Tuesday, August 31, 2010
It was an intense week that felt far longer than seven days. The sheer volume of information passed on to us students by authors Tim Powers, K.D. Wentworth, Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Kevin J. Anderson, and Robert J. Sawyer--to name just some of them--is going to take a month or so to fully process. And that's not even getting into the pragmatic on-the-ground advice given to us after hours by winners from recent years who have gone on to publish successful works, such as Steven Savile, Ken Scholes, and Eric James Stone.
Two things do stand out already though.
The first is that I expected to return to home to the grind--now it's time to get back to reality. That hasn't happened. Rather there's a feeling that everything has changed. Words need to be going out the door to hit the market on a regular basis NOW. There are a hundred things that need to be done as far as publicizing and promoting, and oh yes, why I am I not seated at the keyboard generating text RIGHT NOW. Recreational reading, ha! That's good research time going to waste.
The second item to stand out is Robert Sawyer's talk on the importance of writing about big themes and controversial topics in speculative fiction. For me, the shift from idea- to character-driven stories in science fiction has been depressing. Yes, it's nice to have a protagonist who is a fully realized emotional being who develops over the course of the narrative. At the same time, why center the stories on timeless human conflicts that could take place at anywhere or anywhen? If we're going to do that, why not write literary fiction? Lord knows lit-fic pays a hell of a lot better than sci-fi.
Instead, shouldn't we be tackling the big philosophical ideas and potential future historical changes that could shape our lives in new and unique ways?
As Mr. Sawyer put it, Paul Atredies would have been completely out of place with no desert worms to ride and no universe in need of a messianic figure to steer a middle path between stagnation and horrific rejuvenating violence.
I want to write science fiction to be a part of the dialog that discusses the concepts, scientific discoveries, and technological impacts that make us who we are and what we might become. That's important. And I want to do it in the format of accessible stories with characters whose lives have been shaped by those world-changing ideas. And I want to make a decent living off it.
So it was tremendously reassuring to meet a writer who is already on that path and doing well for himself.