June 15th, 2007


"The thing's hollow—it goes on forever—and—oh my God! —it's full of stars!"

I'm a little slow getting started today, but at least I can say I got a full eight hours of sleep last night (even if it didn't start until about 3 a.m.). I cannot even recall how long it's been since I slept eight consecutive hours. A while. I'm groggy as hell, but Spooky's pouring coffee into me, so we have some hope that by the time I finish this entry I will be at least half awake.

Congratulations to "papersteven" for his winning bid in the hand-corrected Silk auction. Thank you very much.

Yesterday, I wrote the first 1,107 words of The Dinosaurs of Mars. But it was a strange beginning, and I am very unsure of myself. I fear that single review of The Dry Salvages still looms large in my mind, and I believe it is leading me to hesitate and to uncertainty. I don't mean the standard to which I hold myself, my own constant self-criticism. That's harsh enough. This is something else entirely. This is what Steinbeck meant by the difference between writing and writing for someone else. Reflexively, some part of me will not stop trying to second guess the likes and dislikes, the prejudices and preferences, of that invisible editor of whom Steinbeck spoke. I know, consciously, that this is folly. That hardly seems to help. Anyway, yes, the first 1,107 words. The bulk of the text is written as the diary of a "civilian observer," a writer chosen to accompany an exploration of Martian caverns in 2132. What I wrote yesterday was the "editor's" fictional "note for the third edition" of the observer's diary, which was recovered near the entrance to a cavern at the base of Apollinaris Patera, a few weeks after the exploratory team lost contact with a nearby base camp. Her diary made it back to an acquaintance at a lunar base, and most of what the world knows about the mission's fate is contained therein. NASA/ESA has so far refused to release most other documents associated with the exploration and are not pleased that Babette Flanagan's handwritten diary somehow slipped through (there are charges of forgery). That's the general idea, and the "note for the third edition" is being written in (I think) December 2148, sixteen years after Flanagan's disappearance.

The idea of having a writer/poet along on a scientific expedition came, I admit, directly from the screen adaptation of Carl Sagan's Contact, when Eleanor Arroway says, "It's beautiful. It's beautiful. I keep saying that, but I can't...my mind can't...words...should've sent a poet." It's been so long since I read the novel, I can't recall if this line is in there or not, but it's something I always loved about the film.

Preparing to write this novella, I have so concerned myself with getting to know Mars inside and out, that, until yesterday, I'd hardly spared a thought to what, in this story, has happened to human civilization and the Earth since 2007. And all those questions came rushing up at me yesterday. What wars have there been? Plagues? Political upheavals? Technological advances (this is manifestly not a "post-Singularitarian future," as has been the case with all my sf)? Ecological degradation? Population growth or collapse? Will print have vanished and all "books" be published via some electronic means? Will the internet have been replaced or evolved into some new medium of communication? Etc., etc., & etc. And then there's the problem of language.

I have always felt this is something that most sf writers gloss over*, and mostly for the reason that however much the English language might drift and/or evolve, the book that's being read is meant to be comprehensible to a present-day audience. This, I believe, is a great flaw in most science fiction, even great sf. Only a few authors have a) been up to the task as linguists and b) risked alienating their potential audience and/or publishers. Anthony Burgess springs to mind as an exception to this rule. One of the (I thought very peculiar) criticisms leveled at The Dry Salvages concerned its occasional use of a sort of future slang (my tip of the hat to this very legitimate problem), which was described as a "facile use of shorthand TV-series lingo." It seems to me that one either a) uses present-day language and simply ignores the problem that language evolves, b) meets the problem partway, adding at least some unfamiliar elements to the vocabulary of the characters (as I did in The Dry Salvages), or c) goes all the way and creates a new and evolved language through which the first-person narrative is told (this problem is far less of a problem if one is writing a third-person narrative). I might add a fourth solution, which would be to employ a highly unlikely "retro" language shift, such, as, say, a 22nd Century Dickensenian vogue that has everyone speaking as though they were in 19th Century London. For whatever reason, it has always annoyed me that most sf writers ignore this problem, and it is one of the points I'm struggling with in the opening pages of The Dinosaurs of Mars (especially given the above criticism of my attempt to solve it in The Dry Salvages). How might people speak and write in the early to mid 22nd Century? All I can say for sure is that it will be somewhat different from how we write and speak today.

I suppose this is one reason that so many sf writers seem addicted to conventions geared towards sf writers, where there are panels where these very problems are discussed. But I find such conventions to be prohibitively expensive, cliquish, and I just don't happen to particularly enjoy the company of other authors. Moreover, and this is the most important part, I want to find the solutions for myself. Art is not science. Even when art is about science, it is still art. There cannot be consensus, in the sense that science strives for meaningful consensus. And unlike science, art is not progressive. Personally, I have my doubts that science can be said to be genuinely progressive, but I'm pretty dammed certain that art is not. Which is not to say that it is not accumulative or accretionary. But the belief that sf writers are out there forecasting the future, that they have some social responsibility to do so, that's malarky, if you ask me. Writers of sf can only, at best, make educated guesses, and usually those guesses are wrong, and clumping together to form a consensus does not in any way insure against history unfolding in one of those other, unpredicted directions. People love to pick out the occasional instances where Jules Verne and William Gibson got it right; they rarely ever point fingers at their miscalls.

Anyway, I am going on, and it's almost 1 p.m.

I'm supposed to speak with producer D today, but I cannot imagine how I will extract myself from The Dinosaurs of Mars and all these questions and switch gears to "Onion," then switch right back to The Dinosaurs of Mars. No idea at all.

*Postscript (6:17 p.m.) — Reading this paragraph five hours later, I think I was indulging in excessive generalization and exagerration, exacerbated by grogginess and the side-effects of generic "Ambien." So, apologies to anyone I might have offended, annoyed, perplexed, etc.