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05/22/2003 Archived Entry: "Writers Write"
Posted by CKL @ 01:56 AM PST

Here's the thing: we all write bad poetry in high school. Whether it's to impress a girl, a boy, a teacher-- whatever. We all write bad poetry when we're young. But we either get better at it, or we stop.

I'm about halfway through Hyperion by Dan Simmons, and lemme tellya, I'm really glad I already have the rest of the series (four books altogether) sitting on my bookshelf. I picked up the whole series on a whim, at a science fiction convention a year or two ago, and hadn't gotten around to reading them until last week.

Better late than never, I guess.

The world of Hyperion (or the Hyperion Cantos series, if you want to be highfalutin about it) is fully imagined, and Simmons does a great job of weaving backstory into the unfolding narrative. IMHO, this is one of the marks of a great science fiction writer: the ability to describe a world that no one has ever seen in a way which makes it not only real, but true.

Dan Simmons writes densely, in marvelous prose that skates the edge of obscurity, but is not quite as long-winded or professorial as, say, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books. One of the main characters, Martin Silenius, routinely and casually tosses off references to Greek mythology, English Romantic poets, science fiction novels, and dozens of other scholarly topics. He doesn't do this to be boastful, though he is quite an ass; he does this because it's in his nature.

Shit, is this turning into a book report, or what?

Back to my original point... I wrote a lot of bad poetry in high school. Some of it was pretty good, and even got published in the school literary journal, but most of it was just plain ghodawful.

I've gotten better since then. I don't write much poetry these days; in fact, I don't write much at all, outside of this HotSheet and scores of e-mail messages every day. I haven't even been reading that much in recent years. Books, I mean. Sure, I read web sites and magazines and such, but I hadn't been cracking books on a regular basis until earlier this year.

First, I finished reading Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, which appears on several lists of "classic" science fiction works, and though not badly written, the overall theme is pretty depressing. Then, by pure coincidence, I picked up The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy, which has a very similar premise-- most of the world's population is killed by a massive plague-- but a much more uplifting message. I suppose you could call them the country mouse and city mouse of post-apocalyptic survival stories. (Let's not talk about "Jeremiah" at all, okay?)

Curiously enough, both stories take place in the San Francisco bay area, and both start in the East Bay. Earth stays there for the most part; City moves into San Francisco proper. Earth is primarily a "what-if" tale, and takes a very detached, almost sterile, anthropological look at its subject. City is more fantastic, with blatantly magical elements and near-future technology but-- ironically-- a more human perspective.

(Not central to this discussion, but also interesting: Earth was written in the 1950s, before civil rights, the Cold War, Vietnam, and cyberpunk. City was written on the other side of history. Both show certain prejudices.)

Am I rambling? I am.

One of City's central philosophies is this: art changes the artist. By putting something of yourself into your creation, you alter the world and your relation to it. The driving narrative of City is how the residents of San Francisco, a motley bunch of artists and nonconformists, repel an invasion by a military force without lethal force. Instead of following the invaders' rules of engagement, the city dwellers choose to fight their own kind of war, with art and artifice.

It's true, what they say in Rent: the opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation.

I haven't been reading much, which, in turn, has contributed to my lack of motivation to write. I think I had started to forget the power of words. Sure, the dialogue on Buffy and Gilmore Girls is to die for, but television is different. I've been forgetting how much power the written word carries, and how good I am at shaping that power.

No longer. Thank you, George and Pat and Dan.

I don't plan to dive back into poetry immediately, but I need to start writing again. Every day. Something. Maybe I'll continue the novel I started for NaNoWriMo last year. Maybe I'll finally finish Freefall: No Fate. Maybe I'll just set a timer and let my fingers pound out whatever's in my head.

Writers write. I write.

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