarkably well.
Other readers do as well. Life Without Giamotti is still, after 10 years, my highest-rated book on Amazon. It also has a sort of cult following that none of my other books have achieved. While they’re admittedly few and far between, I have occasionally received emails from readers amazed and intrigued by what they read, and it’s clear the book was a memorable experience for them. Life Without Giamotti has been read at both poles of the Earth, at a research station in Greenland, and at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. As recently as this month, July 2016, I signed a paperback copy and sent it to a reader and friend by request. I also sort of wished there was an audio book version of it. Not to sound vain at all, but I sometimes reread the book myself. I had it on my Nook, for example, during my research trip to Boston in the summer of 2014. I remember reading it while having dinner at the Green Dragon Pub on the Freedom Trail. There are a lot of memories with this book.
Over the years I’ve done various Giamotti-related posts. This picture of the Century Apartments (towered buildings in the center) is from this article; the climactic final scene of Life Without Giamotti takes place on a terrace in this real-life building on Central Park in New York.
Granted, it was 10 years ago, and I clearly made some mistakes. I think the book’s odd title is one of its impediments, and I regret I did not go with the alternate title, There Is No Winter (a phrase that recurs in the book’s text). As terrific as the illustration by Eduardo Rodriguez was, I should have been a bit bolder with the cover design. The book could probably have been shorter without losing much. And I confess as the years go by I’m less and less satisfied with the sequels I wrote, All Giamotti’s Children (2008) and especially Giamotti in Winter (2009). But all of this has me wondering if perhaps someday I should try to fix these problems with a “reboot.” Indeed I contemplated that exact course of action about three years ago, with an interesting twist. It’s still on my list of projects to develop when there’s time (if there ever is).
At the heart of it, Steven Giamotti remains one of the most indelible characters–and undoubtedly the coolest villain–I have ever created. If you read the notes at the back of the book you’ll discover that indeed it took 16 years, from 1990 to 2006, to write Life Without Giamotti; that’s a story for another day. But since I ended the saga in 2009, Giamotti the character has refused to stay completely “dead.” I think he’s still out there somewhere, perhaps trapped in a fictional universe he wishes he could escape. Maybe the strange, low-key, almost invisible longevity of this bizarre little book is due mostly to him: a fictional creation who somehow managed to escape the control of his creator.