Questions I’m often asked. Part II: About Science Fiction!

Continuing a compilation of questions that I’m frequently asked by interviewers. This time, we’ll talk about…

 == SCIENCE FICTION==

 –What are your favorite Science Fiction novels?

GreatestSFReadingLIstStand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner, was simply creepy in how well it peered ahead and how accurate was its vision, as well as breakthroughs in both style and substance. It should be read alongside Vonnegut and Huxley and Heller. Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny, was a breakthrough in multicultural SF that was also gorgeous and exciting and all about rebellion! Ursula LeGuin’s Lathe of Heaven was darn near perfect. Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End is a gem of recent “singularity fiction.” Herbert and Heinlein provoke vivid arguments and I like that!  Bear and Robinson poke hard at our biological destiny. Banks and Stephenson believe in us and make me feel we might make it; that counts for something. For short fiction: Robert Sheckley and Alice Sheldon were peerless.

 See also my full list of personal favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels.

 –Which authors have most influenced your writing? 
 

201817627023143561_yPwhWOwz_cI grew up on Robert Heinlein and Robert Sheckley, moved on to Aldous Huxley and James Joyce, then thawed out a bit with Vonnegut and Amis and Sharpe. Finally, I decided to become a storyteller, and reacquainted myself with the clear, almost tribal rhythms of Poul Anderson. (See my list of recommended SF books for Young Adults.)

My favorite depends on which “me” you ask. The Serious Author in me, who comments on deep human trends, would like to think that he’s grounded by Huxley and Orwell. Popper and Locke. Brunner, Sheffield and Wells. Gilman and Delaney. Shakespeare and Donne and Homer and Swift and Defoe. Some night-crawling with Poe and Coleridge. Some world-girdling with Kobayashi Issa and Scholar Wu and South Sea tales.

LordLightOn the other hand, I can’ t write more than a page of heady philosophy or social speculation without feeling an itch… the itch to blow something up. To make something exciting happen. Or something fun. That’s when I know I’ve been influenced by the storytellers who made Science Fiction exciting. Like Anderson or Zelazny. 

But I guess the ones I revere most are those who briefly left me speechless. Unable to write or even move, because something in a perfect story left me stunned. Changed. I guess in that category I’d put Tiptree and Varley. Vonnegut at his best. Shakespeare. And Philip K. Dick. 

Ideally, those three personalities — the thinker, entertainer and “writah” — can get along. Collaborate. Work together in crafting a tale that speaks to the brain, heart, and organs of adrenaline. Well, you can try. 

–As a genre, where is SF heading? Will the more general population start to take it serious eventually? 

201817627023414467_oGTcLw10_cIn a general sense, Science Fiction is about expanding the available range of settings beyond the parochial present or familiar, freeing literature by extending it into realms of the possible. Fantasy goes farther, by diving into the improbable or impossible. 

This happens to match what’s done by our most recent and powerful portions of the human brain, the prefrontal lobes, or the “lamps on the brow,” that we use every day to explore our options, making up scenarios about tomorrow or the next day. These organs let us ponder the whole notion of “future” as a place, a destination. Nothing could be more human. 

Let others wall themselves in with their rigid genre boundaries and absurdly oppressive notions of “eternal verities,” needing to pretend that today’s familiar obsessions will last forever. (They won’t.) No verity is eternal, though some lessons are best learned and re-learned. 

PokeSticksWe in SF specialize in imagining that things might be different than they are. In exploring prefrontally the potential dangers and opportunities. As long as that’s our playground, no literary ghetto will fence us. 

–Has a fictional work every made you angry. If so, which one? 

Oh tons!  I try not to get my blood pressure or dander up though.

Heck, I even feel mildly positive toward Kevin Costner, who on-balance did more good than bad in his (visually gorgeous and big-hearted) film adaptation of my post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. (See my essay on the Costner movie.)

Only a few works make Frankmillerme stark fuming outraged. For example,see how I eviscerate Frank Miller’s horrifically evil and despicably lying piece of propaganda-for-evil — a movie called “300.”    

In other cases, such as when I co-edited STAR WARS ON TRIAL, I am less angry than concerned that people are missing an important chance to weigh the bad alongside the good. Star Wars has many appealing traits… but Yoda is one evil little oven mitt!

–How do you feel about Fantasy novels? 

Clearly we need both romance and reason, even in creative arts such as fiction. Craft without imagination is like a mill without wheat. Imagination without craft is extravagant… and sterile. 

LordOfRingsThe trend toward feudal-romantic fantasy may seem harmless. Heck, I enjoy Tolkien and steam punk and some of the best fantasists. But dreaming wistfully about kings and lords and secretive, domineering wizards is a sugary path that leads ultimately to betrayal. Because kings and lords and wizards were never our friends! Indeed, for most of history they were the chief plague destroying hope for humankind. 

Oh, some kings and wizards were less bad than others. But they were all “dark lords.” Our fixation on them is a legacy of the 10,000 years in which feudalism reigned, when chieftains controlled the fables by ordering the bards what to sing about. A long, grinding era when humanity got nowhere. When the strong took all the women and wheat, and forced everyone else to recite fables about how right it was. 

Till some of us finally rebelled. (Especially women!) It’s the Great Enlightenment and the most wonderful story ever told. The story that should have us all transfixed and loyal and grateful as all outdoors. 

201817627023538708_eFnT5b8r_cWe are heirs of the mightiest and best heroes who ever lived. Pericles, Franklin, Faraday, Lincoln, Pankhurst, Einstein, Marshall and so on. Heroes of flesh and blood, any one of whom was worth every elf and dragon and fairy ever imagined.  

For more, see my article: On the Differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Look, I like a dragon. I just want to remember who gave us a world in which I can go meet a dragon any time that I want — in books and stories and flicks. Not a world in which I cower in actual fear, because I actually think they are actually out there, because some king and his “sages” are keeping all the books for themselves. Imagination and good writing are enough magic for me.  FOr the rest?  Give me light. Let’s share light.

–David Brin

http://www.davidbrin.com

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2 Comments

Filed under science fiction, writing

2 responses to “Questions I’m often asked. Part II: About Science Fiction!

  1. Couldn’t agree more about John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. One of my all time favorite novels and perhaps one of the one of the more impressive feats of immersive world building in science fiction.

    There’s a moment in the novel where Brunner invents tons of news clips and then inserts the massacre that happened at University of Texas in Austin on the afternoon of August 1, 1966 — 17 dead, 32 wounded… And I read on for a few pages years ago thinking it was just one of the many invented events he inserts to develop the world — and then, I paused, wait, that’s my university, I’m a student, that’s a few blocks away….. An incredibly effective moment — an event so horrific that it fits in such an uncanny way into Brunner’s pseudo-dystopia.

  2. “…dreaming wistfully about kings and lords and secretive, domineering wizards is a sugary path that leads ultimately to betrayal. Because kings and lords and wizards were never our friends! Indeed, for most of history they were the chief plague destroying hope for humankind. Oh, some kings and wizards were less bad than others. But they were all “dark lords.” Our fixation on them is a legacy of the 10,000 years in which feudalism reigned, when chieftains controlled the fables by ordering the bards what to sing about. A long, grinding era when humanity got nowhere.”

    !00% agree with you. And it’s not just in fiction; I can never understand why people in the U.S. are hung up on British royalty to this day.

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