Archive for August, 2015

TT: The Golden Age of Wonder

August 6, 2015

News Flash!  This week’s winner of the Help Make Artemis This Summer’s Hot Destination contest is Steven Sheeley.

Remember…  The contest ends on August 10.  Need the details?  Don’t miss out on your chance!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Tangent.

ALAN: Okay, Jane.  Last time I asked you what sort of stories inspire “sense of wonder” in you and you weaseled on me.  No more delays!

JANE: My problem is that in order to give you a fair answer, I need to Tangent off onto a point…

Ready?

Wonderfully Fortuitous

Wonderfully Fortuitous

ALAN: Ooh! A tangent! I love those.

JANE: Someone said something about the age for discovering SF or Sense of Wonder or something is twelve.  I can’t remember who, do you?

ALAN: Let me see…

A rather obscure American fan called Peter Graham apparently first used the sentence “The golden age of science fiction is twelve” in an article published in a fanzine called Void in 1957. Less obscurely, the critic David Hartwell used the saying as the title of a chapter in his collection of critical essays Age of Wonders (Walker 1984, republished by Tor in 1996). The saying is also used (without attribution) in the Clute & Nicholls encyclopedia.

Does that pin it down sufficiently for you?

JANE: Fantastically…  I suspect Hartwell was paraphrasing Graham.  Hartwell’s extraordinarily well-read in the history of SF and SF-related commentary

In any case, what I was trying to get at is that I don’t have that single moment of discovery.  As I mentioned many Tangents ago, I ambled into SF/F through random selections from the library’s paperback book racks.  I certainly was a confirmed SF/F reader by age twelve, but I don’t recall any gateway book or author.  For me, it was pretty much ALL sense of wonder.

I didn’t even have many friends who read “the stuff” until I went to college.  That’s when I both met other people who read SF/F and had access to their libraries.  So, for me, there are two stages of discovery, the random one and the one where I read a lot of books that “everyone” was reading.

I hope that helps explain why I’m having so much trouble talking about specific authors.  Until college, I simply wasn’t paying any attention.

ALAN: Time for yet another tangent. I find what you just said to be a little weird. I always know the authors of books. It doesn’t matter what genre the book comes from, the author (and often the title) invariably sticks in my head, if only so that I can search out other books by those people if I enjoyed their work or avoid them like the plague if I didn’t! I simply can’t imagine not knowing.

JANE: This trait doubtless led you to becoming the excellent book reviewer that you are…

 As for me, I rarely know the author or the title…  I think that’s one reason I find the current trend of trying to make authors into celebrities so weird.  But that’s another topic entirely…

 In any case, acknowledging my handicap, let me see what I can come up with.

Anne McCaffery’s first two “Dragonrider of Pern” books really caught my attention.  I never viewed them as Fantasy.  Threadfall was some sort of alien element, not a “monster” or “magic.”  In fact, the series lost me when it began to focus more on Pern’s larger community.  The White Dragon, which was very popular, turned me off.  Everyone shouldn’t get dragons…  Certainly not huggy, crippled dragons.

But those first two books really grabbed me.  I read the more YA Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums and enjoyed (especially Dragondrums).  However, I read them with my “Fantasy” hat on, if you know what I mean.

ALAN: Oh gosh! You and I have so much in common. Like you, I loved the first two dragon books and like you I considered them to be SF, not fantasy. They ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and so I was eagerly looking forward to The White Dragon. I had to wait a long time, but it eventually appeared. And I absolutely hated it. I’ve been utterly unable to read Anne McCaffery ever since.

JANE: Ah…  Your “Rama” moment.  I understand completely.

ALAN: Shortly after the publication of The White Dragon, I was at a convention where a fan asked Anne when she’d be writing some more dragon books.

“Never!” thundered Anne, and she went on to explain that she was bored by dragons and bored with Pern. Unfortunately, in later years she really needed the money, and so she returned to Pern again and again, for purely commercial reasons. But I can’t help feeling that her heart wasn’t in it.

JANE: I didn’t pursue Pern, either, although I dipped in occasionally, hoping to find some of the same feeling I’d gotten from the first couple of books. There was lots of interesting material and some nice world-building, but the Sense of Wonder wasn’t there.  If I wanted to read peasant politics, I’d rather read straight, unapologetic Fantasy.

However, I didn’t reject the books I’d liked and, in fact, a few years ago Jim and I gave them to our then high-schooled aged nephew, who apparently enjoyed them.

ALAN: Oh good – it’s always nice to introduce a new generation to the books we enjoyed.

JANE: Jim and I do a lot of that, actually.  Our nieces and nephews are resigned to receiving books as gifts for Christmas and birthdays.  Actually, “resigned” may be too strong.  I just heard from my sister that the least readerly of her children was so happy with the book we sent him (baseball anecdotes) that he’s asked for it to be his bedtime story.

ALAN: That’s my job as well – I’m in charge of books for my godson and his sister, a responsibility I take very seriously indeed.

JANE: Maybe we should form a club…  The Serious Book Givers…

But, we tangent again, which seems to be the theme of this week’s piece more than ever.  Next time, I’d really like to bring up something that occurred to me when we chatted about Arthur C. Clarke a few weeks ago.

For now, I’ll leave you wondering!

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Crazy Busy

August 5, 2015

It’s been a crazy, busy week…  That and a tree have me thinking about how important weeks – or at least days – that are not crazy-busy are to a writer.  First, the crazy-busy stuff…

Imagination in a Tree

Imagination in a Tree

Curiosities, my forthcoming short story collection, is now proofed and in the hands of the production people.  Will we make our goal of having it ready for Bubonicon at the end of August?  Stayed tuned…

Last week, I mentioned that I’d written some pieces for Marshal Zeringue’s  Campaign for the American Reader blog network.  The link for Artemis Invaded in “My Book, the Movie” wasn’t available until later in the week.  Just in case you missed it, here it is.

I also put in a bunch of time on those “backstage” things everyone assumes a full-time writer has an assistant to do.

And that brings me to the tree…

About a year ago, the house diagonally behind my own sold to some people who, on an erratic schedule, have a passel of kids visiting.  They must like those kids because one of the first things they did (well before the cosmetic work on the front yard, which is what most people think is important) was transform the big mulberry tree in the back yard into an inviting play space for the kids.

They did this by artistic pruning that eliminated a bunch of small lower limbs, leaving only those strong enough to take the weight of an adult.  This, combined with the tree’s own sturdy and not overly tall, structure, created what seems to be the most wonderful place ever for games of pretend.

 In warm weather I work with the office windows open.  I’ve quite enjoyed the variety of games I’ve overheard unfolding.

There was the superhero one that involved Fireball and Thunder – and other heroes, too.  Those were just the names I heard yelled most often.

There was one that involved lots of wolf howls.  I had to restrain myself and not howl back.  I didn’t want to break the illusion that they were playing unheard and unseen.

There was one that I couldn’t guess the theme of, but during which one girl kept calling “Roxy!  Roxy!”  At first I thought she was trying to get the attention of one of the other kids, but then I realized that Roxy was one of the other characters – possibly a completely imaginary person.

There was one where “Bombs Away!” was a key element.  I couldn’t decide if they were imagining themselves on the decks of a ship or of a plane or of something else entirely.  There did not seem to be any actual dropping of anything although, given the heat that day, water balloons would have been a good addition.

There was the day the tree was definitely a pirate ship.

And, just a few days ago, I glimpsed a Ninja.  Well, a partial ninja.  He had a mask/head wrap, appropriate upper body garb, and a very nicely curved plastic sword.  His lower body, however, sported khaki shorts and sneakers without socks.

It’s nice to see kids playing without adult supervision or input.  It’s lovely seeing kids play unstructured, especially when so many of the kids I know seem tightly scheduled – often by their own choice – into various afterschool activities or summer camps or sports teams.

It’s nice to see kids just pretend.  Without a computer game or an I-pad or a phone screen as an intermediary.  I don’t have anything against structured play.  (I play computer games myself.)  However, I have fond memories of play – whether by myself or with other kids – that was built on nothing by odd scraps of information turned into dreams.

Some years ago, I crossed paths with someone I’d played with as a kid.  She asked me if I remembered how we’d talked about how neat it would be to grow up and have horses and then ride all the way across the continent to California.  We’d spent a lot of time talking about what color of horse was best.  None on the practical aspects.  She clearly thought this had been completely stupid.

I wistfully thought how wonderful it had been to actually believe something like that was possible, to have the freedom to dream and to dream BIG.  (I decided I wanted a pinto, if you wonder.)

I would have loved to have a tree like those kids have, a tree that can be anywhere, anyplace, anytime.  I hope I hear those adventures for a long time to come.  Maybe Roxy’s a wolf.  Maybe she’s a superhero who runs with Fireball and Thunder.  And maybe they get on a pirate ship, but end up needing to become ninjas…

I didn’t have that tree but, thanks to the generosity of a neighbor, I had woods in which to run.  Thanks to the willingness of my parents to let us take risks, I had water in which to swim and the world’s most indestructible rowboat.  And best of all, I had time to dream.

Time to dream is important.  It’s at the heart of creativity of many sorts, not just writing stories.  But these days, as I noted above, even the writers of stories don’t seem to get as much time to dream.  We’re all told to be crazy-bizzy, building mailing lists, fan bases, doing social media.

Gets so even a professional dreamer feels as if taking time to dream is a mistake.  There’s something twisted about that.

Maybe I should see if I can borrow that tree.