This essay provides advice to authors, I promise. But please bear with me while I take you on a little journey into my own reading life . . .
Last summer I finally found my way to the web community GoodReads, signed up, and have been having a ball being part of this community of readers, writers, and “book people.” If you haven’t signed up yet, I urge you to join.
I joined a few of the groups, and should probably explore of a few more of them. Groups are where genre- or author-specific discussions take place. As a lifelong science fiction and fantasy fan it isn’t weird that one of the first groups I joined was the SF/F group Beyond Reality. It’s been the scene of a few spirited discussions, given me the opportunity to plug myself a little—I try not to be too obnoxious about that—and just kinda chat with like-minded readers, though I don’t get in there as often as I’d like.
One of the things the Beyond Reality group does is read, book club style, the same book together as a group, one SF and one fantasy title each month. Up till now I’ve always looked at that with my standard trepidation (I’m well known for my Generalized Trepidation), always thinking of some reason not to join in, muttering something to myself then not doing something, which is how my Generalized Trepidation normally manifests itself.
But last month I saw that the December SF title at Beyond Reality was going to be The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The old trepidation stirred itself, but I was able to quickly master it. From my desktop computer, I can look to my left and see, about five feet away, a bookcase that contains, among other things, two shelves stacked two-deep with mass market paperbacks I’ve collected over the past several years and that I intend to one day read.
And there it was: a copy of The Mote in God’s Eye.
When I was in high school, the school library had a very small collection of SF novels—fantasy hadn’t quite penetrated yet—and after the first semester of freshman year I’d pretty much familiarized myself with all of them, discussing with my friends which one I should read next, who’s read what, what sucks, and so on. No one had read The Mote in God’s Eye, but it called out to me, and one day I checked it out and started reading.
I remember liking it, but I also remember having a painfully slight attention span. As I started to play Dungeons & Dragons once a week, then twice a week, then three times a week, then sometimes four times a week if you counted Gamma World or Traveller, I started reading more fantasy, and . . . whatever meaningless excuses . . . and I had to return The Mote in God’s Eye to the library before I finished it. I remember wanting to finish it. I don’t remember disliking it, anyway, but I never did check it out again. That was probably thirty years ago.
Then, something like twenty-nine years later, I saw it on someone’s list of favorite SF novels of all time—I don’t remember who’s—and the memory of having started it so many years ago came back to me, and I decided I would read it again. I made a special trip to the bookstore to buy a copy, and I put it on my already hopelessly-overbooked (pun intended, I’m afraid) “to read” shelf . . . and that was about a year ago.
It was as though some cosmic convergence occurred then, and there was the Beyond Reality group, and there was the book, and without hardly thinking about it, I signed on to the group and made my intentions known that I was in for The Mote in God’s Eye in December.
I started reading it a few days early, and decided I would keep a pen with me while I read it so I could make notes and have something interesting to say on the Beyond Reality message threads. And I’m doing that, and you can follow the results there, if you so choose.
Then I got to the space between chapter seven and chapter eight.
A spoiler follows, so if you want to read this book, you might want to stop here and come back after you’ve read the first eight chapters.
This is the note I scribbled into my copy of the book, on page 67, right at the start of chapter eight:
BOO!—Really?!? Why is the dramatic discovery of the first sentient alien relegated to “off screen” action?!? HUGE disappointment!
And that gets us to our lesson for aspiring authors…
Read the rest in…
Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.
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