Far Away Places and Science Fiction

I don’t generally listen to music while I write. The problem is that I can’t split my attention: if I listen to the music, I don’t write; if I write, I don’t hear the music. There have been one or two rare exceptions, but 99% of the time, I write with nothing in the background–all noise canceled by my trusty Bose headphones.

But that is not to say that there aren’t songs that motivate me to write, and if you asked me what the number one motivational song for writing science fiction is, I’d tell you that for me, it’s Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Far Away Places.” I first heard the song some time in 1995 or 1996 when I got a 4-disc set of Bing Crosby tunes. If you are not familiar with it, that’s too bad because it’s a lovely song. It was written by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer. Bing recorded it in 1948 and it made it to #2 on the pop charts. The opening lines of the song go:

Far away places, with strange sounding names
Far away over the sea–
Those far away places, with the strange sounding names
Are calling, calling, me.

Now I realize that the sound was written about exotic places on Earth, but I can’t help thinking about far away places in the solar system, in the galaxy, even the universe, whenever I hear the song. The song reminds me of the travel that you can do within your own imagination, if your are so inclined, and moreover, the places you can go in someone else’s imagination, if they know how to tell a good story. If I am in the middle of the work day, or busy with some chore or other activity, and I hum or hear the line:

...I want to see for myself
Those far away places, I’ve been reading about
In a book that I took from the shelf…

I’m reminded of a summer day, sitting in the shade, with a chair propped against a wall and a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation in my hands. I think of all of the wonderful and amazing science fiction stories I’ve read that convey the sense of wonder about far away places that is described in the song. And whenever I am sitting in front of my keyboard at a complete loss for what words should come next, I’ll queue up the song in iTunes and let it play two or three times, while I close my eyes and try to imagine those places Bing is singing about. It works every time. The song even makes a cameo appearance in my first published science fiction story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer“.

“Far Away Places” is all about sense of wonder, and the kind of science fiction I love to read (and write) is also about that sense of wonder. And so it is no wonder the two are a perfect match.