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Shaping the world

I think sort of pear shaped, hanging from heaven (a la Colombus) and maybe a little over-ripe is the image that takes my fancy. Possibly with a few emerging maggots… truly, they will turn into gauzy winged creatures soon. Ah, you can tell I write fantasy. In a somewhat different metaphorical mold, it’s hard to be a writer without being aware of the idea that we writers shape the world, rather like play-dough, or clay. I prefer the play-dough image myself, as we’re a bunch of clumsy brats, not master-potters.

The thing with this concept is that it’s both true and largely false. Books, the ideas in them do change and influence people. And people do change the societies we live in, and, rather more often, their own lives. The false part is where people like Harlan Ellison with his ‘afflicting the comfortable’ and editors who prate about their duty being to publish book that will educate the masses and words to that effect (translated, feed you swill until you become a pig, but a lesser pig, knowing your place) assume that: 1)people will eat swill 2)that the result of eating swill will be to make them into docile pigs (instead of a piggy-problem) 3)The writers and editors are actually in control of the swill and the direction readers will take from it.

Well, I think most of us – well possibly not the graduates of East Coast Colleges with degrees in English Literature and vaunting ambition in publishing – but us lesser mortals (it’s a point of view thing) know, instinctively, that it doesn’t work like that. Authors, of course, are shaped by their society, and publishing tends to follow trends not set them. Occasionally an author does break that, at least in part, but the publishing industry frowns on it. If they and their acolytes call it ‘ground breaking, unique, visionary etc., etc.’ (which they do, ad nauseum) the one thing you can absolutely certain of is that it’s yet another regurgitation of the party line. What happens is that books sometimes get through to people, sometimes a lot people, sometimes just the right one at the right time, and start them thinking. And that can change the world. But that’s not actually the direction that swill is supposed to take you. That’s supposed to do your thinking for you, and maintain the status quo, or at least the direction they see it as going. The strength I think of Golden Age books was that they awoke the imagination, got us thinking, and that they made some of us believe that we could ride to the stars, meet strange aliens, and kick their butts if need be. The eras that followed tended to do the opposite. There were always authors who broke out of that, and people who broke out of it despite the best (or worst) an author could do.

And that half the reason the world-shaping has been such a failure. The political wing that seized the levers of literature saw its power but didn’t understand the ‘thinking for yourself’ thing. They thought it was so they could think for us, and we’d listen and obey… and enjoy eating (and paying for) the swill. It’s been pointed out, repeatedly, that we readers (like my pig, Fairy, who lives in a sty at the bottom of my garden) like some things much more when they’re dressed well in story (Fairy the pig prefers gravy or milk, but it’s the same thing, really), and that’s why the sales of swill are dropping. Most of what we read for is entertainment. If you want thinking or being thought-for as major factors the entertainment better be very good (and even then like Fairy, we may nose aside the bits that they want us to get, and we really don’t like. Like carrots, in the case of my pig).

It is however true that in brilliant vision of hindsight I can see books that made me what I am – because of what I took out of them. Jack Vance’s Blue World
(which is about a Robinson Crusoe society living on water world, which has no land and no metals (they live on islands of floating seaweed) was my first sf novel. I think I was 8. It was a satire, and brilliant at that, but that flew over my little woolly monkey head. I just reveled in the triumph of human ingenuity and science over the environment, and killing the nasty kraken sea-creature alien life-form (Yes, a Margaret Atwood squid, but on an alien world, not space). Veddy veddy un-PC these days. The bad fellows who wanted nothing to do with this change-and-science-and-man-coming-out-on-top thing and thought deifying and giving appeasing sacrifices (and later human- but naughty human, like ones that liked science) would be the modern heroes, methinks. Nothing before or since stirred my imagination like that. I’ve been trying to imagine, and later write similar stir ever since.

So what book did for you? And why? (you want to be a writer – or help writers, you have to tell us why. That’s how we learn to shape play-dough, and later clay.)

Oh for those curious – A Mankind Witch

has now sold 87 copies this month. The Forlorn 4. I have prepared a new blurb and Sarah is giving me a hand with a new cover (and title), and I’ll put both up soon (together, rather than one at a time).

