Not too many writers produce even one book. Fewer still come out with two books in one year. And who among them has ever had one of those works published in three volumes?
But author, physicist, and Lawrence resident Tony Rothman has done just that and he will appear at the Lawrence Library on Tuesday, June 30, at 7 p.m. to sign and discuss his new books.
The single volume is “Firebird,” a novel set at a fusion research center that resembles the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (where Rothman’s father worked and where he got an early dose of physics), which is locked in a technological race with a European research lab. A near-fatal incident occurs that could change the future of the world, and the reader is forced to wonder: Was it an accident, or sabotage?
Rothman’s three-volume work is titled “The Course of Fortune,” and marks the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege of Malta, one of the most fiercely fought battles in history. In 1565 some 40,000 Turks and corsairs invaded the island of Malta, which was defended by 600 Knights of St. John and another 6,000 to 8,000 soldiers and untrained Maltese irregulars. After nearly four months the Turks gave up.
Rothman’s story spans 15 years during the mid-16th century — as the Ottomans and Christians vie for control of the Mediterranean. The novel’s protagonist is a young Spaniard who flees his homeland in search of adventure, soon finds himself in the company of the Knights of Malta, and unwittingly becomes a participant in a chain of escalating and horrific events.
Born in Philadelphia in 1953, Rothman and his family moved to Lawrenceville when he was six, after his physicist father got the job at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. “So I spent my formative years climbing around the machines there. It was natural that I became a physicist,” he says.
His father was also “a big time science fiction fan,” and co-founder the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society. That interest also was carried on by the son. “My first published book was a sci-fi novel I wrote just after getting out of college; in fact, I started writing it during my senior year final exams period to avoid studying.”
That was at Swarthmore College in 1975. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas, Austin, in 1981 and did post-doctoral work at Oxford, Moscow, and Cape Town. He has been a lecturer at Harvard and on the faculty at Bennington, Illinois Wesleyan, Bryn Mawr College and Princeton.
“Writing quickly became compulsive, and for most of my life I churned out something every day,” says Rothman, the author of more than a dozen books and plays (www.tonyrothman.com). “The only reason to write is because it’s easier than not to write, but as I’ve gotten older I admit I’ve become lazier.”
His mother, Doris Rothman, “remains at the age of 92 a practicing psychotherapist,” he says. “Both parents were musical and she was much more into the arts than sciences, which undoubtedly explains my schizophrenic existence.”