Tuesday, March 6, 2012

why old people are the way they are

Sorry for the radio silence last week - big things are happening over here. I'm in tech for The Exonerated and, for god's sakes, I've got a thesis going on. Absolutely nothing about my life makes any sense right now. The same can be said for my blogging schedule.

Anyway, I'm up super early for whatever reason, so I reorganized one of my bookshelves and found my copy of Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads, which I thought had been lost during one of my bajillion moves between 2006 and 2008. Leiber's a familiar name in sci-fi circles, but that book, I've come to find out, is somewhat obscure.

There's a reason for that, of course. A lot of the humor in it hasn't aged well since its original publication, and the dialogue is terrible; the male characters all sound like late-60s Playboy editorials. It's one of those books where the author is having more fun than anyone else involved with the book, which might explain the hokey, Vaudevillian narrative voice used throughout.

That said, parts of it are good, and oddly observant. The basic plot is that writers have been replaced by super-computers, called "wordmills," that churn out shitty books with alarming speed. After a union of writers destroys the wordmills, the publishing industry responds by deploying the brains of classic writers, which have been preserved in silver canisters that link them telepathically, to crank out books. Also there are robots that have sex. 

Aside from the obvious parallels between wordmills and the almost Dickensian ghost-writing factories that guys like James Patterson employ today, I thought the treatment of writers in The Silver Eggheads was really interesting, in that almost no one trusted them to do their jobs properly, many of them were just actors hired to live weird lifestyles as sort of a public face for the wordmilled books published under their names, and their union collapses under the weight of disharmony and childish bickering.

Unfortunately, that sums up how a lot of non-writers view our little community. I'm not sure if that's because of anti-intellectualism, America's utilitarian view of the arts, or the fact that a lot of writers really are insufferable pains in the ass. Or all three, maybe. We do overestimate ourselves a lot (particularly during Paris Review interviews), but that's precisely because no one else takes us seriously at all unless we make money somehow. It's a chicken/egg conundrum that The Silver Eggheads reproduces quite well.

Oh, and I also found my copy of Heinlein's Have Spacesuit Will Travel, which I was pleased about. All I need to do now is find my copy of Gordon Dixon's Mission to Universe and I'll be set.