Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Madicon 21: Encountering Jack McDevitt

The fact that these small science fiction and fantasy conventions can bring in some pretty neat guests seems to be a well kept secret. I got to spend a couple hours talking to Jack McDevitt about writing technique and science fiction. (His first talk was very similar to this.) Here are a few quotes from around the web that give a sense of what he had to say:

LOCUS Online: I’m not sure human nature changes. The trappings change. Go back and read some of the Greek and Roman classics, the stuff that survives. I have a hard time seeing a difference between those people and us. They had a different set of problems because their environment was different, but they worried about taking care of their kids and living reasonably decent lives with a certain amount of personal freedom. And if you come back in a thousand years, I don’t think human nature’s going to be that changed. Conditions will be different, science is going to have gone in different directions, but I do not believe that human beings change that much. I might be wrong. I hope not!

Talking with Tim: Often, when I ask aspiring writers what a writer does, they will say she tells a story. When people tell stories, though, everyone around them tends to go to sleep. A writer strives, not to tell a story, but to create an experience. The reader is expected to hang by his fingertips while the protagonist is lifted to safety by a cable a thousand feet over the sea; he will fall in love on a rainy night in Paris; he will glide through Saturn’s rings and gape at the spectacle; he will get tossed over the side by the woman of his dreams. When it rains in a novel, the reader should get wet.

Nebula Awards Interview: The research is simple. I pick up phone and call a physicist. Or whomever. I don’t trust myself to do my own research because I don’t have the background. I should mention that, across thirty years, I’ve made countless calls, often to strangers who just happened to be at the office, say, in the Lowell Observatory. My questions are frequently off the wall. Like, “Dr. Parker, my name is blah-blah-blah. I wonder if there’s any way we could blow up a star?” I’m happy to report that over thirty years, no one has ever failed to respond. Not once.

The Seven Question Interview: Years ago I was a high school English teacher. I realized fairly early that the classic writers in the curriculum operated in a different culture and at a different level from my eleventh and twelfth graders. I decided my job was to show my students how much sheer joy is available in a book. If I could do that, the kids would eventually find Dickens and Lamb and the others for themselves. I tried several books. The one that worked, worked beyond belief, was Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.

 Jack McDevitt spoke at length about his love for the short stories of science fiction. Some of his favorites included Deutcsh’s “A Subway Named Mobius”, Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth”, Clarke’s “The Star”, Tevis’s “The Big Bounce”,  Bradbury’s “Mars Is Heaven”, and Asimov’s “Nightfall”.
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2 responses to “Madicon 21: Encountering Jack McDevitt

  1. RogerBW March 19, 2012 at 6:51 am

    In the UK there’s traditionally been a split between “literary” and “media” conventions – the latter have tended to be commercial affairs, paying to get stars for whom the punters are expected to pay to queue to get an autograph. So there’s a very clear distinction between “the guys who are paid to be there” and “the unwashed fans”. Writers don’t have such lucrative opportunities, so the ones who turn up to conventions tend to do so because they like the things; one finds them, not at the end of a signing queue, but mingling with everyone else in the bar.

  2. Brendan March 21, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Often, when I ask aspiring writers what a writer does, they will say she tells a story. When people tell stories, though, everyone around them tends to go to sleep. A writer strives, not to tell a story, but to create an experience. The reader is expected to hang by his fingertips while the protagonist is lifted to safety by a cable a thousand feet over the sea; he will fall in love on a rainy night in Paris; he will glide through Saturn’s rings and gape at the spectacle; he will get tossed over the side by the woman of his dreams. When it rains in a novel, the reader should get wet.

    That’s really well put, and I think it applies just as much if not more to RPG refereeing.

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