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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #33

I was an avid science fiction reader from my earliest days with Astounding Science Fiction, Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder. While I was stationed in Japan, I picked up a copy of Famous Science Fiction Stories, edited by Raymond Healy and J. Francis McComas. I loved it. The book is on a shelf watching me at the moment.

At no time during those years did I have any idea there was such a thing as a science fiction convention.

In 1962, I left the Navy and was adrift trying to decide what I was going to do with my life. I took a job as a cab driver in Philadelphia and on a brisk November afternoon dropped a few people off at the Sheraton Hotel for a thing they referred to as Philcon. One of them mentioned how anxious she was to see Isaac Asimov. And another of the passengers kept talking about Robert Heinlein.

I collected the fare, watched them climb out and join a crowd headed into the hotel, took a deep breath, and pulled back out into traffic. And I wondered what I was doing driving away from a place where I might have seen Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

I never did get to meet Heinlein, though I had a chance to talk with Isaac years later at a con in New York. I’d written a story for his magazine but had gotten one of the scientific details wrong. The blunder had drawn some criticism from readers. When the magazine’s editor, Sheila Williams, introduced me to Isaac, I admitted to being embarrassed about what had happened. He responded by giving me one of the best pieces of advice about writing that I’ve ever received: “Don’t do any more explaining than you have to. Explanations kill the narrative. They remind the reader that she’s not living in the action but is sitting at home reading a book. If you feel a need to explain how the star drive works, just have the captain push a button.”

I mention this because I attended the Friday and Saturday sessions of OASIS in Orlando this weekend. One of the panels on which I served was a discussion of how much explaining should be done in a piece of fiction. Rick Wilber was the moderator. The other panelists were Will Ludwigsen and Ben Bova. There was complete agreement among us about keeping the noise down. I could almost see Isaac seated beside Rick and nodding. That’s right. Just push the button.

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