Wed
Dec 7 2011 4:00pm

The Dreamer and the Dream: 6 Fictional Science Fiction Authors

Last year, I asked noted science fiction writer Paul Park if making one’s protagonist a science fiction writer could cause the character to be more sympathetic to a reader, because the occupation comes with a built-in hardship. He chuckled and said “yes, I think that’s right.” But beyond pulling emotional strings, a science fictional science fiction writer inside of a science fiction story seems like the kind of paradox one could potentially use to the destroy the universe. Is this my real life or is the “story” of my “life”  ultimately the fabrication of a blogger named “Ryan” on a science fiction blog? Wait. Better stop thinking that thought or I may cease to exist.

While I struggle with the existential reality of being a science fiction version of myself, treat yourself to these six examples of invented SF writers who exist in science fiction narratives.

George McFly (Back to the Future)

We know George McFly is the density—err—destiny of Lorraine Banes, but his initial timeline did not have him becoming a celebrated science fiction author. When Marty visits his father in the first Back to the Future film, George has all the traditional traits of a total dork: bad haircut, lame clothes, no confidence, and of course, an interest in science fiction. Famously, Marty uses science fiction to convince George he is an alien with a special message. Without this one event, Marty would not have been able to put the timeline back on course; meaning science fiction inside of science fiction already saves the day in Back to the Future. But, it gets better, because in the new timeline Marty has accidentally caused his father to become a science fiction writer and, from the state of the McFly household, a reasonably successful one too!

Some naysayers may point out that A Match Made in Space is only George McFly’s first novel, which wouldn’t account from the comfortable living environment. It has been asserted that it shouldn’t have taken him this long to get the novel done and published!  However, it’s possible that George McFly, after his encounter with Darth Vader from the Planet Vulcan, went on to become a hot short-story writer like Harlan Ellison or Kurt Vonnegut. Hell, George McFly may have been selling scripts to The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone! The era for that kind of science fiction writing would certainly fit the post 1955 timeframe, and the fact that the McFlys live in California, near the TV world action, makes it all the more plausible.  You could even say that in Marty’s reality, George McFly sued both Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas over the use of his original concepts “Darth Vader” and “The Planet Vulcan.” Which means, Marty McFly, through his father, inadvernately created both Star Trek and Star Wars. If such a thing were true, it would make Back to the Future retroactively a work of non-fiction.

 

Kilgore Trout (SlaughterHouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Timequake, et al. by Kurt Vonnegut)

Though initially based on famous SF writer Theodore Sturgeon (both fish-get it?), Kilgore Trout later came to represent an alter ego of Vonnegut himself. Trout is in many ways the embodiment not only of how science fiction authors are perceived, but also how they perceive themselves. Trout is a martyr insofar as he is highly prolific, but almost never read. Most of his short stories and novels are published inside of pornographic digests, or worse, not published at all. In Breakfast of Champions Vonnegut tells the reader that Kilgore Trout knows nothing about actual science, despite being known as a science fiction writer. Throughout his various appearances, Trout’s fiction influences the plots of Vonnegut’s books both metaphorically and actually. In fact, it is the reading of a Kilgore Trout novel which causes the character Dwayne Hoover to go on a violent rampage. In Slaughter House-Five, much of Trout’s work neatly dovetails the themes that Billy Pilgrim is experiencing. In Timequake, Trout himself is center stage, caught up in an event which seems to echo one of his own short stories.

Kilgore Trout seems to be closely associated with madness as both the characters of Dwayne Hoover and Eliot Rosewater (of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater) have episodes akin to a nervous breakdown and are both readers of Kilgore Trout. The character is at once sympathetic and irritating to a reader as he is at vulgar and wise. Much of Vonnegut’s cynicism about society at large comes through the brief Kilgore Trout vignettes. Trout’s novel read by Dwayne in Breakfast of Champions depicts a world entirely made of robots in which only the reader of the novel is truly human. In this way, Kilgore Trout’s “fiction” represents those instances when science fiction is truly banal and brilliant at the same time.

