Daily Archives: July 14, 2009

When Guardian Columnists Say Dumb Things

Several e-mails today from people who want me to put a hammer to the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries for this statement yesterday:

This is a golden age for British science fiction, chiefly thanks to a wave of writers who are tackling an area their American rivals tend to leave well alone – far-future set, space-operatic, hard sci-fi. Americans tend to set their sci-fi in soft (ie, scientifically unsupported) near futures. Wimps.

Leaving aside whether this is a golden age for British science fiction (which as it happens is a statement I tend to agree with), this is in fact a fairly ignorant statement by Jeffries. Dear Mr. Jeffries: Meet Elizabeth Moon. Meet David Weber. Meet Jack Campbell. Meet Robert Buettner. Meet Sandra McDonald. And unless memory fails me, there might be at least one other American writer out there who has written a series of best-selling, award-nominated, highly-acclaimed books generally considered space-operatic, not to mention scientifically supported. His name escapes me at the moment. Perhaps it will come to me.

The point, however, is that none of these writers are exactly toiling under a rock; nearly all of these authors has at least flirting acquaintance with best seller lists and some measure of acclaim. They’re not difficult to find. Some of them might even be sold in the UK. Yes, I’m aware that military science fiction (which most of the above write) is not synonymous with Space Opera. But the two sub-genres overlap rather a bit, and these writers write in the overlap (also, not everything written by the above is straight on MilSF, Drake’s recent trilogy being an example).

Also, I really would like Stuart Jeffries to go up to Elizabeth Moon and call her a wimp. I like imagining all the things Moon, a former lieutenant in the US Marines, a sometime paramedic and a woman who raised a child with autism, could oh-so-easily do to him. When she’s done with him, maybe he can say the same thing to McDonald, eight years in the Navy, or Buettner, who was in military intelligence, or Hemry, who also spent years in the Navy.

Mind you, I’m well aware Jeffries was trying for a bit of snark, and of course I love me some snark. But snark works better when it’s not completely couched in ignorance. Try again, Mr. Jeffries; try better.

On Charles Brown

People have been asking if I have any particular memories of Locus editor/publisher Charles Brown, whose death on the way home from ReaderCon has prompted a flood of reminisces and tributes in the science fiction quarters of the Internet. My own memories of him are relatively few; I’m closer to the younger members of the Locus staff, among whom I count several friends, and the time I had with Charles was relatively limited.

Nevertheless, a couple of years ago I was at a book fair in Oakland and while I was there I was invited up to the Locus office, which is also Charles’ house, to be interviewed. The house is absolutely lovely, filled both with art and with Hugos (one had to be careful not to stumble, lest one be impaled by a rocket) and Charles was a gracious host, giving me a tour of the place and in particular letting me visit his legendary archives, which to any science fiction writer with a sense of history is like being a kid allowed into the candy store.

As someone who has himself interviewed hundreds of creative people, I found his interview style interesting, since it largely consisted of the two of us having a conversation, me on a couch and him at his desk, and him seemingly being a bit grumpy about it. At the time I wondered if it was something about me, but I’ve come to understand this is was his usual mode, and in any event the interview, when it appeared in Locus, made me look good. So as an interviewee I certainly couldn’t fault his technique.

One of the things that always puzzled me about Locus interviews was that the printed articles are always the responses to questions, but never the questions themselves. I can’t speak definitively as to why Charles chose that method, but over time I guessed it was because he preferred the focus be solely on the author rather than shared with the interviewer. I think this says quite about about Charles, his respect and understanding of authors and his love of the genre of science fiction and fantasy.

Aside from the visit to the Locus offices, his path and mine crossed a number of times, generally at the year’s Worldcon but at a couple other conventions as well. He was always interested in what was going on with my career, and was never shy in his opinions, which as you might imagine I valued in someone like him, whose opinions of the state of the genre were vastly informed both by his sense of history and his understanding of what was going on in the genre now.

Although Charles was near-synonymous with the magazine he founded and published, I am genuinely delighted to hear that he made provision to have Locus continue in his absence. It would have been a shame to lose that voice and resource in science fiction. As I’ve mentioned before, I know several members of the staff as friends and think the world of them, and it’s grand that they’ll be keeping the magazine going. I’m doing my small part for Locus by finally purchasing a subscription, which I have been meaning to do for some time, but which I’m now motivated to do as much as a vote of confidence in the staff as anything else. Good luck to them going forward. I know they’ll do their founder proud.