From the Boskone 49 science fiction convention BYTE's Daniel Dern interviewed famed science fiction author and BYTE veteran Jerry Pournelle. In this fourth and final podcast segment, Jerry talks about the value of editors, the multimedia possibilities of advertising books and short stories on the Internet, and the best fields of study for prospective science-fiction authors.
Click on the graphic below to listen to the podcast. Keep reading for the full transcript.
DANIEL: We'll take some more questions from the audience. I'll repeat them into the mike to make sure Jerry can hear. Questions writing or otherwise, science fiction...
JERRY: I'm sorry, I'm not hearing you.
DANIEL: We're going to see if anyone in the audience has questions. I'll repeat them. Hands? Sir.
AUDIENCE: What technology that's come out recently that you never saw coming?
DANIEL: The question is, can you name any technologies that came out recently that you didn't see coming?
JERRY: I don't think of any. After all, I did talk about this publishing revolution back in a book called A Step Farther Out, which I wrote from my columns when I was science columnist for Galaxy in the 70s.
And I wrote that there would be these information utilities, and as I remember the way I put it, authors will put their book up in the information utility and the reader will read it. And the royalty will go from his bank account to mine, and where's the need for that blood-sucking publisher? [Laughter]
It turns out that there is a need for that blood-sucking publisher, and it's a need that most authors don't foresee, which is the editing function. That's still the one thing that editors do that authors generally can't. It doesn't mean authors can't find a way around it. Some of them are married to good editors. Niven and I edit each other, which is good, because Larry and I are close enough friends that if he writes something I don't like, I can tell him, "That stinks," and if I write something he doesn't like, which is more often, he'd say, "You can't say it that way, that's stupid."
And we don't mind doing that, because we know it improves the book.
If you can find a partner who is willing to tell you when you write something that sucks, hang onto them. Because editing is probably the one thing that publishers used to do that you don't get in self-publishing.
I have to say, I saw most of this world, although not the consequences of the technologies, quite a long time ago. They're mostly in A Step Farther Out, which I wrote, published, what, in '83, '84. The world is not a terribly surprising place any more. That I can say again, because after all, I did spend 20 years as probably the best known technology columnist in the business and I had people like Mr. Dern and the Peterboro staff, lots of people helping me understand that world. Nowadays I don't have that big support outfit. So I'm not so dead sure...
Did I see anything that surprised me? Probably we're further along in biology than I thought we would be by this time back in the eighties and nineties. But it no longer surprises me. With DNA sequencing, very little we can do in biology should surprise you now.
DANIEL: Next question... sir?
AUDIENCE: Are you surprised with the promise of different ways of telling stories with the Internet, that has regressed back to the linear printed-only version?
DANIEL: Given that the Internet and multimedia offer a lot of ways for writers or authors to tell stories and present them, are you surprised that we are still mostly in the linear read-it-in-this-order text, etc? Is that a fair paraphrase? As opposed to hypertext, "choose your adventure," we don't seem to have a lot of those compared to things that could just be presented as books.
JERRY: That is a very interesting thing to think about, and I have given it considerable thought. I used to think that that would be more what I would call enhanced books, that when electronic publishing came out, there would be more in the way of maps, diagrams, perhaps photographs, authors might even have friends dress up in costume so they could get a picture of what they thought their characters ought to look like. That sort of thing doesn't seem to be happening. But it may.
After all, the reason... there used to be people known known as public stenographers, because most people couldn't read, and they couldn't write. And a lot of early books were dictated. It's not known whether St. Paul could read, he dictated all his books, we do know that. Over time, reading became common, everybody could read and write, and you had the era where the amateur writer suddenly became rich and famous. Charles Dickens being a good example of such things.
The technology allows the writer to write, that is, to get his words on paper, without any expertise of other people involved. Now we are moving from that. The music industry has taken that step, it is now possible for any artist group in music to have the equivalent of what used to be a million-dollar sound studio in their garage. You just need to take the trouble to put up the sound-dampening stuff. The electronics are well under $20,000, and any garage band can afford the mechanism for doing really good production-quality music.