“Where Has All the Science Fiction Gone?”

A couple of weeks ago, I did a talk at the Kenton Country Library on the topic “Where Has All the Science Fiction Gone?” — it was the overall theme of a larger symposium, so I applied myself toward it. As it happens, the Cincinnati public television station sent someone to make a recording of my blatherations, and now they’ve put the entire talk — 74 minutes — online, in streaming Microsoft video format.

Here’s the page that will pop up a standalone video player (I’m currently the top feature, but I imagine that will slide down over time)

Here’s the page that will run in a browser window.

In addition to the general talk, I also read from two works: The first part of the first chapter of Old Man’s War, around about the 48-minute mark, and also “New Directives for Employee – Manxtse Relations,” a short-short story which I suspect almost none of you know about, at about the 1:04 mark. I also name drop a lot of folks, including Charlie Stross, China Mieville, Hal Duncan, David Louis Edelman and other current writing notables during the course of the talk, and make some general points about the state of science fiction today. And of course you’ll get to see me blather on for an hour and a quarter, apparently without drawing breath. It’s a skill.

Those of you who have never seen me in action are, heh, well, in for a treat, I suppose. One of the things about this video is that I stand and pace during the talk, which means that the poor cameraman always had to pan to keep up with me; sometimes I walk right out of frame and it takes him a second to catch up. It’s me, not him. Also, you’ll see that Ian McDonald’s description of me as “fidgety as a whippet” is not really exaggeration. I got tired just watching me. Also, clearly, I need to watch the “uhhhhhh” and “you know” moments. But by and large I think it’s an interesting piece, and if nothing else shows that I can extemporize at great length — which is to say I had no idea what I was going to say about anything until I opened my mouth and began to speak.

One thing: Patrick doesn’t actually call me every day. But I feel his presence. Yes I do.

19 Comments on ““Where Has All the Science Fiction Gone?””

  1. Well, neither version will open the file, so I’ll have to pass. However, my standard for fidgeting is Lew Burdette (retired pitcher, said to “make coffee nervous”), so you’d have to go some distance (or exhibit greater frequency).

    Mazel tov on the Campbell, by the way.

  2. Mac users alert: You will most likely be asked to talk to the digital hand on this one (at least with Safari, I didn’t try Firefox or IE Mac). But before you try anyway and subsequently think bad words at Cinti public television, install this:

    Flip4Mac Windows Media component

    Then it works like a(n Android’s) dream. Also — and this may not be so in a Windows browser — whenever John moves his edges wriggle. Video artifact or fidgeting that actually causes spacetime distortion? Only our host can say. I just know I’m only going to listen while I work so I don’t get a headache.

  3. Didn’t “New Directives for Employee – Manxtse Relations” come in that little extra thing along with the Subterranean Agent to the Stars hardcover? I remember it being a fun little story.

  4. I love what you said about Star Wars and the metachlorines, I was irritated by the same thing for the same reason. It’s the sort of discomfitting thing I couldn’t convey to my friends in the theater as easily as I could my popcorn. A contrived explanation of that sort of mystery satisfies nobody; not the guy who just wants to believe in the force, or even the guy who does want an explanation, because the next thing out of that guy’s mouth is going to be “ok, so what are metachlorines?”

    Turns out they’re made up. Who knew? Nobody, they were too busy suspending disbelief to notice. Duh, George Lucas.

    It got me thinking about how much more romantic the first Star Wars movies were. Now I’m trying to put my finger on which romantic traditions are part of the mish-mash.

    But I strongly disagree with you about the automation of public washrooms, which is the most viable, hygenic alternative to me operating everything in there with my feet — which I have done.

    Have you ever heard of a frontiers-of-science oriented radio program called “Quirks and Quarks?” Probably not, it’s Canadian, but the tone and inflections of your voice are pretty close to those of guy who hosts it, Bob McDonald.

    Nice lecture, really got me back in gear for classes.

  5. Bill,

    I want to tear your throat out to stop you from saying it again.

    Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?

  6. Very interesting material, I was especially tickled to see Galactica come up so much. While I appreciate concerns about media domination of SF, I think Galactica and to a lesser extent Firefly gave us SF entries into the recent crop of truly excellent scripted dramas (including Veronica Mars and Deadwood) that do deserve extended discussion.

    Unfortunately, in my case the movie mysteriously ended with our host beginning to discuss the characters of Alien as working-class schmoes, which seems to indicate I missed some subsequent reading goodness. How much have I missed, and have other people played it through successfully to the proper end? I can’t make it play well with jumping forward to check.

  7. Bill,

    You don’t have a teenage daughter thats uses, ‘like’, ‘You know’ and the rest, do you?

    Actually I do, but are you saying I should treat John as if he were my teenage daughter?

    I treat him like someone who has invited me into his home.

  8. Hi John — It’s Patsy from CET. Wandered over to see your site and say thanks again for letting us tape. Your piece enlivened our homepage content. :)

    And you wear the tiara well, by the way.

  9. John,

    I can’t believe I sat through the whole thing! Then again, I had stuff to do in PhotoSHop – work related – so I could listen to it all. Loved the whole talk. Couple of things, if I may:

    Tell me, does Krissy cringe when you make jokes like these at home? My wife does.

    You do say “Y’know” an awful lot. I do, too. I guess I am sensitive to it since I speak alot for my work and I can’t say y’know alot. Or “Ummm…” Try this sometime. Watch it again and give Athena a quarter for every time you say Um or Y’know. She’ll be able to buy either a used Miata or a year of college at Bennington.

    My wife made me practice before reading in public. It makes a huge difference. I recommend it for everybody. Also note that talking slower makes you easier to understand. Some words got mangled coming out of the beard. You’re not talking as slow as you think you are. Ever.

    Please do not snort when wearing a body mic. It sounds like the bull in the pen. I speak from experience. Also, don’t burp into the mic. Uck.

    The bit about the male restroom is funny. I like the automation

    I really, really, love the overall tone of this talk, John. It answers alot fo questions I have about the current stateof Science Fiction.

    Your Fermi is dead on.

    Finally, I was really touched by the reading. Your crying during the reading is absolutely wonderful. You are a good man. You are a great writer. Wow.

    Good work. I’d love to see you read in person sometime. Slower. With more breathing.

    (I wrote this all with a stuffed toy dog on my head. Time to go play with the kid)

  10. I’m with Jason. . . Can’t get past the Alien bit at 1:02-ish. Tried with both links.

    I didn’t overtly notice the “you knows”, and I had a college prof whom we habitually counted 47 “particulars” in a 30 minute lecture – I’m often sentitve to that. Still, I don’t count the number of “the”s in a speech, so I gues the “You knows” have simply bounced off my backbrain.

    When you started reading, I walked across across the room and picked up the book and read along. I thought you were projecting into the character when you got all verclemft, until you clued us in at the end.

    I thought the book was beautiful. And I liked the stuff blowing up (except for our hero – eww). Waiting impatiently for LC. Please stop winning awards and having fun with legos and get back to work.

  11. There does seem to be a sound drop-off in the “Alien” bit, although if you wait (at least for me) the sound comes back after a moment.

  12. Given some time the recording seemed to behave better, and I was able to move to the post-Alien portion, though I haven’t had the time just yet to actually finish listening to it. Whatever the difficulty was, it appears to have been transitory.

  13. The wriggling edges look like some sort of video interlacing problem, as if the odd and even fields got swapped around. I’m also using a Mac, so it might indeed be Flip4Mac-specific.

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