 

Benny Russell (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Far Beyond the Stars”)

In this correctly praised Deep Space Nine episode, Captain Sisko imagines himself to be a black science fiction writer living in the 1950s, literally writing the story of space station Deep Space 9. Benny is one of several staff writers for Incredible Tales, a fictional science fiction magazine existing in the same Golden Age of science fiction as magazines like Galaxy. In this 1950s context, Benny’s “Deep Space Nine” story is controversial, because it depicts a black man as the commander of a space station in the future. This was a nice reference to some of the racial barriers that original Trek tackled as well as making Sisko—as the episode says—both “the dreamer and the dream” simultaneously. The episode also superficially references the classic show by having several in-universe published SF stories share their titles with classic Trek episodes. Further, both Galaxy and Incredible Tales feature re- appropriations of matte paintings done for the 60’s show.

Benny Russell pops up again in the DS9 episode “Shadows and Symbols” in which he’s a representation of Sisko’s sanity and an embodiment of his tendency to press on despite obstacles. The writers of Deep Space Nine liked the Benny Russell meta-fiction so much, that they considered having the final shot of the DS9’s finale “What You Leave Behind” depict Benny walking to the Paramount Pictures lot where the show was being filmed.

 

Paul Park (Paul Park stories)

In many of SF author (and poet!) Paul Park’s stories, the author appears as a sort of metafictional version of himself, in the guise of a science fiction author. In “Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance” the protagonist even has a father who tries his hand at science fiction after the main character becomes an SF writer. In “The Persistence of Memory or This Space For Sale” an author writes a story for another character based on their winning a contest in which they can have a story written about them. In the story called “Untitled 4” a science fiction author’s work is so potent that the character is imprisoned for writing a book called Thirteen Steps, which even the reading of causes major political turmoil. As far as contemporary, dark literary meta-fiction goes, Paul Park is the master. (More on Paul Park and meta-fiction here.)

 

Cordwainer Bird (Harlan Ellison stories)

Despite his brilliance, Harlan Ellison’s reputation for controversy sometimes overshadows his overall oeuvre. However, agree with him or not, the majority of Ellison’s dust-ups have dealt with the protection of the writer as an entity. Further, Ellison disliked genre biases so much, that for a time he refused to be referred to as a science fiction writer. During his many gigs writing for television, Ellison would often disagree with changes made to his scripts, and if something went too far in his opinion, he’d ask for his name to be removed and replaced with Cordwainer Bird. This is a pyseudom Ellison used when he wrote erotica, but also a reference to Cordwainer Smith, the pen name of SF writer Paul M.A. Linebarger.  Unlike the fondness Vonnegut seemed to have for Trout, Cordwainer Bird seem to be more of a middle-finger to the establishment whether they be the literary elite, or Hollywood phonies.

However, Bird does make a fictional appearance in the Ellison story called “The New York Review of Bird” in which the fictional author finds many of his books shoved into a terrible cellar of a bookstore and resolves to go on a rampage of epic proportions. Hunter S. Thompson may have been more specific in his literary rage, but no one was truly angrier than Cordwainer Bird.

 

AF Gordon Theodore & Joel Munt (Party Down)

In the episode entitled “Joel Munt’s Big Deal Party” Roman discovers his old writing partner Joel Munt is adapting a movie version of a famous science fiction novel by a writer named AF Gordon Theodore. Though AF Gordon Theodore is a more obvious homage to someone like Theodore Sturgeon, we get two fake SF writers at the same time with the addition of the hacky Joel Munt. The conversations revolving around the screen adaptations are hilarious, as are Roman’s dismissal of fantasy against science fiction. Though hyperbolic and not necessarily realistic science fiction, this commentary is laugh-out-loud funny for anyone who knows anything about speculative writing and the culture that surrounds it.

Honorable mentions: Montese Crandall from The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody, Wilson Taylor from the graphic novel series Unwritten by Mike Carey, and Ronald Chevalier from the film Gentlemen Broncos.

Any other fictional science fiction authors? Let us know below!


Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. He appears in his own stories and blogs all the time. He’s even in this byline.

24 comments
kukkurovaca
1. kukkurovaca
Oh, come on! Not even a mention of Venus on the Half-Shell in the section on Trout?
Ryan Britt
2. ryancbritt
@1 I dunno. It never struck me as what Trout was designed for. In my head, Trout was Vonnegut's. The Philip Jose Farmer is cute, but just not my jam. I'm biased! There I admited it. :-)
kukkurovaca
3. kukkurovaca
Oh, I don't mean it's equivalent in importance with Vonnegut's use of the character. Just that it's a fascinating part of the overall Trout mythos.
kukkurovaca
5. DonaldS
FWIW, Michael O'Neal in "A Hymn Before Battle" by John Ringo
That he was a writer was a relatively minor part of the plot.
kukkurovaca
6. Jeff R.
Sharyn McCrumb gave us Jay Omega (as well as a bunch of First Fandom Manques).

