Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Speculative Fiction

Award-winning author David Brin's celebrated works of science fiction have been translated into more than 20 languages, but his prolific writing extends to technology, science, culture and politics. He also writes about writing: He's received so many requests for advice from would-be authors that he gathered his thoughts on writing in an excellent essay available on the Internet called the A Long Lonely Road. Trained as a scientist, David's worked as a physics professor and NASA consultant in addition to creating the acclaimed Uplift book series. We called up David for a -- tad contrarian -- conversation about writing:

VT: Why did you first go into science, not writing?

David: I was born to be a writer, I guess, coming from an arts-oriented family. But I went into science because I kind of resented the relentless propaganda spread by artists -- like all that endless prattle about how "art is sacred and art is wonderful." Both of which are true, of course! But there's this added message that is not true: The lie that art is rare. What complete baloney. Art fizzes out of human beings. If you killed every artist and writer today there'd be more art and writing and sports and entertainment. If you did it again, there'd be even more the day after that!

If you did it again, you'd appear to diminish the amount and quality of art. Do you know why? Well, you'll have killed a few geniuses. But the apparent decline would be an illusion, because all the other artists will have noticed that you're killing artists! And they'd go underground. Duh. It's happened lots of times. And whenever that's happened you've always had a lively underground artistic community. The crux? You simply cannot kill art. It can't be done.

Ah, but science? It is fragile and very easy to kill. Lots of civilizations have done that. As a kid I was amazed that our culture was actively creating millions of people trained to find out -- not what they want to be true -- but what actually is true. I wanted to be a part of that! And I did get my scientific union card. Still, this civilization pays me more and heaps a lot more praise for my art. So? Who am I to argue with civilization?

I think it's terribly important that if I'm going to be an artist, a shaman outside of the temple of science, leaping and hopping and capering and shouting, that I at least understand what's going in the temple.

VT: What attracted you to science fiction?

David: It's a field of writing that tries to grapple with human transformation and change. In times like these, what genre could be more relevant? Those who diss science fiction are mostly people who are terrified by change. People who want stories that reassure with a false sense of constancy.

But it's a badly named field, a terribly named field. What it should have been called is speculative history because it speculates about the grand sweep of human progress and failure and destiny. Some of what it speculates is scientific, but there's also alternate history, alternate pasts, and projections about where the story may go next. It should have been called speculative history, because it's about the larger human context, how human beings deal with transformation and change.

VT: What writers of "speculative history" do you read?

David: Vernor Vinge is writing ground-breaking explorations of how technology might change our real lives within the next ten to 15 years. I find that fascinating. Neal Stephenson is exploring how the enlightenment began and its implications for our civilizations, staggeringly good stuff but very complex. Dan Simmons is writing interesting stuff. And newer writers like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross and Jeff Carlson are also exciting. [Jeff's first novel "Plague Year," comes out in August, 2007. -- ed.]

Check out David's website to read his multidisciplinary essays and learn more about his books.

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