Tag Archives: joe haldeman

Science fiction mysteries

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I had an epiphany the other day.

There is a certain kind of science fiction story (including novels) that I particularly like. It’s been hard for me to classify what these stories are. In the past I’ve thought of them as space opera, like Isaac Asimov‘s FOUNDATION series or Arthur C. Clarke‘s ODYSSEY series. But I’ve read other types of space opera and sometimes, I don’t come away with the same sense of excitement as I do with others. What’s the difference?

The difference, it occurred to me the other day, is that the stories I like best are science fiction mysteries. Back in the day, these were called “puzzle stories”. It was an epiphany for me in multiple senses because not only are these my favorite type of stories to read, they are also my favorite type of stories to write. (My story, “Take One for the Road”, coming out in Analog in 2011 will be my first published science fiction mystery.)

I enjoy the FOUNDATION stories so much because they are, at their core, puzzles.  I enjoy Jack McDevitt‘s Alex Benedict novels so much because they, too, are puzzle stories. Even a novel like Joe Haldeman‘s THE FOREVER WAR is to some extent a puzzle story. And some of my favorite types of stories involve time travel and those are almost always puzzle stories. Not all science fiction stories are puzzles stories or even intended to be. And it would seem that the trend holds for me. If I got back through the list of science fiction books I’ve read, I tend to rate stories with a greater mystery or puzzle element higher than I do those that lack it. There are exceptions, but the general case is true. For instance, I did not particularly like Vernor Vinge’s RAINBOW’S END. And in looking back on it, I don’t see that as much of a mystery or puzzle story.  On the other hand, I loved Connie Willis’ DOOMSDAY BOOK and there was a definite element of mystery and puzzle-solving in that story.

Other examples:

I didn’t particularly enjoy Lois McMaster Bujold’s FALLING FREE, Samuel Delany’s BABEL-17, or Ray Bradbury’s FROM THE DUST RETURNED. As I can recall them, none had a particularly strong mystery element. However, I loved Joe Haldeman’s THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE, Barry Malzberg’s BEYOND APOLLO, and Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, all of which had stronger mystery and puzzle elements.

It is a great relief to discover this for a number of reasons. First, of course, it better describes what I enjoy reading and I can actively go seek this kind of stuff out more easily, now that I know what I’m looking for. Second, it helps me to understand why I don’t enjoy some of the more–shall we say, literary–efforts in science fiction that many of my friends and colleagues seem to love. I was not blown away by THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS or THE WINDUP GIRL the way others were, and I’ve always thought that to be a problem with me. In fact, those books simply don’t match my taste for the type of science fiction I really enjoy. It is a relief to discover that.  It also helps to explain why absolutely love David G. Hartwell’s mammoth anthology THE HARD S.F. RENAISSANCE.  Hard s.f. stories tend to me more puzzle-oriented.

This is not to say that I won’t or don’t read other science fiction or that I won’t or don’t attempt to write other types.  But for pure enjoyment, for slipping back into my vision of a Golden Age, the science fiction mystery is my drug of choice. There have been a lot of good writers in this subgenre over the years and it solves for me another mystery: why I like Jack McDevitt’s book so much:

He specializes in science fiction mysteries and in my opinion, there is no one better than Jack at this art.

The SFWA Author and Editors Reception

I wrapped up my Monday evening by attending my first Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America annual author and editor reception at Planet Hollywood in Times Square.  I’d invited my brother-in-law, Jason, to the event and in a rather ironic twist, he–the copy editor who makes commercials–walked away with an agent’s card.  But I didn’t come away empty handed either…

The event was held upstairs in an area segregated from the rest of the restaurant.  It was crowded and loud when I arrived and it stayed that way they whole time I was there.  Checking in, I finally got to meet Steven H. Silver in person.  We’d been LiveJournal friends for years and it was great to finally meet him in the flesh.  (He’s edited a couple of books collecting the short fiction of Lester Del Rey, that are just terrific.)  There was an open bar and Jason and I made our way there so that I could obtain some liquid courage: there were people in the room who were science fiction heroes of mine, to say nothing of other writers who I’ve admired for a very long time.  I’m still getting used to the idea that I am a Real Writer, and as I’ve said before, my philosophy is “fan first, writer second“.  I was a little nervous but a bottle of New Castle helped.

I found Stan Schmidt and he took me and Jay Werkheiser around and introduced us as “two of his newest Analog authors,” which made me smile.  He introduced us that way to Joe Haldeman.  Joe-freakin’-Haldeman: author of The Forever War, and “The Hemingway Hoax” and The Accidental Time Machine.  I was so glad I got to meet Joe in person.  Stan also introduced us to his agent, as well as Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction.  Later, Stan, Jay and I found a table in the “quiet” room and sat with Carl Frederick and Ian Randal Strock, and talked more shop.  It was absolutely wonderful.

I got to chat for a few minutes with Mary Robinette Kowal, who I’d first met in person back at Readercon in July.  She had to have been the most elegantly dressed person attending the event, and I was so glad I got to talk to her again.  I also got to chat with Bill Shunn, whose writing I’ve admired since I first read “Two Paths in the Forest Toulemonde” in Science Fiction Age back in 1994, and who I met briefly at Balticon in 2007.  I introduced Jason to Bill since they used to share a neighborhood in Queens.  There were a few other people that I wanted to to say hello to, but I ran into two problems: first, it was so crowded that I simply couldn’t find them; and second, I was exhausted and I needed to be up at 3:30am the next morning in order to drive the family back home.

I made a final round, saying goodbye to the people that I’d seen, and thanking Stan again for lunch and for showing me such a good time at the reception, and then Jason and I headed home.

I dozed off Monday night floating on a cloud.