I’ve just come back from two weeks at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where I had the privilege of talking to writing workshop students and attending the Campbell Conference, which this year celebrated my mentor and role model, James Gunn. I haven’t said half enough about James Gunn, who was the first to take my science fiction writing seriously and offered encouragement along with rigorous criticism.
James Gunn is quiet in demeanour––well, much quieter than I am, certainly––but his effect on me was powerful. And it wasn’t just my writing. Later on, when I started teaching workshops like Clarion West, I followed his example: treat people with respect, talk to them so that they will listen even to the strongest criticism.
Then there’s his devotion to science fiction itself. Not only did he found the first program for the teaching of science fiction, he also has a book out this year, the third book in his Transcendental Machine trilogy, called Transformation. And just FYI, he’ll be 94.
Jim would probably wince at my mentioning his age, not because he’s got a problem with it but because he’s the sort of person for whom age is nothing to make a big deal out of. He’s one of those people who is dignified without being stuffy, who wears his vocation and his years in a way I’d like to emulate. When I won my Hugo in 2013 at the San Antonio worldcon, I was so flustered and gobsmacked that I forgot to thank him from the stage, and he was one of the special guests. This will bother me for the rest of my life. No, seriously, it will. Jim has been good-natured about it, teasing me whenever I mention it. He’s a all-round great guy and I urge everyone to look into his work, both fiction and nonfiction. The Road To Science Fiction is a multi-volume history of science fiction.
Someone––it may have been Dena Brown, but don’t quote me––once said, ‘Let’s take science fiction out of the classroom and put it back in the gutter where it belongs.’ That’s okay if you’re around a lot of science fiction writers like Dena was, while she was co-editing Locus with her former husband, the late Charles N. Brown. But for someone like me, who grew up reading in the genre voraciously but without any knowledge of the writers or how the genre developed, Jim Gunn’s course in science fiction at the University of Kansas was an eye-opener. At last I had context for my favourite books and stories, and I could see how sf/fantasy/horror was unfolding and progressing. I was in the first class of the Institute for the Teaching of Science Fiction, not so much because I thought I was going to teach sf (although I might have), but because I wanted to learn even more from Jim Gunn about science fiction.
So it meant a lot when I was invited to talk to this year’s writing workshops and to attend the Campbell Conference. I was always going to be a science fiction writer but when I walked into Jim Gunn’s course in science fiction––with grad student teaching assistant John Kessel, no less!––I finally had the focus and direction I needed.
Also attending were a group of writers and editors from China: The Future Affairs Administration. It was a joy to meet them and with any luck, I might live long enough to visit them in Beijing. Science fiction has speculated on the human race making contact with aliens––we ought to try harder to make contact with other humans on our own planet, particularly those who don’t come out of the same Western (and white) tradition. I have some stories that have been translated but I’m going to be brushing up on my Mandarin (when I was at the University of Kansas, I was actually fluent for a while; unfortunately, after the course was over, I had no one to talk Mandarin with and I lapsed).
So that was most of the month of June.
Today I’ll be dropping by the Macmillan Cancer Centre for a blood test before I see my oncologist on Thursday. After that, I’ll know if I can resume buying green bananas.
In late July, I’ll be teaching the last week of Clarion West in Seattle, Washington. I do love Seattle and it’s been fifteen years since the last time I taught there. Clarion West go out of their way to give their students a diverse group of teachers. Yeah, that’s right, I mean they’re not predominately white males.
Some people may think this is too ‘politically correct.’ So call me politically correct––I’ve been called worse things. The science fiction writers who dream up the most outrageous futures and/or alien civilisations aren’t all white males and it’s about time aspiring writers can meet them and see that there’s a place for them.
After all, if you don’t see anyone remotely like yourself in any given profession, you could get the idea that people like yourself aren’t welcome. Science fiction, more than any other field, should be all about diversity.
And if you want to argue with me about diversity, don’t even bother. Walk away now. If you have a problem with diversity, I hope you never visit London because you’d come face-to-face with diversity like you never have before. It’s a diverse world, sunshine; get used to it.
Okay, that’s July. Onward to August.
In August, I’ll be making my first appearance at Nine Worlds, which has invited me as a guest. I’ll be there with Jan Siegel, also a guest, on Friday and Saturday, 4 and 5 August. If you’re going to be there, come and say hello. My schedule should eventually show up on the Nine Worlds website. Right after Nine Worlds, I’ll be leaving for Helsinki, where they’re holding the first ever Finnish world science fiction convention. If you’ll be there, come say hello.
Which takes us to September and TitanCon! If you haven’t been to TitanCon, you’re missing out. Jan Siegel and I will be raising hell there, too. After which, there’s FantasyCon in Peterborough 29 September-1 October in Peterborough. As far as I know, Jan Siegel and I will be there as well.
In October, Jan Siegel and I will be in Milan, Italy:
Looks like fun to me. If you’re there, come say Buongiorno.
After that, I’ll have just enough time to rest up before the 2017 Gollancz Festival in November.
As of today, that’s my 2017. I’m feeling energetic, strong, and optimistic.