John Scalzi, Carrie Vaughn, and Vernor Vinge Tell it Like it Is at BEA

On Tuesday at the Book Expo America conference in NYC, writer and contributor Ron Hogan took to the stage for a brief chat with three of our favorite authors in the field of science fiction and fantasy. Over the course of the discussion we learned about why a power ballad is so important to gaining new fans, Carrie Vaughn’s favorite interpretation of the Book of Daniel, and an absolutely wonderful dictionary we are praying Vernor Vinge will write soon! Highlights from the panel below the cut.

Looking particularly dapper, moderator Ron Hogan wasted no time in jumping right into questioning the panel. Starting with Scalzi, Hogan asked the author why he’d decided to do a reboot of H. Beam Piper’s 1962 novel Little Fuzzy. Scalzi responded that he felt that “so much of science fiction is written about the future but reflects its current time.” He went onto to explain that the SF from the 60s reads like the 60s, but that some of that doesn’t really work when read now. He further asserted that much of what is explored in the new book has a “21st century sensibility” and speaks to our current notions of what responsibilities corporations have, for example. On the subject of the book’s promotion, Ron Hogan pointed out that Scalzi commissioned a power ballad to be written for Fuzzy Nation. The song, called “Fuzzy Man” was written by duo Paul and Storm; Scalzi requested that they create “the most awesome power ballad of all time.” It also turns out this song was a massive success in getting people who’d never even heard of the author to read the book: “I’ve had people e-mail me saying they’ve never read a word of my writing, but now because of the song, they’re really excited.”

Next, Hogan turned his attention to Carrie Vaughn, author of the recently released After the Golden Age, and also the forthcoming anthology Kitty’s Greatest Hits. Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series follows a late night D.J. who is also a werewolf. Of the new anthology, Vaughn said it gave her an opportunity to talk about characters and situations from a new perspective: “I can’t tell the reader what Kitty doesn’t know in the novels, but with these stories, I can.” Perhaps the most interesting story Vaughn described was one taken from the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, Daniel is tossed into a pit of lions and miraculously survives and without a scratch. “Well, I decided he was a were-lion,” Vaughn said, “So that’s what the story is about.” Several of the stories in Kitty’s Greatest Hits have been previously published, but Vaughn confirmed there were new stories, too. Perhaps the most adorable moment came when a fan asked Vaughn if she would ever return to writing historical fiction. Vaughn assured the fan that several of the stories in Kitty’s Greatest Hits deal with history…but the best part was that the fan called Carrie Vaughn “Kitty.” Wonderful!

Finally, Hogan addressed the venerable Vernor Vinge on the topic of Children of the Sky, his upcoming sequel to Fire Upon the Deep, which was published back in 1993. Vinge pointed out that staying away from an established world is healthy for an SF writer since “SF writers are constantly getting their stories shot out from under them by modern discoveries. We live in a culture that is 70% more advanced then what is depicted on Star Trek.” Conversely, Vinge points out that Children of the Sky is set in a quasi-Medieval society, meaning some of those pitfalls are avoided. But perhaps the most interesting topic of the evening was broached when Hogan asked Vinge to talk about the aliens from these novels: the Pack.

Vinge asserted that “…most of the time [when] a hive-mind is depicted in science fiction, the hive is limitless. Here, the hive-mind is 3 to 8. And they look like dogs…” Vinge then went on to describe how strange it would be if members of the Pack were to enter the room at that very moment and attempt to read a book. He then painted a scene in which a few of the Pack creatures would hold the book, while others would be flipping through the pages, and still others would be actually reading the pages. And “they also wear little safari jackets” (a point which became rather relevant when Vinge talked about the Pack’s need to possibly do a “doggie pyramid”—the pockets of their jackets would act as footholds, of course).

The author teased us then with the notion of a Pack/Human dictionary, where one side would be an illustration of an action done by a human and on the opposite page that same activity performed by the Pack. “On one side you’d see a human removing a book from the top of a bookshelf, and on the other, the Pack in the doggie pyramid.” Vinge also touched on the fact that some actual physics were involved in the way the Pack communicates, insofar as their telepathy is linked through high frequency sound. So they next time you don’t hear a dog whistle, it’s possible that a hive-mind is at work!

Vernor Vinge’s Children of the Sky will be released in October of 2011. Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty’s Greatest Hits is coming in August 2011, and John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation is out now.

Ryan Britt is a staff writer for

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