Interview With the Portland Mercury

In advance of my tour stop in Portland, Oregon, the Portland Mercury, that city’s fine alternative weekly, ran a short interview from me about Fuzzy Nation — but also then posted on the Web the nearly-complete interview I had with journalist Erik Henriksen. It’s actually just about the closet I’ve ever seen someone replicate in print form the drink-from-the-firehose complete hyperactivity I exhibit when I am an interview subject, so if you’re not completely burned out interviews of me by this point, I really recommend checking it out. Among the obvious topics (i.e., science fiction, writing, Fuzzy Nation, the OMW movie) we also touch upon why the new Star Trek movie sends me into a froth, burning effigies of John Adams, why books with messages usually suck, and novelizations of movies made from novels. It’s really everything you want in an interview and so much more. Drink-from-the-firehose more, in fact.

17 Comments on “Interview With the Portland Mercury”

  1. The discussion of novel-to-movie adaptation in the interview struck a nerve because last night my family and I saw an excellent professional production of Amadeus (in Bethesda, MD). Although I want to someday familiarize my teenagers with the Milos Forman-directed movie version, I also know that once they see it they’ll probably recall it better than they will the play, possibly to the same extent as if they’d seen the movie first. In the case of adaptations of novels, this effect may be even more severe. An adaptation may well have merits of its own, but there is always the danger of superseding one’s memory of the original work, no matter who does the adapting; in the case of Amadeus, Peter Shaffer “adapted” his own play but really had to rewrite it entirely, as anyone who’s familiar with both the play and the film knows.

    Even in music something similar can occur, as in the case of Maurice Ravel’s orchestrations of most of his solo piano works, which he did during compositionally fallow periods (he also orchestrated other composers’ works such as Pictures at an Exhibition). Ravel’s original piano versions are preferable for reasons of harmonic clarity, etc., but it’s the orchestral versions that always get radio play; evidently they’re thought to be superior merely because they’re orchestrated. Similarly, Bach’s solo keyboard works, originally written for harpsichord or sometimes clavichord, generally are heard as piano performances (usually by Perahia or Schiff on radio stations where I live), because of the centuries-old idea that the piano was simply inherently superior and that Bach and his contemporaries would have wanted it that way.

  2. As usual, a wonderful read (the interview). I can’t wait to read Fuzzy Nation. I see in the interview that your first convention was 2003 and I was “awwww dang” because my only 2 were 1988 and 1989 (Worldcons both – I jumped in the deep end).
    I haven’t been able to afford going to a convention lately but I really really should. And I will, one of these years.

  3. When the nice lady from the movie company said, “It could be made into a monster If we all pull together as a team, it’ll be huge” she didn’t also ask, “Oh by the way, which one’s Pink,” did she?

  4. Yes! Books with messages DO suck! Unless it’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” Then it’s okay. :-)
    I feel the same way about songs with messages by the way. Entertain me, don’t try to train me.

  5. John, all I can say is I am relieved you curse in your casual conversation as much as I do. All this time the other interviewers were artfully rearranging your actual words to fit the medium. And here I was thinking I would have to clean up my F bombs to be a HUGE science fiction writer. Glad I can cross that off of my list.

  6. Books with messages DO suck!

    No, books with messages don’t necessarily suck. What sucks is books that cruise along perfectly happily until the author stops, announces that there will be a message, and minor-character-who-is-a-stand-in-for-the-author-only-younger-and-hotter proceeds to explain the message, at which point the book starts up again.

    Stay in school. Don’t do drugs. Friends don’t let friends vote Republican.

    Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, messages…

  7. To my mind, the major difference between novels (or songs, or whathaveyou) with A MESSAGE and those “without” is simply one of poor-vs-good writing, period. IOW, all books have a message, even if it’s nothing so much as “Hey guys! Isn’t this Cool?!?” And often the message is actually a question, which is when it gets really fun. But just like plot or characterization or exposition, it’s not the element itself that we notice when it’s noticeable, it’s the poor way it’s been written. Plenty of ineffective novels fail to layer in the plot unnoticeably, or have expository lumps, or moments where big flashing signs fire off in your head announcing THIS IS AN IMPORTANT CHARACTER MOMENT FOR YOUR NEBULA CONSIDERATION!!
    Similarly, it’s the ineffective writing that gives us those AND NOW FOR A MESSAGE FROM YOUR AUTHOR moments. The good writers hide all of that so that you never notice that the plot has moved from index-card-27 to index-card-28, that Luke has had his Campbellian-required Refusal Of The Call moment, or that liberal-progressives are going to destroy the universe.
    IOW, the good writers are sneaking the messages into your brain without you ever noticing it! O.O

  8. The problem with books with a message is not necessarily the message as the delivery. Heinlein wrote fantastic books and was also trying to pass along a message. But the characters epitomized the message he was trying to send, so the message was sonsitent with the plot. A counter example would be the Golden COmpass series. The characters started making choices that were inconsistent with how they had been constructed so they could stay on point with the message. I’m sorry I don’t have a concrete example, I just remember being pulled out of the narrative a few times because the characters were behaving differently than they should have. Each time it was because “The Message” needed them to do something else. Those are the kinds of books with a message that suck.

  9. “”if I watch it I’ll just sit there and go, “Errpherrrawr.”””


  10. MMORPG???

    I actually enjoyed the movie, for the characters and the humor, but the plot/writing sacrificed science for action and pacing. Let’s hope the sequel is better.

  11. @#6— Personally, I’ve never been able to make it through Stranger in a Strange Land because of all the “MESSAGE.” Which makes me really angry because the first chapter is awesome, and then it all goes terribly awry.

    @#11—UGH. The Golden Compass started out so well, and by the end I was throwing it across the room and screaming. (And it wasn’t just a Catholic thing –even my Atheist friends were POed about the bizarre ending that seemed tacked on just to be anti-Lewis and without any redeeming value.) Good grief. And I was even madder because I’d ADORED his Ruby in the Smoke trilogy…….He DOES have the ability to write compelling characters and great plots….and he threw it away ON PURPOSE.

    I think the deal with books with a MESSAGE is that the message has to be subtle enough not to overwhelm the story. I mean, Tolkien and Lewis both had a MESSAGE. Heck, even Alexander’s Prydain series has a message, when you get down to it. But it’s subtle. AND it follows the story, it doesn’t fight with it.

  12. I loved ‘Stranger’ in spite of the Message(s). There’s something satisfying about learning to grok ‘grok.’ ;-)

    Trivia – how did this book get David Crosby thrown out of the Byrds? (showing age here…)

  13. Really fun interview to read, especially the last two lines! AND the rant about J.J. (can’t get the science we know now right) Abrams (I think maybe you’ve been reading my mind, unfortunately for you). Only I couldn’t really enjoy that movie and will likely skip everything else he ever does, ’cause, well, he’s a STAR and is very unlikely to ever learn anything (and has already publicly said he doesn’t care about the science, period).

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