Joe Haldeman’s Forever War

When I was in High School, I devoured Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, but it wasn’t until I’d left graduate school that someone forced me to read The Forever War. When I did, I sort of missed the point of the book, and going back to it recently with this research, I’m finding that it’s a book that’s growing for me each time I read it. It’s certainly one of the best SF novels that I’ve ever read.

I’ve interviewed Joe several times already, and we included him in War Stories, with his story Graves leading off the TOC. Going back and looking at how his book was written has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, and after writing up this column, I have to say, I need to give the book another read to fully appreciate it, I think.

Go read Joe Haldeman’s Forever War over on Kirkus Reviews.

  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss has some interesting points to make here about TFW and its placement in genre literature.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, Mike Ashley. Ashley notes where Haldeman began writing and where he was able to first publish his stories.
  • Science Fiction Writers Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. Blieler has a good biographical sketch of Haldeman in this edition.
  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. Haldeman himself has some things to say about his own book. My 1991 edition has a good author forward.
  • Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction, Guy Haley. This recently released book isn’t terribly academic, but it has a page devoted to Haldeman (written by Damien Walter). Overall, it’s a really neat, (dense) book with a TON of material. Good for flipping through.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol 2, Frank Magill. Magill has a solid review of TFW in volume 2.
  • Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Vol. 2- The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988, William H. Patterson Jr. Patterson talks about Heinlein’s interactions with Haldeman in 1975 here.
  • Fights of Fancy: Armed Conflict in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser and Eric Rabkin. There’s a fantastic essay from Haldeman called Vietnam and other Alien Worlds, which is well worth reading. (Here’s a good source online.

Online Sources:

  • Interim Report: An Autobiographical Ramble by Joe Haldeman. This is a fantastic autobiography from Joe, which provides some extremely helpful details about his life.
  • Many, many thanks to Joe Haldeman himself, who agreed to be interviewed for this. I’ll post up our conversation at some point in the near future.

Interview with Larry Niven

A while ago, I wrote about Larry Niven and his novel Ringworld for Kirkus Reviews. In doing so, I interviewed Mr. Niven, and he was kind enough to answer my questions about the genesis of the book. Here’s our conversation:

Andrew Liptak: You’re well known for your ‘Known Space’ stories. What prompted you to link them together as you wrote, and how did this affect the stories as you wrote them?

Larry Niven: Heinlein and Anderson and others had done linked stories. It seemed an obvious labor-saving move. Equally obvious: if the story idea didn’t fit my universe, build another for it.

Often the effect was that a story written for its own sake generated more stories.

Lately the various series are generating stories in other minds.
AL: How did you come to open up Known Space to other authors?

LN: James Patrick Baen suggested doing that. I told him that Known Space was mine and I wouldn’t share. Five minutes later I was saying, “We could open up the Man-Kzin Wars. I don’t do war stories.” It all derived from that: fifteen volumes of the Kzinti, and then five written with Ed Lerner.

AL: Ringworld is arguably one of your best known novels: what can you tell me about how this story was conceived and written? What was the writing, submission and publication process like?

LN: I was gearing up to terminate the Known Space series when I thought of Ringworld. I think I did the obvious but at this late date I’m no longer sure. The obvious: take the equator out of a ping-pong-ball Dyson sphere—the only useful part—spin it up and terraform the inside.

I was visiting bibliophiles when I borrowed a text and got the formula for spin gravity. Otherwise I’d have used bad math to write bad scenery.

I was at Madiera Beach at the Knights’ writers conference, when I thought of the Eye Storm. I tried to describe it to Betty Ballantine. Maybe it got through.

I wrote the ending as quick as I could. It felt like the book was getting huge.
That cover was done from my sketch, but by someone who just didn’t get it. I’ve seen much better Ringworld illos since.

AL: How did your background in mathematics help you with writing and describing the book and Ringworld?

LN: I don’t think the math helped as much as the mathematician’s way of thinking. Building logic towers from premises wrung out of thin air. Mathematics is a game.

AL: Ringworld won the Hugo and Nebula in 1971, Ditmar in 1972 and placed 1st in the Locus poll that year: what was the winning streak like for you?

LN: Unique. I haven’t won a Hugo since 1976. I only won the one Nebula. You should know that I worried about Ringworld. I was afraid it would be laughed off the stage.

AL: What do you think appealed to readers for such a reaction for the book?

LN: The Ringworld is a wonderful mental plaything. THE INTEGRAL TREES is better science fiction, but it’s not as easy to play with the ideas.

AL: You note in your introduction that you never planned to continue the Ringworld story, but fans prompted you do continue. How did you go about putting together Ringworld Engineers from there?

LN: It kind of shaped itself. Beginnings are difficult; I started Louis Wu at the bottom of a lost career, the opposite of Ringworld. I’d been ignoring the hominid races; I began building them. It ran from there.

AL: Do you have any future plans for Ringworld?

LN: No.

AL: Your novels are considered to be ‘Hard Science Fiction’, and I’ve heard stories about your first published story, Coldest Place in reaction to that (regarding Mercury). Who were your influences when it came to writing in this particular style?

LN: “Hard” science fiction was pretty soft when I started writing. FTL, psi powers, teleportation and many other notions were fair game. These days I try to hew closer to what we think we know. My influences were Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke, Fritz Leiber…all the greats of that era.

AL: Were there any real-world influences (such as the space race) on Ringworld or the Known Space books? How do you think the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions impacted Science Fiction as a genre?

LN: I was pretty ignorant of the facts of daily life, politics, history. I didn’t get into those matters until I started collaborating. So reality didn’t have much effect on my writing early on.

AL: What can you tell me about the Galaxy Magazine pro/anti war ad?

LN: They made me decide. I chose to win a war we were already fighting. The truth may be more complicated, but they wouldn’t let me sit it out.

AL: Can you tell me a little more about this? Who made you decide, the magazine? What was their motivations for placing such an ad?

LN: Damon and Kate Wilhelm Knight gathered writers to a mutual criticism circle, once a year. One year they invited the conservatives to stay out while their like minded colleagues formed that first list advising an end to the Vietnam War. I did not appreciate being treated so, and when Poul shaped a counterattack, I joined it.

AL: What was your relationship with the Dangerous Visions anthology? (Aside from publishing a story in it – I saw that you were thanked in the acknowledgements).

LN: I loaned Harlan money. (It was paid back.) And I wrote an early story.

AL: Ringworlds have become popularized artifacts in science fiction: are you pleased to see this idea take off? Where did the idea of a Ringworld come from?

LN: Sure I’m pleased to have influenced the field, that way and others. Sometime the whole field looks like an ongoing conversation covering centuries.

The Ringworld derives from Dyson (Dyson sphere) via SF writers (who took it for a ping pong ball 93,000,000 miles in radius, with a star at the center) to the notion that you can’t have gravity generators, so you have to spin the thing, but now the air and water all cover just the equator…

AL: Are we ever going to see an adaptation of Ringworld on the big or small screen? I saw that SyFy had announced it last year, almost a decade after they originally announced it.

LN: SyFy has cancelled again.

AL: That’s a shame. Do you hope to see an adaptation made?

LN: I might not live that long.

AL: There’s a critical essay out there that compares Ringworld to The Wizard of Oz. Are these comparisons accurate or intended? Was Oz an influence for you?

LN: That critic convinced me completely. Yes, I loved the OZ books when I was in grade school, but I didn’t realize I was using the plot line. It just felt right.

AL: When did you first come across science fiction? Why have you remained a reader and writer in the genre?

LN: First there were fair tales (including the OZ books.) Then, Heinlein and a bunch of other writers of juveniles.

AL: Were you a magazine fan at all, or part of Fandom before you became a writer? If so, where there any authors that were a particular influence, stylistically?

LN: I was a magazine and anthology fan, but I’d barely heard of Fandom. When I knew I wanted to become a pro writer, I tracked them down.

AL: A friend of mine who’s working on her PhD in soil ecology has two questions: In Bowl of Heaven, human intentions and behavior are misunderstood by the other sentient creatures they encounter, leading to conflict that could have been avoided if both species better understood one another. Do you think this also happens here on Earth, and if so, what implications does it have for efforts to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity? How could environmentalists and policy-makers benefit from reading Bowl of Heaven? How could the ideas explored in Bowl of Heaven help set research agendas for scientists studying animal behavior?

LN: Misunderstandings have caused conflicts through the ages, but less often today. Communications are better. Today conflict arises from real differences.
Biodiversity and ecosystems should be preserved…but won’t be until someone can make that economically feasible.

Reading Bowl of Heaven will make smart people smarter. The lessons are in there. Research agendas in animal behavior? I’m not sure. Ask Greg Benford.

