the Little Red Reviewer

Inside Outer Space (Essays)

Posted on: November 17, 2014

2014-11-15 09.03.57Inside Outer Space:  Science Fiction Professionals Look at Their Craft, edited by Sharon Jarvis

published in 1985

where i got it: friend gave it to me

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My friends know I’m drawn towards the obscure, and they also know I really like the “behind the scenes” of everything. A friend found the perfect gift for me: an obscure book of essays by spec fic professionals, published in 1985. What value is there in a book of essays from 30 years ago? More than you’d think.  Editor Sharon Jarvis curated a short list that included her friends and a few authors she’d been referred to.  She assigned people to write on a topic such as humor, or war, or fandom, or small presses, told them approximately how many pages she wanted, and left them to it.  The resulting essays from luminaries like C.J. Cherryh, Marion Zimmer Bradley, George Alec Effinger, Parke Godwin, Ron Goulart and others are more like having a casual conversation with someone, or listening in on an unscripted panel discussion, rather than reading a manicured essay. They are completely casual, with the authors being completely comfortable calling out people they disagree with (most notably, Harlan Ellison, who everyone wants to pick on).

 

I picked this book up completely on a lark, I needed something read while waiting for something else to happen. Something I could put down at any moment, something with short little bursts of information seemed perfect. Well, the first essay was addictive and hilarious, so I kept reading, long after the stuff that I was waiting for had happened.   So why was a book of essays from 1985 so intriguing? Because it felt like a time capsule.  And of course I was intrigued to see what had changed in 30 years, and what really hadn’t. Some conversations we are still having, and some we *should* still be having.

The collection opens with Parke Godwin’s essay, in which he talks about his years in live theater. What does stage acting have to do with writing? Everything. After years of auditions and stage rehearsals and working with both good and bad directors, Parke became a pro at getting it right the first time, making an impression, and understanding that if your audience is bored you’ve lost them forever. You get one chance to get this right, so no lazing about!  When an actor is auditioning, they know rejection is part of the deal, they know they’re not right for every part. Once you’re okay with that, it’s no big deal to have a story or novel rejected.  I know writers are usually by nature introverted, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn this essay inspired many an introverted author to sign up for a summer acting class.

 

C.J. Cherryh’s essay on wars in outer space was easily my favorite in the whole book. She opens with questions like “what would we be fighting over?” and “how would we get there?” and “what types of weapons might we use?” and then she applies astrophysics to the whole thing, and everything falls apart because when it comes down to it, it’s just not worth it to expend fuel and energy to dive into the gravity well of a planet.Ok, so what about ship-to-ship combat? Also, not worth it. Space is really, really *really* big.  It would take forever just to find the ship you are supposed to be shooting, and if it’s a moving target, good luck changing your vector to ever catch up with it.  War in outer space is way more trouble than it’s worth, and the best way to stop it is to simply cut off the the planet that’s started the fight.  Ok, so what if we run into an alien species that wants to wipe us out? What makes you think we’d even understand what they are doing? I feel terrible loving this essay (and it makes me really want to read C.J. Cherryh!) because she basically takes the ship to ship action of Star Wars and rips it to shreds.

 

Where do you go in the bookstore to find Science Fiction? Certainly not the Literature section, or the mystery section. No, science fiction is off by itself, probably in a back corner somewhere, as if the store doesn’t want people who come in looking for Kafka or Sedaris to even know they sell science fiction.  Carter Scholz’s essay is on the Ghettoization of science fiction. He starts off with how he met Harlan Ellison at age 19, and shortly afterwards found himself at Clarion.  As the short fiction rejection letters piled up, Scholz realized ambition, experimentation and risk were not as welcome as he’d hoped, and that to succeed as a science fiction writer, he was going to have to write within in the definition of Science Fiction.  But the definition kept (and is still) changing! A story that was rejected one year as not being SFnal enough was happily accepted by the same publication a few years later.  The essay then segways into Why Are Science Fiction Titles separated out from other genres of literature? He posits that all “prose literature might be divided into the novel of manners and the novel of ideas”, which obviously makes all science fiction novels of ideas. Did Hugo Gernsbeck start us down the road of ghettoization with his coining of the term Science Fiction in the 1920s? Scholz then posits that “Science fiction is a transitional stage between the novel of ideas and a new novel of ideas informed by this [scientific] progress”, and closes the essay with coining the term Imaginative Literature, a catch-all that would include as much Steven King as it would Kafka, as much Bradbury as Jonathan Swift.  “Imaginative Literature” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as well as science fiction, but wouldn’t it be grand to find China Mieville’s Embassytown right next to Moby Dick at the bookstore?