49 Comments
  1. I’m trying to pick just one book that shaped and inspired me. It’s difficult to do, although I know one of the earliest books I can remember making me feel like I wanted to live in it was Swiss Family Robinson. Mom read that aloud to us, I read it aloud as well in years following, as we read daily, books like the Little House series, LIttle Women, the Five Little Peppers, and more all before I was ten. I read so much, back then, that picking just one is hard. Kjelgaard’s books helped me feel at home in the woods and fields, again, I was very young when I first read them. Looking forward into adulthood, I was able to learn how to deal with a crisis of personal honor through reading Komarr and A Civil Campaign by Bujold, and I’m certain she never intended that when she wrote those scenes.

    Not only are we each so unique that we may not take out of a scene what the author intended, as writers, we put things in we did not intend, an unconcious revelation of our inner selves. Which may be why so many modern books are self-destructive, as the authors project their own inner despair. I had a conversation recently about a book that hit all the critic’s lists, but the young woman who was reading Murakami’s IQ84 was telling me “It’s so depressing, it goes on and on and nothing ever happens. And there’s so much sex, but it doesn’t fit into the story, it feels like it was just shoved in there.” If that’s what a critically acclaimed book is supposed to feel like, no thank you. I’d rather have a well developed world, but one that you felt you might have a chance for hope in.

    June 24, 2013
    • ‘Books I felt i wanted to live in’ – wonderful phrase, Cedar, and so accurate. And I can get depressed all on my own without paying someone else to make it worse!

      June 24, 2013
  2. Ori Pomerantz #

    There are two issues here:

    1. Literature can suggest, it cannot force. According to Tom Kratman, even the near brainwashing conditions of military training cannot really force people to change if they don’t want to. Our putative betters want to be able to force change on us, but they overestimate the effectiveness of the tools at their disposal. They might dream of the tools Stalin and Mao had, but dream is all they can do.

    2. Capitalistic Humility. If you sell what you want to sell, rather than what people want to buy, you lose customers. This isn’t Soviet Industry with “rationally planned” monopolies.

    June 24, 2013
    • Hmm. I have been throught intensive army ‘brainwashing’ and I have several addendums to make here. 1)Yes, there are always goats (ie. opposite of sheep) – people like me who the more you try and force it, the less I believe you – I’d have said at a guess, maybe 5-10% of all the conscripts (Tom was dealig with volunteers who therefor much more likely to be willing. Conscripts are a more accurate comparison to your population) 2) It only worked at all because we were conscripts and could not escape. In the short term it did work pretty well on the 90%. They were sleep-deprived, physically exhausted, and manipulated by the same code of expertise as the North Vietnamese used. Readers are not conscripts and just won’t ‘volunteer’ unless they’re at least possibly ‘willing’. 3) It’s a short term thing from most humans. Yes, there are the sheep-for-life (probably the willing in Tom Kratman’s terms) – but if that gets to 20% at most. The rest of them… they’re like possums whove been trapped once. You’ll never get them again, and if you do, you find they’ve become goats.

      On 2) – Publishers believed that the public HAD to read, and as they controlled almost all access to retail space, it was a command economy and people would buy what they put on the shelf, even if was a shelf full of size 13 left boots. People don’t have to read (sadly) and they don’t buy size 13 left boots.

      June 24, 2013
  3. I started out reading dog and horse stories. Walter Farley and Jim Kjelgaard. I think _Wild Trek_ was the most influential, and the concept from there of just going out and exploring led me right into the Golden Age SF. Andre Norton’s _Last Planet_ was my first SF and chock full of so many new concepts. It blew me away and turned me into an instant addict.

    June 24, 2013
    • (nod) That was me with Blue World. I re-read that book a lot.

