Benford, Gregory 1941- (Gregory Albert Benford, Sterling Blake)
Benford, Gregory 1941- (Gregory Albert Benford, Sterling Blake)
Born January 30, 1941, in Mobile, AL; son of James Alton (a colonel in the U.S. Army) and Mary Eloise (a teacher) Benford; married Joan Abbe (an artist), August 26, 1967 (died March 25, 2002); married Elisabeth Malartre Brown (a biologist and author), 2005; children: Alyson Rhandra, Mark Gregory. Education: University of Oklahoma, B.S., 1963; University of California—San Diego, M.S., 1965, Ph.D., 1967.
Home—Irvine, CA. E-mail—[email protected]
Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Livermore, CA, fellow, 1967-69, research physicist, 1969-71, and consultant; University of California, Irvine, assistant professor, 1971-73, associate professor, 1973-79, professor of physics, 1979-2006. Former foreign correspondent, Frankfurt Zeitung (newspaper). Visiting fellow at Cambridge University, 1976 and 1979, Torino University, 1979, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1992. Consultant to Department of Energy, Physics International Co., and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Royal Astronomical Society, American Physical Society, Science Fiction Writers of America, Phi Beta Kappa.
Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1963-64; Nebula Award, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1974, for If the Stars Are Gods (with Gordon Eklund), and 1980, for Timescape; British Science Fiction Association Award, John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, World Science Fiction Convention, and (Australian) Ditmar Award for International Long Fiction, all 1980, all for Timescape; SF Chronicle Award, 1997, for "Immersion"; Isaac Asimov Memorial Award, New York Science Fiction Society, 2007; United Nations Medal in Literature; grants from National Science Foundation, 1972-76, Office of Naval Research, 1975 and 1982, Army Research Organization, 1977-82, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, 1982, and California Space Office, 1984-85; Lord Foundation Award, 1995; Fellow of the American Physical Society, 2000; Fellow of the World Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2005.
Deeper Than the Darkness, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970, revised edition published as The Stars in Shroud, Putnam (New York, NY), 1979.
Jupiter Project (for children), Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1975, 2nd edition, 1980.
(With Gordon Eklund) If the Stars Are Gods (based on the authors' novella of the same title), Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.
(With Gordon Eklund) Find the Changeling, Dell (New York, NY), 1980.
(With William Rotsler) Shiva Descending, Avon (New York, NY), 1980.
Timescape, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
Against Infinity, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Time's Rub, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1984.
Artifact, Tor (New York, NY), 1985.
Of Space-Time and the River, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1985.
In Alien Flesh, Tor (New York, NY), 1986.
(With David Brin) Heart of the Comet (for young adults), Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Great Sky River, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
(With others) Under the Wheel, Baen (New York, NY), 1987.
Beyond the Fall of Night (based on a work by Arthur C. Clarke), Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
Centigrade 233, Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1990.
(Under pseudonym Sterling Blake) Chiller, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Foundation's Fear (continuation of Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series), HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1997.
Cosm, Avon Eos (New York, NY), 1998.
The Martian Race, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Eater, Avon Eos (New York, NY), 2000.
Beyond Infinity, Aspect/Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Sunborn, Aspect/Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
"GALACTIC CENTER" SERIES
In the Ocean of Night, Dial (New York, NY), 1977.
Across the Sea of Suns, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984, reprinted, Warner (New York, NY), 2004.
Great Sky River, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Tides of Light, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Furious Gulf, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Sailing Bright Eternity, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.
EDITOR; SPECULATIVE-FICTION ANTHOLOGIES
(With Martin H. Greenberg) Hitler Victorious: Eleven Stories of the German Victory in World War II, Berkley (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Martin H. Greenberg; and contributor) What Might Have Been?, Volume I: Alternate Empires, Bantam Spectra (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Martin H. Greenberg) What Might Have Been?, Volume II: Alternate Heroes, Bantam Spectra (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Martin H. Greenberg; and author of introduction) What Might Have Been?: Volume IV: Alternate Americas, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Far Futures, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
(And author of introduction and notes, with George Zebrowski) Skylife: Space Habitats in Story and Science, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.
(And contributor) Microcosms, DAW (New York, NY), 2004.
