This was the first time I'd read VotW since correcting the original proofs more than twenty years ago. I've been very proud of the book, and (back when it was in print) it was always the book I'd tell new readers to look at first.
My first reaction on reading the proofs was, "Hmm. I'm a much better writer now." And, as I progressed, my next thought was, "Wow! I couldn't write some of these scenes now if you held a gun to my head!" There are some intense moments--- quite good ones, too--- that I just couldn't duplicate now. It was a different time, and I was a different person.
The book has a rather odd history. I wrote the first part of the book in 1980 or 1981--- I think 1980, because I got my first word processor in '81 and the original pages are typewritten. Then I either got stuck, or I got some paying work, and the pages went into the file cabinet for several years.
When I finished Hardwired in the fall of 1984, I got inspired and wrote the first 100 pages of Angel Station in a grand burst of energy. And then inspiration failed, and I remembered the pages that were sitting in the file cabinet, and looked at them, and suddenly knew how to finish the book. So Angel Station went into the files while I finished Voice of the Whirlwind, which I did in mid-1985. I didn't get back to Angel Station for a couple more years, because Tor didn't want another big hardback SF novel from me until they saw how the others had done.
(I should have gone to another publisher, but I was young and stupid.)
I improved as a writer between 1980 and 1984. I could tell the difference between those original pages and the ones written later.
I'm not sure anyone other than myself would notice. The difference is in phrasing, or sentence structure, or a matter of emphasis. It wasn't anything I could fix, exactly, and I'm not sure it actually needed fixing. There wasn't anything wrong; I've just learned more efficient ways of doing things now.
And VotW remains my best job of plotting ever. The last few chapters have no less than four major reveals, in which everything you think you know is shown to be false, and a whole new interpretation of events is layered onto the old. From a technical standpoint, this is just so totally cool! I really have to salute myself! Plotboy strikes again!
Certain themes, I note, have remained constant over the years. The protagonist of VotW is a martial artist, and so is the protagonist of Implied Spaces. (The difference is that Steward is young, and in training, and thinks about martial arts a lot; whereas the other guy is a lot older, and has been doing it for so long he doesn't have to think about it at all; and all this has a lot to do with my progression as a martial artist.)
In both novels, each protagonists is trying to solve a mystery that also brings into question fundamental issues of identity. Both are on a quest that takes them to different worlds and encounters with profoundly alien beings. Both are essentially immortal; both aspire to the status of sage; both quote poetry to themselves. One views the world through the prism of Zen; the other is dealing with existential issues. Each is obsessed by his own past.
The differences between the two books are more profound than the similarities, but I'd give too much away if I went into details. Each book reflects the author: one was written by a young, ambitious, and extremely poor man who lived in a dubious neighborhood full of drug use and violence, and who had just found his voice as a writer; the other is written by an established guy living in material comfort in a rural idyll. VotW was written by someone deliberately performing technical experiments, and thinking hard about them; Implied Spaces is written with unconscious competence, by someone who doesn't have to think about the technical stuff much at all, because it's all so ingrained that now I just sort of do it.
Despite Whirlwind being the Zen book, Implied Spaces was written by more of a Zen author.
Inevitable commercial notice: Voice of the Whirlwind will appear from Night Shade Books, I believe in July.