 

There’s been others championing Ringworld – Lev Grossman recently published a great look over at Time.

Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time

One of my favorite books is easily A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. I can’t remember when I first read it, but when I went back to it a couple of years ago, I was struck by its prose and outstanding story.

What’s more astonishing is that it was rejected dozens of times from publishers, before going on to win one of the major awards for YA literature. Moreover, it’s still highly relevant to any teenager or young reader today.

Go read Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, Madeleine L’Engle. This was a moderately useful book, as it contained some biographical elements.
  • Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, Leonard Marcus. This is an astounding book, and I wish that each one of the authors that I’ve looked at had something similar. It’s an entire book of oral histories, conducted with people who worked with or who were close with L’Engle. It’s a fantastic source.

Online Sources:

  • Madeleine L’Engle: Short biographical sketch from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • The Storyteller: Fact, fiction, and the books of Madeleine L’Engle. This is a fantastic article on the life of L’Engle, and Zarin does a great job parsing out the complexity of her character. It’s well worth a read.
  • Obituary. L’Engle’s obituary from the New York Times, which provides some interesting details about her life.
  • L’Engle, Madeleine. Biographical entry from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
  • ALA’s Banned Books Page. The American Library Association’s home page for their Banned Books week, which includes links to the lists of books that are frequently challenged and banned.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic

A couple of years ago, I picked up a book to review for SF Signal, looking for something different. That book was Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and it turned out to be one of those books that quietly never quite left my head.

Thinking about Roadside Picnic and its authors, as well as our last column on Stanislaw Lem, we get a good starting point for examining how science fiction developed outside of the United States. Given that a lot of SF has been published here in the US, we appear to be a leader in the genre, for better or worse.

At the same time, we forget, ignore or simply don’t realize that authors such as Lem and the Strugatskys were as big as the giants in the United States: on par with Bradbury, Asimov or Heinlein. Examining their publishing experiences and approaches to the genre is good to highlight the limits and potential of genre, but also where US authors and fans tend to put on blinders for the world around them.

As awareness of foreign SF grows (see Clarksworld’s Chinese SF project, funding now), it’s important to realize that a) this isn’t a new phenomenon, and b) SF isn’t limited to the United States and England.

On top of all that, go read Roadside Picnic. It’s a phenomenal book.

Go read Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Russian Experimental Fiction: Resisting Ideology after Utopia, Edith Clowes. This is a particularly detailed volume on Russian literature, and partiularly looks at the science fiction’s complicated relationship with utopian fiction and their own country’s political history. This particular book looks at how the Strugatsky’s works fit into this.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. Landon discusses the brothers at length, with a fairly good analysis of their works.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, Frank Magill. There’s an excellent review of Roadside Picnic here.
  • Soviet Fiction Since Stalin: Science, Politics and Literature, Rosalind J. Marsh. This book has a good look at works of the brothers.
  • The Strugatsky Brothers, Stephen Potts. This is a short book, but a good overview of the brother’s works and career.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts has a couple of paragraphs of the brother’s career and how it fits into a bigger picture.
  • Critical Encounters II: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction, edited by Robert Staicar. There’s an excellent essay about the brothers here.
  • Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. This was my introduction to the brothers: the 2012 translation, which threw me at first, then drew me in completely. It’s a Weird book, while also a Hard SF one at the same time. It still sticks in my mind, years after reading it. Ursula K. Le Guin opens the book, while Boris provided an afterword.

Online Sources:

  • SF Encyclopedia. As always, the SF Encyclopedia has a good, comprehensive entry on the subject, particularly when it comes to their placement in the genre.

Two obituaries for Boris, one in the Independent and one in the New York Times helped provide some details of their lives, as well as some critical look at their careers:

I hate to do it, but I had to rely a bit on Wikipedia’s entry for the brothers, which provided some minor details, although I tried to rely on entries that were backed up with sources.

Stanislaw Lem and His Push For Deeper Thinking

Almost ten years ago now, I picked up a copy of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris and was struck at how different it was compared to a number of the other books I was reading at the time. It was an interesting and probing novel, one that I don’t think I fully understood at the time. (I still don’t).

Lem is an author who is truly uninhibited by genre convention. Last column, I looked a Ursula K. Le Guin, and have been thinking quite a bit about how science fiction authors began to put themselves into a box midway through the century when it came to ‘hard’ science fiction. Limiting a story in some regards requires one to limit one’s own imagination: after all, we’re talking about fiction, where authors can make up whatever they choose. Lem was one of the authors who could make up a considerable story and then deliver it.

