Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reading Influences: Star Wars, Alan Dean Foster and Science Fiction

Another round of revisions arrived this morning, so guess what I'll be doing this week. If you guessed "searching the manuscript for stray hairs and making an editor voodoo doll," you might be right. You would also be right if you guessed I would be working on the revisions, possibly with much muttering and the occasional exclamation. But I haven't opened the package yet, so there's a chance this could be pretty mild. Supposedly, it's the last pass before copy edits. My mantra is "it's all about making the book better," even if four rounds of edits seems a little excessive. A pin goes into the doll for each time a correction suggested on a previous round gets deleted -- editing your own edits gets into wheel-spinning territory.

Since my reading has been very slow lately (I blame the allergy medicine that makes me fall asleep instead of doing bedtime reading), I don't have anything to talk about this week, so it's time for another reading influences discussion.

I saw Star Wars the first time early in fourth grade (we were late to the party, but even in September 1977, the lines went around the theater for every show), and it really was life-changing. I'd never been into science fiction or space stuff -- in fact, the night we went to the movie, I campaigned to see a Cinderella movie that was playing on the other screen in the theater -- but got into the movie within about 30 seconds and had my mind utterly blown. Now that I know more about story structure and all that, I know that it's essentially a fantasy story in a science fiction setting, which may be why I liked it, but I remember thinking at the time that I wanted to tell stories like that. Although I'd always entertained myself by making up stories, this was the first time I think I formalized the ambition.

This was back in the Dark Ages before home video was a thing, so if you loved a movie and wanted to see it over and over again, the only way was to go to the theater. That wasn't an option for me. Instead, I had the novelization and read it over and over again. My parents, who were science fiction readers, finally gave me another science fiction book and suggested that if I liked Star Wars, I might like that. The book was one of the Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster. What I didn't find out until many years later was that Alan Dean Foster had actually written the novelization of Star Wars, even though George Lucas's name was on the cover, so it was an even better transition than my parents realized because it was just another book by the same author.

That got me into science fiction in general, but the Flinx books were definitely my gateway. I branched out into his other novels, particularly the Icerigger books. Alan's real strength is worldbuilding, so half the fun of his books is seeing what crazy environment his characters will be thrown into and what life forms they'll encounter. Because of these books, spaceships and aliens on a book cover became almost as big a draw as magic and wizards.

One of the big thrills of becoming a writer, myself, is the chance to meet so many of my literary heroes, and I've met Alan a couple of times. He was a guest of honor at FenCon, where I got to be on a panel with him (actually, I was moderating, and one of the other panelists was Jim Butcher). Then I ran into him again at the Random House party at WorldCon a couple of years ago. I was feeling kind of wallflowery when a guy walked up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Alan," and we started chatting, then he remembered having met me before. Soon, I was in the middle of a group instead of alone. If he hadn't already been a hero, he would have become one then.

I may not write about aliens and spaceships, but I'm not sure where I'd be as a writer if I hadn't had my imagination fueled by these books during a formative age. That was also what directed me into the science fiction and fantasy section of the bookstore, since before I'd been reading children's books and these were shelved in the adult genre section. There, I discovered a lot of other books. This was also my first exposure to Darrell K. Sweet's book covers, and I've picked up many a book because I recognized the artist's touch (come to think of it, he was also at that same FenCon, and it was fun seeing the original painting for that first Foster book I read).

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