How I Came to Write The Plot to Save Socrates
Paul Levinson for The Words Palette (December 4, 2006)
I think I first got the idea when I was 16 years old and a freshman – in the City College of New York – in Henry Magid’s Intro to Philosophy course. I had already known that Socrates had been sentenced to death for shooting his mouth off about virtue and piety and life in pursuit of truth, but I was stunned to learn in this class that, at least according to Plato’s account, Socrates had been offered a chance to escape his death sentence at the last minute – and had turned it down!
I know that, had I been in that same situation and been given a similar chance for continuing my life and work, I’d have grabbed it in a heartbeat. I knew it when I was 16, and I know it now. I never bought and still don’t buy Socrates’ explanation that although he criticized the state, he would never put himself above it.
I knew when I was 16 that someday I would write something about this. When I began publishing my science fiction in the 1990s, I knew the vehicle I would use to explore this fascination would be science fiction.
Here I should mention that I have hundreds of ideas for stories and novels. The key to whether I write something is not the idea, but when the time seems right to give that idea life on the page (and screen – both computer, and, I would never mind a movie or television show made of my work).
I wrote the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates in 2003. And the rest, on and off, and through some intense work with my editor David Hartwell, in 2004 and 2005. Unlike science fiction about the future, you have to get your facts right when the fiction takes place in the past. I re-read half a dozen of Jowett’s translations of Plato’s Socrates – with relish. I looked up ancient people any place I could find somewhat reliable information – from my 1954 Encyclopedia Britannica (which I love) to Wikipedia. Hey, I would’ve consulted Asimov’s Encyclopedia Galactica if it really existed! I read Stone’s Trial of Socrates and an 1848 encyclopedia of the ancient world. I spent time in the British Museum on a trip to London.
I wrote whenever I could – I don’t keep to or like fixed schedules in my writing. I steal time in the evening, morning, whenever the impulse strikes and I don’t offend too many people by canceling a social engagement and writing. This gives me an edge, and I love it.
I researched this novel almost as much as my nonfiction books, and more than any of my other novels. I enjoyed every minute I was writing it, and felt a pang of regret when it was finished.
I’m now about a third finished with the sequel.
Or listen to the first chapter of The PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES here
along with links to interviews
Paul Levinson writes science fiction, sf/mystery and popular and scholarly non-fiction. The Silk Code won the Locus award for Best First Novel of 1999. His novel The Consciousness Plague won the 2003 Mary Shelley Award for outstanding Fictional Work. He has published more than 25 science fiction stories, some of which are now available on fictionwise.com. His novella “Loose Ends“ was a 1998 Hugo Award finalist, a finalist for the 1998 Sturgeon Award, and a finalist for the 1997 Nebula Award. The radio play of his novelette “The Chronology Protection Case“ was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Play of 2002. Digital McLuhan won the 2000 Lewis Mumford Award for Outstanding Scholarship. His work has been translated into eleven languages.
Visit Paul’s website