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Send us your letters! Locus Online has more room than the magazine for letters. They can be about Locus or the SF field in general.

August 1999

Letters on this page:

  • Locus answers Michael Walsh
  • Michael Walsh recognizes Hubert Rogers
  • Rick Norwood comments on all-time best writers
  • John Ordover responds to Dave Truesdale
  • John Ordover responds to Rich Horton

    Dear Locus Online,
         Michael Walsh is right about the War Against the Rull cover, it is by Hubert Rogers, but wrong about its first appearance. It was on the serial version of [van Vogt's] Players of Null A in Astounding.

    9 August 1999
    (posted Mon 9 Aug 1999)

    Dear Locus,
         The New Sf/F/H Books lists the latest incarnation of van Vogt's War Against the Rull. I should like to point out that unless Mark Rogers has radically changed his art style (he of the quiet and discreet Samurai Cat series ) the cover art looks more like Hubert Rogers and I'd swear on a stack of Necronomicons that it was undoubtedly the Astounding cover for War Against The Rull.

    Michael Walsh
    4 August 1999
    (posted Mon 9 Aug 1999)

    [ See response from Locus, above; the Tor book incorrectly credits the cover art to Mark Rogers. --ed.]

    Dear Locus,
         There is a type of author who is forgotten when people list all time best authors -- the author with no connection to fandom is particularly vulnerable to this selective forgetting. How could T. H. White, author of The Sword in the Stone and The Once and Future King not be on the all time best fantasy writer list? How could Kurt Vonnegut, whose Cat's Cradle is probably one of the ten best sf novels of all time, not be on the all time best sf writers list? Forgotten. But if you had whispered their names into the ear of the people making out their lists, I bet a lot of people would have said, "Ah, ha!" and voted for them.

    Rick Norwood
    8 August 1999
    (posted Mon 9 Aug 1999)

    Dear Locus,
         Responding to Dave Truesdale:
         You said:

    But it does seem rather disingenuous of you to blame current (Fifth Generation) ''straight'' science fiction novels for not connecting with the newer generation of readers, when you keep shoveling First Generation SF down their throats as fast as they can swallow it.
         Not at all. If a product fails to connect with the market, it's always the fault of the people producing the product that fails to connect. I'm not shovelling anything down anyone's throats -- the readers aren't sheep, they aren't acting mindlessly. They buy the Star Trek novels, and other media books, because they like them. If you want to get their attention on your stuff, you have to make it clear that they'll like your stuff too, and produce stuff they will like, based on their demonstrated tastes.
         Blaming the audience for failing to show up doesn't get you anywhere. Blaming your competition does get you anywhere. If your sales aren't strong, blame yourself, you might get somewhere.
         (This is the point where people usually start accusing me of caring about nothing but product, sales and marketing. Not true. I'm perfectly happy to discuss art at great length, but if the question is "why aren't people buying thus-and-so?" that's a sales and marketing question.)
         Dave, elsewhere in your letter you suggest that I direct Trek readers to other stuff they might like, and I'd love to, but as you point out, I can't direct people to the products of other publishers. So other publishers have to put out ads that do that. I can easily envision a Lensmen ad that runs
    Before Star Wars. Before Star Trek. A group of bold heroes protected Earth and the Galaxy from harm. Lensmen - Where the Saga Really Began!
         But no, the publishers normally don't want "pure" SF like Lensmen "tainted" by association with Star Trek and Star Wars.:)

    John Ordover
    7 August 1999
    (posted Mon 9 Aug 1999)

    Dear Locus,
         Rich Horton wrote:

