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Spaceships on the spine

April 25, 2009 |  3:50 pm


Aliens, flying cars, robots, and diabolic creatures from Saturn. Tiny men marching on the moon who see our every thought. Apocalyptic visions of Earth after the end.

Within this literary genre, anything is possible. There are no bounds to almost anything. No place you cannot go. The perfect place for boyhood dreaming, no?

Panel moderator Scott Timberg began the "Science Fiction: The Grand Masters" session seeking out the tender moments when the panelists fell in love with the genre.

He asked: What first drew you to science fiction as a reader? And what made you stick to science fiction as long as you have?

Joe Haldeman, who has won the Hugo and Nebula awards twice, said the first piece of literature he ever read was science fiction. He was 5 or 6 years old, and he kept reading the same book over and over again. A teacher gave him more sci-fi books, once she noted his deep interest. Soon enough, he only checked out books from the library that had a little spaceship on the spine, feeding his habit.

Harry Harrison, perhaps best known for his “Stainless Steel Rat” series, described himself and his friends as the original fanboys, finding the stories they read gave him “an extra little thrill.”

Robert Silverberg, who impressively has won the Nebula Award five times and the Hugo Award four times, said of growing up in New York, “New York is a Darwinian place, where either you are quick or you’re dead.”

As a boy, he fell in love with the city’s Natural History Museum and, thus, dinosaur skeletons.
“I began to have imaginary galaxies," he said, "and began writing little stories.”

They all admitted that despite their love of the fantastic world of science fiction, none of them are scientists.

“The key to science fiction is ‘what if?' ” What if the world is entering an Ice Age? What if the world is entering the opposite of an Ice Age? What if? What if? What if?” Silverberg said.

He admitted that you don’t need to know anything about science to write science fiction, noting another grand master, Ray Bradbury. “If you have sufficient metaphoric chutzpah, you can set a story on the moon.”

--Lori Kozlowski

Photo: A nebula. Credit: SDSS I-II Collaboration