Matter's End (stories), Cheap Street (New Castle, VA), 1991, illustrated by Judy J. King, Bantam, 1994.
Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates across Millennia (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Worlds Vast and Various (stories), Avon Eos (New York, NY), 2000.
Immersion and Other Short Novels, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.
(With wife, Elisabeth Malartre) Beyond Human: Living with Robots and Cyborgs, Forge (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author, with others, of Thread of Time, Amereon. Contributor to anthologies, including Again, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972; Universe 4, Random House (New York, NY), 1974, Universe 8, Doubleday, 1978, and Universe 9, Doubleday, 1979, all edited by Terry Carr; and New Dimensions, 5, edited by Robert Silverberg, Harper (New York, NY), 1975. Contributor of articles and stories to magazines, including Amazing, Analog, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Natural History, Omni, Science Fiction Age, and Smithsonian.
American astrophysicist and science-fiction writer Gregory Benford is one of the best-known authors writing in the "hard science fiction" genre. Although the multiaward-winning novelist and anthologist is best known to readers for novels such as Artifact, Beyond Infinity, and his six-volume "Galactic Center" series, Benford's achievements in the field of physics may overshadow his literary accomplishments. A former professor at the University of California, Irvine, he holds a doctorate in theoretical physics and has done research on solid-state physics, plasma physics, and high-energy astrophysics, as well as doing astronomical research on the dynamics of pulsars, violent extragalactic events, and quasars. Interestingly, Benford began writing fiction as a hobby while busy completing his Ph.D. in the mid-1960s, and his first novel, Deeper Than the Darkness, was released in 1970.
Benford won his first Nebula Award in 1977, sharing it with Gordon Eklund, his coauthor on If the Stars Are Gods. Other coauthored works include Find the Changeling, with Eklund, Shiva Descending, with William Rotsler, and Heart of the Comet, with David Brin. Heart of the Comet involves an attempt by humans to set up a colony on Halley's Comet when it makes a return trip back through Earth's solar system. Plot complications include predatory aliens already in residence on the comet and conflicts on Earth between the genetically altered superhuman Percells and the normal, nonmodified humans, or Orthos.
Against Infinity, which Benford published in 1983, is set on the immensely cold, frozen surface of Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter which has a limited atmosphere that is lethally poisonous to humans. A man and a boy must survive this savage environment in their hunt for an alien artifact called an "Aleph" that has ruled Ganymede for uncounted millennia. This immensely dangerous foe has blocked all efforts to terraform the planetoid and has the ability to enter and haunt humans' dreams. For the boy, their hunt is a search to claim his manhood; for the man, it is a quest for enlightenment.
Published two years later, Artifact weaves archaeology into a thrilling story about an archaeological find that has the potential to destroy Earth. According to Fantasy Review contributor Gary K. Wolfe, in this novel Benford combines "non-stop action and international intrigue" with "the familiar Benford elements—a very believable and at times satirical portrayal of academic politics, a fully-realized near-future world which is kept discretely in the background … and a lot of real physics, carefully worked out and meticulously confined to a few plausible speculations." Although claiming that the author achieves mixed success in his attempt to combine the science-fiction and thriller genres, Los Angeles Times reviewer Gregory Feeley concluded that the science "redeems the novel…. It is the subject matter and authority of the writer that intrigue, not the style of presentation." Contributing a second review of Artifact to the Washington Post Book World, Feeley remarked on one of Benford's singular abilities: he "effectively dramatizes the excitement and procedures of discovery, and his evocation of academic research, its protocols and rivalries, is impeccable."
Benford won his first solo Nebula Award in 1980 for Timescape, the first book in his six-part "Galactic Center" series. "Its protagonists are physicists deeply and obsessively involved in the entangled arduous pursuit of (relatively) pure knowledge," John Clute reported in the Times Literary Supplement. Benford closes the gap between science and fiction in the novel by narrating the scientific activities of two groups of physicists; one group, living in 1998, is desperately trying reach back through time to warn scientists working in the 1960s about the potential for the destruction of the Earth's ecosystem by the end of the twentieth century. The message is composed of imaginary but plausible faster-than-light particles called tachyons sent in Morse code to a California physicist who is working with a substance that is "sensitive to tachyon bombardment," explained Clute. Washington Post Book World reviewer George R.R. Martin commented that in Timescape Benford "makes research fully as intense and gripping as the events of any thriller, without compromising a whit, and manages the extremely difficult feat of conveying not only the meaning of his speculations in physics and cosmology, but the excitement as well." "Timescape is not only splendid science fiction," Martin added: "It is a thoroughly splendid novel."
