Books

In the right place at the right time with the right story

FIRESPILL by Ian Slater

ANDREAS SCHROEDER September 5 1977
Books

In the right place at the right time with the right story

FIRESPILL by Ian Slater

ANDREAS SCHROEDER September 5 1977

In the right place at the right time with the right story

Books

FIRESPILL by Ian Slater

(Seal Books, $1.95)

“I worry about things like whether it’s okay to phone my publisher collect,” Vancouver-based writer Ian Slater frets. “D’you think this promo blurb sounds alright? Do you really?” He leafs anxiously through a sheaf of biographical material which his publisher, Seal Books, has asked him to write for the promotional package accompanying their “Super-Release” thriller Firespill, Slater’s first published book. “I just hate writing this sort of personal stuff,” he confides, sighing deeply. “I think I’m going to have to get myself an agent very soon . . .”

He would appear to need one. Short,

dark-bearded, and somewhat timid, Australian-born graduate student Slater, 35, seems a little overwhelmed by his sudden burst into the complex world of big contracts and best-seller hype. Appearances, however, may deceive. This is, after all, the same man who, with no work experience other than frustrating clerking jobs in Australia, coolly answered a New Zealand newspaper ad for an oceanographic technician and talked his way into the job, and who in 1966 came to Canada and slugged his way through three degrees at the University of British Columbia (including creative writing and political science) while simultaneously writing radio plays for Vancouver CBC and movie reviews for a local weekly newspaper. This is also the man who, in 1973, wholly untried, unknown and unconnected managed to get himself a grand tour of the B-52 fleet of a security obsessed American bomber base in Washington State (“I don’t know,” Slater shrugs, grinning. “All I did was sort of write and

ask”), all for the purpose of researching the technical background for a novel (Firespill) he hadn’t yet written. And now, despite several classmates’ assessment that “Slater was a pretty good egg, but he was a dead loss with a pen,” he has managed to sell his first book to Jack McClelland for the new Seal Books (Canada) paperback line, to Bantam for the American and British paperback market, and even to a Norwegian publisher, all for a combined first printing of well over 500,000 copies—an amount so unprecedented for an unknown author that no comparative figures exist— and an expected $100,000 in royalties.

The novel, in the best disaster-movie tradition, plays ecological roulette on the grand scale, scripting the collision of two-

million-tonner “supra tankers” (one Russian, one American) off the BC coast, with a resultant oil and high octane spill covering more than 2,000 square miles. A cigarettesmoking sailor on an American destroyer racing to rescue the tanker crews inadvertently ignites the deadly mixture, turning the entire spill into a single gigantic holocaust which eventually threatens the entire west coast of North America. The clincher is that none other than the VicePresident of the United States (female) is trapped by the flaming spill while out on a brief Pacific fishing trip, and the only vessel near enough to attempt a rescue is an ageing Canadian submarine.

From a literary point of view, what will no doubt become a giant financial step for Slater amounts to only a very small step for mankind. On the other hand, the VicePresident of the United States aside, Firespill cannot legitimately be accused of

being merely a quickie mixture of yesterday’s sentiments and today’s headlines. With the recent launching of AlaskaWashington State tanker traffic along 600 miles of pristine BC coastline, Firespill may well find itself not only in the adventure/ thriller section, but also the prophetic literature category.

Obviously, McClelland and Bantam see it that way, and they’ve geared their promotional machinery to a fever pitch in response. Bookstores, drugstores, supermarkets and cigar stands across the entire continent are being showered with “shopper-stopping” Dayglo floor displays, special window streamers and book-size paper bags imprinted with the Firespill title. Barrel-of-books type displays called dump bins (at the word “dump” Slater understandably panicked and immediately phoned his publisher in Toronto for an explanation) will be de rigueur for all outlets. Seal Books has even invented a new drink, the “Firespill,” for the occasion, made of Amaretto, Cointreau, Courvoisier and table cream, and served in a dry-ice lined glass.

One might be forgiven the distinct impression that Slater can call his publishers collect any time. ANDREAS SCHROEDER