Give Me Back My Spaceships and Dinosaurs


In the context of a time when people complain that what I write is not scientific enough to be “Space-opera,” which they seem to think should be reserved to what in my time was called Hard Science Fiction, it made me realize what we’d lost, and look at it as as much of a long-gone land as those shores of Kansas with the dinosaurs.

It’s become fashionable, and in some circles de rigueur to complain about THAT type of science fiction, before it developed literary and meaningful aspirations. We’re supposed to look down on it, because, well, it was declasse, and totally lacking in meaning or any aspirations to changing the world.

The funny thing is that they were right about some of these stories. Heinlein’s juveniles certainly had aspirations to changing the world, and I suspect even The World of Tiers (Phillip Jose Farmer) very much had a message.

But they also had adventure, heroism, and – for me at least – a touch of wonder in the ideas themselves.

What I mean is, before I started reading science fiction I read all the Chariot of the Gods type of stuff, most of it written by Frenchmen and even in those times of innocence sounding … not quite right to me. And yet, they were fascinating. I knew most of what they said about archeology and signs of great civilizations before us was insane. BUT I wanted to believe.

I wanted to imagine that our ancestors had come from the stars. I wanted to imagine that we belonged there.

A year later I fell headlong into Clifford Simak’s stories of time travel and space engineers.

None of that stuff could be published as science fiction now – except at Baen -- and all the other houses frown on it.

I remember when I first tried to get a colleague who had just published his first science fiction novel to give me Hand wavium to justify teleportation in a short story ("Traveling, Traveling," later published by Analog.) “It doesn’t have to be real” I said. “I know you don’t know how to do it. I just want something that sounds plausible.”

He told me it was impossible, and also that it would always be impossible… He refused to sully his science with imagining a way for me to describe something that was scientifically impossible.

I didn’t say anything. One doesn’t tell a writer that he’s bound by the limits of his time and knowledge and more suited to writing compendiums than science fiction novels. Particularly not when the writer is otherwise very nice.

But his attitude struck me as all wrong. How can meticulously describing what we know now fire up the imagination? How does it inflame the soul and promote discovery.

It doesn’t.