Throwback Thursdays: Space Cadets and Starship Troopers: The Eagle Has Landed

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

In 2010, we published the first of a two volume biography of one of the giants of science fiction: Robert A. Heinlein. At that time, we had an idea: why not ask our authors about their favorite Heinlein novels? Tor editor Stacy Hill was our shepherd for this series, and updates us on our journey. Now that Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2 has come out, we’re revisiting that series. We hope you enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back in every other week for more!

Robert A. Heinlein, Vol. 1 by William H. Patterson

From Tor editor Stacy Hill: Regular readers of Tor’s newsletter and our blog know that Tor has recently published an all-new biography of Robert A. Heinlein. Written with the blessing of Heinlein’s late widow, Virginia, the work was many years in the making and contains a wealth of interesting information, including never-before-published excerpts from Heinlein’s correspondence. Even if you thought you knew everything there was to know about the man, I can promise you there are surprises to be found within these pages.

So, in celebration of the man and his works, we asked a number of sf writers to tell us which Heinlein novel is their favorite, and why. We were lucky enough to get a host of great authors, including:

David Brin
David Drake
David G. Hartwell
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Rudy Rucker
Joan Slonczewski
Charles Stross
Michael Swanwick
Vernor Vinge

What’s Your Favorite Robert A. Heinlein Novel, Joan Slonczewski?

Have Space Suit—Will Travel was one of the more important books I read as a child. It starts with a bright teenager obsessed with getting to the moon, like I was. To get there, the teen has to win a space suit and get kidnapped by aliens, and escape with the help of two females—a child genius and an advanced alien—both clearly brighter than he is. Back then, bright females were scarce in any fiction.

In Have Space Suit, Heinlein’s ability to hook the reader draws us through a remarkable introduction in which an entire space suit is described at length. We keep turning pages through the teen’s course selection for senior year, as he takes up Spanish, Latin, calculus, and biochemistry—all of which later help him escape the aliens and worse. The book feels deceptively simple; its opening line consists of seven words of one syllable. Yet Heinlein weaves in concepts of mindboggling depth, from gas exchange in a space suit to linguistic development in the Roman Empire. Through it all, the humor is fresh and obvious to any reader. The Roman soldier even cracks a queer joke—imagine getting that past the juvenile censors in 1958.

From the protagonist’s teenage viewpoint, Earth-bound adults appear distant and preoccupied. The only ones who seem to be having fun are scientists. That, too, seemed familiar to me as the child of a physicist who worked on a Hal-like IBM 360. In the sixties, science was the stagecoach, the mule train heading toward the future’s ever-receding frontier. Have Space Suit was the kind of book that did that, a fictional journey driven by science.

Heinlein’s aliens are completely fantastic, yet somehow as real as a neighbor next door. Even the most advanced creatures are fallible, making mistakes that might doom an entire race. Yet the story begins and ends in small-town Ohio, near the home of the Wright brothers, and near where we raised our two sons. Today, this area still feels about the same. Any day now I expect to see those two alien space ships racing in.

This article is originally from the October 2010 Tor/Forge newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox every month!

New Releases: 4/24/2012

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The Easier Part

by Vernor Vinge

There are two main subplots in my novel, A Fire Upon the Deep: the galactic starfaring of Ravna, Pham, and the Skroderiders; and the adventure with the creatures of the Tines World. Of the two, the tale of Ravna and Company was by far the harder for me to write, and probably accounted for two—thirds of my revision time. Much of the difficulty was that galactic adventure is a crowded genre; writing cool new space opera is possible, but not easy.  So I slaved and thought and slaved some more, and in the end I think the galactic subplot of A Fire upon the Deep is as intriguing as the groundside subplot with the Tines. In fact, the diligent/analytical part of me gets a thrill when I run into a fan who prefers the galactic subplot; such opinions are a testament to hard work well done.

The Tines World subplot was a very different situation: the most interesting thing about the Tines hadn’t had much prior exploitation. Individual Tines look a lot like dogs—and are not much smarter than dogs—but Tinish packs of four to eight members are about as smart as an individual human being. Packs bigger than seven are often dopey, and packs bigger than ten are considered to be mindless mobs. Group minds have been in science fiction at least since Olaf Stapledon’s novels in the 1930s (for example, The Starmaker)—usually with thousands or millions of members. There haven’t been many stories about group minds with fewer than ten members. (I’ll bet there have been 2-member examples, human twins of one mind. And Poul Anderson had 3-member group minds in his novel The Rebel Worlds, back in 1969.

I rely on the Internet’s group mind to supply me with other examples!)

