THE CONFLICT over the Falklands could be considered to be an "instant" war that came up suddenly out of nowhere. But at least one novel that is uncannily on the mark as regards this international crisis was three years in the making. The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica by John Calvin Batchelor (due out in May of next year), was signed up by Dial editors Juris Jurjevics and Allen Peacock last winter. It's set in 1996, at which time the islanders, abandoned by the British navy, as the book would have it, are forced to flee Port Stanley for South Georgia.
This unintentional foray into crystal- gazing, naturally, is unsettling for Batchelor, whose first novel, The Further Adventures of Halley's Comet (1981) predicted global revolution accompanying the mid- 1980s reappearance of that celestial body. As he describes it, what he's created is"dystopian fiction, not an oracle." Another odd part of the experience is the way his friends now react when he discusses his latest project. Before, "they asked me why I made up these islands. I showed them an atlas and they still didn't entirely believe me." One of them, poet and science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch, requests only that Batchelor never decide to put a nuclear war into one of his books.
At Avon, editorial director Robert Wyatt reports that one of their authors, Robert Houston, has just departed for Argentina, with fiction on his mind. From idea ("how about a novel about the Falklands?") to contract to visa took under two weeks. "Last year we sent him to Kurdistan, and he wrote Ararat, which is coming out next November." Houston, who speaks six languages and is obviously an aficionado of small wars, teaches at the University of Arizona when he isn't globetrotting. Two of his thrillers have been published by Avon (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday! and Cholo, about Peru), while Pantheon, who did Houston's Bisbee '17 in 1979, is expecting him to turn in a historical novel about Nicaragua for fall publication. Says Wyatt of this intrepid, far-from-armchair adventurer, who is writing one novel while researching another in the midst of a war, "When he called from the Miami airport, waiting for his plane, I felt obligated to ask him, 'Bob, did you talk to your wife about this?'"