Excerpts from Paul Walker's Speaking of Science Fiction

Excerpts from Speaking of Science Fiction by Paul Walker, published by Luna Publications in August of 1978

A few years ago I purchased a book for myself called Speaking of Science Fiction by author and journalist Paul Walker. It's a wonderful collection of interviews with major authors of the time, published in 1971. I wanted to share some of the bits I found inside, so following are excerpts. I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the thoughts and motivations of science fiction authors. These are only bits from some of the interviews. I have in no way tried to bring forth the entirety of the book. Beyond what you see here are interviews with: R.A. Lafferty, Philip Jose Farmer, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, James Schmitz, Keith Laumer, Horace L. Gold, Terry Carr, Harry Harrison (on John W. Campbell), Michael Moorcock, Joanna Russ, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Zenna Henderson, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Alfred Bester, John Brunner, Robert Bloch, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, Jack Williamson and Brian W. Aldiss.

For myself, reading interviews like these give priceless insight into the minds of my favorite writers; writers who turn their genius onto the future, who attempt to frame human and technological advances in entertainment, creating moral and thought-provoking stories and bringing a unique richness to literature. I hope you enjoy what you read here and that you seek out further information on these writers and their varied motivations and personalities.

Paul Walker's preface states:

This is a book about what it is like to be a science fiction writer. About why they write, and how they write, and what they write about. And this is a book about the kinds of people they are. The interviews were conducted by mail. They are arranged in no special order, and may be read in many different ways, depending on your interests in the field (writing, editing, criticism, etc.) The opinions expressed here are, by now, years old, and some of the people who expressed them may have formed new ones, and disavowed the old. It is to be expected. However, the whole person is not contained in any one of his or her views, but in the spirit that pervades all they say and do. It is the suggestion of that spirit that I wish to capture here.


Ursula K. LeGuin signing autographs at the Dallas Civic Center in April of 2014

From the interview with Ursula K. le Guin:

Paul Walker:

"The problem of "seriousness" in SF is much discussed these days. The question might be asked: how can a serious-minded writer take SF seriously within its own tradition?

Most every writer I talk to takes it seriously, but as a profession; and eavesdropping on a gathering of writers is like sitting in on an assistant buyers' luncheon. Many of these people have a sentimental regard for SF and a cold, cynical attitude toward it, or writing itself, as art. On the other hand, many of the serious-minded writers I've talked to are exiles (through the lack of talent or ability) from the mainstream, whose loyalties clearly rest in the mainstream. They quickly become contemptuous of SF and its traditions and feel trapped in the genre, coming to loathe everyone and everything in it."

Ursula K. LeGuin:

"I am bored by the attitude you mention, the cynical "businessman's" attitude towards our art. Of course we get paid; work is paid for in a money economy. In self-respect and out of respect for our work we should try to get paid fairly, too. And we are among the lucky ones; like all craftsmen we get paid for doing what we like to do. But to be cynical and profiteering about this is an insult to all the poor who do work they don't want to do because capitalists see to it that they can't get bread otherwise; and it is a contemptible abandonment of the artist's or artisan's standards - contemptible because unnecessary: we have no need at all to accept the profit motive as the only "real" one. It is cowardice to do so, in those who get enough to eat. Yes, I think Ernest Hemingway was a coward, for saying that a "writer writes for money," and I'd like to see if he would have had the guts to say that to, say, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

I find the distinction between "serious-minded" and "professional" writers misleading. A professional is somebody with a profession. He can be serious, frivolous, idealistic, or profit-oriented, and still be a professional - teacher, scientist, lawyer, writer, what have you. What he is not, is an amateur. That is, he has undertaken his calling as a life-work - not an hors-d'oeuvre or a dish of pickles, but the main course. If it doesn't pay, he may make a living out of another job or even another profession; but the commitment is the touchstone. Money is not. Spinoza made his living grinding lenses (a second profession), does that make him an unprofessional philosopher? Keats died poor and scarcely known (a failure), does that make him an amateur poet?