So with the Tines, novelty was easy. Furthermore, the nature of the pack mind made all sorts of alien behavior credible.  And most readers have a natural sympathy for dogs: where I needed cute and likable alien characters, they could be easily supplied. Technical issues determined many of the details. For instance, I had originally intended that the Tines would use some naturally evolved radio sense to unite member minds into a pack.  One of the early readers suggested I use ultrasound instead. That implied all sorts of cool things about the packs. The speed of sound is about a million times slower than lightspeed, and ultra-high-frequency sound is dramatically absorbed by just a few meters of air.  Packs of Tines often have reason to get their heads together.

Even at the sentence level, writing about the Tines was fun. I found that many clichés and much silly language had fresh meaning when applied to Tinish packs:

“I’m of two minds on this issue.”

“Tell your conscience to take a walk.”

“I may be a little bit pregnant.”

(On the other hand, “on the other hand” just sounds wrong coming from a pack!)

The Tinish subplot of A Fire Upon the Deep was big enough to explore many features of the pack civilization.

That was 1992. Since then I’ve had more time to live with these fictional beasties. In many ways they seem very real to me.  There’s nothing about the Tines of A Fire Upon the Deep that I think is seriously wrong, but at the same time, there are major consequences left unexplored. The “Tinish condition” is weirdly different from the “human condition”.  Almost everything Tinish has a dual nature: that of the individual pack members, and that of the members’ pack. For example, a pack member is clearly mortal, but the pack as a whole might exist for far longer, with mortality a matter of contingency and definition.  How the Tines interact with the human children, refugees from near godhood, drives much of plot of the upcoming sequel, The Children of the Sky.

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From the Tor/Forge October newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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More from our October newsletter:

Goodreads First Reads: The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

Enter for a chance to win a copy on Goodreads!

About The Children of the Sky: After nearly twenty years, Vernor Vinge has produced an enthralling sequel to his memorable bestselling novelA Fire Upon the Deep.

Ten years have passed on Tines World, where Ravna Bergnsdot and a number of human children ended up after a disaster that nearly obliterated humankind throughout the galaxy. Ravna and the pack animals for which the planet is named have survived a war, and Ravna has saved more than one hundred children who were in cold-sleep aboard the vessel that brought them.

While there is peace among the Tines, there are those among them—and among the humans—who seek power…and no matter the cost, these malcontents are determined to overturn the fledgling civilization that has taken root since the humans landed.

On a world of fascinating wonders and terrifying dangers, Vernor Vinge has created a powerful novel of adventure and discovery that will entrance the many readers of A Fire Upon the Deep. Filled with the inventiveness, excitement, and human drama that have become hallmarks of his work, this new novel is sure to become another great milestone in Vinge’s already stellar career.

Enter for a chance to win here!

(Ends September 15)

More giveaways:

The Children of the Sky Sweepstakes

The Children of the Sky, the long awaited sequel to Vernor Vinge’s Hugo Award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep, is almost here! To celebrate, we are offering a chance to win one of five advance reading copies. Comment below to enter.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. You must be 18 or older and a legal resident of the 50 United States or D.C. to enter. Promotion begins August 15, 2011 at 10 a.m. ET. and ends August 19, 2011, 12:00 p.m. ET. Void in Puerto Rico and wherever prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules go here. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

Vernor Vinge Prize Pack Sweepstakes

Sign up for the Tor/Forge Newsletter for a chance to win the following prize pack:

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor VingeA Deepness in the Sky by Vernor VingeThe Peace War by Vernor VingeMarooned in Realtime by Vernor VingeThe Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End by Vernor VingeThe Tatja Grimm's World by Vernor VingeTrue Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier by Vernor VingeThe Wilting by Vernor Vinge

We’ll also toss in an advance reading copy of The Children of the Sky!

The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

About our newsletter: every issue of Tor’s monthly email newsletter features original writing by, and interviews with, Tor authors and editors about upcoming new titles from all Tor and Forge imprints. In addition, we occasionally send out “special edition” newsletters to highlight particularly exciting new projects, programs, or events.

If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, you can enter too. We do not automatically enter subscribers into sweepstakes. We promise we won’t send you duplicate copies of the newsletter if you sign up for the newsletter more than once.

Sign up for your chance to win today!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. You must be 18 or older and a legal resident of the 50 United States or D.C. to enter. Promotion begins August 1, 2011 at 12 a.m. ET. and ends September 6, 2011, 11:59 p.m. ET. Void in Puerto Rico and wherever prohibited by law. For Official Rules and to enter, go to tor-forge.com/tor/promo/vingeprizepack. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

More giveaways:

Goodreads First Reads: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Enter for a chance to win a copy on Goodreads!

About A Fire Upon the Deep: In 1992 Vernor Vinge amazed the science fiction world with this epic novel of star-spanning adventure. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and has since become a landmark in the field. Now, with the long awaited sequelThe Children of the Sky about to be published, we are proud to offer the first-ever trade paperback edition of this big-screen SF classic.

Enter for a chance to win here!

(Ends August 22)

More giveaways:

Tor, Forge, Starscape & Tor Teen take over BEA!

