Audio/Video Science Fiction Interviews



I came across links to the Poul Anderson and Joe & Gay Haldeman interviews discussed below and went chasing around the internet for more and found several before finding almost all of them on a single page. Too bad I didn't find that one first. I'll save you the trouble:

TVOF: Interviews with Hal Clement, Poul Anderson, A.E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl

I hate to be mean about something I enjoyed so much but, in all honesty and so as not to oversell it, the interviewer does a fairly poor job in most of these and they mostly seem to just stop or even cut off rather than conclude. As I indicated, I still found them very worthwhile. It's never occurred to me to be interested in such things, as I'm usually looking for transcripts of things rather than wanting to sit through an interview with the hemming and hawing but the advantages of these things suddenly dawned on me. As someone who's been a huge "fan" of SF for many years but never had a thing to do with "fandom", as such, and as someone who predates the Web and, despite how long I've been on it, is still exploring Web 1.0 and hasn't got a thing to do with Web 2.0 - and as a guy who can't seem to pronounce anything correctly - it's wonderful to hear these SF greats talk and say the names and words and, while I know almost all the history they're talking about from reading, it's nice to hear it and there are always new details to learn. The amazing thing is that, while I know specifically of some SF people I don't think I like at all, I like the vast majority and all these people in these interviews - while it's just public conversation and mostly voice-only - come across as really likable people. Two additional links that seem to be vitally important to this sort of thing are to The Voices of Fandom and The Science Fiction Oral History Association. There are more interviews there, such as with Silverberg, that I haven't listened to yet.

The headers include the name of the interviewed, the duration, and the size of the file.

The Four Interviews from TVOF

A.E. van Vogt (1982; 28:25; 27 MB)

Van Vogt covers Space Beagle, Slan, Weapons Shops and other major works along with the Golden Age and his late vs. early writing, and his writing methods and even Dianetics. He's remarkably soft-spoken and I think his tendency to grope after wild ideas and transcendence comes through. I like how commerce and his idea of art rest so easily together.

I was particularly struck by his description (6:30-7:47) of his dream process which I can relate to in the sense that I often have a programming problem and go to sleep thinking on it and wake up with the solution. I mean, most everybody does, hence the "sleep on it" expression. But I'm struck by the fact that van Vogt apparently spent his life waking himself up in pursuit of this effect and suffered Alzheimer's later in life. I can't help but wonder if the former caused the latter. Anyway, this segued into a brief paean to pulp writing, which I was also struck by, in which he touches on - my interpretation here - the uniqueness of some SF's aesthetic - an aesthetic that, due to being different and coming from "low" origins, is usually misunderstood or completely missed by many.

Hal Clement (1982; 25:42; 24 MB)

Clement covers the rules of the universe and their importance, especially in writing. He talks about Mission of Gravity, Needle, and the contrarian impulses that led to their creation, as well as his distrust of sequels and the stories behind what led to their sequels despite that. He also discusses newer works like The Nitrogen Fix and, beginning at 19:05, how part of it relates to Campbell's The Mightiest Machine and gets downright lyrical amidst the talk of equations. He talks about his favorite authors, including Anderson, Clarke, and Asimov and about his "day job" as high school science teacher.

Best quote (5:50): "For those people who say that my aliens are noticeably alien, not human, in psychology, I'm afraid I have a rather cynical answer. My secret for making a being seem non-human is to make him act rationally."

Poul Anderson (1982; 51:15; 36 MB)

Where van Vogt was soft spoken but compelling and Clement sounded like a confident straight shooter, Anderson's delivery is painfully slow and hesitant but the content is still great. He talks about how he got into writing and about his two main future histories (he never says it by name but he starts out talking about the relatively short-lived Psychotechnic League series before moving on to the larger, more famous Polesotechnic League/Terran Empire series). He talks about Tau Zero, The High Crusade, Three Hearts and Three Lions/Midsummer's Tempest and others. The contrarian impulse and Campbell (this time as a facilitator) recur and he talks about how this led to aspects of the Ythrians. He also gets into how his stories are just entertainment and not to be taken too symbolically/seriously. I was also struck by how he talks about how rigorous some of his SF is but how it often started constrained and got more speculative as the story progressed. You can kind of see from this how he's written both SF and fantasy. He also gets into the prospects for interstellar war with an outlook I wasn't expecting from him which underscores the entertainment point.

After being complimented on his characterization and being asked about how SF is often criticized for being deficient in characterization, he makes a good point about how that applies to every other kind of fiction if you compare the generic bestsellers to Dostoevsky. He goes on (27:14): "And, after all, character is not the only thing in the universe there is to write about. This is one fallacy that literary critics seem to be hung up on. You don't get Dostoevskian depths of character either in Homer, for example, but that's still great literature. It simply deals with other aspects of reality. I don't think you can compress the entire universe into any one work of literature - the universe is just too big and complicated. So you have to decide what aspect you want to concentrate on."

The discussion on the Middle Ages (32:48) is also great. Asked whether he had a longing for the Middle Ages he says, "Oh, oh, no no no, good heavens, no. From your viewpoint or mine it would have been a perfectly ghastly time to be alive..."

Asimov & Pohl 1 [Asimov] (1982; 23:36; 22 MB)

Do NOT listen to these with headphones/earbuds unless you vigilantly skip a second or so around 4:40 in part one and 15:45 in part two as something horrible and loud goes wrong with the audio.

