Jul 26 2017

More on Readercon


My other Readercon panel was: Good Influences, wherein we discussed the authors who helped us develop our craft.

I wanted to get past the standard mention of Heinlein/Clarke/Asimov as quickly as possible. For persons who, like me, are approximately one million years old, their influence is inevitable — and said so often that it hardly needs to be said any more.  We’ve covered that by now.

Stated briefly: Heinlein taught me how to keep the page turning; Clarke showed me the delight of hard science in stories; Asimov brought out the galaxy-spanning concepts.  These are not things to sneeze at. But I wanted Heinlein out of the way quickly, because discussion of his treatment of women has been done to death, and do we really have to go through it again?  Let’s move on now, class.

There’s a difference between works that inspire and lead by example, and works that really got so deep into your artistic bones that they’ve become a part of your DNA. For example, I love Jack Vance, but I encountered him in my twenties, when my sense of myself as a writer was already set. And I don’t think I found out about Neil Gaiman until I was nearly forty.  Ditto for Jonathan Carroll. So, the guys (mostly guys) who taught me, who captured me and trained me up, were of a much older vintage.

Also, remember: no Internet when I was young. In fact, no huge bookstores, either, not where I lived.  The books available were either in the smaller local libraries; or the Big Library in the Big City (that would be Hartford, a major trip); or on the wire racks at Arthur’s Drug Store in Rockville Connecticut.  Which, I must say, acually had a great and ever-changing selection!  This was in the days before nationally-centralized distribution. The distributor was a guy with a truck, and he learned what sold in his area, and gave us more of it.

One of the other panelists (I think it was Ilana Myer), mentioned having completely forgotten how huge an influence T.H. White’s The Once and Future King was, which she read when she was quite young. She said that when she reread it as an adult, she recognized, with great joy, the source of her own voice and sensibility as an author.

I recounted a similar experience.  I had sometimes, on and off in the past, wondered: who taught me to love great prose?  Because it surely was not Heinlein/Clark/Asimov. And I didn’t get anything like a well-rounded literary education from grade school and high school.  But I must have known it was possible, and it probably was demonstrated to me quite early, for me to want it so badly and try so hard to reach for it…

Then one day I was reorganizing my library, opened one book, and came across this:

The idiot lived in a black and gray world, punctuated by the white lightning of hunger and the flickering of fear. His clothes were old and many-windowed. Here peeped a shinbone, sharp as a cold chisel, and there in the torn coat were ribs like the fingers of a fist. He was tall and flat. His eyes were calm and his face was dead.

And I remembered: Theodore Sturgeon.  I had been totally omitting him in my standard list of influences, all these years… But in fact, I read everything I could find by him, over and over, very early on —  long before I was old enough to actually comprehend the more adult subjects he was addressing. It was that prose. And that paragraph in particular — I actually pulled it out and read it to the audience.

There’s so much good writing, right there, just in those four sentences.  If it wasn’t 1:52AM, I’d go through it, and detail why and how it hit me.

But it is really close to 2AM now.

So…. more tomorrow?