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My personal opinion is the best type of Science Fiction involves science
May 6, 2013 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison & Gene Wolfe discussing Science Fiction in 1982 (slyt). And oh yeah, one of the moderators is Studs Terkel
posted by Perko (48 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
You had me at Gene Wolfe. Speaking of which, where is his tag? And the other host is Calvin Trillin? All sorts of win here. Thanks for sharing.
posted by NoMich at 7:31 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man oh man.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:37 AM on May 6, 2013


Added the Gene Wolfe tag NoMich, sorry-- not the most thorough tagger around. But if that interview is any indication, Wolfe has some experience feeling like the odd man out!
posted by Perko at 7:38 AM on May 6, 2013


Hey, them Star Trek movies have science, too. Just ask the screenwriter. /sagenod
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:44 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was alive and grown up in 82, and watching things like this makes my brain hurt. The odd combination of things that feel like they could have been from a MeFi comment yesterday, with things that very much seem half a century away overloads a circuit or two.
posted by tyllwin at 7:53 AM on May 6, 2013


Hey, them Star Trek movies have science, too. Just ask the screenwriter. /sagenod

Wait wait wait.... they let Damon Lindelof, the guy who wrote the train wreck Prometheus script, write the new Star Trek??? This does not bode well.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:37 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the last couple of seasons of LOST? Possibly the worst ending to that show possible? I mean it was worse than the end to BSG!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:58 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait wait wait.... they let Damon Lindelof, the guy who wrote the train wreck Prometheus script, write the new Star Trek??? This does not bode well.

And the last couple of seasons of LOST?


In fairness, Lindelof also wrote the first couple of seasons of Lost. He's one of three writers on Into Darkness, with Orci and Kurtzman (the two of whom wrote the first reboot movie), and I cannot imagine that J.J. Abrams wasn't heavily involved in the writing of each before, during and after shooting.

So it's not like he's personally dooming the thing.
posted by Etrigan at 9:13 AM on May 6, 2013


Etrigan: "He's one of three writers on Into Darkness, with Orci and Kurtzman (the two of whom wrote the first reboot movie), and I cannot imagine that J.J. Abrams wasn't heavily involved in the writing of each before, during and after shooting."

Yeah, which doesn't bode well, either. I thought Star Trek worked despite the script.
posted by brundlefly at 9:36 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


♪ These are a few of my faaaavorite thiiiings. ♪

Unrelated, I feel the integrity gap in modern television journalism could be partly bridged by strategic use of smoking jackets and cognac.
posted by echocollate at 9:39 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


One book that illustrates what I like about scifi is Frederik Pohl's 'Jem'. It takes a simple musing on a small aspect of economics and casts it out large to see where it leads. Or you could think of it as a caricature. And the result casts light on the original thing.

It has stayed in my head. I think of the 'peeps' again and again as China and India become more economically prominent.
posted by Trochanter at 9:44 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


When the video starts with "The following program contains adult language," in my heart it means, "Grownups are gonna be talking about science in here kids. Stick around and learn something."
posted by straight at 9:44 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wolfe is a better writer than everyone else in that room combined.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:53 AM on May 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


Unrelated, I feel the integrity gap in modern television journalism could be partly bridged by strategic use of smoking jackets and cognac.

And Isaac Asimov's rich, dulcet tones.

Anybody else catch Asimov saying something about "homosexuals" at the very beginning of the video? I wonder what they were talking about.
posted by NoMich at 9:54 AM on May 6, 2013


Wolfe has written some really, really excellent stuff. It's been a while since he produced anything really good, though.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:55 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Soldier of Sidon and Pirate Freedom (2006 and 2007) are probably the best of Wolfe's most recent work, but I agree they aren't in the first tier (Book of the New Sun, Soldier of the Mist / Arete, On Blue's Waters, Peace, Fifth Head of Cerberus, stories collected in Endangered Species, Book of Days, and The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories) or the second tier (Long Sun, Wizard Knight, the Devil in a Forest, Free Live Free, remainder of the Short Sun, Storeys from the Old Hotel - some of those go in the first tier).
posted by straight at 10:09 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Terkel: "There's Auschwitz and Martin Luther King, there's Hiroshima and Ghandi."

Wolfe: "I hope you don't mean it would have been better if we'd dropped Ghandi on Hitler."

Elison (pointing at Wolfe): "He has the weirdest mind of the three of us."

Asimov: "Ghandi is dandy but liquor is quicker."
posted by straight at 10:24 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Unrelated, I feel the integrity gap in modern television journalism could be partly bridged by strategic use of smoking jackets and cognac.

And Isaac Asimov's rich, dulcet tones.


And Gene Wolfe saying "sonofabitch motherfucker."
posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:30 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, them Star Trek movies have science, too.

Not to turn this into a Trek thread, but YARGHH, I can't help myself. Lindelof claims he wants Trek to be "hardcore scifi". The only nod to actual science in the latest movie was that bipedal humans tend to stand upright.

Not that Trek is typically scientifically rigorous (tachyon pulse, anyone?) but usually there's at least an extrapolation of current social or political thought. If you fail to have actual, theoretical, or metaphorical science in your script, I fail to see how you've achieved your goal of "hardcore scifi". Maybe compared to Lost?

Ok, that's over. I'm going to take my pills now and watch the video.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:31 AM on May 6, 2013


This is very timely for me -- I just finished Peace yesterday.

And Gene turns 82 tomorrow!

As for recent work, I read Soldier of Sidon and Home Fires (2011), both of which I liked a lot. Asking them to measure up to his very best work is probably too much, but I'm not sure I think they are in a lesser class.
posted by grobstein at 10:36 AM on May 6, 2013


And Gene Wolfe saying "sonofabitch motherfucker."

...as part of his explanation that he, unlike the other two authors is, "a real, church-going, mass-attending Catholic" who believes there really is a God.
posted by straight at 10:38 AM on May 6, 2013


Yes, Wolfe has always said his Catholicism is an important part of his writing.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:56 AM on May 6, 2013


Anybody else catch Asimov saying something about "homosexuals" at the very beginning of the video? I wonder what they were talking about.

It sounds to me like this:

I was just going to say: we don't drink, we don't use dope we don't have have homosexual
[next word unclear under crosstalk] -- what else is left...

Asimov was famously supportive of gay rights (even if for purely utilitarian, anti-population growth reasons) years before it became mainstream, so it sounds to me like he is mocking some moralist.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:42 AM on May 6, 2013


"Dope" makes a lot more sense in context than "soap" but I think I got "homosexual liaisons."
posted by RobotHero at 11:46 AM on May 6, 2013


Wolfe is a better writer than everyone else in that room combined.

...and I thought we were friends.........
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:49 PM on May 6, 2013


Right off the bat I like what Harlan is saying about his writing being incorrectly categorized as science fiction. And Asimov....

This is going to be good. Thanks for this.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:53 PM on May 6, 2013


Ok, last comment until this is done playing but I just wanted to say that I'm in the process of reading the books "The Hugo Winners" which, so far anyway, are edited/compiled by Asimov. They're great compendiums of literally the best of the science fiction world, with regards to short stories at least, and Asimov's interludes/intros to each story and, most importantly, the authors of the stories are outstanding.

Do recommend.

And if you see any but the first of them in a thrift shop or something buy it and send it my way. I'm in the market.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:58 PM on May 6, 2013


RolandOfEld: " They're great compendiums of literally the best of the science fiction world, with regards to short stories at least"

There are lots of good stories in the Hugo winners, absolutely. But what the Hugo winners literally are is the stories that got the most votes at that year's Worldcon. They have long been sharply criticized for overlooking better work (especially at novel length), due to whatever political battles were going on at the time. Check out Jo Walton's Revisiting the Hugos series on Tor.com for a good year by year review.

Just at random, look at 1973, when Tiptree's “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side" and Joanna Russ's “When It Changed" lost to two now mostly forgotten stories.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:12 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


2:18 in... Ellison hate rising... rising...
posted by Trochanter at 1:41 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I more reliably enjoy the Nebula Award winners, which are voted on by other SF writers, (and also usually really like Gardner Dozois's annual Years Best Science Fiction collection), but the Hugo winners are usually worth checking out as well.
posted by straight at 1:43 PM on May 6, 2013


Right, I say that "literally" in the sense that the Hugo Winning stories that I've read so far in that collection stand among the best not that they are exclusively or categorically the best of their time.

Doubly so related since they contain Harlan and Asimov already, with Wolfe coming in later editions I think. I'd never read any of them besides Asimov so it's a nice introduction.

It's just that manually parsing through sci-fi/fantasy material all too often is very tedious and puts one at risk of seeing alot of noise before getting a decent signal. With that in mind, the collections I'm reading now haven't been disappointing.

I welcome titles and/or ISBN numbers for other collections that are on par with them.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:51 PM on May 6, 2013


RobotVoodooPower: "Not that Trek is typically scientifically rigorous (tachyon pulse, anyone?) but usually there's at least an extrapolation of current social or political thought. If you fail to have actual, theoretical, or metaphorical science in your script, I fail to see how you've achieved your goal of "hardcore scifi". Maybe compared to Lost?"

I feel like the "hard" in "hard science fiction" has taken on a colloquial meaning of "gritty" and/or "serious" for some people. A friend of mine recently referred to District 9 as "hard sci-fi".
posted by brundlefly at 1:54 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree with straight's recommendation of Gardner Dozois's long-running Year's Best SF series.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:55 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I've read some of the, and perhaps herein lies the problem, more recent Year's Best SF books and was very underwhelmed. I'll not give up on them but combined with the fact that my local library doesn't shelve them altogether (for whatever crazy reason the librarians have for doing such a thing) it's a bit of a slog so far.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:57 PM on May 6, 2013


Well, you could just not match up well with Dozois's tastes, or maybe with where the field in general is at. There's a rival Year's Best SF series, usually edited by David Hartwell, that might work for you better.

There's generally a Nebula Awards showcase volume each year, you might want to check that out.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:04 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't be sure about this, but after a half an hour of trying to figure out where I'd seen Calvin Trillin (the non-Terkel host) before, I'm almost sure I've seen him do a little film where he tells a story about being afraid to take on the tic-tac-toe playing chicken in New York's Chinatown.

It's a great story.

Friend: Come on, Cal. It's a bird for crissake.
Trillin: Yeah, but.. the bird plays everyday.
Friend: IT'S A CHICKEN!
posted by Trochanter at 2:52 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I disagree with the title. The best kind of science fiction involves surreal, heavily metaphorical adventures divorced from reality.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:49 PM on May 6, 2013


There's a rival Year's Best SF series, usually edited by David Hartwell, that might work for you better.

And he's Gene Wolfe's long-time editor, so if you like Wolfe, you might like his anthologies.

When Hartwell left the publisher Scribner's to work for Tor Books, they allowed him to take one author with him. He chose Wolfe (whose only big published work at that point was Fifth Head of Cerberus).
posted by straight at 5:44 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Somebody pleeeeeeease run the audio through a mixing board. Damn what a muddy mess.
posted by Twang at 5:17 AM on May 7, 2013


I really like Ellison here. He's so analytical. A little obnoxious. But really sharp!
posted by grobstein at 5:50 AM on May 7, 2013


Wish Gene Wolfe would talk more. Happy birthday Gene!
posted by grobstein at 5:55 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wish Gene Wolfe would talk more.

His acceptance speech when he was inducted to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame was surprisingly humble and self-effacing, almost shy even:
"I'm not the most appropriate person to receive an award for Gene Wolfe. There are many people here who know him much better than I do: his wife Rosemary, his daughter Teri, David Hartwell, Gardner Dozois, Michael Andre-Driussi. I know Gene Wolfe as a scared little man, always groping around for an idea he can use. Not just an idea, but one that will bear fruit. I might plant it, but it is the sun and the rain and the soil and God that do most of the work to make it grow. This is one of the greatest honors of my entire life and standing here before you I feel shaken to my very core, so I hope you will forgive me if I do not stand here any longer."
That's a paraphrase from my notes when I was there. I met Wolfe and had him sign my copy of Soldier of Sidon. He asked me my opinion of the book and I said I thought it was as good as the other two Latro books, but that I couldn't say for sure since I'd only read it once. Hoo boy, did he love that. I doubt I'll ever say anything that smooth again to a famous person whose work I enjoy. He signed my book, "To Michael (for his insight)."

Also amusing (to me), I was at the book table talking to Michael Andre-Driussi and asked him which collection had Wolfe's short story "Trip, Trap" (a nifty story split and told from the perspectives of two characters--one part reads like high fantasy and the other like science fiction--and in reference to which Wolfe wrote, "To Damon Knight, who one well-remembered June evening in 1966 grew me from a bean."). A guy standing next to us piped up, "Orbit 2!" It was Gardner Dozois. (It's also collected in Storeys from the Old Hotel.)

I also have a few more details from David Hartwell about leaving Scribners with Wolfe:
Wolfe had published Fifth Head and Hartwell had seen drafts of Shadow of the Torturer. So when Hartwell told them he wanted to take an author who was working on an intellectual, literary SF book, the suits all broke into grins and shook his hand. Of course, Wolfe went on to win the Nebula award soon after.

Hartwell said that in his professional opinion, Wolfe's body of short fiction is unequaled by anyone alive. He also mentioned that Wolfe had had a book published almost every year since the 1970s.
posted by straight at 7:54 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Returning to RolandOfEld's question - I've actually been reading a fair number of "historical survey of the field" collections lately. You might find some or all of these interesting:

* The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories - Some kind of odd choices here (if I were to pick a Niven, it wouldn't be "Cloak of Anarchy."

* The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction - Less surprising choices, but lots of good stories, and minimal overlap with the Oxford.

* The Science Fiction Hall of Fame series - Volumes I, IIa and IIb are back in print (looks like III and IV are still oop).

* Masterpieces (ed by Orson Scott Card) - Say what you will about OSC, these are solid choices for the most part.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:53 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I disagree with the title. The best kind of science fiction involves surreal, heavily metaphorical adventures divorced from reality.

Just to let you know Charlemagne, the title is a paraphrase (shortened for character length) of what Asimov says about 2 minutes in... not my personal opinion, necessarily. I'm still on the fence about it. But I do enjoy hearing them debate!
posted by Perko at 11:56 AM on May 7, 2013


Plus, Charlemagne, come on. You can't dangle bait like that and not drop a couple of recommendations. C'mon. Hook a thread up.
posted by forgetful snow at 2:43 PM on May 7, 2013


Moorcock, mostly.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:52 PM on May 7, 2013


If you've got 8hrs, here's the BBC's dramatization of the Foundation Trilogy.
posted by Eideteker at 9:21 AM on May 8, 2013


This would have been nice as the half hour intro to a two hour chat, by the way. They didn't have time to get into much of anything. Shame, really.
posted by Trochanter at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2013


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