The "Galactic Center" series, which was written over a fifteen-year period while Benford was teaching at the University of California, Irvine, continues through the novels Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River, Tides of Light, Furious Gulf, and Sailing Bright Eternity. Walmsley sets out in the Lancer to search for intelligent life on other planets, but when he discovers other worlds wherein machines have advanced to the point where they have destroyed all organic life, he realizes that it may be too late to save Earth from the same fate. In Furious Gulf, Earthborn space colonizers have become refugees after the mechanized mechs attack. In the Argo, they head for the Galactic Center, led by Captain Killeen. When he learns that his father has used him to store his dead lover's personality, Killeen's teenaged son Toby begins to doubt his father's ability to command. As this human drama plays out, a sentient presence waits in the shadows, pondering whether to let the humans aboard the Argo survive. In Publishers Weekly, a critic called Furious Gulf "tautly plotted" and noted that the "Galactic Center" series "has eclipsed even Asimov's ‘Foundation’ saga in ambition."
Set 37,000 years in the future, Sailing Bright Eternity, sees the return of Walmsley. Walmsley returns to recount the most recent adventures inside the Esty to Toby. The mechs now threaten to penetrate the Esty and decimate all remnants of human life. Aided by Toby and the surviving members of Toby's family, Walmsley is the only hope of stopping this impending threat to human existence. In a Booklist review of Sailing Bright Eternity, Carl Hays asserted that "Benford makes up for his somewhat pedantic prose with a wealth of fascinating scientific speculations in a dazzling finish to one of the best hard-sf sagas ever written." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded of Sailing Bright Eternity that Benford's "novel stands as a worthy conclusion to what now should be acknowledged as the most important and involving hard SF series yet written."
Published in 1997, Foundation's Fear is the first volume of "The Second Foundation Trilogy," a continuation of Asimov's famous "Foundation" trilogy of the 1950s. The new series, which would be completed by David Brin and Greg Bear, is designed as a prequel to the original books. Its goal is to reveal the career events of Hari Seldon, discoverer of psycho-history, prior to those detailed by Asimov. In Foundation's Fear, Seldon is engaged in a project to slow and soften the impact when the dreaded inevitable occurs and the universe-spanning empire collapses, ushering in the Dark Ages that must surely follow in its wake. As the leading candidate for First Minister of the Empire, he attracts the animosity of rivals, but when the current emperor appoints him to the position, Seldon is thrown into a dangerous sphere of political intrigue and assassination plots. Seldon and his wife, Dors—a humanlike robot—are forced to flee the whirlwind of court machinations of the imperial capital city on Trantor, experiencing a perilous adventure when their minds are transferred to the bodies of primates on a far-off, primitive planet. In the meantime, computer simulations of the dynamically opposite intelligences of Joan of Arc and Voltaire—the ultimately trusting versus the ultimately skeptical—assert their own freedom of action and uncover the destructive handiwork of aliens who themselves survive only as electronic memories—a potentially devastating computer virus. With the help of an elder statesman of the humaniform robot community, R. Daneel Olivaw, Seldon and Dors eventually return to Trantor.
Susan Hamburger, in a Library Journal review of Foundation's Fear, maintained that the author "makes the characters come alive." In Booklist, Roland Green stated, "The book continues, more successfully, Asimov's late efforts to reconcile the ‘Foundation’ stories with his robot novels and also profits from the fact that Benford is a more visual writer than Asimov." And a Publishers Weekly critic lauded, "Benford … writes up to his usual high standard and excels in bringing Asimovian concepts … to vivid, visually compelling life."
The protagonist of Cosm is Alicia Butterworth, a small-particle researching physicist at the University of California, Irvine. Butterworth is working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, on Long Island, New York, where she is using the lab's Relativistic Ion Collider to hopefully recreate the conditions existing just prior to the theoretical Big Bang. During one of the collider runs, something goes haywire, and part of the machine explodes. Left behind is a strange artifact, a small, reflective metallic sphere floating amidst the wreckage. Butterworth steals the sphere and takes it back to Irvine, where she and her team of physicists and graduate students investigate the phenomenon. The sphere is actually a space-time wormhole, a window into a miniature universe called a "cosm." This cosm is evolving at an infinitely faster rate than Earth's own universe, giving Butterworth a unique vantage to a fast-forward play of the history of creation. However, her theft of the cosm also sparks intrigue among academic, scientific, political, and religious circles, as members of each group struggle for control of the sphere.
In a Publishers Weekly review of Cosm, a critic observed that Benford's story "depicts cutting-edge science the way it's actually done in the cluttered, fund-starved laboratories of a modern university. His highly believable characters have little in common with the unrealistic scientists of so much SF. They're complex human beings, each with a full array of strengths and weaknesses."
Set in the near future, The Martian Race and The Sunborn focus on astronaut Julia Barth and her Russian husband, Viktor. In the first novel, the Barths and their crew head for Mars in a race against a European-Chinese-backed expedition. The first to reach the Red Planet and successfully return to Earth will win the thirty-billion-dollar Mars Prize offered by the U.S. government as a way of completing an underfunded NASA mission dedicated to sending a manned flight to Mars. The Barths are financed by the Mars Consortium and its CEO, biotech-billionaire John Axelrod. Technical problems with their spaceship, interpersonal conflicts, and the hostile Martian environment all pose challenges to the crew. During the span of their stay, Julia discovers evidence of the much-speculated and much-debated life on Mars.
Readers meet up with the Barths again in The Sunborn, as Julia's discovery of the Martian Marsmat life form has catapulted the couple into international celebrities. Meanwhile, the ambitious Axelrod has spent twenty years attempting to capitalize on the Barths' discoveries, as well as trying to reproduce the combination of phenomenon that have prevented Julia and Viktor from ageing since their return. Now Axelrod's daughter, Shanna, heads her own expedition to the frozen surface of Pluto, hoping to eclipse the older astronauts' fame. The impetuous young astronaut finds her plans backfiring, however, when she encounters an intelligent life form called the Zand and becomes involved in the Zand's efforts to defend their planet from another force known as the Darksiders. As Benford's story continues, the Barths return to space, sent by Axelrod to help Shanna, and ultimately find themselves in the midst of a war between several planets.
In a Booklist review of The Martian Race, Roland Green maintained that "Benford is as expert as ever at seamlessly melding characterization, technology, and narrative drive in an effective novel." A Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly noted that the novelist "writes plausible hard SF as well as anyone on the planet, and his portrait of Mars is … believable." "His strange and beautiful ecology is so well described, in fact, that most readers will hope to explore it further," the critic added. Reflecting the view of many other critics, Jackie Cassada, writing in Library Journal, dubbed the author "one of the premier crafters of the genre." "At his best when portraying scientists discussing ideas and hammering out hypotheses," Benford "offers up some absorbing [but far-fetched] scientific speculations," concluded a Kirkus Reviews writer in a review of The Sunborn. Benford is "in top form" in this novel, concluded Hays, the critic describing the novel as a mix of "thrilling premise and … original, speculative science."
The protagonist of Eater is Benjamin Knowlton, a Hawaii-based physicist who discovers a strange interstellar object many light years away in space. He first thinks his find is a gamma-ray burster: a black hole swallowing a star. Only thirteen hours later, however, a second burst is spotted. This event causes concern because of the vast distance between stars: the phenomenon should be physically impossible. Knowlton's long-time rival, British astronomer Kingsley Dart, inveigles his way into Knowlton's investigation, and together they learn that the object is a black hole only a few yards wide but with a mass approximately that of the Moon. The object is entering Earth's solar system, consuming everything it encounters. This "Eater" is eventually discovered to be an intelligent entity, billions of years old, and has destroyed entire civilizations in its travels. Headed for Earth, Eater begins communicating with Knowlton's team, prompting the mysterious U Agency to take over the investigation. When Eater starts detailing techniques for brain destruction so the contents of selected minds—including those of both Dart and Knowlton—can be downloaded for its assimilation, the U.S. government makes an abortive attempt to destroy Eater with nuclear missiles, and Eater devastates vast tracts of America in retaliation. Now Knowton's ex-astronaut wife, Channing, offers to pilot a reconnaissance probe to Eater despite the fact that she is near death from cancer. Her hope is that she can help direct another, more successful strike against this threat to all humanity.
"One of Benford's specialties is presenting science the way it's really done, and this is clearly the case" with Eater, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Full of astronomical pyrotechnics and the kind of intelligent verbal fencing that seems to go along with creative scientific thinking, this Benford novel should delight any serious reader of SF," the critic concluded.
In Beyond Infinity, Benford expands his 1990 novella Beyond the Fall of Night, which was intended as a sequel to Arthur C. Clarke's story "The City and the Stars." The 2004 novel revolves around Cley, an "Original" human being on Earth who works for the "Supras," genetically and physically enhanced humans. A vengeful "trans-dimensional" creature called the "Malign" attacks Earth, killing all the Originals except Cley and most of the Supras. Aided by an alien, racoon-like helper named Seeker-after-Patterns, Cley flees Earth and the controlling Supras and sets out to find the reasons behind the Malign's attack in order to keep it from killing her.
Calling Beyond Infinity an "homage" to Clarke, Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "Benford … likes nothing better than roaming the vastness of the cosmos, which of course means probing the vastness of time as well." In Library Journal, Jackie Cassada described the novel as a "wildly imaginative coming-of-age story" with a "grounding in hard science." Benford, she noted, "writes clearly about space and time without forgetting the human perceptions that give those concepts meaning." A Publishers Weekly critic dubbed Beyond Infinity a "dense, lively, far-future SF novel … that sweeps readers away in a taut adventure that examines humanity's role in steering the fate of the universe."
In addition to his novels, Benford has produced several volumes of provocative nonfiction, and has coedited anthologies of short science-oriented prose such as Microcosms and Skylife: Space Habitats in Story and Science. In Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates across Millennia, Benford explores humankind's attempts to communicate with inhabitants of the far future, whether in words—such as the graffiti carved by Greek mercenaries onto Egyptian monuments—or artifacts and deeds—from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to modern monuments, tombs, and cathedrals. He ponders how humankind can accurately convey information over prolonged spans of time, even millions of years, to inform future inhabitants of Earth of our history and our changing environment. Dayne Sherman, reviewing Deep Time for Library Journal, called the book "hearty and compelling," adding that Benford "elucidates some of the inherent problems humanity faces in communicating over the expanse of time." In Publishers Weekly, a critic asserted that the author "combines a scientist's perspective and a novelist's imagination to produce a provocative and disturbing look into ‘deep time.’"
A joint effort between Benford and his second wife, biologist Elizabeth Malartre, Beyond Human: Living with Robots and Cyborgs posits the potentials for human life in the future. Beginning with a discussion of up-to-the-minute technology in the areas of robotics, the coauthors then look to the future of such technology in the areas of medical science and quality of life. Praising the work as "engagingly written" and "well-documented," David Pitt wrote in Booklist that Beyond Human addresses itself even to the general reader, and "will astonish readers unfamiliar with cutting-edge technology."
Gregory Benford contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
Southerners feel their difference from the beginning. Though I have written fiction about abstruse physics and the people who care about such abstractions, all quite urban delights, I have always been aware that I come from a far distant culture.
I grew up in rural Alabama, in the small towns of Robertsdale and Fairhope, across the bay from Mobile. From my birth as an identical twin in 1941 until my father took us to Japan in 1948, I lived a simple and probably idyllic life, amid a Huck Finn world of sluggish heat, muddy rivers, infinite pine forests, and abundant creatures. E.O. Wilson relates in Naturalist how the same land made him into a biologist a decade before and only a dozen miles away. Somehow, despite a lifelong fascination with the myriad complexities of the natural world, I became a physicist.
I also learned something of storytelling. My stepgrandfather, universally called Mr. Fred, even by my grandmother, told tales beside a crackling fire in the tin-roofed house on stilts beside the Fish River. I listened to the cadences and swerves of dense, Southern spinning, and found it marvelous. Decades later I found a recording of Faulkner, one of my favorite authors, and heard my grandfather's identical accent telling stories that seemed to flow from some unfathomed wellspring, and knew that I came from some roots that ran deep.