      June 24, 2013
    • I have read most of the classics when it comes to horse stories, the ones which had been translated. Black Beauty, Black Stallion (two or three of the books), King of the Wind and so on, but got a bit wary after a while when I got the impression that mistreating the horse horribly seemed to be a required plot point. ERB’s books were much more fun to read, Tarzan or John Carter would probably get tortured or something at some point but at least he usually killed the bad guys afterwards. After Tarzan, at first, it was mostly old adventure stories, I didn’t get into science fiction properly until well into my teens due to the somewhat scarce translations, and then it was mostly writers like Jules Verne, but they were ones I looked for after I had fallen in love with Barsoom. Found Heinlein and others only after I could read English well enough not to need translated work, late teens, and then I had to buy them, but fortunately we lived close to Helsinki (right next to the railroad, and those stores in Helsinki are all also right next to the station so easy access) which then had the only book stores relatively well stocked with English language paperbacks in the whole country. I used to take the train about once a month and come back with about four to eight of them, science fiction and some fantasy, a lot of Golden Age writers because back then there used to be a lot of those in those stores. Andre Norton was one of those writers I always bought when I found something of hers.

      I think most of my ideas of things like honor and honorable behavior can be traced to the old adventure stories which got me into reading in the first place, so I guess I’m mostly sort of Victorian, or a bit later, when it comes to those values, but also Heinlein had a very strong influence so I’m permissive when it comes to something like sex – whether some of the more outrageous arrangements are a good idea or not is one thing, but I don’t think anybody has any business telling adults what they are allowed to try or not as long as everybody involved is both adult and a willing participant.

      The sad part is how little Finnish literature I read, then or now. There were a few decent older adventure writers I found then, and later I have discovered others from the used book stores, but most of the books to be found in libraries and stores back then were the new ones, and most of those were, in those decades even more than now, very literature-ish – protagonists whose problems are their personal relationships, or who worry about big issues like equality or how screwed up the society as a whole may be (and who rarely accomplish anything positive, they mostly just point things out and agonize about them) and all that. In other words, boring and sometimes downright offensive to somebody like me whose ideas had been shaped by those older books. Maybe the ebook revolution, once it gets going here, and with Finnish language books, will help, but right now we are still mostly at the mercy of the gatekeepers, and even the entertainment they publish is usually quite politically correct.

      June 25, 2013
  4. “The strength I think of Golden Age books was that they awoke the imagination, got us thinking, and that they made some of us believe that we could ride to the stars, meet strange aliens, and kick their butts if need be.”

    I think this sentence is key. Scifi should awake the imagination and get people thinking.

    I started with what I consider classical Scifi, Verne and Wells and got to see things I had never seen before. With them I got to see the sun as a red giant hanging over a heavy leaden sea. With them I went to the moon and into the ocean depths. Saw alien war machines striding across the countryside. I also got shot from a cannon at 7 miles per second and traveled around the world at the unheard of velocity of 50 miles per hour.

    I liked stories that solved problems. George O. Smith’s Venus Equilateral about an interplanetary communications space station was written in the 1940’s. Aside from the references to vacuum tubes it holds up pretty well. I also liked Asimov’s robot and Wendell Urth mysteries stories that taught logic. Niven showed me the core of the Milky Way exploding as well wheels within wheels encircling a far off star.

    For pure imagination and the beauty of language it hard to beat Jack Vance, Cordwainer Smith or Alfred Bester.

    But those aren’t literature objects the literati. Those stories don’t illustrate the inherent conflict between man and society or how arbitrary societal social norm oppress and destroy. They are just engineering without character development or greater meaning on the futility of existence.

    S—w the futility of existence.

    I don’t need writers to tell stories to make me depressed. I can do depressed and futile all by myself.

    Give me wonders and excitement. Give me something I have never seen or even imagined could be. Give me something good.

    June 24, 2013
    • “Give me wonders and excitement. Give me something I have never seen or even imagined could be. Give me something good.” Amen. Who needs to have the futility of existence and such misery. I need to get up from a book with head full of dreams and ambitions, and ready to take on the world and give it a good kicking or die trying, dammit.

      June 24, 2013
  5. Out of their minds, by Clifford Simak. I read it for Snuffy Smith and Mickey Mouse (no, seriously) but after that I was hooked. (I’d read Have Spacesuit before, but didn’t identify it as SF, so for years it had no follow-up) The next one was dystopian 70s sf, which has completely dropped out of my head (the USSR is right, the US is wrong, the US is incredibly decadent, the Russians are coming to save us. NO idea who the author was or the title) Next was A Canticle For Leibowitz, then Farmer’s World of Tiers, then The Door Into Summer, then Way Station and then… everything.

