Apr 132017
George R.R. Martin Explores Many, Picks One for Clarion “Sense of Wonder” Scholarship

A friend of mine is in the process of revising her science fiction novel, but one person who read it told her, “it’s not exactly science fiction.” He made the judgment because her story “had no spaceships or interplanetary travel.” He decided the story was “really speculative fiction.”

Really?! Maybe in some alternate time continuum, but not in this reality.

“Speculative fiction” is coming into wider use because of all the sub-genres that find a home in science fiction. Yet it isn’t a warning sign that says “Last exit before you enter the real worlds of science fiction. Have your space pilot’s license or space cadet ID ready for border inspection.” Speculative fiction is a welcome sign that says, “No spaceships? No problem.”

Science Fiction has always covered a broad spectrum of writing styles. Ray Bradbury had minimal scientific detail, if any, really, in The Martian Chronicles, but it was still a great collection of stories. Most episodes of the Twilight Zone didn’t deal with space or hardcore science. Rod Serling was primarily writing moral allegories, though his stories fit rather comfortably under the SF umbrella. Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life, which became the movie Arrival last fall, had alien spaceships, but the story was a fascinating take on communication that went well beyond understanding what an alien was saying, crossing cosmic channels to better understand life and reality. The story demanded that viewers and/or readers not just sit back and watch the action, but actively think.

Science Fiction is perhaps the most diverse of literary genres, so it’s hard to come up with a single definition of it. So let’s ask George.

As treasurer for the Clarion Foundation, I’ve been trading emails with George R.R. Martin the past couple of months because with the success of his Game of Throne novels and now HBO series, he’s funding a new scholarship announced this week for the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop. While the scholarship he’s sponsoring has certain writing criteria, GRRM embraces the broad description of science fiction.

“Modern imaginative fiction is a house with many rooms, and I’ve visited most of them,” Martin writes in his Not A Blog journal. “New Wave, magic realism, slipstream, military SF, dystopias, utopias, urban fantasy, high fantasy, splatterpunk, the new weird, the new space opera, you name it. I’ve sampled all of it, and I’m glad it’s all there.”

The Clarion Workshop welcomes authors who write in any of those rooms or create new additions in science fiction’s ever-evolving structure of imagination. That doesn’t mean you have to like all those rooms or even step into all of them. Through your reading and your writing, you can explore as many as you want. If a room feels comfortable to you, sit and take it in for a while, then explore others.

And yes, you may find one particular room under the SF roof that’s your favorite. Martin has his favorite, and if you’ve only discovered GRRM’s work recently, it may not be what you think.

“The first science fiction novel I ever read was Heinlein’s HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL,” Martin writes, “a book that begins with a boy named Kip in a used spacesuit standing in his back yard.”

From there, the story takes Kip across the galaxy to new worlds, meeting threatening aliens and those who befriend him in a breathtaking adventure. Martin wasn’t alone in being enthralled with Heinlein’s novel. It was one of the first SF books I read, as well, as have many readers of science fiction back in the ‘50s and ’60.

I love the aliens, be they threatening or benevolent, the more alien the better. I dream of starships, strange worlds beneath the light of distant suns.

“When it comes right down it, the SF I love best is still the SF that gives me that sense of wonder I found in that Heinlein book almost sixty years ago,” Martin writes, and in the books written by other science fiction authors of the time. He provides a list of those authors that reads like a hall of fame of classic SF writers. If the SF you love best coincides with Martin’s taste, read the list yourself to see if you missed any, and try to guess which one is Martin’s favorite. (Hint: It’s pretty easy.)

“I love the aliens, be they threatening or benevolent, the more alien the better. I dream of starships, strange worlds beneath the light of distant suns. I want the sights and sounds and smells of times and places and cultures colorful and exotic.”

The new “Sense of Wonder” Scholarship, as it’s being called, is meant  to “help find and encourage young aspiring writers who dream the same sort of dreams, that it will give a small boost up to the next Roger Zelazny, the next Ursula Le Guin, the next Jack Vance.”

The “Sense of Wonder” scholarship is an opportunity and a challenge for aspiring writers. The Clarion Foundation Board awarded the scholarship this week week to one of the writers accepted to this summer’s Clarion Workshop. But if you’ve been interested in attending the workshop, and your writing meets the criteria Martin set for the annual scholarship, you have months to write or polish a short story to submit with your application. The application period for the 2018 Clarion Workshop opens Dec.1.

Wait, your story has no spaceships? No problem. Clarion welcomes writers comfortable in any of the rooms found under science fiction’s roof. We also offer a number of scholarships of various amounts. Some have their own criteria, others have only one criterion common to anyone accepted to the workshop – good writing.

Addendum: I’m not sure I want to know what “splatterpunk” is.

GRRM’s Not a Blog: A Sense of Wonder

The Clarion Foundation