Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sci-Fi and the Book

Perhaps because of the average age of my readers, it's often uncritically accepted around here that the 1970s represented a unique flowering of science fiction. Now, it's certainly true that there were a lot of SF movies and TV shows produced during the '70s, especially after the success of Star Wars. And, of course, being kids at the time, many of these movies and TV shows probably exert powerful pulls over our imaginations even now. The awful truth is, with few exceptions, much of the Hollywood SF being made in those days was both terrible and short-lived. Battlestar Galactica, perhaps the quintessential '70s SF series, lasted a single season and, fond of it though I am, most of its 24 episodes are woeful. The track records of other science fiction series aren't much better and many are much worse. The same can be said of the decade's movies.

Consequently, if you were a sci-fi fan back then, as I was, you got the majority of your fix from reading. The 1970s were a great decade for literary SF and many of my favorite authors -- Poul Anderson, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, Frederick Pohl, to name just a few -- produced some of their best and most compelling works during this time. It's thus no surprise to me that, even more than 30 years later, it's the books and authors of this period that still scream "Science Fiction!" to me. I've encountered other since that I've also enjoyed, but few of them have had a lasting impact on my conceptions of the genre.

So, when I wrote Thousand Suns, I did so with the express intention of promoting an "old fashioned" style of SF, one that I first encountered in the 1970s but whose roots stretch back into the '50s and '60s (and even earlier). Take a look at the game's Appendix N to see what I mean:
I also begin each chapter of the book with an appropriate quote from a story I liked from the period. For example:
I bring this up in part because I'd like some assistance. The first supplement to Thousand Suns I'll be producing is a revision to the Starships book. In this case, "revision" may be too strong a word, since very little will be changed in the text of the original version. Rather, the new version will simply incorporate a few small bits of errata, along with a new layout and additional interior art so that it matches the rulebook.

To do that properly, I'm going to need some quotes from science fiction short stories and novels from prior to 1980. I've already begun searching on my own and have some good ones, but having more from which to choose is always better. Each quote should pertain to the subject matter of the chapter with which it's associated. The four chapters of Starships are: The Navy (dealing with the nature and organization of interstellar navies), Operations (dealing with the operation of starships), Combat (dealing with starship battles), and Design (dealing with starship construction). There's also an introduction.

So, if you can find or think of a good quote from pre-1980 literary SF -- no movies or TV shows, please -- that you think fits one or more of these chapters, send them my way. If I use them, I'll happily credit you and send you a copy of the book in a format you prefer (PDF, softcover, or hardcover) when the book is released (likely in March or April). Thanks in advance!

30 comments:

  1. Will getting rights to quote these works be a concern?

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    1. It shouldn't be a problem, unless the quotation is quite extensive, in which case I probably wouldn't be interested in using it anyway.

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  2. My favorites would be in the CoDominium/Mercenaries series by Pournelle. And obviously there should be much from Starship Troopers. Sorry I don't have those with me, but I will look at home.

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  3. James, do you have "The Star Kings" by Edmond Hamilton? I think there are some short passages in there that might be excellent to mine. I'll be happy to pull some if you haven't already.

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  4. "Battlestar Galactica, perhaps the quintessential '70s SF series, lasted a single season"

    don't forget "Galactica 80" it was even worse, a "CHIPs" from outer space, sort of.

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    1. Much like the first and second rules of Fight Club, we don't talk about Galactica 1980.

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  5. What about Philip K. Dick? Was he not an influence? I'm DMing a Thousand Suns campaign and that's my only literary influence (plus 1 of the 2 sci-fi authors I like). I'm not criticizing, just curious.

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  6. It is a little old, but I really like this bit from A Martian Odyssey:

    "But Tweel hung on to some of my words. He remembered a couple of them, which I suppose is a great achievement if you're used to a language you have to make up as you go along. But I couldn't get the hang of his talk; either I missed some subtle point or we just didn't think alike—and I rather believe the latter view."

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  7. Also, I can't find it in my copy, and it isn't very "Spacey" but there's a really neat quote in Perelandra during the zombie fistfight that goes something like: The extremity of its evil went beyond the fight, and became something that had a horrifying similarity to innocence.

    I remember highlighting it when I read it years ago, it creeped me out. I'm sorry I can't find the actual quote now. The above is the essence, but a very poor paraphrase from memory.

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  8. It is a terrible shame that you can't use one of Han's quotes about the Millenium Falcon, either, "Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it", or, "She'll make point five past lightspeed. She may not look like much but she's got it where it counts, kid. I've made a lot of special modifications myself,".

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  9. "Take a war to make you spend. Take a jam to make you think. Take a challenge to make you great." - The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

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  10. "Five minutes after the order, even the men on the off-shift were at their guns. It was speed that was the great virtue in the anarchic regions of the interstellar space of the Periphery, and it was in speed above all that the crew of a master trader excelled." - Foundation, Isaac Asimov (from section 4 of "The Merchant Princes")

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    2. For Spaceship to Spaceship Combat I think pages 114-115 (Google books excerpt edition) of Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein contain some pretty compelling descriptions of trying to fight a space battle. Here
      is the Google books excerpt link: http://books.google.com/books?id=wksN1qnkooAC&q=nuclear#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  11. Also a lot of nice stuff about operations in there as well.

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  12. Can tou ever go wrong with quoting Bradbury? I am partial to Illustrated Man. Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Vision is full of good, as is his Dog and His Dog. It would be a sin to neglect PKD.

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  13. Dangnammit. The Face of the Enemy by Don Hawthorne is 1990, although it's based firmly in Jerry Pournelle's pre-1980 Future History, which is in turn based on H Beam Piper's Terrohuman Future History. A pity, since it records the penultimate battle between the Sauron Trade Bloc and the First Empire to very good effect (avoid the Battle for Sauron novel which was both of his Warworld short stories compiled with filler by John Carr - you can tell the filler bits that Mr Carr added and it will put you off the excellent Hawthorne bits).

    Similarly the date puts Walter John William's Praxis series out of reach, which was a homage to Old School Empire.

    And CJ Cherryh's Downbelow Station was 1982, and Brin's Startide Rising was 1983. Hmmm. This is harder than I thought. Even the There Will Be War series was started in 1982.

    I supposed I'll just have to force myself to reread early Poul Anderson, H Beam Piper (particularly Space Viking), and Eric Frank Russell. [Although I'm not sure that the later one is really viable since the novels were a space navy exist are also the ones where the space navy is also being soundly tromped by individuals.] And not to forget the original Sector General novels (Sector General does contain the first - and only - war in the series). Hmmm. Where to begin? [Perhaps finding them in my library.]

    [And yes, this post exists because I felt the need to mention the unsuitable texts (because of the time constraint) that immediately leaped into my head. <grin> ]

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  14. for Combat (or possibly The Navy):

    It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.


    “That insufferable, dull-witted donkey! That—”
    Hardin broke in: “Not at all. He’s merely the product of his environment. He doesn’t understand much except that ‘I got a gun and you ain’t.’”


    A fire eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself.



    “Violence,” came the retort, “is the last refuge of the incompetent.”


    All from Foundation.

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  15. It is well-known that the friend of a conqueror is but the last victim.

    Foundation and Empire.

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  16. Cordwainer Smith's stuff (from the '50s/'60s mostly) contains plenty of quotables, but looks like he's not on your radar.. Let me see if I can find something..

    "Corrupt, wise, weary old Earth fought with masked weapons, since only hidden weapons could maintain so ancient a sovereignty--sovereignty which had long since lapsed into titular paramountcy among the communities of mankind. Earth won and the others lost, because the leaders of Earth never put other considerations ahead of survival. And this time, they thought, they were finally and really threatened."

    Golden the Ship Was--Oh! Oh! Oh!

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  17. If civilization has an opposite, it is war.

    Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

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  18. If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run — and often in the short one — the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.

    Arthur C. Clarke, The Exploration of Space.


    One mark of a good officer, he remembered, was the ability to make quick decisions. If they happen to be right, so much the better.

    Larry Niven, Ringworld.

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  19. "The ship looked even more impressive than Trevize -- with his memories of the time when the new cruiser-class had been glowingly publicized -- had expected. It was not the size that was impressive -- for it was rather small. It was designed for maneuverability and speed, for totally gravitic engines, and most of all for advanced computerization. It didn't need size -- size would have defeated its purpose.

    It was a one-man device that could replace, with advantage, the older ships that required a crew of a dozen or more. With a second or even a third person to establish shifts of duty, one such ship could fight off a flotilla of much larger non-Foundation ships. In addition, it could outspeed and escape from any other ship in existence.

    There was a sleekness about it -- not a wasted line, not a superfluous curve inside or out. Every cubic meter of volume was used to its maximum, so as to leave a paradoxical aura of spaciousness within." - Isaac Asimov, "Foundation's Edge" (1982)

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    "Through all the thousands of years of space flight, we've had chemical motors and ionic motors and hyperatomic motors, and all these things have been bulky. The old Imperial Navy had ships five hundred meters long with no more living space in them than would fit into a small apartment. Fortunately the Foundation has specialized in miniaturization through all the centuries of its existence, thanks to its lack of material resources. This ship is the culmination." - Isaac Asimov, "Foundation's Edge" (1982)

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  20. "Remember this: once the human race is established on more than one planet and especially, in more than one solar system, there is no way now imaginable to kill off the human race." Robert Heinlein, 1961

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  21. Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking. Even riding a bicycle demands an acquired skill, very different from walking, whearas a spaceship - oh, brother! I won't live that long. Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians." Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

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  22. The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself.

    Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed.

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  23. Gotta have some Ellison:

    "Good God! There must be a million of them!"

    It was the voice of the squadron leader, Resnick, ringing in his suit intercom.

    "What kind of battle formation is that supposed to be?" came another voice. Terrence looked at the radar screen, at the flickering dots signifying Kyben ships.

    "Who can tell withthose toadstool-shaped ships of theirs," Resnick answered. "But remember, the whole front umbrella-part is studded with cannon, and it has a helluva range of fire. Okay, watch yourselves, good luck -- and give 'em Hell!"

    Harlan Ellison, Life Hutch (1956)

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  24. It may not have enough context to stand on its own since "Whelm" doesn't immediately equal "Navy" to most but here's some Vance:

    "Do you think the Whelm sits idle? The ships are constantly on the prowl. But for every living world you'll find a hundred dead ones, not to mention moons, asteroids, hulks and starments. The hiding places are beyond enumeration. The Whelm can only do its best."

    Trullion: Alastor 2262 - Jack Vance

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  25. "It is a late Empire battleship of the Warlord class. Undoubtedly one of the most truly efficient engines of destruction ever manufactured. Over a half mile of defensive screens and armament that could probably turn any fleet existent today into fine radioactive ash."

    The Stainless Steel Rat - Harry Harrison

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  26. A second for Cordwainer Smith in the listing of fiction at least. There's a nice 2 book collection of his SF works. Don't have a quote handy sadly.

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