    June 24, 2013
    • As for books that inspired — The Three Musketeers; Tom Sawyer; White Fang. In SF? Have Spacesuit, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress; Way Station (which still has my favorite thing, and what I’m playing with in Shifters/furniture refinishing mysteries, of a whole world of wonder taking place alongside the seeming normal, sight unseen. Needless to say, dozens of others..

      June 24, 2013
    • Funnily enough, the thing I loved most about Simak was that his characters were such accessible, small-town people (yes even Shakespeare’s Ghost and Alley Oop) I liked his ideas – some of which beg a better writing – the Werewolf Principle, didn’t buy all of vision – not all aliens are ‘just folks’.

      June 24, 2013
      • Yes, of course — but I love the atmosphere, yes.

        June 24, 2013
      • And I have had the idea of plundering his “unrealized ideas” for years now. I wonder if both of us go at it, how different it will turn out.

        June 24, 2013
  6. I was in junior high — I think — when I came across an old issue of “If” in a closet at my grandmother’s house. There was as story by Lesser in it, “Jungle in the Sky”, that grabbed my interest. It wasn’t so much the story as the cover image of a space ship, a gorilla-type arm reaching out and a space suited man (iirc). I read the magazine cover to cover and then dove into the closet, which was filled floor to ceiling, with old books, magazines and records. I found the serialized version of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and my imagination went soaring. Here were real people with real issues on a space colony that seemed all too real. Then I read far enough to discover TANSTAAFL and I was hooked. (This served to help in college when I walked into a history class and the professor had TANSTAAFL written on the board and I was the only one who knew what it meant. The fact he was one of the history teachers who wasn’t teaching the glory of communism might have something to do with why he had it on the board.) From TMiaHM I went on to Starship Troopers and then just about anything SF I could lay my hands on — until I got to the books where the “lesson” or “message” took precedence over the story.

    June 24, 2013
    • real people with real issues and real dreams. Too often I read one of the ‘modern’ novels and feel I am reading a National Geographic article on the Ubungi tribe, or maybe the lives of termites. With people I have nothing in common with, living lives I would detest (can’t wait to get out of the book) in an environment that inspires not at all, probably being miserable, with the usual suspects, that in reality I know arenot actually reponible for every rape, murder, abuse etc in world.

      June 24, 2013
      • Dave, that’s my problem with a lot of “modern” sf — heck, with a lot of modern literature. I guess I should have added the qualifier to what I said “real people with real issues and real dreams I could identify with and understand and cared about”. that’s what happens when I try to write cogent responses before my brain fully kicks in.

        June 25, 2013
  7. “The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet”, when I was quite young. Learned about the vital importance of chickens! (and that eggs have sulphur). I was especially pleased that “only children could go” because of the importance of low mass in the home-made rocket 😉 Also “Space Cat” and the telepathic moss that let Space Cat and his pet human astronaut communicate. The Danny Dunn books. Anything with science and figurey-outey stuff I loved. And then I figured out I got more of that if I went with the library books with the little rocket ship on the label, and it was all downhill from there…

    June 24, 2013
    • I’d forgotten “voyage”. Now if I could just remember the title of the robot book. And then Tom Swift(Jr) and the Heinlein Juviniles.

      June 24, 2013
    • Marshall, who was our “I’m not sure he’s reading” kid, tore through the (Space) Captain Toad books at… three? Four? Around there.

      June 24, 2013
    • ‘Figurey-outey stuff’ -love that – yes in triplicate

      June 24, 2013
    • bearcat #

      Danny Dunn, it’s been years since I thought of those books, but they were a great kids read. (wonder how they would read now as an adult?)

      June 27, 2013
  8. I was 8 when I first read Orphans of the Sky. When I re-read it at 21 I noticed all the things I’d missed in it before. Earlier than that there were other interesting kids books, like “Half Magic” and an obscure Scholastic book “The Forgotten Door” (Haven’t thought about that one in decades…)

    As for awful books, I was thinking of this before when the topic came up, but I can’t find my copy, which is odd because I rarely get rid of anything, but Sassinak by McCaffery and Moon really resonated with all the talk about PC-ness in books. Human civilization is fit to be in the Galaxy because they’ve become Vegan, and as a Fleet Commander, she has to do something about a colony of MEN who are – horrors! – eating meat, and it’s making them Bad!

    June 24, 2013
    • Oh yes. That was silly.

      June 24, 2013
    • Herd followers. Bloody awful book 😦 .

      June 24, 2013
      • I was looking it up on Amazon to make sure I had my facts right, and I noticed a sudden spate of 5 star reviews all around the same date. I have heard there are paid raters out there, even though Amazon says they don’t allow it.

        June 25, 2013
        • I imagine that publishers engage in various forms of cooking the books After all, that is how they’ve operated historically, and why should they change just to let the public decide on what they like? Who do these readers think they are?

          June 25, 2013
    • bearcat #

      You know I absolutely despised the Dinosaur Planet books for that theme (and a REALLY dull plot) and they pretty much ended my reading of non-Pern McCaffery books, but they did introduce me to Moon and the fact that she managed to make Sassinak and Generation Warriors an enjoyable read, despite the despicable theme. The fact that they were necessarily compare to the prequels in Mystery of Ireta (Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Planet Survivors) certainly improved their image in comparison.

      June 27, 2013
  9. I read many, many science fiction books before age fourteen, but the one I think influenced me the most was Andre Norton’s “Forerunner Foray.” Here we had a woman who was telepathic (with aliens), it was presented in a matter of fact way, and because she was an “esper” she also could figure out what was going on with very old objects — she could divine meaning from them. Because she’d grown up on a world where she was enslaved early (she worked for a Veep, part of an outer space Mafia of sorts) — and because that enslavement was far better than staying where she was — she had to rationalize many things she did for that Veep even though she, herself, was a good and decent person.

    Anyway, when she finally got an opportunity to get out (very close to the end of the novel), she didn’t trust it. She believed even though she’d basically been compelled to do these things (all implied, but real), the Patrol — the good guys — would erase her gift and leave her as nothing but a drudge with her soul mostly destroyed. That she fell in love with a member of the Patrol (or someone allied to it, at least) was partly why she decided to give being legit a chance — but it was almost all subtextual, as the action carried the day.

    Norton was an author who could do more than one thing at a time, and was a brilliant novelist. That was a YA novel, so if you were quite young you could miss the romance (I did, but I was only eleven or twelve when I read it the first time, so maybe that’s why), but you’d still get the action and adventure. Because I was young and bright, I understood the subtext about your choices, and how sometimes you had no good ones — but if you finally got a good choice, you had to take it — and I appreciated the heroine Ziantha’s struggles (two of them in the past, as her esper abilities drew her back in a weird way that I firmly understood and believed even though Norton implied it more than stated it).

    Now, in my later incarnation as writer and editor, I’ve continued to read that book for pleasure while studying it as a way to make stories make sense. This book certainly pointed out that inward morality is far, far more important than any external morality as Ziantha wasn’t presented with good choices most of the time to make, yet made the best choices she possibly could. But it did so in a way that never once compromised the action-adventure going on.

    Many of today’s “PC” writers could learn a thing or two from that.

    June 24, 2013
    • Grin. I named the first rock climbing route I ever opened ‘ forerunner foray’. Norton knew how to write far frontiers and adventure, and her universe always had a ‘layered’ feel to it.

      June 25, 2013
  10. Lin W #

    I read so many things that I wasn’t “supposed to” (my brothers were in college – I’d steal their books over vacations 🙂 ) that I had this odd assortment of stuff no ‘little kid’ was supposed to have read. I can remember just gobbling up Enid Blyton’s “Adventure” books (alas! The South Omaha branch of the public library didn’t have any of her other series!). But the first “SF” book that rocked me back on my heels was “A Wrinkle in Time”. I was a couple of years younger than Meg, and felt just as outcast in my school. I think a lot of it was what I brought to it, rather than what was actually written on the page.

    Then I discovered Heinlein. Have Spacesuit was *wonderful*! And Andre Norton! Her early books, not the later ones where she went all woo woo, were escapism and world building and I wanted to write just like that. And Zenna Henderson. When I started high school (age 14) we were given a sort of anthology to work though, under the teacher’s guidance, for the year. I read it cover to cover the first weekend. One of the stories was by Zenna Henderson, about The People. Mercy. I felt as though I’d found a truly kindred spirit. And another person that I wanted to write stories just as riveting.

    And, the horrid thing that will haunt me. You have to visualize the blue collar (brown collar and manure covered boots, or bloody aprons, more like it) of a town where *everybody* worked at the stock yards or the meat packing plants that surrounded them. It was … depressing. The stockyards, the two biggest meat packing plants across the street from each other, like rival fortresses – and block after block after block of saloons, just wide enough for a door and a darkened window. Each one with a different ethnicity. The Polish saloon. The Irish saloon. The Serbian saloon. The Croatian saloon. And fights that started in one, rolled back and forth across Q Street, and on up the hill for two miles of side-by-side saloons.

    I thought *authors* lived in huge mansions, with servants, and people to jump to their every desire – and I was convinced a ‘fan letter’ from some nobody in South Omaha would never even make it through the staff to get the August Presence of The Author – or, even worse, if it did, it would only be to laugh and make fun of.

    So I never, ever wrote to Heinlein, or Norton, or Henderson to tell them how very much their books and stories meant to me. It was even more ludicrous, to me, than if I’d managed to get to Washington and knocked on the front door of the White House and asked to talk to the President.

    But I did learn my lesson – when it was too late to really thank them for saving my sanity, and giving me dreams and other worlds to play in. Now I *thank* authors whose books touch me.

    So: Thank you, Dave – You have given me hours of enjoyment, from Slow Train to Arcturus through Dog and Dragon, and everything in between. And Bolg! I’m afraid that Bolg is in a category all his own! Thank you so very, very much.

    Thank you, Kate. Your various Con stories had me giggling into my pillow for fear of waking my husband up in the dead of night. And your take on The Impaler is just wonderful!

    Thank you, Sarah – from the Shifters of Goldport to the renegades and individualists of the Sea Cities and Eden, you have expanded my world and added to my dreams.

    Thank you, Amanda. (I’m not going to list what of yours that I really enjoy, because I’m not certain I was supposed to have actually had access them – but they are wonderful stories!!)

    And anybody my addled brain has forgotten – thank you, thank you, thank you.

    You toil through the nights and when a thousand other things are falling apart around you, and yet you all write wonderful, timeless, entrancing stories.

    Thank you.

    June 24, 2013
    • Lin, I appreciate the thanks but, believe me, you have never had access to anything of mine that you shouldn’t have “actually had access” to, especially since I only created my pen name a year ago or so.

      June 24, 2013
      • Lin W #

        Remember, I’ve spent most of the last two years on drugs. I know I read something you wrote, via email, and for the life of me I can’t remember if I was supposed to Beta it, or what 😦 But I do know I enjoyed it *immensely* 🙂

        June 24, 2013
    • Ah Lin, it’s readers like you who make the wade through the Augean stables worth while. 🙂

      Escaping Q street sounds worth writing a book about!

      Zenna Henderson’s warmth! Always left you feeling good. I must have been about 12 when I hit one of ‘the people’ stories… Every time they start going on about women breaking into sf… I think why don’t you role model on her? Or Madeleine L’engle?

      June 25, 2013
  11. I am embarrassed to say my first S-F book was (IIRC) “Freddie the Pig Goes to Mars.” Other people have had great teachers they liked the most, for me it was my librarian at my grade school. She asked that fateful question and that ever more fateful reply to my answer: “Did you like that?” and “Would you be interested in other stories like that?” That was the last Freddie the Pig book and I graduated to the Heinlein juveniles, the Winston series and never looked back.