Success and failure in economic terms have to do with economics: in the last analysis they have nothing to do with the success or failure of aesthetic or intellectual work in aesthetic or intellectual terms. (they affect the workman of course; and raise his self-esteem. But if a writer allows fear of financial failure or desire for financial success to influence the work as he does it, he has sold out; he is no longer a professional writer, but a professional money-maker. His commitment is not to his craft, but to marketeering; he has become a capitalist instead of a worker. And he usually begins, then, to refer to himself proudly as a "professional.")"


Clifford D. Simak's Way Station - Published by Macfadden Books in 1964 - Won the 1964 Hugo Award for Best Novel

From the interview with Clifford D. Simak:

Paul Walker:

"Many of your stories seem to begin with a rocking chair on a front porch. Any special reason? Also, I detect a great respect for "idleness" and "contemplation." This is a peculiar respect for an American of any profession. What about them?"

Clifford D. Simak:

"I can think, offhand, of four of my stories that began with a man in a rocking chair. Until you mentioned it, I had not realized I used the device so often. I don't think it has any real significance, at least any intentional significance - no one, not even the writer, can know what a writer's subconscious mind may be up to. Perhaps it's because I'm a rocking chair man, myself. For years Kay and I, after dinner, have sat out many summer evenings on the patio. We sit there and talk and watch the sun go down and the duck creep in. The birds are at their best and a rabbit comes out to eat some clover and a plane passes so far overhead it is simply another flying bird, the clouds and the sky change color. No matter how the day may have gone, sitting out there puts peace into the soul.

Perhaps idleness and contemplation are part of the rocking chair business. There is nothing wrong with either contemplation or idleness. Idleness has gotten and carried on a bad name from the time of the pioneers when a man had to bust his gut to earn a living and idleness was looked upon as a crime, if not a sin. Contemplation may have gotten a bad name at the same time, being equated with a dreaminess that could not be tolerated when there was real, he-man work to do. But I'm not idle as often as I'd like to be and if I allotted more time for contemplation I'd be a better writer. I'm afraid our society has built up far too much admiration and respect for the go-getter and the eager beaver, and God save me from either. I sometimes stand aghast at the utter cruelty of the prevailing notion that the only criterion for success is to get ahead - not just ahead, but ahead of someone else, or anyone else. I think the kids may be calling a halt to some of this and we have a better world for it."


Poul Anderson at FunCon I, held in 1968

From the interview with Poul Anderson:

Paul Walker:

"You have done a number of successful series novels. How do you go about developing a series?"

Poul Anderson:

"Series mostly just happen, for me at any rate. A single story appears insufficient to explore all the possibilities in an idea, so I do another. Some wear out all the potentialities. Ten years went by between the third and fourth "Operation" story, because I couldn't think of a fresh approach. I do not plan on ever writing a fifth one - unless some wholly new angle comes to mind, which looks doubtful.

A "future-history" is, by contrast, open-ended, because each story within it (or each sub-series of stories) is complete in itself and the interrelationships merely add an extra dimension for the reader who happens to have encountered several. The main problem here is avoiding inconsistencies and repetitiveness. For the timeline on which van Rijn and Flandry life, I've had to put together a thick notebook, virtually a concordance, and every new story makes it thicker."


Asimov speaking at convention in 1974

From the interview with Isaac Asimov:

Paul Walker:

"You obviously take great pride in your own writing. Looking at it as objectively as you can, what is "good" about it?"

Isaac Asimov:

"1) It is intricately plotted, and leaves no untied ends at the close. What's more 2) the heroes are not without flaws and there are no villains at all. At least there are people who oppose the hero, but usually they are justified in their own eyes and don't feel villainous and I do my best to present their case fairly, even when I disapprove of them personally. 3) My stories don't depend on sensationalism to make their point. They have neither unnecessary sex nor unnecessary profanity nor unnecessary violence. I allow their content to carry them."


Frederik Pohl won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2010 for his blog The Way the Future Blogs

From the interview with Frederik Pohl:

Paul Walker:

"Tell me about your collaboration with C. M. Kornbluth."

Frederik Pohl:

"Cyril and I started working together in the Futurian days, along about 1940, when I was first editing Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, and all of us were first trying to write for money. Collaboration was the way of life. I suppose we all wanted support. The way we were first worked together, Cyril and I, was that I would write a synopsis of the story, Cyril would rough out a draft, and I would revise it for publication. We wrote a dozen or stories that way, most of them not very good.

About 1950, Cyril moved into my house in New Jersey, having quit his job with a news-wire service, and we began collaborating again. I had written about a third of The Space Merchants, and offered it to Cyril as a collaboration venture. He wrote the next third from my verbal description of where it was going, and the final third we wrote a few pages at a time, by turns. After that, we wrote almost entirely by turns. We would discuss a story idea for a few hours, just talking over situation and characters and general considerations, not putting anything on paper. Then one of us would go up to the third floor where the typewriters were and write the first five pages, stopping at the bottom of the fifth page. The other would write the next five, und so weiter; and ultimately we would have a book. I then did the final pulling-together and polishing myself (on all except Wolfbane, which Cyril polished and expanded to book length before he died).

He was one of the most rewarding people I have ever known. He was an angry man, and his own impression of himself was that he was a cruel one; certainly he missed a few opportunities of shafting a friend conversationally. But he was also enormously well informed and enormously creative. We quarrelled often and vigorously, but having cleared the air we were friends again. I suppose I was too close to Cyril to evaluate him on any objective way, but if I could spend an hour with anyone I've ever known I think I would want that person to be Cyril."


Damon Knight was a member of The Futurians, an organized group of science fiction fans centered in New York City from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s. The Futurians was published by John Day in 1977.

From the interview with Damon Knight:

Paul Walker:

"It has been said that while Damon Knight was a master of the short story he never wrote a successful novel. What do you think?"

Damon Knight:

"Novels have always been tough for me, but lately everything is tough, and I don't know that that has anything necessarily to do with the quality of the product. Somebody more objective than I would have to judge whether the novels are less successful (artistically) than the short stories, and if so, why. In a financial way, and in public esteem, I don't think I have any kicks coming. New editions of all of them are recently in print or forthcoming - the third time around for Hell's Pavement and A for Anything."


James Blish won the 1959 Hugo Award for Best Novel with A Case of Conscience

From the interview with James Blish:

Paul Walker:

"What special pleasure do you get from writing criticism?"

James Blish:

"I suppose the special pleasure for me in writing this kind of criticism springs from the fact that I have a technical turn of mind and enjoy seeing how things work - or why they don't. There are certain obvious side benefits as well: the practice makes me a closer reader; and I learn things which I can put to use in my own fiction."


Wilson Tucker's Tomorrow Plus X, published by Avon Press in 1957. First published as Time Bomb by Rienhard in 1955.

From the interview with Wilson Tucker:

Paul Walker:

"I'd also like to know why you remained in fandom. What "good" is fandom anyway? To pose a rhetorical question."

Wilson Tucker:

"I've stayed in fandom (my entry was circa 1931) because I thoroughly enjoy it, and everything in it; the people, the fanzines, the conventions, and the long-term friends who have developed from what were only "people" in the beginning. I first became acquainted with Don Wollheim, as an example, about 1933-34, and met him the first time in 1939; since then we have remained in contact via fitful correspondence and infrequent meetings at conventions. We had an enjoyable talk at Toronto, together with his wife, and this kind of thing has been going on for about forty years. And at my last convention in Champaign, Illinois, a few months ago I became acquainted with two brand new people (to me) from Nashville who - I hope - remain friends for many years to come. It's a never ending process and I remain in fandom because I like it.

I learned to write in fandom and for many years published there, taking a beating from critics who weren't bashful about discussing my shortcomings; of course those critics helped me to do better whether I fully realized it or not. In one large sense, publishing in fanzines was my writer's school and I would recommend it over any of those commercial mail order schools. Fandom can be "good" for you if you want to write and publish, if you want to mix with peers, if you must display your ego or burst."

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