Go read Stanislaw Lem and His Push For Deeper Thinking over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian W. Aldiss. Aldiss has a delightfully snarky section devoted to Lem and his works here: both recognizing his brilliance, but also deplicating his attitude towards his fellow authors as well.
  • Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, Mike Ashley. This work has a couple of sections on Lem, which were very helpful in figuring out where he first was translated into English.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, Mike Ashley. This installment of Ashley’s series contains quite a bit more information on Lem’s interactions with the SF community in the 1970s.
  • Science Fiction Writers, Second Edition. Richard Bleiler. This book of thumbnail biographies contains one on Lem by Peter Swirski, which is an excellent survey of Lem’s life and works.
  • Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. This book provided some excellent information on Lem’s legacy.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature vol 5, William Magill. Magill’s text contains an excellent analysis of Lem’s Solaris, which helped me understand the book a bit better.
  • Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews With Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, edited by Larry McCaffrey. This is an excellent book of interviews, and while Lem isn’t interviewed, he is brought up a couple of times.

The Left and Right Hands of Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of science fiction’s greats: her stories Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Dispossessed rank among the genre’s best works, and she moves easily between science fiction and fantasy, writing things that science fiction authors had barely touched before she came onto the scene. To say she was influential is to undersell one’s words.

I have to say, of all of Le Guin’s works that I’ve read, the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most was A Wizard of Earthsea, which I read years ago. Of all the fantasy novels I’ve picked up, it’s probably one of the ones that’s stuck with me the most.

I’ll say this once: there’s some columns that have come together quickly. Others are far harder to put together: case in point, trying to summarize the influence of one of the genre’s greatest living figures, Ursula K. Le Guin. Never mind that her fiction still challenges me and makes me feel incredibly tiny, or that her words are something that I can hardly imagine coming close to in style or grace. This was a hard one to write, but rewarding, all the same.

Go read The Left and Right Hands of Ursula K. Le Guin over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss devotes a number of pages to Le Guin and her influence on the genre, holding her critically at arm’s length, which is interesting to see: few authors have really had this treatment in this particular book. He acknowledges her stance in the genre, but chastise her for being preachy.
  • In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Margaret Atwood. Atwood actually dedicated this collection of essays (which is very reminiscent of Language of the Night), and devotes one essay to her, where she discusses her fiction in a very useful way.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion, by Susan Bernadro and Graham J. Murphy. This is a dedicated volume on Le Guin, and I found it to be exceptionally helpful with some publication details and commentary on her works, especially the stories I haven’t read (yet).
  • Understanding Ursula K. Le Guin, by Elizabeth Cummings. Another critical survey, this one likewise had some helpful commentary and details.
  • The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Essays on Science Fiction, by Samuel R. Delany. Delany’s complicated survey of the genre is a dense, detailed one, and contains a good section on The Disposessed.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, by Thomas Disch. Disch’s history is a decent one that I’ve used before, but I was a little surprised to see him absolutely castigate Le Guin and other feminist authors here.
  • The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin’s book of essays on science fiction and introductions to her book is possibly one of the best non-fiction books that I’ve read on the subject. It’s an excellent demonstration that Le Guin is an utterly powerful, brilliant and intimidating figure in the genre.

Online Sources:

30 Years of William Gibson’s Neuromancer

 

I’ll have to confess that I read Neuromancer only a couple of years ago, and at the time, didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was a book about computers, written before computers were really a thing. The strange thing about William Gibson’s fantastic novel is it’s staying power and how it’s positively brimming with fresh ideas in a genre gone stale by the early 1980s. Going back to re-read Gibson’s works (especially in Burning Chrome), I’m shocked at how vibrant and raw his writing is.

Neuromancer is one of the more important books to enter the genre, and as it celebrates its third decade in print, it’s an interesting one to go back and look upon and to understand just how revolutionary the title was at the time.

