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The Voice of Campbell

July 8, 2012

Jim  and Joan

At the Campbell conference it was great seeing Jim Gunn, and hearing about his intriguing new novel working its way through Tor. I will always remember the first call I received 25 years ago from Jim, a few days after the birth of my son, so I could not then travel to accept the award. Over the years Jim has been leading the Kansas center, he promoted quality and diversity in SF.

Kij Johnson with awards and books

Joan, Chris McKitterick, and Kij

Workshop group
Front: Joan, Sheila Williams, Sheila Finch

Kij Johnson presented awards, and co-ran the conference with Chris McKitterick, the new Campbell director. Chris Priest sent a lovely acceptance speech saying how his work might not have been “approved” by the original Campbell, but how the Campbell jury has expanded its view over the decades. The writers workshop participants asked lots of insightful questions. Sheila Finch, Sheila Williams and I had some great laughs together about our misadventures with agents and other tales of publishing.

We had a most intriguing discussion of “voice” in science fiction. Andy Duncan and I read two very different stories, Andy’s from his new collection, about an aging UFO witness in the Ozarks; mine about “Tuberculosis Joins the UN” from Nature Futures. Each story depends heavily on voice for its effect. The conference had an earnest scholarly discussion of what goes into voice. I do recommend Andy’s collection, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, for some fun reading.

What makes for an interesting “voice” in fiction? I always think of those studies of the split-brain person, the one whose right brain draws the smiley face while the left brain makes up the reason why. Most of us don’t realize how much of life we spend doing that, after walling off our own brains. That’s what makes a voice interesting.

Which SF stories do you find memorable for their unique voice?

6 Comments
  1. Keith McCaffety permalink
    July 8, 2012 10:20 am

    Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The monster himself tells much of the story. People somehow never mention that!

  2. SFreader permalink
    July 8, 2012 1:55 pm

    Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. The grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, etc. of this first-person narration is such an integral part of the story and brings the reader that much closer to the main character.

    This is the story I recommend to my non-SF reading friends when they say that SF is all about technology, nothing to do with people.

  3. July 8, 2012 6:35 pm

    Feersum Endjinn. ‘Nuff said.

  4. paws4thot permalink
    July 9, 2012 7:23 am

    I can agree or at least understand all the above. So to say something different:-

    Elizabeth Moon “Speed of Dark” for making the main protagonist autistic.
    Charles Stross “Halting State and “Rule 34″ for being written in the second person.

  5. Rick York permalink
    July 9, 2012 7:13 pm

    For me, the most distinctive voice in sf/f has to be Harlan Ellison. He broke through the conventions of the so-called “golden age” of sf.

    I loved those old guys. I grew up with them in the 50’s and 60’s. But, they were already getting a little old. A few like Simak and Bester were willing to experiment but, Ellison’s unrefined view of humanity came blasting through the miasmas of blindly optimistic and the unwitting (I hope) racism sexism of many of them.

    And, truth be told, most of them were not very good writers. They were all superb story tellers but, character development and nuance were not their long suits.

  6. July 9, 2012 10:21 pm

    All greats to remember. “Flowers for Algernon” is all about voice; and I think of it, seeing what they do with mouse brains today.
    Alice Sheldon’s voice was another, profoundly important.

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