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The Craft of Science Fiction

The Craft of Science Fiction

This video was recorded at MIT Communications Forum. Joe Haldeman provides a sneak preview of an upcoming novel whose story plays out in MIT's past, present and distant future. In his conversation with Henry Jenkins, Haldeman admits that he has "a lot of fun with the sociology of being in this joint." He also discusses the history of his genre, and his own literary approach. "The thing about science fiction," says Haldeman, "is that it's a form of writing but it's also a way of looking at things – a mode of thought." Early sci-fi writers sought to educate young people, and direct them toward careers as scientists or engineers. Not all of the writing was stellar. Some of the "old stuff can be ugly stuff," he says. Haldeman can't read the Foundation trilogy now – "My eyes lock," the writing's so bad. But some of the stories from the 1930s inspired the scientists on both sides of World War 2, those behind radar, the atom bomb and Germany's V1 and V2 rockets. Today, as fewer people read novels, Haldeman says, science fiction has become less important. "The idea that science fiction can educate isn't there anymore." Haldeman revels in the real world of science, especially at the far edges of research where astonishing discoveries are made. "I get more damn ideas out of popular science magazines," like Scientific American. An article in Sky and Telescope, and a visit to a Boston science museum exhibit on preserved human bodies inspired a new story on non-carbon based life forms that live in a different timescale from humans. Haldeman is determined to get both the science and fiction right, and he writes things he'd like to read. "I get so bored with cardboard characters…essentially giving a lesson." He's a big fan of Ernest Hemingway. As a Vietnam veteran who has written a number of war stories, he admits that "writing about war is the first natural, emotional thing to do," but he resists getting too analytical about his work. Today, Haldeman views science as under attack: "Religion is out of hand on a lot of different levels, and science fiction is a tool against religion," he says. "Science fiction is a tool for rationalism, for a rational approach to solving life's problems."

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