One of you made a comment yesterday about people who really care about science fiction, versus people who want to make it into some sort of status symbol or message conveyor (only.)
This was in praise of me, which might or might not be right, because I do what I do to help new and indie writers for two reasons, neither of them particularly praiseworthy. First, because it comes naturally. Second because “daddy” (Robert A. Heinlein) told me to pay it forward. To which you might add, as a contributing factor to the second that I was helped by so many people coming up that I could never pay back, so forward is the only way to pay.
But to explain how I choose to pay it forward, first you need to understand how I ended up running away with the science fiction circus.
My dad is of a more literary bend than most (and yes, likes re-reading Three Men In A Boat, though that’s not his only favorite) and reads “well reviewed” stuff (whose quality has been getting worse in mainstream too, btw. I mean, beautiful crafted but predictably nihilistic.) For brain candy he reads mystery. Out of what I suspect is a sense of obligation he also reads all the “great books” of the past.
Dad in fact reads everything BUT science fiction. One of our few fights was over science fiction, in that he tried to convince me it was “trash” and I stuck to my guns.
I learned to read early, and our family was never particularly flush (until I moved out. I swear I don’t EAT money) which combined with the Portuguese publishing’s penchant for no reprints and short print runs meant that I was perpetually starved for reading material.
I learned early it was useless to ask the older relatives for books (because I already had all of Verne’s and Wells, leather bound, three copies. And yeah, I read them too, but they were never my favorite.) And mom wouldn’t let me ask them for money for books. My various money-making schemes afforded me about a book a month (sometimes halfsies with my brother) but that left … let me see… I read six books a day on slow months, so let’s say that left 179 books give or take which I couldn’t afford to buy. Oh, Portugual has no lending libraries. The public libraries are more like the library of congress. The book fair, once a year, downtown, when publishers cleared their warehouses by selling books at 1/4 the price and sometimes less, out of tents, supplied some of the need (but I had to be careful not to go alone, because if my brother and I went separately, we came home with the exact same books. It was spooky.)
I searched out grandma’s potato cellars for her mom’s copious collection, I surreptitiously borrowed books from a friend’s father who bought the equivalent of time life books (surreptitiously, you ask. Well, my friend knew but her dad didn’t know. Nor that I know of ever found out. He didn’t READ the books. He just bought them to look good on his shelf. This is how I read the Iliad and the Odyssey and most classical poets in translation.), I borrowed all of my friends’ books, including crochet manuals if I was desperate, I made entire friendships based on how many books this person had to lend.
And then when I was eleven, my brother brought home science fiction. His friend in first year electrical engineering had a real library. You know, one of those with rolling ladders. AND he and his father and his grandfather had collected SF as far back as it went.
My brother brought the books home, and I started reading them. And I fell in love. The whole concept of writing in times and places that hadn’t happened (yet) both puzzled me and enthralled me.
I ran away with the science fiction circus. (Fantasy only came in in my early twenties and in some ways still puzzles me a little.)
So in terms of science fiction, when you get right down to it, though I write it now, the sf person inside me is that 11 year old girl wanting more books and wanting to go “oh, wow.”
There were times I grew disenchanted and grew away from SF, but I always come back, and I always want more.
My tastes are eclectic and I’m quite capable of loving literary SF, but I also like exploding spaceships. Because I read stuff like my cousin’s bullfighter romances, I can enjoy sf with a bit of romance. And because of my early reading — dad had a lot of war memoirs — I like mil sf, too.
I just like science fiction, and not being able to find anything to read reminds me of the book famine days of my childhood.
Unfortunately, due to traditional publishing’s tendency towards lockstep-trends and chasing of politically correct boredom, there were years — shudders — where I couldn’t find anything to read.
I don’t want this to happen again. Also, where the writer comes in, the more people working in science fiction, and doing well, and the greater the variety of voices in science fiction, the broader the reader base. Given that I write everything from soup to nuts (one of my classmates in translation class back in the day translated this as almond soup. Weird the things one remembers. But then this was the girl who answered a history essay question about the bellicose nature of the 17th century by writing — inventing — ten pages on the nature of bell manufacturing in the 17th century. You have to be erudite to be that dumb.) the broader the reader base, the more chance they’ll read me.
Then there is the beginning writer inside me struggling to write and be read. As people helped me, so I help others.
But mostly I help others so I have more stuff to read. Because inside me I’m still that little 11 year old looking for books in potato cellars.
Ideally science fiction becomes a broad church, where everything from literary to exploding spaceships to sf romance has a place.
And I get to read all of them — oh, nom nom nom nom — well, at least when the boys leave the house and I have more time.
That’s what I work for.