Randolph Carter, maybe? Was it particularly well-established whether his work was inside the genre?
Ben H
7. radicaljoeyjung
Muels Aranlyde from Samuel Delany's Babel-17 and Empire Star.
kukkurovaca
9. Raskos
What about Niven and Pournelle's sf-writer-in-Dante's-Inferno character? Actually I can't even remember his name. Maybe best left out, he was just a sock-puppet for the authors' various opinions, although possibly he was meant to be Niven.
They did the same thing in Footfall - a clutch of thinly-disguised contemporary sf writers assembled as a presidential think-tank to help the US resist alien invasion.
Dave Slaven
10. Dave.41
Well, there's also the Hugo Award winning author Adolf Hitler in Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream. That was one weird book.
David Levinson
11. DemetriosX
Barry Malzberg also had a SF writer as protagonist, though the name escapes me at the moment.

Also most of the other writers in "Far Beyond the Stars" represent golden age writers. It's been ages since I've seen the episode and the only ones that stick in my head are the husband and wife team, who are obviously C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner.
James Veitch
12. JamesDamadan
There was also Peter Jarius Frigate in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld.

Cordwainer Byrd also appeared in an episode of Pantom 2040, voiced by Harlan.

Richard Madoc wrote genre fiction in Sandman. He eventuallt succumbed to madness, perhaps because he abused his muse.
kukkurovaca
13. Dietes
Jubal Harshaw from "Stranger in a Strange Land" and others books by Heinlein.
Michael M Jones
14. MichaelMJones
Pat Murphy once played with the idea of metafiction and SF authors with several of her books. Using the pseudonyms of Max Merriwell and Mary Maxwell, she wrote three books that overlapped and interlocked and did other weird things. Better explained on her website: http://www.brazenhussies.net/murphy/whoismax.html
David Levinson
15. DemetriosX
@13 Dietes, I'm not sure if Jubal wrote SF or not. But Hazel Stone certainly did in The Rolling Stones (with a little help from Buster).
kukkurovaca
16. JohnElliott
In Children of the Lens, Kinnison poses as Sybly White, author of space operas. As I recall, White isn't a persona invented for the purpose, but a well-known author in the setting.
Seth DeHaan
17. sethdehaan
AF Gordon Theodore!

Love to see the Party Down mention. Criminally under-watched in its short time with us.
kukkurovaca
18. charlotteslibrary
There's Ted Mallory, horror/sci fi writer in Diana Wynne Jones' Deep Secret.

And the central character of one of Mary Stewart's later books, The Stormy Petral, was a science fiction writer, Rose Fenemore. She was not a convincing character in this, or any other, respects.
kukkurovaca
19. scobie
How about the character of Hawthorne Abendsen, from Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle? Abendsen is the writer, in Dick's book, of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which, to the characters, is an alternate look at what happened in WWII (which, in a novel which ITSELF is an alternate look at what happened in WWII, is very meta).
Eli Bishop
20. EliBishop
Philip K. Dick: Phil Dick in Radio Free Albemuth and VALIS, and Hawthorne Abendsen in The Man in the High Castle.
kukkurovaca
21. jjmcgaffey
Well, it's a mystery rather than an SF story, but it's written by an author known mostly for SF - H. Beam Piper's Mystery in the Gunroom has an SF author as a major secondary character. Apparently he and the protagonist between them more or less represent Piper himself.
Ryan Britt
22. ryancbritt
@many of you

I can't believe I didn't mention Philip K. Dick! Shameful.
Ryan Britt
23. ryancbritt
@11
All true! I couldn't figure out how to talk about all of the stuff in "Far Beyond the Stars" without it dominating the list. Such a neat episode. Almost deserves it's own special award.
kukkurovaca
24. Stephen Segal
Matthew Maddox, in Madeleine L'Engle's "A Swiftly Tilting Planet," is feverishly writing a book titled "The Horn of Joy" which parallels the quantum-leapish time travel happening around him.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment