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?





7 Responses to “More on Readercon”

  • Lindig Says:

    Yes, please, more would be good. I have a writer friend, born in the 1940s, who agrees with you about Sturgeon.

  • Ben Says:

    Lately, but perhaps that’s just my frustration with what I read those last months speaking, and maybe that’s my own fault, but I think I’m starting to wish that authors wouldn’t worry so much about “good influences” and more about “this is bad. I definitely do not want to do this in my own book”. Because sometimes I really have to wonder whether those influences aren’t doing more bad than good 😉

    • Rosemary Says:

      Hm. Sounds to me like you’re just reading works of dubious quality lately. You’re not going purely by ebook price, are you? That way lies madness.

      • Ben Says:

        Ebook prices are a complete mess. I don’t have much expectations using those to gauge what I might get – if I buy a $20 book should I expect 5-times more/better entertainment than from yours? 😉

        But it certainly doesn’t help reading something surprisingly good for pocket change and then the next thing costs ten times as much, is half as long, and wasn’t fun at all, despite a long list of awesome reasons and a big publisher behind it.

        Oh well. This too shall pass. Or something like that anyway.

  • David Tate Says:

    My parents were big F&SF fans, and in fact subscribed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the early 60s to the mid-70s. My mother was an English teacher who appreciated writers who had craft as well as ideas. And so I got exposed to Theodore Sturgeon from an early age. I think “Bianca’s Hands” is still my mother’s favorite…

  • InquisitiveRaven Says:

    Small nitpick here, but Sir Arthur’s last name is spelled “Clarke.”