Hugo reading 2017: Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro,

I came to Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, with a certain caution, for two reasons.  First, I’ve never read any Silverberg, and an entire book about an author I have not read didn’t sound very appealing.  And secondly, I had heard (inaccurately, as it turns out) that this particular book had been on the Rabid Puppies wishlist.

I enjoyed it much more than I expected to.  It’s basically a set of transcripts of long interviews with Silverberg, and since Silverberg is an entertaining raconteur, with a lot of opinions on a lot of subjects, it works quite well.  Zinos-Amaro asks good questions, which helps. Though it did feel like reading yet another podcast.

There were a lot of bits which caught my interest, but a prevailing theme through the book was Silverberg’s awareness of his mortality.  He is eighty, he figures that realistically, he probably has another 5-10 years in him, and that changes how he views the world.  He has less patience for trying to figure out where an author is coming from, for example – if the story doesn’t work for him, well, he only has limited reading time left.  I was especially struck by the bit where he talked about having read Rabelais for the third time recently, and having enjoyed it very much, and this was his farewell to Rabelais, because he only has so many years left, and there are other books that still need to be read.  I was less thrilled/convinced by his contention that authors should really stop writing at sixty or so because (with a tiny handful of exceptions) they just don’t produce good work after that point, because they tend to be too removed from current linguistic and social trends.

I enjoyed his anecdotes about his extensive travels (he has said farewell to a number of places, but he refuses to say farewell to Paris, because he will keep going there for as long as he possibly can), and I was interested to hear that, like me, he has very vivid dreams and nightmares and writing fiction keeps the nightmares at bay because his imagination is getting used by his conscious mind so it doesn’t need to disturb him by night.

Zinos-Amaro interviewed Silverberg extensively about authors and their styles, asking what he thought of the various Nobel Prize for Literature winners over the years (interestingly, Silverberg does not read science fiction any more, and tends to read literary fiction instead).  I especially liked his take on Patrick White, which is pretty much what I think of White too:

“Very strong novel, but, gee, I don’t want to read any more of his books. Here’s a case where every sentence set my teeth on edge, but the story itself is quite powerful.”

I am also now keen to get my hands on Hector Servedac by Jules Verne, which has a bizarre plot about a comet shaving off North Africa and taking it into orbit around Jupiter, then bringing it back.  Apparently, this is not a fatal experience for those on board, and I really need to know what happens!

Silverberg also had some interesting things to say on the subject of style.  There’s a nice section where he compares the styles of Hemingway and Greene (who he does like) with Hardy (who he does not approve of at all).  And he talks about doing ‘hack work’ as a writer, which he views as an honest job, provided you know that this is what you are doing.

Having said that, I can’t help noticing that female writers just don’t seem to exist in Silverbegs world. Anne McCaffrey is the only one who even gets a mention, and then only in passing as the first female Hugo winner, and a friend who gave him a big box of magazines containing his work after his house burned down.  Her writing is not discussed.  Penelope Lively is mentioned by the interviewer at the end, but Silverberg has not read her work, and he talks about another female author as appealing to millions of women.  I do think that this reflects more on his age and background than any deliberate bias or misogyny, but it’s a bit frustrating nonetheless.

Silverberg’s politics were another ‘oh dear’ moment for me.  He is a libertarian, and quite right-wing economically.  He does think that the Republican tendency towards anti-scientific thinking and Christianism is a problem, but apparently it is still preferable to what the Democrats do.  And he really does not seem to understand left wing politics at all – I had the sense that he was arguing in good faith – but against straw men, without having any idea that he was doing it.  In particular, he is quite dismissive of modern political sensitivities in a way which suggests that he absolutely misses the point of them.

Overall, this book leaves me feeling that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy reading Silververg’s novels, but that I’d love to read his autobiography.  He comes across as thoughtful, likeable, and very erudite – but also old-fashioned, rather conservative, and a bit depressingly embedded in Old White Male SF culture.

I prefer Le Guin, but this really was far easier to read than I anticipated.

Hugo reading 2017: Words are my Matter, by Ursula Le Guin

I’m probably going to do these one at a time and between everything else, because most of them are long collections of essays, and there are only so many essays I can read in one sitting without going around the bend.  Which, contrary to appearances, is not the actual goal of my Hugo reading.

So, the book I’ve been reading over the past few days has been Ursula Le Guin’s essay collection, Words Are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books 2000-2016.  It contains speeches, essays, introductions, blog posts and book reviews, and one or two funny little poems.

I enjoyed it quite a bit. I didn’t read absolutely every piece in the book – as I said, I don’t love essays that much – but I would start a piece, and if it grabbed me, I would read it.  If it didn’t, I’d page through quickly, and if something caught my eye, I’d stop and go back and read it.  I’d say that I read around 2/3 of this collection in total.

I’ve actually read very little of Ursula Le Guin’s actual fiction, and that not for years – I think I read the Earthsea Trilogy before it was a quartet, when I was in late primary school or early high school.  This collection makes me want to go back and give her another go – I liked her somewhat acerbic wit, her feminism, and her ability to write both in a very personal register and a very professional, polished, critical one.  I think my favourite section was the Talks, Essays and Occasional Pieces, which I read in full – book introductions and book reviews are less interesting when one doesn’t know the books in question, though Le Guin certainly convinced me that I need to read Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake, and George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, and perhaps also Alan Garner’s Boneland and Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver. And I need to re-read Among Others, of course.

Getting back to the essays, I enjoyed their thoughtfulness, and was particularly delighted by her piece on Inventing Languages, and how to make these consistent.  I liked her various articles articles on genre and publishing (and was particularly pleased that she did not throw Romance under the bus, though I get the impression that she hasn’t read much, if any of it), and adored her horror parody, On Serious Literature, in which the author is stalked by the dessicated zombie corpse of genre fiction.  I loved and was depressed by her essay on the ways women’s writing gets disregarded and disappeared, Disappearing Grandmothers, and will definitely be retaining her term ‘prick-lit’ for the equivalent of ‘chick-lit’.

A good, solid read, with moments of absolute delight.  I have no idea what the competition on this ballot will be like, but I’m definitely glad I had the opportunity to read this one.

Hugo reading 2016: Best related work

Dear God, this is a pit of awful. I’m fairly sure it is close to 100% Puppy-infested.

Safe Space as Rape Room” by Daniel Eness (castaliahouse.com) – Ick. So this purports to be a five part essay on how Science Fiction Fandom, led by John Scalzi and all the evil feminists, has been covering up and enabling pedophilia for years. Some of the allegations refer to people who have, in fact been convicted of things. Others, not so much. And… the thing is, I’ve read a number of the bits which are being quoted here and they are being quoted out of context and with intent to mislead. I don’t know if there is a larger problem in fandom. If there is, this set of reports only serves to discredit it by reporting things that they must know are not true, which tends to make any true bits look false, too. I don’t see how this helps anyone. I was unable to finish this – I read three parts out of five, but once I realised that there really was stuff there that I knew to be untrue, I felt excused from reading the rest.

SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day (Castalia House) – I find this title highly ironic, since he appears to me to be lying from the get-go. Perhaps this is a piece of satire critiquing the entire premise? Or perhaps I should just file it under No Award and move on. It starts with a dedication to those poor, beleaguered Gamergaters who just wanted to be left alone to play their games in peace, only they got bullied by the evil SJWs. And it goes downhill from there. I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t want me to read this book, since I’m clearly out to oppress him with my unreasonable leftist demands for things like respect and equity and all that. Also, apparently, I’m anti-science. This is news to me. I would hate to accidentally oppress this author, so just to be on the safe side, I’m not going to read any further. That way his book will not be sullied. And it’s getting a No Award from me, which should warm the cockles of his heart, as it proves all his theories right, at least by his logic.

The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland (askthebigot.com) – Oh, this is distressing. Moira was the daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, and she was abused and molested by her parents, who thought she should be a boy, and gay. And it’s awful. And she has concluded from this that people who are gay are pro-paedophilia. To be fair, it sounds as though her parents’ views on sexuality would certainly incline one to such views. But oh, dear. So she is vocally against gay marriage because she believes it will lead to child abuse. Honestly, I don’t know what to do with this one. It’s clearly a heartfelt, sincere piece of writing, but I am not at all sure it belongs on this ballot. I feel fairly confident that I’d feel this way even without the anti-gay part, because I was feeling much this way about the piece before I realised where it was going. But putting it in No Award lumps it in with the stuff above, and that doesn’t seem fair either. I don’t know.

Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini (Castalia House) – OK, I’m beginning to think I can’t do much of anything with this category. I haven’t read any Gene Wolfe, and a collection of commentaries about him – a very lengthy, extensive collection at that – is not something I’m hugely motivated to read, nor do I think I’d be well-equipped to judge it. I did have a bit of a read, but without context, the writing wasn’t engaging enough to hold me. And the fact that it is published by Castalia House is not a recommendation.

The First Draft of My Appendix N Book” by Jeffro Johnson (jeffro.wordpress.com) – This is actually quite fun. Johnson is reading and reviewing a lot of ‘golden age’ science fiction and fantasy that is no longer well-known, in the light of D&D games. It’s engagingly written, despite a tendency to make comments about political correctness and such that make me roll my eyes. Since it has no other competition in this bracket, I’m going to bookmark this to read later. I think this might be the sole survivor on my ballot for this category.