Go read 30 Years of William Gibson’s Neuromancer over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Authors, Larry McCaffrey. There’s a fantastic interview with Gibson in this book, which provided some keen insights into the development of Neuromancer. It’s also online here.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts devotes several pages to Neuromancer and Gibson’s influence, providing some key insights into how Neuromancer came together.
  • Modern Masters of Science Fiction: William Gibson, Gary Westfahl. This short book came out last year and is part of the fantastic Modern Masters series from the University of Illinois Press. This particular volume is excellent: it’s a detailed look at Gibson’s works, and a bit about his life

Fittingly, a number of sources came from the internet, through interviews or blog posts from Gibson:

Frank Herbert’s Epic Dune Series

One of the first major SF novels that I picked up was Dune. Something about the copy at the library was striking: a figure against a desert. I tore into it and to this day, I can still visualize various parts of the book. It got me thinking about science fiction in ways that I hadn’t before, and I still count it as one of my favorite books. I’ve never read the sequels: I never wanted to be disappointed or let down by the other novels (much like I’ve never read the 2nd and 3rd installments of the Ringworld and Foundation trilogies).

I read Dreamer of Dune a number of years ago, and reading through it again to source this article, I was surprised at how much of an unlikable person Herbert was – he seemed to have a number of character flaws that made him cranky, angry and generally in trouble with the IRS. At the same time, it’s interesting to see just how big of a hill he had to climb to reach the heights he achieved over the course of a career. It’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t live long enough to really enjoy it or continue his series by himself.

Go read Frank Herbert’s Epic Dune Series over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert. I read this a number of years ago, and reading it again, this is a really painful book to read. It’s disorganized, not terribly well written, and not critical in any sense of the imagination. However, it did provide a number of details into when and how Herbert went about writing.
  • Frank Herbert, Timothy O’Reilly. This is an early biography of Herbert published in 1981, and it provides some outstanding detail to Herbert and his work.
  • The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts. Roberts’ text, as always, is a helpful book for figuring out the context for Dune in the grand scheme of things, and provides some excellent information on the literary side.
  • Frank Herbret, William F. Touponce. This text mainly analysis the literary elements of Herbert’s books (most of them), and it’s a useful resource here.

Online sources:

 

It’s also worth mentioning that Jodorosky’s Dune is a phenomenal documentary that you should see if you have any interest in Dune.

Octavia E. Butler: Expanding Science Fiction’s Horizons

For years, I’ve had friends tell me that I should be reading Octavia Butler’s works, especially Kindred. I actually own a copy, and it’s been sitting on my shelves for years, waiting for me to pick it up. When it came to the point where I’d start writing about the 1970s, it was pretty clear that Butler would be one of the authors that I’d be covering, and I picked up the book as part of my research. She’s a powerful author, and I’m a little sad that I didn’t read the book earlier. Researching Butler’s life is fascinating, and it’s becoming clear to me that some of the genre’s most important works emerge from outside of it’s walls.

Go read Octavia E. Butler: Expanding Science Fiction’s Horizons over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

Book Sources to come – I don’t have them on hand at the moment.

Pasadena College
Carl Brandon Society
McCarthur Foundation
SFWA Interview
LA Review of Books: One / Two

Many thanks as well to Steven Barnes, Ann Leckie and Gerry Canavan for their input for this.

Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Known Space Stories

Ringworld is a novel that’s always stuck with me. I picked it up alongside authors such as Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, and other authors from that point in time. Foundation and Dune are two books that are among my favorites, but Ringworld has long been the best of the lot. It’s vivid, funny, exciting and so forth. Reading it again recently in preparation for this column, I was astounded at how well it’s held up (as opposed to Foundation) in the years since it’s publication, and I can’t wait to read it again. Plus, that cover is just beautiful.

Go read Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Known Space Stories over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree: History of Science Fiction, by Brian Aldiss. Aldiss’s book has some good context for Niven’s rise, as well as the impact of his books.
  • Gateway to Forever: The story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, by Mike Ashley. Ashley recounts some of Niven’s early works in the Known Space, along with the state of magazine fiction during that time.
  • Transformations: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, by Mike Ashley. Niven’s stories taper off in the 1970s, but Ashley looks over his works during that point in that time.
  • Science Fiction Writers, 2nd Edition, Richard Bleiler. Bleiler has a biographical essay on Niven and his life in this book.
  • Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow, edited by Reginald Bretnor. There’s some good background information on Niven’s works here.
  • The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James. There’s some good political context for SF in the 1960s/70s here, and some solid information on Niven’s works.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol 4. Frank Magill. Excellent review of Ringworld in this volume.
  • Science Fiction Dialogues, edited by Gary Wolfe. There’s a great essay here talking about the connections between Ringworld and the Oz books.

Internet Sources:

Finally, many thanks to Larry Niven himself for answering my questions. Read our conversation here.