Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 410, March 25, 2007

"Every boy or girl should have a .410!"


Forge of the Elders: Okay, Here's the Deal
by L. Neil Smith

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
First published at L. Neil Smith at Random

As most of my regular readers know, I've been involved—it seems like forever, now—in the effort of finding myself a new literary agent who can actually do something for me, and with whom I can get along.

I've had two agents before this, and it didn't work out very well. I don't want an agent eager to rewrite my books. There are already too many editors and even a number of "fans" who want to do that. I don't want an agent anxious to "mold my career", either. I'm 60 years old, the author of 27 books, and my career is already moldy enough, thank you.

The principle point of all this hoohah is to find a worthy home for my "Ngu Family Saga", a collection of four big novels, two written and two planned, that begins with Pallas, continues with Ares and Ceres, and concludes with Beautiful Dreamer. By "worthy", what I mean is a truly first class New York house (not necessarily a science fiction publisher; I flatter myself that these books have some of the same mainstream appeal as Dune) and a genuine shot at Hollywood, as well.

A secondary but important objective is the resale of about a dozen of my "properties" that are currently "O.P."—out of print. This includes most of my early work, and in many instances I have to write to the original publisher and "revert" the rights, so my hypothetical future agent can offer them to somebody else. This kind of thing is essential in the career of a full-time writer—not only does it generate income, it also keeps your name before the public as you're working on big projects that may take a long time—but I've never pursued it myself, because I've always been too busy writing the next novel.

During this reversion process, I was surprised and delighted to discover that my novel Forge of the Elders (Baen Books, 2000) is still technically in print. I have no idea what the original printings were like (it appeared in hard- and softcover) but Baen still has 1500 copies warehoused somewhere that I suspect it would like very much to sell.

In today's book marketing terms, I have never measured up to my "potential", and I'm certain I've been a disappointment to many a publisher. The hardcover edition is supposed to be like advertising for the paperback, and the paperback, once it starts appearing in rack pockets, is supposed to sell out at once, as if it were a monthly magazine.

My books sell slowly, and they keep selling steadily for years—decades, even—but that isn't what today's publisher wants. You sell like that, you've got a respectable future as a literary figure, but they don't really want you. Some of them are even fairly rude about it.

Not Baen. Never Baen. They—Toni Weisskopf, specifically—have been uniformly kind and polite to me all through the seven years that Forge failed to become a bestseller. I'm very sad about that for a number of reasons, but the pertinent one here is that it's my favorite—and, I firmly believe, the best-written—of all my books so far. (Ceres is better, but you won't know that until I finally have an agent.)

If you haven't read it, here's what it's about:

After most nations rejected Marxism in the late 1990s, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Empire collapsed, the United States soon embraced Marxism wholeheartedly and eventually dragged the whole world backward, into the pit of collectivism. Now, as its "planned" economy inexorably disintegrates, the American Soviet Socialist Republic desperately lays claim to the newly-discovered asteroid 5023 Eris, and sends a ragtag expedition there, composed of the incompetent, the overly-competent, and a handful of obsolete heroes. But somebody (or something) is already there! The giant, molluscoid Elders are from Earth.

Sort of.

But they aren't human.

And they're individualists—and capitalists!

The book also offers three love stories, a little sex, a whole lot of interesting weapons, and hints at a connection to some of my other works.

As we sit here, the damn novel is coming true, right before our eyes. But Forge of the Elders has what you might call a checkered publishing history. Divided arbitrarily into thirds at the insistence of my agent at the time, who believed the public doesn't like "big books"—think of the ways he might have benefitted J.K. Rowling's career—it was originally published by Warner Books in 1990 as Contact and Commune and Converse and Conflict. When Time-Life bought Warner, they unilaterally cancelled the third volume, Concert and Cosmos; it was already finished and sat on a shelf in my office for ten long years.

Forge of the Elders was finally issued a full decade later, with its original title, as the single epic work it was always meant to be. It won's May, 2000 "Freedom Book of the Month" award, the "Freedom Book of the Year" award for 2000, and the 2001 Prometheus Award.

It also features one of the best cover paintings I've ever had.

I will always feel grateful (and a bit guilty) toward Baen. The only way I have of expressing my gratitude—and maybe alleviating a little of my guilt—is to make the final 1500 copies sell out fast. At that point, they can decide on one of two courses. They can reprint Forge of the Elders (very unlikely, I think) or they can let it go and, after a "decent interval" my hypothetical future agent can resell it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I need your help, and I'm willing to offer you an incentive. The day Baen informs me that the last copy of Forge of the Elders has been sold (provided that it's sometime in the next six months), I will publish, online and free for the downloading, a short story based on the novel. Forge of the Elders is basically a detective story—three of them, actually—featuring a human named Eichra Oren, his sidekick, a sapient dog named Oasam, and their employer, a Volswagen-sized nautiloid entity named Mr. Thoggosh. I've always wanted to explore their world more (we get just a glimpse of it in the novel) and write The Casebook of Eichra Oren.

This would be a beginning to that.

But wait—there's more!

If Baen decides to reprint—or on the day I learn that the book has been resold—I will publish another free Forge of the Elders story. From then on, whenever a printing sells out, I'll publish another story until there are enough to make a nice, big, satisfying collection.

How can you help? You can help me sell those 1500 books. Recommend the novel to friends, mention it wherever you go online (regrettably, it's more than a little pertinent to today's crappy politics), buy several and stock up on gifts for family, friends, and especially for enemies.

If you can't bring them around and make them see the light of freedom, at least you can mess with their digestion, cost them a night's sleep, and reduce their actuarial life expectancy by a few minutes.

That's better than nothing.

But remember, there are only 284 shopping days till Xmas!

Forge of the Elders cover thumbnail Forge of The Elders
Hardback, published by Baen Books, April, 2000
Winner of the Prometheus Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society (best Libertarian Science Fiction Novel of the Year) for 2000
Only 1,500 copies left!

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at


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