    How does John Ordover view the success of, say, Lois McMaster Bujold? Are her stories rife with cutting edge scientific ideas? Hardly. Is the technological and societal background of her stories particularly complex, or particularly built upon previous SF? No more so than Star Trek! (Well, I'd say that Bujold's societal backgrounds are more complex and consistent than Star Trek's, but because she's thought them through better, not because they depend on a foundation of SF reading.)
         Taking the last first, Lois Bujold's success makes my point, which was never that science fiction contains no examples of what I'm suggesting it should focus on. Her work is what I'll call for this letter primary science fiction -- spaceships, aliens, space battles, weird planets, etc. That her sales are so strong is my point. SF might want to consider publishing more stuff like Bujold.
    [Snip] I really don't see a significant body of stories which are ''painting themselves into a corner'' in search of new twists on old ideas. Any writer will tell you that ideas are a dime a dozen, and so are plots. Characters, and pacing, and good writing, drive good stories. The new ideas which occur to writers are mostly reflections of new scientific discoveries, or, perhaps more significantly, of social changes in today's world. Certainly SF is concerned with some different ideas than it was 40 years ago, but I submit that the fall of the Soviet Union and the idea of nanotechnology, to name one social change and one scientific idea, are more important than endless ramifications and re-ramifications of the ideas of Heinlein as reexamined by Haldeman. And even SF that is to some extent commenting on old SF, like perhaps The Forever War, or say ''Think Like a Dinosaur'', seems comprehensible and cogent absent knowledge of the supposed source material.
         Really? Maybe I'm not reading the right things, but I see a whole lot of stories and books struggling to find yet another approach to, say, the first contact story, and I've spoken to writers who have always wanted to write a First Contact story, but can't think of a way to do it that's distinct enough from a story published in 1937! Or let me bring up personal experience. I recently developed and published a six-book Star Trek series called The Captain's Table. All six books took place in a space/time crossing bar called ''The Captain's Table'' which only Captains of ships, throughout space and time, could get into. To set it up, I intentionally drew on the work of A.E. Van Vogt's Weapon's Shops (for a door that could show up anywhere, but always led to the same place) and Arthur C. Clark's Tales from the White Hart.
         For the most part, our readers credited me with coming up with the brilliant idea of a space/time crossing bar. Our hundreds of thousands of readers were 99% unaware that the concept had ever been used before.
         I did get a few communications from fans asking if I'd based the series on Spider Robinson's Callahan's stories. Not one reader was aware of the White Hart stories, which formed the basis for the CT (and yes, the approaches in Hart and Cal. are distinct). So figuring it was time for more White Hart-style stories, I wrote the one that's in the Urban Legends anthology and hope to sell more.
         As for new tech to base stories on, another problem I see in SF is that we're so far ahead of the new discoveries that we're running into what amounts to an event horizon. There hasn't been a new scientific discovery in decades that we didn't anticipate and beat to death before it became reality, including nanotechnology -- which we started in on at least 10 years ago if not longer. And we're rejecting perfectly good ideas -- like dinosaurs rampaging on an island, which a certain Mr. Critchon sold a lots of copies of -- because we consider them old hat, when in fact they are completely new to a whole lot of the potential audience.
         On the fall of the Soviet Union, don't get me started. To my almost certain knowledge, no SF author published a novel or story predicting it (althouh Bruce Bethke tried) or what looks like the eventual democratization/capitalist takeover of the world. Why? It was too upbeat! Too much like the one-world-democracy hopeful future that was standard in the pulp days, and we wouldn't want to re-do any of that stuff! It's naive to think the future might be better than the present, after all. :)
         Further, you're making my point in another way, by suggesting that SF can mine sociologial stuff. Sure it can, but that's secondary or even tertiary science fiction. Primary science fiction concerns Robots, Aliens, Spaceships, Space Battles, Time Travel, Alternate Worlds, and humans comping with sudden advances in technology in the context of Heroic Adventure. And as far as I can tell, the more of these elements an SF series contains, the more, on the whole, it sells, and often it wins win awards too -- Ender's Game contains Aliens, Advanced Technology, Spaceships and Space Battles in the context of heroic adventure. So does Ringworld.
         Anyway, thanks for the response. I love a good debate. I do notice that you seem to have no problem with my basic point -- calling those who at this point in their lives read primarily media-books idiots won't help sell them science fiction, and neither will calling what they read "not science fiction." The approach has to be "if you love science fiction like Trek/Wars/Xfiles/Jurassic Park, there's some other stuff you'll like - Bujold, Weber, Ringworld, Ender's Game, etc."

    John Ordover
    7 August 1999
    (posted Mon 9 Aug 1999)

    P.S. As for the "Trek-is-pudding, striaght SF is meat" idea, all I can say is that in this case, you can have yer pudding even if you don't eat your meat. :)

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