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Friday, August 23, 2013

"Writers of the Future" by Charles Oberndorf

Originally appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2010

This story has been sold short by readers who may have read it too quickly.  The title is beautifully literal and metafictional.  These are writers of the future and about writing of the future [SF].

SF has (in the story's universe) gone away in this futuristic fiction, and literature has, like the culture itself, has stagnated.  The narrator attends a workshop with a famous author, Magnus Esner.

Books are now virtual/video game-like experiences where the reader is a literal participant:
"[W]hen it came my turn to read Suicide Missions, the anticipation I felt while putting the gear on...."  
Reading is now a technological event.
"Here I was, eight years old, a mere adolescent, a reader, and I was Rahul Valentine, who would have been alive hundreds of years ago, if he'd really existed..."
The new technology is much like the old, however.
"[W]hat made Esner... a great writer.  He knew where... a reader might want to let things go differently and he plotted for them.  In some books, if you disagreed, the book just went blank.  Other books were powerful enough that you could invent the rest, but often then the novel would have this dreamlike feel, as if reading the ghost of a book that might one day exist."
That last reminded me of this comment from Samuel R. Delany on true influence although it would be interesting if a modern author could anticipate different readers' desires for a certain plot (or theme) direction.  I suspect such would create a muddle or a choose-you-own-adventure and thus difficult to turn into art... unless it were someone's lifelong ambition to create one such work.

This shouldn't read as purely a metaphor for fiction, but what it can be, for better or for worse:
"[Y]ou're not proposing to write a tragedy.  Or a warning.  Your story would actually speculate what future conditions would be like if this were to happen....  It's been ages since anyone has written such a story."
Worth reading.

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