Yep, homeward bound again. I'm in O'Hare and heading to the gate soon. Chicago was a great trip. Of course, the Introvert Fog is settling back on me now that I'm done with the Big Push.
I had a wonderful time. I discovered that the Chicago truly is the center of the known universe when it comes to deep dish pizza. Gino's East was utterly worth the wait. I also had the best ribeye ever and some fabulous company and conversation out to dinner with the Tor Crew. Thanks again, Tor. You folks are amazing to work with and I'm grateful for you all.
Another highpoint was that I got a lot of good hangout time with one of my dearest friends, the lovely and true princessalethea. She took charge of a whirwind floor tour, introducing me to several people she's met during her years in the industry. We rarely get much time together because we're always at conventions surrounded by mobs of friends. This was busy but relaxed enough that we got to catch up and spend lots of time...and even managed to fit in a spontaneous serenade on a dare in the midst of it all. I also got to hang with PIerce Waters a bit, another great friend.
The panel itself went great. I was really impressed with my colleagues. Robert Charles Wilson went first, talking a bit about the subject at hand and his new book (which I can't wait to read) Julian Comstock. I went second, followed by Margaret Weis who talked about how the words we right are not an escape from reality as much as a way of processing it and presenting it. John Brown was the only one newer than me in that group (his first book which I enjoyed greatly and blurbed is out on Oct 13, the same day as CANTICLE) and he gave a brilliant talk on SF/F as the gateway drug for literacy. It was delivered perfectly and he owned the room. Last, Eric Flint was up to talk about the differences between the literary world and SF/F and the place of speculative fiction as an anchor of literature throughout the history of storytelling.
Afterwards, we signed books for the folks that came out. I think we had about 300 or 400 people but I"m hoping to hear a final number on it.
Several folks asked after if my speech would be available anywhere. I told them I'd post it here. So if you're interested, it's below the cut. I took out some of the introductory remarks.
Again, big thank you to everyone who made this happen both at Tor and on the committee that organized the event. You folks are wonderful. And mighty thanks also to all of you who came out to listen and who waited in line for your books to be signed. I hope you all enjoy your time in the Named Lands and come back in October to visit again when CANTICLE hits the streets.
Now, I get on a plane and write. I didn't get through 26 and yesterday proved too busy to find words. So ideally, I'll wrap it today and get on to 27 tomorrow. Nearly there! Then it will on to Book 4.
And Jen tells me the nursery turned out beautifully. So big thanks to all of you who came out while I was gone and made that happen for us. Our daughters thank you, too, in little morse code messages tapped out on Jen's ribs.
Reaching for Heaven and Finding Barsoom, Arrakis, The Shire And Oz Instead, Or How Science Fiction and Fantasy Saved A Trailer Boy Like Me
Presented at the American Library Association by Ken Scholes
July 11, 2009
I’ve given this subject a good deal of thought since Kathleen’s kind invitation. I’ve brooded my way through Google searches. I’ve brainstormed over beer and tatertots with the wise and knowing Jerry. And in the end, what I’ve come up with is this:
Absolutely, the metaphor and imagination inherent in Science Fiction and Fantasy uncovers much about our world. It gives us something to dream towards. It gives us someplace else to go for conscious and unconscious truth that we may or may not want to know. And when I came to it as boy, it eventually uncovered...me. It gave me foster homes the size of worlds that I could hide in, explore in, play in, learn in. It raised me up and showed me who I wanted to be. And after so long within those safe houses, I decided to take up the hammer and saw myself to see what I could do. My first novel, Lamentation, debuted in February from Tor.
I’ve titled today’s talk “Reaching for Heaven and Finding Barsoom, Arrakis, The Shire and Oz Instead, Or: How Science Fiction and Fantasy Saved A Trailer Boy Like Me.” I hope you’ll bear with me while I tell you how that happened.
This is the way it went:
It is a quiet night and we park our pick-ups in the meadow, mashing down yellow grass with bald tires and making our way to the massive tent and its smiling ushers. We walk in together, you and me, and we move through the gathering crowd past klingons and stormtroopers and elves and boy wizards and vampires, our feet sinking in sawdust gathered from the sawn logs of Middle Earth to the front rows where folks are afraid to sit because sometimes the preacher accidentally spits a little when he gets excited. But we’re not afraid. No ma’am. No sir. We’re not one little bit afraid.
Okay. Maybe we are. Just a little.
One of ushers – that distinguished cavalryman from Virginia, John Carter, grins at us and gestures towards a waiting seat. On the makeshift platform, his wife Dejah Thoris works the organ with slender red fingers and John Williams smiles somewhere at she does with his best work. We sit.
Come one, come all, the hand-scripted fliers proclaimed. And so we do. We sit there, you and me, and we close our eyes against reality, open them to imagination and metaphor and possibility as the service plays itself out.
First, there’s music. Tom Bombadil is our opener, crooning his tune in something that might be glossolalia or might be elvish. We stand and cheer and bring him back for another and then another before we see the glances exchanged among the Men in Black who were tapped to provide tonight’s unnecessary security.
“The balloon has landed,” their ear pieces crackle.
The Wonderful Wizard is tonight’s preacher and he doesn’t disappoint. He appears in a flash of smoke and light, then dances the stage in ill-fitting silver slippers. We’re twice, no three times, nearly baptized in his spittle. We dodge and duck behind our neatly folded paper programs, and triumphantly remain unsprinkled.
When he finishes, weeping and laughing and wiping his brow, the plate is passed by a large loin-clothed Cimmerian and a dour puritan named for the wisest of kings…and as that plate passes we take from it whatever we need. Some take courage. Some take heart. Some take brains and some take the sure and certain knowledge of how to get back home.
After the plate, it’s time for testimony. And tonight’s is by a kid named Paul Atreides with unusually blue eyes. “Fear,” he says, “is the mind killer.” And from there, he tells his story until, like the Wonderful Wizard, we are weeping and laughing, too.
Then the Wizard takes the platform again and introduces the night’s last soloist, the girl who will sing our invitation to come one, come all, and be saved. Dorothy Gale takes the stage beside him and we exchange glances, you and me, and nod with zeal and delight. Then, we walk the sawdust trail, you and me, to her sweet, pure rendering of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow the Road Goes Ever, Ever On.”
Behind us every Tom (Godwin), (Philip K.) Dick and Harry (Turtledove) stand as one and queue up because they know what’s coming is far better than the Soylent Green we were choking down our throats before the Speculation and Wonder Revive-O-Rama Salvation Show passed through our town and set up its mighty, mighty tent.
“Live forever,” the Wizard whispers to us when he lays his hands upon our head, “and do not be afraid.” He administers our communion personally and we receive it in gladness: Fresh seed cakes flown in by ornithopter from Bilbo’s Bakery and Fine Maps, seasoned with the spice mélange and served with thimblefuls of Halloway and Nightshade’s Nostalgic Lemonade, made from the water of tomorrow’s soft rains and brought back from the future by a ragged looking man crowded onto a saddled and levered machine beside his scantily clad Eloi girlfriend.
Then the singers are back on the stage, en masse, to sing us out into a night beneath a moon that beckons Return to me, Wayfaring Stranger, and a Mars that bids us all Come Home and See Just How Things Might Be.
Okay, I lied. This isn’t the way it went at all.
But can you imagine that it might have gone this way?
It’s easy if you try.