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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kim Stanley Robinson at the Melbourne Writers' Festival

Okay, I know. Kim Stanley Robinson is in town for Aussiecon 4. I will get to hear him speak next weekend. But it has been such a very long time since I have seen a spec fic writer at the Melbourne Writers' Festival and I was desperate to attend something. So I bought a ticket yesterday when I turned up in hopes of finding something to my liking. There was nothing much. I did go to hear a couple of guys talk about their books - one who writes novels based on true stories and one who has written a non-fiction book about his time in the undertaker industry. It wasn't my usual cup of tea, but as a writer of non-fiction who feels the need to tell a story for my young readers, I thought I might enjoy it - and I did, though not enough to buy these guys' books. The only crime fiction session yesterday was in the morning, before I got to town.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to see that an Aussiecon guest of honour would be at the writers' festival. I went to buy a ticket immediately. I hoped I might also see some folk I knew (in the end, I only saw Lucy Sussex, who was conducting the interview, and Tim Richards, who can't make it to the con because he's going overseas).

The panel took place in the BMW Edge theatre, which is a lovely light and airy space overlooking the river. It's also the biggest auditorium in the Fed Square complex. The auditorium was far from full, but I thought:never mind, he'll have plenty of folk to hear him next week!

I found Mr Robinson fascinating. He spoke about his books and why he wrote them as he had. His most recent, which I bought yesterday, is about Galileo being taken to the moons of Jupiter by time-travellers. The author was fascinated by Galileo, about whom no one, he said, had ever written a novel, and by history in general.

He told us about his Mars books, which were written because of his love of the Californian landscape. He also pointed out that the Martian landscape has a similarity to our outback.

I felt like applauding when he mentioned that he wasn't crazy about cyberpunk because it's so pessimistic (and for some political reasons). I remember when I read my first cyberpunk novel and thought, "If that's what the future is going to be like, I don't want to be there!"

It was great to see a spec fic writer at that festival. They haven't, as far as I can recall, had one in a very long time. I'm guessing they wouldn't have this time either, if he hadn't already been in town for the con. I can remember the year they had Ben Bova and Robert Jordan at the same time. Their political opinions were very different and we certainly heard all about it!

Another year, they had China Mieville, who certainly seemed to think a lot of himself. When he was rude about Tolkien's work, I thought: "Mate, if people are still reading YOUR books fifty years from now, you can be pleased with yourself!"

It would be so good if we can have some more next year, but unless there's a con going, I suspect not.

The thing I really miss about the days I used to go to ten sessions at the festival is the children's writers who used to have evening and weekend sessions. Last year, they did have John Marsden on the weekend, but that was it. Ursula Dubosarsky was doing a session today, but as a word-lover, not as a children's writer. Someone, in all these years, seems to have decided no one but kids wants to hear these writers speak, so has put all their sessions during the day, for schools.

It's pretty frustrating if you're a teacher-librarian-children's-writer and can't go during the day. I mean, yes, I took my class last year to hear Andy Griffiths, but it was one session and the way they speak to kids is very different from the way they'd speak at an evening session.

I'm taking my book club to the next Teenage Booktalkers next term. They'll enjoy that.

As for the Melbourne Writers' Festival, I have given up the ten-session bookings and just turn up and see what's going. It's more fun that way.


Anonymous said...

Good write up! I loved Stan's talk. I thought it was particularly interesting to hear that this hard SF author was a literature grad. If you're interested, here are some links to things he discussed, his Booker controversy and the SF authors he rates as contenders, and what matters and what you can do.

MWF does pretty well for SF, I thought. Last year they invited a long list of guests associated with science fiction, including Justine Larbalestier, Shaun Tan, Kerry Greenwood, Scott Westerfeld, Steven Amsterdam, Max Barry, Peter Goldsworthy, Jack Dann, Margo Lanagan, and China Mievelle... Next week sees Mievelle again, plus Alistair Reynolds.

Morva Shepley said...

You've just made me realise that Robinson is still on my "to read" list. I still haven't read his books. But I am SO looking forward to the worldcon and, of course, to seeing you there.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I seem to have missed those writers, Aknyra, which is weird, because I checked out last year's programme pretty thoroughly at the time. I'm wondering if most of them were at the schools days or during the day Monday to Friday, which is still no good to me, because I can't take flex time or flexible rec leave to go. :-(

And yes, it was nice to hear that an English major who reads New Scientist can write SF so well. I'll use that as an inspiration, because I do read New Scientist myself!


2017 -- Sue, when you read New York 2140 i will look for your review here. It's sci fi cli fi hybrid, what KST now calls in an interview "Utopian Climate Change Fiction: The Hot New Genre!" he actually said that last week. Google the quote. RE: ''I felt like applauding when he mentioned that he wasn't crazy about cyberpunk because it's so pessimistic (and for some political reasons). I remember when I read my first cyberpunk novel and thought, "If that's what the future is going to be like, I don't want to be there!"'' (above), cheers, dan in Taiwan


Btw, Sue, re KSR's 2140 novel, there is a character in the story named General Octavisasdottir, she is the NYC police inspector and a great character. Is it possible that Stan maybe named her in homage and respect for Octavia Butler the great pioneering sci fi novelist? In Icelandic naming traditions, daughters and sons are often called by the father's name PLUS "dottir" so a common name might be Josephsdottir for a woman born in Iceland. Was this maybe Stan's way of paying homage to Octavia Butler? I guess so. So far, nobody has mentioned it in any of the reviews or interviews about the book. Your take? cheers, Dan