I think of myself as a science-fiction writer. There's some hubris involved in that description, since most of my books aren't, in fact, science fiction, and my teaching career has been in journalism. In fact, I'd guess no more than ten or fifteen percent of my published work has been science-fiction or fantasy.
But science-fiction is my true love when it comes to writing, no question about it. I've published about fifty short stories in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies, and almost all of those have been science-fictional. A couple of my short-story collections have been (mostly) science fiction, my novel The Cold Road certainly has a lot of fantasy elements (though I guess we'd call it a thriller novel), and even my latest novel, Rum Point, has a little element of the fantastic in it.
More importantly, almost all of my writing friends are science-fiction writers, all of them more talented and better published than I am (hey, it gives me something to aspire to). Over time I plan to talk about each one of these friends, citing their best work and giving my thoughts on what makes them special. For now, today, I want to talk briefly about three of the best science-fiction writers on Earth, who will all be gathered together on the campus where I teach this week to talk about the "Science in Science Fiction."
Our keynote speaker is Dr. Gregory Benford, who is not only an award-winning science-fiction writer, but also a practicing physicist and professor (at UC-Irvine). You can read more about him here: http://www.gregorybenford.com/bio.php. I've met Greg a number of times over the years at various science-fiction gatherings, but the most memorable time was when he was giving a keynote speech at a space-science convention in Tampa and I was working on a story about scientists who write science-fiction for StarDate magazine (the magazine of the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas). We arranged to spend some time together so I could interview Greg for that story. During that afternoon of interviewing Greg also went for a swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This was no big deal until I noticed, sitting on the beach, that he was heading farther and farther out. Really, really farther out, as if he was considering the swim to Texas. He was well past the simming area buoys and I was actually starting to figure out how I'd explain this to the science-fiction world. "Sure, Greg Benford came to visit and he went for a swim and I haven't seen him since. Sorry about that." We also have a lot of bull sharks in these waters, and there are attacks on swimmers, so that crossed my mind, as well.
Eventually, of course, Greg came back into sight, and eventually waded ashore. He'd had a great swim and all was well and so now I get to talk about that day and laugh. Though it's worth noting that earlier this year another swimmer was attacked by a bull shark. Yikes.
Also coming to this two-day symposium are Ben Bova and Harry Harrison. Bova,of course, has been one of the best-selling (and best) writers in the business for decades, and an editor of enormous reputation. Ben was the editor who took over at Analog after the death of the nearly mythical John. W. Campbell. Ben lives a couple of hours away from where I live and so we get together fairly often and have even collaborated a couple of times, once on a good baseball-themed short story (Ben knows and loves baseball the way I do), and another time on a screen treatment about baseball catcher and World War II spy Moe Berg. That treatment came close in Hollywood (but then everything does come close in Hollywood, I've learned).
And Harry Harrison was recently named a Grand Master of Science Fiction (actually it's the Damon Knight Grand Master Award), an award only given to the very few writers whose body of work merits that exalted status.
Harry and I have become friends over the years and I'm working on a book of essays about Harry for McFarland books. Some of the greatest names in the field have written essays for me to include in that book, including Brian Aldiss, Robert Silverberg, Fred Pohl, Joe Haldeman, Barry Malzberg, Greg Bear, Bruce McAllister, James Gunn, Tom Shippey, Robert Conquest, Karen Haber, Elizabeth Hull and others. It's quite a collection, and it's fascinating to see what they all say about Harry. You'll have to buy that book to get the particulars, of course ...
So, having all three of these luminaries on our campus at the same time is quite a treat. We'll do a panel discussion, they'll make visits to classes, Greg Benford will give a keynote address to the public and then speak more privately to the physics faculty. It should be a blast and I'm really looking forward to it.