August 27th, 2009

Science fiction, the pope, writing to authors, & Tom Purdom

Among other things, I happen to be the Second Vice President (in charge of scheduling) of the Philadelphia chapter of the Tom Purdom Book Club. (It's not the fan club, as people are want to mistake, it's the book club.) Every six weeks or so, we all read one of Tom's novels or several short stories and then we get together in the Pope Room at Bucca di Beppo and have our book club discussion, which, since our chapter is special, Tom Purdom himself presides over. At every book club ever formed there's the one guy who's got completely absurd notions about whatever you're reading like "Daisy and Tom Buchannan are actually both men, and they're twins, that's why Daisy will never leave Tom for Gatsby, can't you see it? Can't you READ BETWEEN THE LINES?" When you have the author there, that person is less of a problem. (Except here because the guy with the outlandish interpretations at the TPBC is usually me. But it's very satisfying for the other members to see me sent to the corner with the dunce cap.) This time we read two of his short stories from relatively recent issues of Asimov's Magazine of Science Fiction (which I recommend you subscribe to if you like Science Fiction.) "The Mists of Time" and "Controlled Experiment".

The Mists of Time is about academics time traveling to write dull papers about exciting historical events and arguing about the sorts of things that academics argue about before the backdrop of the British Navy trying to destroy the American slave trade just after the Napoleonic wars. (This one can be found in The Years Best Science Fiction 2008 edited by Gardner Dozois.)

Controlled Experiment is about a near-future where drugs and electrical implants are able to prevent violent criminals from committing acts of violence again, but if they're released back into society will we become the lawless predators and they the helpless victims? Psychology and media manipulation rule in this tale of science and society (still available electronically from Asimov's).

we had a swell time.

Two more photos Collapse )

Tom is, not only a wonderful writer, but a really wonderful person as well -- witty and filled with stories, he's been writing Sci-Fi since the 50's and knows / knew everyone. One very cool thing he did this time was he brought the notes he'd made while working on "Controlled Experiment" so we could see how it went from an idea about 30 words long, to more ideas, to other ideas, to ideas that were scrapped or modified, and finally to the story which we'd read.

Michael Swanwick sums up Tom Purdom better than I ever can with this anecdote here:

(This is taken from Michael Swanwick's biography about Tom which can be found, along with many other interesting bio's of famous authors on his web page).

Some years ago, I chanced to be present when Tom Purdom was explaining the early history of Philcon to a rapt fan. Feeling puckish, I said, "Tell us about the time that Jules Verne was Guest of Honor." And without so much as blinking an eye, he replied: "He was invited to be Principal Speaker; we didn't have Guests of Honor back then, we had Principal Speakers. He couldn't make it, unfortunately, but he sent us a telegram saying - in French, of course - 'What one man can imagine, another can do.' The con committee gathered in a little room when it arrived and after it was read, we cheered. We were all excited about it because the telegraph was a new invention and so this was a big moment for us."

I don't think I've ever been put in my place with half so much literary flair.

We're lucky that Tom lives near by and that he loves to talk about how he writes and the crazy parties he's been to where various authors have set fire to various bicycles and various other authors have built giant sling-shots capable of hurling a pumpkin a city block, but, I wanted to point out, and this is really a large part of this post, that if you like reading, that you should get involved, reading doesn't have to be a completely passive endeavor. There's someone out there who wrote a short story that you loved five years ago staring at their computer screen right now thinking "Why am I still writing? Should I give it up? should I become a rickshaw driver?" And they'd love to get an email from you saying "I really liked your story, thanks for writing it."

Sorry for the long post.
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