My brother and I quickly became Us against the pervasive Them of rural Alabama. Aware of a larger world out there, the narrow hard-scrabble life did not appeal even to Huck and his buddy.
We were mischievous, of course. Confronted in the kitchen with a breakfast item we did not like, we stashed it behind the stove when Mom wasn't looking. Lacking foresight, we six-year-olds did not realize that a week later the smell would unmask the trick. We were hellions, independent minded, a pattern that took us through twenty-five years as we attended the same schools and universities, both getting doctorates in physics from the University of California at San Diego, I in 1967, Jim in 1969.
Nobody glimpsed such a future for us in the 1940s, including us. Jim and I grew up among farmers and laborers, mostly from my mother's family of Nelsons. My mother taught English and my father taught agriculture in Robertsdale High, except for his three years fighting in The War. He was a forward observer in field artillery, fighting across France, the Bulge, and through Germany to Austria. I believe he was the only beginning forward observer in his battalion to survive the war, and suspect that his farmboy field-smarts made the difference. In 1945 he returned to teaching, developing an agriculture-training program for the whole state, and then in 1948 the cold war called him with a Regular Army appointment which he seized as a way up into a world he had glimpsed in the war. With him we went, first to his training in Oklahoma at Fort Sill (where in 1967 he retired as commandant), then to Japan for 1949-51. My father served on MacArthur's general staff and we saw the range of Japanese life, hard and strange, with communists rioting in the streets and farmers working the rice paddies only miles away, in a fashion unchanged by millennia. With my brother I lay in bed at night in our compound housing and listened to marines firing at communists trying to get inside, and realized that the world was a lot bigger and tougher and darker than sunny Alabama knew.
I came upon an oddly fascinating book in the Narimasu school library, Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein. My mother, an excellent teacher, encouraged
reading and Jim and I went through the usual series: Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, historicals and action stories and fairy tales. But Heinlein was different. I ventured all my savings, about two dollars, on his Farmer in the Sky the moment I saw it in a PX. I still have it, minus the jacket, and eventually wrote a prequel, Jupiter Project. I came to read a great deal of fiction, lots of it science fiction, as the cold war deepened and its chill winds blew the Benfords to Atlanta in 1952, Germany in 1954, and Dallas in 1957. Somehow the whirl of strange cultures combined with the siren call of the fantastic, pulling me toward science fiction.
Along the way I was a good but unexceptional student, more interested in hobbies than studies. Science and sf appealed to me equally. I had seen reviews of fanzines in such down-market sf magazines as Imagination, and with Jim began publishing one in 1954. At first a pale product from a hectograph, Void eventually came to be a major fanzine of the now-revered Golden Age, acquiring as coeditors Ted White and Terry Carr.*
Not until 1958 did my future take shape, mostly because a battery of tests, the Iowa Exams, showed me to rank in the 99th percentile of ability, with Jim a point behind—genetic determinism at work, perhaps. Our high school in Dallas immediately placed us in advanced classes, but the major propelling factor was the chance reading of Atoms in the Family by Laura Fermi, her loving autobiography of her great physicist husband, Enrico. This vision of a life spent pursuing deep aspects of reality, with the implicit self-criticism and checking basic to science, entranced me. I took advanced physics and math in my senior high-school year and was off. A scholarship sent me and Jim to the
University of Oklahoma, and in four years we went together for graduate work to the University of California at San Diego.
Fast changes, intense work, expanding perspectives—our horizons grew intellectually, just as they had from our extensive travels. Down the telescoping perspectives of time, these transformations seem swift, but of course to a boy growing into manhood the days often shambled by, unendurably slow. I think the sense of strangeness and isolation flowing through all these years brought, with the shifting, vastly different locales, a feeling for the fragility of human culture. This became for us inextricably bound up with the appeal of science fiction, which played upon those elements. I suspect many sf readers tend to be loners, and writers certainly are. It may seem odd for an identical twin to term himself a loner, but twins are so tightly bound (or at least we were, for so long, even to the point of wearing identical, mother-selected wardrobes into our early twenties) that we adopted an Us/Them posture, and that Us was solitary. Such a posture helped us survive the cross-currents any Southerner faces in an academic life, where most automatically assume that a Southern accent implies a lower IQ.
