Greg Bear

I met Greg Bear (briefly) in 1984. One of the first of that generation of science fiction writer of whom I’d become acquainted initially through their short fiction. 1983 was a banner year in many ways and Bear was nominated for two stories—Hardfought and Blood Music, novella and novelette respectively—and I thought both of them were just wonderful. (There is something elegant about Hardfought that transcends even its subject, a kind of perfect example of form.) We went to our first worldcon (LACon II) and attended his reading. He was presenting material from his new fantasy, The Infinity Concerto, and I was fascinated. (I also made a bit of a fool of myself with a question, but it was funny.) Afterward we talked to him. The substance of the conversation escapes me, but he was generous and kind and clearly an enthusiast about science fiction as a whole.

I read everything I could get my hands on by Greg Bear. Like others for whom I endured quick obsessions, it burned itself out, and I have a handful of yet-to-be-reads by him, but I have always found his scope and the details with which he built his worlds to be utterly marvelous. I have never not had a great time reading a Greg Bear novel.

I think it was The Forge of God that tripped me up. Amazing book, but it struck me at the time as altogether too depressing. I staggered on through a few more and then my time was consumed by other works.

In some ways, Greg Bear could be seen as the American Iain M. Banks. I am also taken by his occasional forays into prose experiments, his playful deployment of language to set tone. His restraint made these experiments more accessible than others who tried similar things. But always it was the world and ideas that were center stage, carried by an array of characters that were well-made for their tasks. (His short stories are often more experimental and run a gamut of styles and approaches.)

We crossed paths again in 1997 and I got to spend a couple hours with the Killer Bs—Brin, Benford, and Bear. I realize, looking back, that these three writers define a segment of a period for me. The possibilities of narrative trajectories and the skillful interjection of humanist qualities too often under-attended in what we call hard SF. Anyway, grand total of personal interaction with Greg Bear…maybe four hours.

In the lexicon of influences in my reading life (and somewhat in my writing career), Greg Bear is up there with Clarke, Pohl, Anderson, and Gerrold. A very specific set of aesthetics. (Silver Age mainly instead of Golden?) He never got trapped into series, he wrote a wide array of subjects and concepts, and there was a joy inherent in his prose that I found compelling. He reminded me of what it meant to be simply a Fan. The Universe is strange, vast, and polychromatic and he wanted the reader to experience that variety. Did he succeed? Only the individual reader can decide that. The merit is in the attempt and the fact that one can see what he was striving for.

He has gone. I was a little shocked to note that he was only three years older than me, near enough to a contemporary to disorient me a bit. I always think of people who are that good and achieve that much as considerably older than me, which is silly but a heuristic I can’t quite seem to shake.

The books matter. I would like to see them all back in print. We move on too quickly sometimes and forget the pleasures of what came before. I urge any and all to find his books and live with them for a while. Strength of Stones is a marvel. Beyond Heaven’s River an unexpectedly rich treat. Eon a journey to unforgettable time[s]. And do not pass up the short stories.

I’m going to be reading some of those I have yet to. One of our Voices has passed. Read him, let him speak.

The New Look

This is the new author photo. At least, for now. I want to thank my pal, Tom Ball, for patiently doing a good job. Being the photographer means I’m usually not in the pictures, so it always feels a bit weird to be the subject. But Blank Slate Press requested “recent” photographs, but there really aren’t any, so…

Anyway, the Author as he is.

 

Bad Mimic Blues

Like any job, sometimes you have to go into work whether you want to or not. It feels strange, though, because writing is something you do voluntarily. If you wake up one morning feeling antipathetic toward it, you really can’t blame the boss or the commute or the time it consumes when you could be doing something you give a damn about. It’s perverse in that you can’t find the joy sometimes and you end up resenting…something.

 

A variety of syndromes attach to this problem, one of the most pernicious being something called Impostor Syndrome. This is not relegated only to writing, a lot of people in many different fields suffer this, the feeling that you aren’t really what you’re trying to be. That you maybe got lucky a few times and people think you’re really what you appear, but inside you can’t help but feeling like a fraud. You didn’t do this. You pulled a stunt, worked a trick, you’re one of the monkeys that typed out Hamlet. It’s partly to do with intentionality, sure, but it’s often connected to this periodic sense of inadequacy in the face of a given task. You have a story to write and you got nothin’. Words lie there on the page (the screen, whatever) and taunt you by their insipid mediocrity. Last month you barreled through a story and finished it up and sat back with a feeling of accomplishment, but now you know that was a fluke.

Then, too, there’s the money. As in, not much. The public perception of A Writer is completely at odds with the reality, but you can’t help but compare yourself to those Other Authors who do seem to conform to that perception, and you wonder why you can’t manage that. The low pay, the rate of rejections, the overwhelming lack of impact your work creates, all conspires to undermine your confidence, and even though you do not believe in fate or destiny or any of that kind of superstitious nonsense, the feeling that the universe is trying to tell you something creeps in, gets past your rationality, infects you with a kind of malaise that feeds on the opinion that you just don’t have what it takes.

