Raymond’s snooty (but hilarious)…
As you know, I love science fiction, especially its early gems. I lament the fact that most readers are unaware of the classics, especially when it comes to short stories. Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man, for example, should be taught in schools: it’s a classic and has influenced generations of authors, whether they realize it or not.
You probably know that my favorite author is P.K. Dick, whom I consider a modern-day prophet. His stories lift the veil of reality in a way that few have ever managed. I would also add to the list of all-time classics Isaac Asimov – whose Foundation series blew my mind long before I got into the I Robot stories – and, of course, Frank Herbert – whose mixture of politics, religion/philosophy, and science fiction I’ve tried to mimic in Pearseus.
However, I’m also painfully aware of science fiction’s humble, pulpy origins. Much of the earlier work was plagued by ridiculous contraptions, tongue-twisting names, and weird physics, as attested by Raymond Chandler in a 1953 letter to his agent, H. N. Swanson.
What really sells this, however, is the wrist computer and the casual name-drop of Google, some 45 years before Larry and Sergey registered the domain…
Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It’s a scream. It is written like this:
“I checked out with K19 on Adabaran III, and stepped out through the crummaliote hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timejector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Bryllis ran swiftly on five legs using their other two to send out crylon vibrations.
The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was ice-cold against the rust-colored mountains. The Bryllis shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn’t enough.
The sudden brightness swung me around and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough. He was right.
And a fun fact: I recently added the name Bryllis to a short story as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Chandler.
And Neil’s a darling
In a celebrated speech at the Reading Agency, he had this to say on the matter:
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
You can read an edited version of Neil’s speech on The Guardian – a highly recommended read.
Also, visit Damien Walter for a lively discussion of Neil Gaiman’s quote.