This evening I watched a Google Hangouts discussion with three science fiction authors I have now known for a long time, though only one in fact that I am highly familiar with in terms of their actual writing. Names within genres are always thrown around, and if you spend any sort of time in the SF genre you will soon enough come across these three: Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton, and Alastair Reynolds.
It is wonderful when you get three giants of any kind together (and these three are certainly giants within the SF genre) and so much fun, as opposed to dryness, is the result. Here are three forward-thinking visionaries of a genre of writing that has always been at the cutting edge. As Reynolds points out, the term gas giants that we use for the likes of Jupiter and Saturn, were born in the SF novel, not the laboratory or science paper.
I was interested by Banks touching on the question of storing one’s mind in an artificial substrate (much like we see in his Culture novels) in order to scratch at immortality, and admitting that for him, at least, half-joking (but only half), it is simply a question of vanity. We all want to feel that something outlives us, even if it is not the same consciousness that transfers to the mind-storing device — which, to me at least, it would blatantly not be, but that is for the philosophers to argue over.
For Banks, who is very sadly no longer with us, he wanted to believe that his work would outlast him, something I suppose that is common enough to all authors: the desire to leave a legacy, a body of work. As Banks points out, two people are required to make a child, but it only takes one person to create through the process of writing.
Reynolds compares SF in its written, or prose, form to hard drugs. There is nothing else that can bring about quite the same effect on him that good prose can, not even for the most part increasingly dazzling television. Interestingly he makes one exception, or at least goes as far as to name one in the moment, that being 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interesting because of all the sci-fi I’ve ever watched, 2001 is the only one (at least that I can think of now as I’m writing this) that carriers with it a quality of the very best and most accomplished written SF prose. Granted, it was written by Arthur C. Clarke, but still it is quite a rare accomplishment. It retains something of the spirit of literature, brought forth in the medium of film (with such powerful appreciation for both mediums, making it a masterpiece of modern SF).
Although I have yet to read much by Hamilton (I did years ago begin one of his sizable SF books, but misplaced it as I was traveling in China at the time), he is someone I intend to get round to eventually. Certainly as a fan of the genre, it would be impossible to skip him. Plus he’s a fellow Brit, and I think Brits produce some of the best SF writing around. He may not have made any stand out comments that come back to me right at this moment, but I paid close attention to everything he said in response to the Google host and questions from readers.
Speaking of readers, it is a reader who has been invited to ask a question that makes the point of how wonderful it is that our modern technology can allow for such social exchanges as this one here taking place on Google Hangouts, where the limits of physical distance are powerless. He himself was in Australia (could have been Spain, there were several readers invited with questions via webcam), the host was in California at Google’s home turf, and the three authors were seated in Google’s London offices.
I look forward to a future where giants like this can come together over a quality video link-up (as provided by the likes of the Hangouts service) and have a bit of fun, banter, and genuinely passionate discussion on the field of SF (or any other, for that matter). Sometimes I think we are halfway to living in the books they describe. And that’s a very cool thing indeed.
Be sure to check out the video for yourself if you’re a fan of either Banks, Hamilton or Reynolds, or the genre at large.