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The Almost, Alternate, Unlikely Lives of Great Science Fiction Writers

Sci-fi artwork of an alien landscape - The Almost, Alternate Lives of Great Science Fiction Writers

Yes, Great Science Fiction Writers Are People Too.

This one is for all you aspiring science fiction writers out there. Or science non-fiction writers. Or just writers. But mainly the first one. If you’re anything like me, you probably keep a mental list (a quite extensive one) of the reasons that you’ll never be the next well-known author whose amazing science fiction novel sells a million copies and gets optioned for a Hollywood blockbuster. Parts of that list read like:

You’re not creative enough. You suck at telling stories. You’ve already chosen a career path and it’s too late to go a different route. Writing won’t pay the bills.

Oh, and how could I forget? You don’t have time.

But seriously, we love our excuses, do we not? They guard us from our self-loathing, albeit timidly and ineffectively. Anyway, I’m feeling inspired today, and want to share a bit of that feeling if I can. I’m inspired because I look at the lives of some of the best science fiction writers and I see…wait for it…normal people. People who could have easily made those same excuses I listed above, and in all likelihood probably did at some point before their writing careers got off the ground.

Do You Suffer from Pre-writer’s Block? Believe Me, I Understand.

Consider these examples:

Phot of Science Fiction writer Isaac AsimovIsaac Asimov

The first person to use the term “robotics” and one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers – I kind of had to include him (actually, I included all three). I’ll bet you didn’t know that Asimov wasn’t actually an author – he was a biochemist. He was also a guy who never learned to bike or swim, got rejected from medical school (before going on to get his PhD), was in the U.S. Army, taught college chemistry, founded what is now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and became an outspoken proponent of humanism. Okay, you got me – he was an author, too; and that’s pretty much my point.

Asimov didn’t just pen a few books, either. More like hundreds. Many were science fiction, but he also wrote non-fiction in the form of reference material, poetry, and more. You probably know that he wrote I, Robot, but would you have guessed that he also wrote The Near East: 10,000 Years of History, Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, or Lecherous Limericks? So if you’re one of those (again, like me) who waste time deciding which of your interests or ideas to write about, do yourself a favor and just start writing. Write it all.

To act as a counter-balance for our 17 best sci-fi novels by female writers, we decided to take a look at lesser known science fiction from the Golden Age (and a few more recent entries) and unearth some of the best, underappreciated (or completely forgotten about) classic science fiction books from the celebrated male authors of the time. Experimental, controversial, or just plain weird, these written works evaded most anthologies, but will definitely capture your attention. [Click here to read more…]

Photo of Science Fiction writer Robert Heinlein

Photo by: B. Crowell, CC3

Robert Heinlein

Another one of the “Big Three,” Heinlein has a freakin’ crater on Mars named for him. Once upon a time, though, he was just a guy who was too ill for the Navy, too bored to stay in college, and who sometimes didn’t know where next month’s rent was coming from. He tried out real estate sales, politics, and even silver mining.

Meanwhile, Heinlein’s writing career didn’t really get started until he was solidly in his thirties, and for the next twenty years he mostly wrote short stories and young adult novels – not exactly the stuff you would associate with someone nicknamed the Dean of Science Fiction. In 1959, though, his book Starship Troopers came out, marking a new era in his career. I don’t know, maybe you’ve heard of that one?

Photo of Science Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke

Photo by: Rob C. Croes, CC3

Arthur C. Clarke

Rounding out the “Big Three” is another author who really made the rounds. He was an avid scuba diver, an actor, a gorilla rights activist (yep), a member of the British Royal Air Force, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a television show host, and a chancellor at two schools: the International Space University and Moratuwa University in Sri Lanka.

Clarke didn’t write as a full-time profession until he was 34, although he managed to have one novella and some short stories published a few years prior to that. Over the years he became prolific as both a sci-fi writer and a science writer, again demonstrating that creativity need not be constrained by genre.

Photo of Science Fiction writer William Gibson

Photo by: Gonzo Bonzo, CC2

William Gibson

In the etymological sense, Gibson was (and is) a little bit more of a “punk” than any of the “Big Three” science fiction writers ever were, which probably has a little bit to do with the fact that he pretty much invented the whole “cyberpunk” scene singlehandedly, beginning with Neuromancer.

But at no point (in my opinion) was Gibson destined for that future. In the 1970’s he was one-half stay-at-home-dad and one-half the original eBayer. Yep, according to the wellspring of pure truth that is Wikipedia, Gibson made a “substantial part of his living” from buying junk at Salvation Army and re-selling it. That was before he decided to go back to school for the financial aid, because that was, in his own words, “easier than work.”

And who is this job-dodging bum who used to live off of his wife’s salary now? Oh, just a Science Fiction Hall of Famer, the same guy who’s Sprawl trilogy inspired the bulk of The Matrix, and who has been described as “visionary” by most of the world’s sci-fi critics.

The Internet Review of Science Fiction attempted, via an algorithm, to pin down the differences between male and female science fiction writers. They discovered, with nearly 90% accuracy, that, “Gender division in writing and reading thus comes down to tendencies, not absolutes. Men more often concern themselves with actions, ideas, and analysis. Women more often concern themselves with processes, perceptions, and implications.” That being said, it only makes sense that female science fiction writers devastate our perceptions of reality and rebuild [Click here to read more…]

Tying It Together

What I get out of reading about these guys is that no matter where their life took them, no matter what else they had on their agenda, they didn’t stop pursuing their passion. So whether your excuse is that you’re too old, too busy, too tired, or too unoriginal, don’t give up on your dream of being a successful science fiction writer (or whatever your dream is). Just remember, you’re not a successful sci-fi writer yet.

Featured Image: courtesy of StayInWonderland

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