There's a question or two along usual interviewing lines, but this is mostly a general discussion and, in part 2, a friendly attempt by the interviewer to get Asimov and Pohl to argue about the nature of SF and other things.

Asimov discusses The Early Asimov and The Gods Themselves. He gets into the history of the field, talking about geeks and girls, dystopianism, and the eras of SF, particularly contrasting the Golden Age and New Wave. He doesn't advocate the idea that any one work of SF was overly influential but argues that the existence of SF as a whole did help pave the way for certain events, such as the space race, so has influenced the world. He also entertainingly discusses how his fiction sometimes doesn't accord with his own ideology and how SF's brand of "escapism" - while there is that aspect to it - leads SF fans to worry much longer about all the real problems everybody else eventually comes to worry about.

Asimov & Pohl 2 (1982; 25:36; 24 MB)

Pohl joins the conversation a few minutes into this part. Interesting quotes:

"Science fiction [is] that branch of literature which deal[s] with the response of human beings to changes in science and technology." -- Asimov (2:40)

"My system of belief is two-fold. One: I believe that the universe is run by certain generalizations called laws of nature based on the blind and random motions of particles and, two: that the human brain can grasp these laws of nature and apply them. Now, I may be wrong in both but those are my articles of faith and I, for one, am happy with them." -- Asimov (3:54)

"Science fiction can, in fact, make almost any possibility so real that you can see - you can feel for yourself - whether it's a world you want or not and, therefore, have the option of making decisions now that will encourage or discourage that future world." -- Pohl (12:45)

There's also an interesting discussion (16:55-17:57) where Pohl makes the case for a frog-in-slowly-boiling-water aspect of human dystopia and disaster.

The closing comments are about what each writer wants to convey with his science fiction:

"I want to say that the human race is not the prisoner of a god or of an environment - that it can create its own destiny - and that it's choices are almost infinite and I want to explore those choices." -- Pohl (23:38)

"What I like to say is that mankind has a three-pound brain which is the most complicated thing that was ever formed (as far as we know) and that it is only by the use of that brain by the laws of rational logic that he will ever get anywhere and when he departs from that he's doomed." -- Asimov (25:00)

Others Found 2013-03-25

Frederik Pohl & Jack Williamson (1977; 50:10; 35 MB)

There's probably a better place to get this but I found it on this (originally not-so-precise) search results page where the direct download link was this. This is not a formal interview, but a convention panel about writing and, specifically, collaboration, with Pohl and Williamson giving some opening comments followed by a period of Q&A.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of gaps in the audio but they make interesting points about how collaboration allows for writers to bring their differing strengths to the same project and also how writing is a multi-faceted job requiring wearing many hats and is essentially solitary, while collaboration lets the author concentrate more on one thing at a time and makes it more social.

There's a great first question (assuming the guy meant it in the way the audience took it - though Pohl and Williamson do address it as well). Pohl also drops a mention of a new-fangled typewriter computer some folks are developing. And, fittingly enough when the topic is collaboration, many people such as Campbell are mentioned in more than one of these interviews and Pohl is with Asimov in one of them and Williamson in this and it doesn't stop with the Golden Age, as Haldeman is referenced here and in another and has his own interview below in which he references Campbell, Heinlein, Williamson and so on - around and around it goes with, as Pohl mentions, everyone in everyone's pockets.

Joe & Gay Haldeman (2013; 1:11:49; 66 MB)

Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe do an interview with Joe & Gay Haldeman to promote their "best of" collection of Haldeman's. This is a long, loose, and wide-ranging interview.

Haldeman talks quite a bit about The Forever War - how it was written, the magazine and book problems getting it published, the reaction to it then and now, etc. - and even some fascinating details on some of his mainstream and obscure novels - finally the story behind the Star Trek ties and the infamous Attar! They also naturally talk a lot about the stories - "The Hemingway Hoax", "For White Hill", "Tricentennial", and many others. He also gets into his working methodology, which is to say "methodologies", and about writing classes.

Gay Haldeman talks about her non-writing contribution to the writing and about her relation to fandom - for which she's won an award. And they are so married. They're one of those couples who seem to have a common brain where some of the memories and knowledge reside in one or the other and, together, they're the whole.

Anyway - Joe Haldeman also discusses the nature of SF and "literary" culture, saying, "You couldn't be a fan of modern poetry, say, and just run into T.S. Eliot at a con." Whereas Haldeman met people like Williamson before he was even published, got a sort of mentor in Ben Bova, and had interesting contacts with Heinlein. But Haldeman does get into Hemingway, not just in the context of the "Hoax". He discusses some of Hemingway's old friends in Idaho and produces one of the funnier lines: "We were talkin' to 'em - ah, we got all these old octagenarians and nonagenarians - and one of 'em says [Haldeman takes on an "old man" voice], 'You know - Ernie - he gave me a copy of every one of his books and he signed 'em. [pause] I wonder where they are now.'"

Octavia E. Butler (2000; 20-some minutes; unknown)

Lastly, for now, I came across this two-part video interview with Octavia E. Butler. I agree with the person who says Charlie Rose is bad here but, then, I think he often is. But it's not Butler's fault and she makes herself interesting, especially regarding her duo of books which she describes as being about the protagonist trying to promote a religion with the modern equivalent of the Gothic cathedral in interstellar exploration. I've never heard them described that way and that makes them sound quite interesting.