Well, in that sense, no one does. It’s damn hard work, no doubt. And it is the work that creates the effects, not any cosmic scale or judgment or notion of fairness. The work. 

And work is tiring. A lot of it is boring. Your contentedness depends on averages, good days versus bad days. If you have enough good days, you can ignore the bad ones, but you will have bad days.

But once in a while, all the enthusiasm in the world is insufficient to keep the self-doubt and boredom and weariness at bay and you will succumb to feeling like it all has no point. 

The first several years I worked at being a writer, I lost count of how many times I quit. Nothing but rejections, angry, frustrated periods of depression, just what do these people want? One day I remember receiving four rejections at once. That was a dark night. “I quit! I don’t need this! Fuck ’em!” Like they were waiting for me to produce what they wanted, me, Mark Tiedemann, and my quitting would somehow make them feel bad.

My first short story sale paid  $15.00, but I felt like it was hundreds of dollars. I floated on that high for months. The next sale got me $19.00, the third $30.00. Hey, the pay was going up. 

Then I sold a story for $525.00.

And then the magazine was killed before my story appeared and I felt it all crash down around me, as if the gods were up there laughing at me. I had put a lot on that story—a professional sale for a magazine with a large distribution, I’ll get noticed! Well, no, just kidding, no one will see that story, ha ha.

The emotional reactions to the business end of writing seldom sync proportionally to reality. This is one of the things we have to learn and hang onto. It’s not you. That doesn’t necessarily make it feel better, but it get you through to the next one.

My response to this one was to apply to Clarion, the workshop. And I declared that if they rejected me, I would quit. Because if they thought I could not even be educated, then maybe I was chasing my tail to no purpose.

They didn’t reject me.

Here’s the thing. I was working a full-time job while trying to do this. Writing got maybe two hours a day. Besides the job, there was Life to tend to. Clarion was the first opportunity I had to do nothing but work on fiction all day for several weeks. I learned then that it is the work, working at the work, that matters. 

Things improved after Clarion. To date, I’ve sold 70 short stories and a number of novels.

The money is still not commensurate with the hours.

But 70 stories and a dozen books is a career. 

And I still have these times when I feel like a fraud. Maybe it’s linked to serotonin or something. But it is aggravating to be continually reminded how little actual control I have over all this, even my own emotions. Sure, it’s partly a disconnect between expectations and experience, but you would think I’d know that, in my bones, by now. 

This is life. Eventually, I’ll go from one room to another and the feeling will change and I’ll be back at the work. Engaged. Maybe I should learn to pace myself, but there’s too little time for that, though even that idea is nonsense. 

For you who share these feelings—and I suspect it’s most if not all of us—I wish you to take a smidgin of hope from this. Be cool. We all go through it. It will pass, especially if we keep in mind that the important thing is…the work.

Even if you feel you are not a writer, that what you do is a fluke, the work needs doing. Pretend to do it. Imitate what you feel you are not. Be a mimic, if necessary. It may not be impostor syndrome so much as a mild case of Bad Mimic Blues. But write. Eventually, the work becomes the main thing again and the rest just fades.

Hope this helps.

Time For A Photograph, I Think

 

We are returned from a trip to Colorado. Family wedding. In spite of being a stone’s throw (so to speak) from the mountains, we did not get to them. Reserved for a future trip. But I can’t go anywhere special without my camera. I’ve been photographing things since I was 14—53 years. I think I’ve gotten reasonably good at it, but that’s not really for me to say.

In Loveland, we found a marvelous park filled with flora, fauna…and a lot of sculpture. I made this image.

Now, I’ve had a gallery open for some time now. The images there are available for purchase—you can even pick from a variety of frames—as well as for perusal. This one, for instance. Here’s the direct link:

https://Markimages.zenfolio.com/p615992500/e175f6fc3

Not that I’m being pushy or anything, but…I think it would look great on someone’s wall.

Have a good summer.

Processing….

Notice the new banner? I played around with an image till I came up with something suitably SFnal. We sometimes forget to talk about æsthetics in SF, even while responding to it in a big, big way. I mean, how else to explain how so many otherwise mediocre or plain bad movies became so popular, even for a little while, except by their Look? Be that as it may, I thought I’d post the unmanipulated image from which the new banner was derived. Because, heck, it’s kinda cool, too.

Catching Up

It’s December. Many things are going on. I can’t decide which to write about, which to leaver alone, so I’ll punt and put up a photograph.

This is Eads Bridge. Long ago, when I was running around photographing anything and everything, trying to learn the craft, this is one of the first images I made of which I felt I had “done something.” This is from 1973. I have a couple of old prints of it around here, but I unburied the negatives and did a scan so I could make a decent image. It holds up rather well, I think.

Anyway, till I have the mental space to do elsewhat, here: