Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Do You Know If You've Written A Classic

Last November, while I was sending out the contracts for the stories in my upcoming Vampire anthology (Vampire's Dilemma edited by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, but none of the 10 stories are by us), an email dropped into my box from a Sime~Gen fan and it blew my mind.  It's from a fellow who is a writer, as well as a reader.  That gives it much more significance in my mind. 

This Sime~Gen reader found the new 2011 Sime~Gen novels at the Darkover Grand Council meeting in Maryland where Karen MacLeod had brought a box of the books to sell. 

Karen posted the following in the SIMEGEN Group on Facebook:
Interesting comments about the new Sime~Gen books I was selling for Jacqueline and Jean at Darkover Grand Council.
(1) There ARE NO NEW Sime~Gen Books. The series stopped years ago.
(2) After showing people the books: "Those are NOT Sime~Gen books."
(3) I'm SO GLAD to see new Sime~Gen books at last. I hope there will be more of them.
ALL of the books Jean and Wildside provided me were SOLD very quickly. I should have had more of them.

The Darkover Grand Council meeting (a science fiction con) was started by Darkover fans to focus on the Darkover novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley who was Guest of Honor at the first one.  I was fan Guest of Honor and had won the contest to name the convention.  At that time I headed a Darkover fan group called Keeper's Tower.

That convention moved, changed dates, and has had various chairpersons, but mostly is run by the same people who started it and still has the name I gave it.  Even today, years after Marion's passing, the convention groups a bundle of related interests together and draws Darkover fans from around the country to Maryland on Thanksgiving weekend.  I was at most of them until I moved to Arizona.

So this fellow who bought new Sime~Gen paper editions at Darkover emailed Jean Lorrah and I to say how enjoyable they were and  give us a URL with further commentary.


That link should lead you to the fiction written by this reader. 

Here's a quote from that entry:

-----Quote from Highmage -----------
What made the Sime-Gen Series brilliant was Jacqueline’s vision of the future and the life and death nature of that future…  Humanity mutates, dividing humanity into two species – one of which seems to be parasitic. Yet there are those who realize that the mutation is meant to be symbiotic and seek to end all the killing that threatens the extinction of both branches of humanity. With the mutation the world as we know if comes to an end and the two species establish territories – which don’t recognize the other as human beings. The Gens look just like us, but that’s not the truth – they produce a substance called selyn, which the Simes need to survive.

These stories span centuries of history taking readers into questions of what it means to be human and feel so poignant they are timeless.

There isn’t a Sime-Gen book that I haven’t read at least five times, so I’m thrilled to be reading the first new stories in years. There are two new volumes Personal Recognizance/The Story Untold (a double edition) and To Kiss of To Kill, and, a third, I understand, is coming out in 2012.

------End Quote-------------

The third he mentions is The Farris Channel, Sime~Gen #12, (Personal Recognizance is numbered separately from The Sory Untold ) and is now available in paper and ebook.

The comments on how "re-readable" the Sime~Gen novels are tell me that I did achieve my objective of writing novels that would be worth their cover price because they weren't (as publishers insisted anything labeled SF be) read-and-toss novels.

Romance novels likewise are considered read-and-toss, not worth keeping for your grandchildren, not worth re-reading 10 years later.

But I wrote for the future reader as well as about an imaginary future.  I set the stories in a time after the collapse of this civilization, so everything was "the same but different."  As a result, the novels don't suffer from out-dated technology in the stories.

The most "contemporary" settings in the series were in Unto Zeor, Forever and Mahogany Trinrose as well as RenSime.  They are now "historical" for us.

The new novel, Personal Recognizance, is set at a time when universities are just getting used to mainframe computers on campus.

One nice advantage of e-books is that they don't get dog-eared, dirty, coffee-stained and the binding doesn't fall apart when you re-read them 10 times or more.  Publishers doing science fiction or romance as original paperbacks package the books to be read once and discarded.  The paper yellows and crumbles, the binding fails, the beautiful art on the cover gets creased and ripped.  They don't expect the stories to be durable, so the package is not either.

The ebook and downloadable audio (i.e. with no physical disk to lose or wear out)  is really taking off now that there are good "readers" such as Kindle, Nook, and various handhelds, phones and tablets (most of which read your audiobooks as well as ebooks).  Here are current 2011 statistics from Publisher's Weekly:



...while downloadable audio rose 25.5% for the year.
In December, e-book sales rose 72% and the AAP noted that based a seasonal buying patterns it expects e-book sales to show strong gains in January and possible February as well as new digital device owners buy more titles.  In the month, sales of children’s hardcover books rose, but sales fell in the other trade categories.
-----END QUOTE------

So these statistics make me joyful that the audiobook of Sime~Gen #1 House of Zeor will be out in a few weeks.

Over the last few years in this blog, we've been exploring why Romance and Science Fiction (worse yet, the combination) are regarded as read-and-toss -- as if something inherent in the genre itself prevented the existence of classics that would out-last the author, or of classics you would save to give to your children who would give them to your grandchildren. 

As you've seen with the passing of Anne McCaffrey last November, her novels are still enchanting new young readers -- and may well soon be a film or series of films, possibly going on to television.

This field, SF, Fantasy, Romance, and every criss-crossing combination, has already produced lasting classics recommended by older readers for younger ones.  When I began selling my fiction, that was a laughable idea.  Star Trek changed a lot, but not the attitude that nothing called "science fiction" could ever be a classic.

Today, Star Trek itself is such a classic, spanning generations and a new film-based universe is starting to appear.

I began selling my science fiction before I wrote the Bantam paperback Star Trek Lives! but I learned a lot about creating "classic" science fiction by studying Star Trek.  I used what I learned, and refined my technique, and believed Sime~Gen would last.  It's only now old enough that testimony of the kind produced by this reader counts (who is using the web to hone his writing craft -- see last week's post ...


...for more on how to use the web to hone writing craftsmanship.)

It's possible that I really have created a classic.  A few more decades and we may know. 

My Tuesday entries on this blog have been focused on leading you through what I learned from studying Star Trek, Darkover, and many classics (such as Thubway Tham that I talked about last week), so that you can write with confidence and look forward to getting reader responses like this.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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