 

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s essay on fandom actually inspired a Mind Meld I curated for SFSignal (it posts Nov 19th, btw). She talks about the very early fanzines that were mimeographed and mailed out (like, with stamps!), and other magazines would offer addresses to write to in the back if you wanted to receive or write for a fanzine. Not only have times changes, but *types* of fans and *types* of celebrities that might show up at conventions. She feels that being involved with the early fanzines allows for a certain type of connection between author and fan.  Thanks to the larger media conventions, fans were just as like to try to get an author’s autograph as they were a Star Trek actors. The questions she poses in the essay include Do authors owe anything to fandom? what is the worth of fandom? If you ignore fandom, will you hurt your sales/career/media opportunities?  As much as Bradley respects and is connected to fandom, she concludes that while fandom is enjoyable, ignoring it poses no career risks to the author or actor. After the C.J. Cherryh essay, this ended up being one of my favorite essays in the collection.

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I’ll stop here, for brevity’s sake.  Out of the ten essays, one maybe two didn’t speak to me, and rest were fascinating.  I’ve really got to start reading more books of essays like this one. If you know of any good ones, please let me know. I’m not looking for books full of writing advice, I’m looking for more of the subtitle of Inside Outer Space: “Science Fiction Professionals Look At Their Craft”.  I like behind-the-scenes stuff, I want more of that.

I’ve got this book of essays to start with, so far I’ve only read the interviews. As a whole, it might be close to what I’m looking for.

writers workshop

6 Responses to "Inside Outer Space (Essays)"

A very interesting post. I had a copy of this book years ago, but I don’t recall actually reading it. Now I’ll have to try and find it and read it.

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Reblogged this on S.A. Barton: Seriously Eclectic and commented:
Interesting; if I can find a copy I’d love to read it, too.

Some things do change in 30 years, just look at the self-publishing landscape then and now. The ebook explosion. Cyberpunk, steampunk, movie influences, computer technology, smartphones.

But while some stylistic elements in writing change over time, the base elements of good storytelling do not, and the base elements of good science fiction have not. Interesting characters. Interesting situations. Tension. Resolution. Speculation about what the future may bring, scientific or social or otherwise. Making, as this post points out from the C.J. Cherryh essay, our best educated guesses about how our science-fiction scenarios might play out and what makes sense in the context of the worlds we invent.

I’ll be looking for this book online — high availability of long-out-of-print books and relative ease of finding them is one more thing that has changed since 1985.

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Sooo many people have recc’d Cherryh to me, and the essay you describe just makes me want to read her *more*.

Plus, this reminded me that I want to read Embassytown (I really loved Railsea).

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oh did I love Embassytown! although i had to keep a dictionary at hand…

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Always found C.J. Cherryh virtually unreadable. Same goes for Lois Bujold. Just can’t get past 50 pages of one of their novels.
Love Embassytown and Railsea. The Scar is my favorite of Mievilles books.

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Hm, interesting! I read a Cherryh book years ago, and didn’t finish… wonder if I could find it in the pile.

If you’re interested in a crunchy, hard-sf take on wars in outer space, a great resource is Atomic Rocket: http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/ I’ve killed a lot of time there over the years.😀

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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