Vernor Vinge at the National Book Festival
On Sunday, my first order of National Book Festival business was to attend a presentation celebrating Madeleine L’Engle and the 50th anniversary of publication of A Wrinkle in Time. I wrote a blog about the presentation for the Potomac Review and really enjoyed everyone’s love of angry girl Meg Murry. The event was a lot to absorb. I was a bit dazed when I flipped open the Festival’s program in search of the Special Program tent’s next event.
Special Programs tent be damned! Vernor Vinge was up next in the Sci Fi & Fantasy tent! I scored a front row seat. My prime location wedged me between a man with a very muscular upper body to my left and a man with very large thighs to my right. I spent the next forty-five minutes balanced on a my right hip and staring up into the face of the incredibly talented Vernor Vinge. A Fire Upon the Deep is one of my favorite novels. On a weekly basis, I still contemplate the awesome insidiousness of those plant things working the waves.
Vinge said a number of interesting things during his presentation and the Q&A that followed. Here are a few items that I latched onto:
Science fiction should be entertaining. A story needs to be a good read for smart people to suspend their disbelief about what has been written and to keep reading.
Sixty-seven years of writer’s block shouldn’t be an impediment. Vinge claimed to have had writer’s block for a very long time. The only way he can overcome it is by not getting up from the computer until 1500 new words (whether good or bad) have made it onto the electronic page.
The technological singularity is coming! Vinge has written a lot about the emergence of a greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means. The audience asked all kinds of questions about this. I spent most of this Q&A time trying to get my monkey brain to think beyond the event horizon for the novels I could write. (By default, this is impossible, but I’m still trying.)
The rise of the internet is equivalent to the development of human speech. That’s pretty interesting. I am in no way qualified to judge that statement, but I will anyway. Sounds good. I hope the folks on the other side of the singularity can explain to me if it is true when they time travel back from 2031 to 2005 and tell me to buy Apple stock.
Extreme changes only bite if they are expected to happen in the next 10-20 years. If the technological singularity is coming in the distant future, maybe in 200 years, most people can agree that it will be a good thing, but if it’s happening before Social Security runs out, people freak out a little.
I love the National Book Festival. I have really enjoyed listening to authors read from their work, talk about what’s important to them and take questions from the audience. The Festival is usually held for two days beginning the fourth Saturday in September. Mark your calendars for next year. I promise you it’s worth the trip.