Occupational Hazards

19 August 2001

I discovered an occupational hazard last night at Mark's company party. When you tell people you write speculative fiction (usually I'll say "science fiction and fantasy" instead, unless I'm in a spec fic crowd anyway), they will sometimes just nod, say, "Cool," and go on with the rest of their lives. But sometimes they will feel that they have discovered something in common with you and will try to dredge up memories of the SF or (more likely) fantasy they read as adolescents, in order to talk about your work with you.

I recognize this for what it is: an attempt to be nice and connect with somebody in an enforced social situation. So I wasn't mad at the person in question, or even annoyed. But I did think we probably had stuff to talk about beyond him trying to recall names of anything and me agreeing that yes, I had indeed read some David Eddings when I, too, was young and foolish. And me trying not to condescend while managing to imply, at the same time, that the stuff I do is rather different from David Eddings. Or Piers Anthony. Or Tad Williams. It's a good thing this person was an adolescent rather awhile ago, or I would have had to restrain myself from my Robert Jordan rant. I try not to go into the Robert Jordan rant in front of strangers. But some things are not to be borne.

The very swanky home of last night's party was even swankier than I had anticipated: we got nowhere near the main house. There was a main house and then there were various other auxiliary structures. It was nice, though, and I got to put names with faces, so when Mark is complaining about someone (or praising someone, also entirely possible), I can picture who it is. Two of the people didn't look at all as I anticipated. One seemed to have swiped someone else's nose and eyebrows. The rest of his features matched. And his nose and eyebrows matched each other. It was the combination that was unsettling. This is not the sort of thing about which it's politic to inquire, though, so I didn't pull on them to see if they came off.

The story I wrote Friday night had been percolating in my head for months. This is why I never understand the question, "How long did it take you to write X?" In that 3000-word case, two and a half hours. Or six months. Depending on how you look at it. Is either one a better answer? Not really, no.

Oh, I think this is a good one: "To compose a new tune in magic, you don't just write the notes, you build the piano." Teller said that. Of Penn and Teller, I mean, and the rest of the interview with him can be found here. It's pretty cool. But that particular line -- that's what it's like being a speculative writer, too. Building new pianos every so often. This is why, despite the fact that Hammerfall was not CJ Cherryh's best work to date, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt with further stuff set in this universe: it's a new piano, and it's her first new SF piano in about two decades.

This, I think, is why so many of the books that are derivative of Someone (not that I have anyone in mind....) fail so badly. If you had an instrument that was perfectly designed for someone else, of course it would be hard for you to play. Of course you'd hit some wrong notes. It's not your piano. Your hands are differently proportioned than this other person's. The stretch between specific fingers will be different. And so on.

So yeah, it's hard. But it's part of the job. It's what we do.

It's magic. In its own way.

Back to Morphism.

And the main page.

Or the last entry.

Or the next one.

Or even send me email.