    At first I admired writers, then I met some at cons and found out the truth: they were saints or super heros — they were people just like me. A few years later I had a job and put all my energy (and then some) into it and missed the dreck of the 80’s and 90’s (I grew up in the 70’s) and when I retired wanted to do something for people. My first thought was teaching. I looked at the course outlines and a freshman requirement was something call “ESL.” I’d gone to parochial schools and had no idea what that was. Turns out it mean “English as a Second Language.” I was mystified; I spoke a little Spanish and more German but English was my first language.

    Okay, I’m a little slow sometimes — it’s how to teach children who don’t speak English that well. I dunno, I still think immersion works best. The real killer of a teaching career was the pay — I paid the janitor at my company more.

    So, I went off to film school. got thoroughly disillusioned with that and one evening stumbled on an erotica site. I glanced at half dozen stories and turned up my nose. Spelling mistakes, obvious grammer mistakes. “I can do better than these clowns!”

    So I caught the writing bug. Yeah, I wrote erotica. The first story I wrote for the site was not short and half way through I get feedback from a reader — “You have a good story, a good plot and great characterization. Your punctuation is awful and you are sloppy with homonyms.” And as a kindness, he sent me my first chapter in a Word document with change tracking on. I actually went out and bought a copy of Word so I could read it (I’m a Mac user and I used Write Now!) I gulped when I saw that there were more than 500 suggested corrections. Yep! I didn’t know how to punctuate dialog (in fact, I wasn’t consistent), I over used ellipses and most of my sentences had three or four semicolons. I’m much better now (not a single ellipsis was used in this!)

    I went to writing S-F, but in spite of the fact I sent out lots of book-length manuscripts I accumulated a lot rejections — and wasted years. I was all set to publish my first book on Amazon in 2011 when I had a left brain stroke. It took two more years for me to get to the point where I could start publishing. While I was recovering, I discovered Sarah Hoyt, through the good offices of the Professor and then I discovered Human Wave science fiction that shocked me to the core, I’d read the masters and concentrated on them to the exclusion of all else. I missed New Wave and the PC stuff that came to be the norm. I wrote in the style of the stories I once read, Some of my fans compare me to Heinlein, but I was influenced by him, my style (IMHO) is nothing like his,

    And in conclusion. this is for you Dave: It is something I appreciate. When you said how many copies of “A Mankind Witch” you’ve sold this month. Everyone is so shy (it seems) about their numbers. Any number is a useful metric, a target to shoot for. I’m not doing as well this month as the last two, but I’m close to that number with some of my books.

    June 24, 2013
    • Sigh — we ARE angels. AND Superheroes. Jeeeee. See the hallo? Okay, okay, so it’s propped up on my horns and it’s made of tinsel. Deal.

      On your punctuation, etc, my first “novel” 40k words, written in English, usually had more spelling mistakes than words. And inconsistency STILL is me. (Amanda, don’t HIT me.) That Christmas, my husband got me a PC and a program (wordstar?) with spell checker.

      June 24, 2013
    • Numbers – it’s a game the publishers played against us with devastating effect. We are (in between moonlighting as angels and superheroes, honestly, that’s why I wear my underpants outside my trousers) rather insecure about our writing, and our ‘success’ – which is why ‘don’t tell anyone and they’ll think you’re doing well’ worked. What it really meant was ‘don’t tell anyone because we’re shafting all of you, but some of you less than others. And if you all knew, well, you might be able to take steps.’ Humans – despite our success, are not very self-confident and like a lot of public approval. Some of us need it. Shrug. I am me, a mere monkey. I discovered – when I was about 20 and keeping my cool when I was sticking my neck a long long way out – where only keeping calm and trusting myself would keep me alive, where I was scared to the edge of witless terror, but still able to do the right thing, to think and to go forward, that I could do what had to be done – something many people have done. I had what they call ‘a moment of epiphany’ about needing approval (as I’d trying to show the world how tough and clever I was up to then.) I found and the only person whose respect I really needed thought I was Okay in spite of the fear (ie. myself). I realised, then, that if that person could respect me… and know every damn stupid or cowardly thing I’d thought or done, well, maybe I could just be me. So I tell these dark and deadly secrets. If people think less of me because of it, so be it. I don’t think it will work that way. If I won’t tell you my figures, it is because I think it will discourage you, no othere reason.

      June 25, 2013
    • I still punctuate like a programmer, (Quotes go around the relevant data) so I get things wrong like: The boat was named “Helen”. The period is supposed to be inside the final quote, but for the life of me that makes me think the boat’s name had a period on the end.

      June 25, 2013
  12. SBP #

    Tunnel in the Sky. After that there was never a chance that the swill-peddlers would get me.

    June 24, 2013
    • I LOVE that book. I re-read it regularly

      June 25, 2013
  13. masgramondou #

    One of the first books I ever bought for myself (as opposed to having a parent “help” me*) was an SF one. I think I was 6. I don’t remember its name, author or even the plot, but I do remember thinking that it was far far better than anything else I’d read to date and much much more exciting than Peter & Jane (? Janet & John ? err? both?) that my classmates were trying to learn to read.

    Not too much later I got to have access to a library filled with books of all varieties with no classification by age (or indeed IIRC genre – it was fiction arranged alphabetically by author) and I found a series of Best SF of the year X books (where X was mostly 1950s/60s). I didn’t enjoy all the stories and I don’t remember many of them either but I was hooked on SF from that point on even though I also read lots of historical adventures (Hornblower, Sir Arthur …) and well bluntly everything that wasn’t a bit of classic “literature”.

    One of the stories in collection was about “the unorthodox engineers” and it turned out that the collected “Unorthodox Engineers” book was also in the library. That, to me, was the ideal. You travelled to far places to explore things and solve problems. What more could you want?

    June 25, 2013
    • Colin Kapp? I even read the classic literature. Insatiable appetite. Decided some of it was bumf. So… you were shaped by that! 🙂

      June 26, 2013
  14. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH grabbed me like no book has since. I think it was because of the interesting things it did and said about culture, how it is a construct and not a natural thing (even though I doubt that was a point of the book) and having a mother as the viewpoint character, and how the world is full of chaos and stupidity. I hardly remember the details now.

    Second was probably Have Spacesuit, especially when the humans, instead of grovelling and professing mea culpas at humanities violent ways, replied, in effect, “Yes, you can destroy our world, but you do realize that’ll only piss us off, right?”

    In both cases, it was the novelty that did it for me. Instead of Have Spacesuit, I might have read Foster’s “With Friends Like These…” and had the same reaction. Heinlein just got to me first.

    June 25, 2013
    • I think it was discovering whole different way of thinking that did it for me 🙂

      June 26, 2013
  15. Laura M #

    The Moon is A Harsh Mistress. I’d been reading lots of Burroughs, but didn’t think of it as SF. Heinlein was clearly SF and I didn’t ever stop reading and then re-reading him.

    When I was in high school, the Lymond Chronicles of Dorothy Dunnett, where our heroes kept their innate goodness no matter what, had a huge effect on me.

    Finally, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged gave me the tools to unlock what I knew but didn’t understand.

    June 25, 2013
    • It’s the re-reading that is key to telling how much I loved a book.

      June 26, 2013
    • bearcat #

      I see by the comments here that I am not as weird as I thought for reading Burroughs as a kid and not thinking it was SF. (I always blamed that on the fact that as a kid ‘I didn’t like SF’ and since I liked Burroughs I subconsciously decided it wasn’t SF).

      June 27, 2013
      • Laura M #

        Maybe it’s because, although there’s no magic when Carter gets to Mars, the book starts with astral projection or whatever eye-blink it is that gets him there in the first place.

        June 28, 2013
  16. A quick thanks, I’m in the ‘am I a writer?’ phase. Working on my third book and taking a writing class. Interesting doesn’t begin to describe the experience and this group blog has been very informative.

    Books that put me on the path; The Sword in the Stone (I’ve only recently acquired the complete The Once and Future King and will see how it holds up), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The White Dragon – my favorite of the Dragonriders series, and Gateway (those spaceships on the cover did it).

    June 28, 2013

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