Presenting our stellar list of authors and their events at BEA 2011!

An Editor’s Buzz Pick, a Ticketed Autographing and an two Author Spotlight Stages are just some of the highlights of the show this year. We have a table in the autographing area reserved exclusively for Tor/Forge authors this year; all signings will take place at Table 12 unless otherwise noted. Read on for show highlights and a day-by-day guide to this year’s BEA!

Highlights for Tuesday, May 24th

Ice-T & Coco Ticketed Autographed Signing! 175 tickets and copies of Kings of Vice and Angel will be available on a first come first serve basis.
1:30pm – 2:30pm

Bill Willingham’s Down the Mysterly River has been selected as an Editor’s Buzz Pick for Children! The book is only one of four chosen within all of the publishing houses; Editor Susan Chang will present.
2:00pm – 3:00pm
Room 1E15

New York Book Week Science Fiction & Fantasy Evening at the NYPL

Tor authors John Scalzi & Catherynne Valente along with Lev Grossman & Scott Westerfeld will read with improvisational music courtesy of our own Brian Slattery, followed by a Q&A.
6:00pm – 7:45pm
Stephen A. Schwarzman Bldg, South Court Auditorium
New York Public Library

 Other events on Tuesday:

Forge In-Booth signing

  • David Hagberg / Abyss / Macmillan Booth 3352 / 11:00am –11:30am

Tor In-Booth Giveaway

  • Card & Card / Laddertop / Macmillan Booth 3352 / 3:30pm – 4pm

Mystery Writers of America Booth Signings (#4482)

  • Hilary Davidson / The Damage Done / 9:30am – 10:30am
  • H.T. Narea / The Fund / 2:00pm – 2:30pm
  • David Black / The Extinction Event/ 2:45pm – 3:15pm
  • David Hagberg / Abyss/ 3:30pm – 4:00pm

Formal Autographings at the Tor & Forge Table (Table #12)

  • David Lubar / Attack of the Vampire Weenies / 9:30-10:30am
  • Edward Lazellari & Lev A. Rosen / Awakenings & All Men of Genius / 10:30am-11:30am / “A salute to debut authors from Tor”
  • Margaret McLean & H.T. Narea / Under Fire & The Fund / 11:30am-12:30pm/ “A salute to debut authors from Forge”
  • Lisa Desrochers & Kiki Hamilton / Original Sin & The Faerie Ring/ 2:30pm – 3:30pm / “A salute to debut authors from Tor Teen”
  • Bill Evans / Dry Ice / 3:30pm – 4:30pm

Highlights for Wednesday, May 25th

Author Spotlight Stage with Bill Willingham! Heidi MacDonald, Graphic Novel Editor, Publishers Weekly to moderate.
10:30pm – 11:00pm
Midtown Stage

SFF Author Insight Stage: Tor Authors with John Scalzi, Carrie Vaughn  & Vernor Vinge . Moderated by Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com and SFF reviewer for Shelf Awareness.
1:30pm – 2:10pm
Midtown Stage

Other events on Wednesday:

Tor In-Booth signing

  • Bill Willingham / Down the Mysterly River / Macmillan Booth 3352 / 11:30am –12:00am

Forge In-Booth Giveaway

  • Bruce Cameron / Emory’s Gift/ Macmillan Booth 3352 / 10:00am – 10:30am

Mystery Writers of America Booth Signing (#4482)

  • Bruce DeSilva / Rogue Island / 12:30pm – 1pm

Formal Autographings at the Tor & Forge Table (Table #12)

  • Carrie Vaughn & CJ Henderson / Kitty’s Greatest Hits & Central Park Knight / 9:30-10:30am “A salute to urban fantasy from Tor”
  • Jon Land / Strong at the Break / 10:30am – 11:30am / “Forge Books very own Energizer bunny!” (Just kidding, wanted to see if you’re still paying attention)
  • Ellen Datlow & F. Paul Wilson / The Dark at the End & Blood and other Cravings / 11:30 – 12:30 “A salute to horror legends from Tor”
  • Bob Gleason / End of Days / 1:30pm – 2:30pm /”A new thriller from Forge Executive Editor”
  • Bruce DeSilva /Rogue Island / 2:30pm – 3:30pm / “2011 Edgar Award winner”
  • Vernor Vinge & John Scalzi / 3:30pm – 4:30pm / “Science fiction legends from Tor”

What’s your Favorite Frederik Pohl novel, Vernor Vinge

Slave Ship is my favorite of Fred Pohl’s solo novels.  It’s a book with humor and realism and a near future that feels right even if it didn’t turn out that way. This last is important since as a genre, science-fiction doesn’t predict the future—and yet the best of it has staying power.

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All the Lives He Led (978-0-7653-2176-3 / $25.99) by Frederik Pohl will be available from Tor Books on April 12, 2011.

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