Aussiecon 4, Melbourne
In conversation: Kim Stanley Robinson and Robert Silverberg
Asked if they either one writes in the nude, KSR says no. RS says he has written at the same desk and chair for many years. “A leatherette chair does not lend itself to writing in the nude.”
KSR said they have a common interest in archeological hoaxes and that RS has written a book on the subject. They mention the Kensington Stone, a rune covered rock that suggested that Vikings had come to Minnesota in the 14th Century. KSR describes how appealing this fiction was for him as a boy. RS quotes an Italian proverb: “Even if it was not true, it was well invented.”
Science fiction and history are inextricably linked. RS: “The past and the future are both strange countries.”
Moving away from hoaxes: a Caucasoid skeleton found in Washington State is dated at 9,000 years old (Kennewick Man). The Native American community is upset by this. RS describes their reaction as: “We know our history and it’s not like this.”
Tollund Man was discovered in a peat bog in Denmark. He was a human sacrifice, found with a rope around his neck. RS: “His face is beautiful. The face of the Dalai Lama.”
KSR asked RS about his transition as a SF writer into a leader of the New Wave in the late 60s and early 70s. KSR said RS was banging out stories at “inhuman speed.” RS responded, saying, “Just improbable speed.” Of the transition RS said: “I’m an overnight success after 25 years of hard work.”
RS described some of his background. Columbia education, studied Latin, read Mann, Faulkner, etc. He started writing for the pulps, “two-fisted space stories.” RS tried emulating the best SF writers, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber. He couldn’t sell those, so he wrote potboilers and those did sell. His transition to the New Wave came after he had mastered technical skills. He asked himself: “Why do the minimum?” Newcomers Roger Zelazny and Samuel R. Delany had entered the field writing at a high level. “I thought: Why not? Do it.”
KSR said he doesn’t read much current SF. He said there are benefits. “The less you know (about current works in SF) the more idiosyncratic you become.”
Regarding the writing process: KSR said he prefers not to know how many words he is writing each day. He likes to be surprised at how many pages pile up when he eventually hits the print button.
RS: “Not only do I know how many words I am writing, I know how long the story will be.” For his novel, The Alien Years, RS told his editor that the book would be about 600 pages. It came out at 597 pages. “That’s close enough to be a rounding error.”
KSR on the current state of SF: “There is something in the water in Great Britain.” He said there are 20 or more very strong SF writers at work there at present.
RS: “You’re something of an environmentalist.” (Eliciting a chuckle from the audience.)
KSR: “Except when I am flying to the other side of the world for parties.”
KSR: (Reacting to the notion that there is a “pure” environmentalist.) “Notions of purity are close to evil.” (For example:) “There is no such thing as wilderness.” There is no part of the earth untouched by humanity. (Another example:) “We might need nuclear power as a bridge technology.” Purists disagree. KSR can see a role for nuclear power in the process of moving away from fossil fuels.
“The planet is simply our body. That’s not some poetic notion. Try holding your breath.” The planet is an extended part of your body. Even if you are completely selfish, only interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, the better you take care of your “body” the more sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll you get to experience.
RS is pleased to hear of KSR’s flexibility and impurity. “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” (The New England Primer, circa 1687).
RS describes himself as conservative and that he arrived at his views in a thoughtful manner. “I am not an oppressor. I want to aid the masses in my patrician, aloof way.”
KSR: Science fiction has a belief in the scientific method as a way to make the world a better place, leading to the greatest good for the greatest number. SF is a lively political literature, a conversation, a dialectic.
KSR believes in a modesty of action. Ameliorist, slow paced, measured. Erecting a scaffolding (a framework to improve quality of life), generation by generation, each building on the past. Don’t build it too high at once or the scaffolding could collapse.
RS: Advocates Hegelian homeostasis. He celebrates the American 19th Century robber barons as the great builders, who created much. By the 1920s they had gone too far and needed a corrective. The “tyrant” Franklin Roosevelt imposed changes. These corrections are dialectic swings to arrive at a happy middle.
KSR: We all have blank spots in our vision. We seldom see the poorest two billion people on this planet. The ones who live on a dollar a day or less.
More about Aussiecon 4
2010 Hugo Results and Reactions
Day One: Environmental Politics in SFF
Preparations for traveling to Australia