If you have not yet read Robert Silverberg’s Reflections essay, “The Raft of the Medusa” in the January 2013 issue of Asimov’s, go read it now. (Yes, the full piece is available online.) In it, Silverberg begins by talking about writers like Updike and Cheevers and their relationships with one another. In the literary world, it seems, the competitiveness is often fierce–something Silverberg likens to the story of the raft of the Medusa, a ship that sunk off the coast of Africa. From there, he transitions into his own experience, and the very noncompetitive and encouraging world of science fiction. Silverberg discusses those writers who encourage him and went out of their way to help his career.
The essay hit home with me because my experience has been very much the same. Unlike Silverberg, I struggled for a long time to break into the field. Fourteen years of writing and rejection before making my first pro sale. And even since then, my progress has been slow (by Silverberg’s remarkably prolific standards) but steady. Indeed, in just the last six months of my career, things have started picking up, and so wary am I of the fleetingness of success, that I wonder whether this pace can be maintained. That said, I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as I have without the helping hands of writers and editors who have been around far longer than I have. These writers and editors form the bridge between generations. They are the people who pay it forward.
Michael A. Burstein was probably the first pro to encourage me. I was an admirer of his stories long before we first met. He has provided me with lasting advice and introduced me to people I never dreamed of meeting. One of those people is one of my favorite writers of all-time, Barry N. Malzberg. I first met Barry through Michael and in the years since, Barry has become a kind of mentor to me. I sometimes think back to the younger version of myself, half my present age, checking out Beyond Apollo from the library and reading it breathlessly. I never dreamed that I’d meet, let alone become friends with its author. But that’s the way the science fiction community is. It was through Michael that I also first met Allen Steele, another person who as been a mentor to me and has provided me with invaluable career advice.
Eventually, I even got to meet and chat with Robert Silverberg. I am constantly amazed by my good fortune and it is always in the forefront of my thoughts to pay this good fortune forward as best as I can.
I also recognize that not everyone is the recipient of the kind of acceptance that I had. While I find the science fiction field accepting, I am also a straight white male and, as John Scalzi has eloquently written, I play the game on the lowest difficulty level. It is heartening to see that there are people out there leading the charge to make the science fiction and fantasy world as inclusive for others as it has been to me. Jim C. Hines has been leading one charge in this effort.
Reading Silverberg’s essay reminds me of how fortunate and lucky I’ve been. I look forward to the day in our community when everyone who is part of it–or wants to be part of it–can make the same claim.