I quickly noticed that and set about changing my accent in my teenage years, until by the time I had my doctorate in theoretical physics in 1967 I could pass verbally as an ordinary middle American. At times the flinty-eyed would joke about rednecks and I would smile knowingly and make another about, say, Californians or New Englanders.
This got to be a joke with the New England woman I married in 1967, Joan Abbe, daughter of a deceased Unitarian minister and independent-minded, rock-ribbed widow, Lillian. Joan tolerated my oddities, most especially the reawakening of interest in writing fiction which surfaced anew in 1964, smack in the middle of graduate school, after lying dormant from my high school years. I had always liked writing, and fanzines had stoked that fire, but reading in the middle 1960s brought home to me that my instincts lay with the great writers of genre novels like Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald, plus of course the usual Valhalla of Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and the like.
I published my fourth short story in 1965 and kept writing a few stories a year until 1969, while taking up my career as a physicist. (The interconnections between sf and science are myriad. I explored them somewhat in an autobiographical essay in New Legends, edited by Greg Bear, in 1995.) I felt a tension between my imagination and the severely constrained sort of physics I was doing then. By 1969, when I contracted for my first novel, I knew I was destined to pursue a two-pronged career, forever balancing science against its apparent opposite, fiction.
For my doctorate I had begun as an experimenter in solid-state physics, studying the relaxation of electron and nuclear spins in low temperatures. A fellow student discovered a strange effect about the time I became bored with the tedium of experiment. I was also getting tired of being a student; here was my chance at a relatively quick liberation, if I could also do theory. I was not at all confident that I could; my mathematics was sound but not inspired, and I had a more intuitive feel for physics than an analytical one: Somewhat timidly, I switched professors and attacked that strange effect with an arsenal of theoretical approaches. Most of these failed but led to interesting calculations in themselves, which I eventually thriftily published. After more than a year I did find a plausible explanation, which alas still awaits the technical capability to test it. This got me my doctorate in four years, the first in my class to finish, and for the first time relieving a sense of inferiority I had felt all the way through my academic career. I had always been acutely conscious of coming from a small Southern town, of going to Oklahoma University instead of MIT or a similar Big-Name School, though I realized my first year at UCSD that I had gotten quite a good education at OU.
From 1967 to 1971 I lived a life divided between two difficult masters: fiction and physics. The Lawrence
Radiation Laboratory at Livermore was a prime fusion research center and I entered into its projects exploring, trying several fields—rarefied, mathematical solid-state physics; plasma stability theory; intense, relativistic plasma beams—in the hope that something would announce that here was my life's work.
Nothing did. I carried through a lot of calculations but found my interest in fusion flagging, as I came to doubt that any of the approved methods—machines with names like Astron, Magnetic Mirror, and Tokomak—would truly produce a practical reactor generating electrical power. (And twenty-five years later, this has proved true, with many billions spent and the program in retreat.) I moved most enthusiastically into the study of relativistic electron beams, a hot new area where much theory beckoned. My brother moved in the same direction, geographically and intellectually, and we have worked together ever since, albeit at some distance.
In 1971 my daughter Alyson was born, my father suffered a near-fatal heart attack, and my disagreements with the leadership of the plasma physics theory group came to a head, all in the same month, January. Within half a year I had found a position as an assistant professor at the newest UC campus in Irvine and we were moving to Laguna Beach, where we have lived ever since.
Thus settled, I began a long research career which has had some success: grants, thesis students, even the Lord Foundation Award in 1995 for my work in theoretical astrophysics. Moving into astronomical subjects came as a natural outgrowth of my growing career as a writer, principally of science fiction, which escaped the constraints of science while evoking its power and promise.*
I began attempting novels with a brooding, reflective space opera called Deeper Than the Darkness (rewritten as The Stars in Shroud), then in a young-adult homage to Robert Heinlein titled Jupiter Project. Only then did I feel accomplished enough to attempt heftier work, beginning with If the Stars Are Gods (with Gordon Eklund) then In the Ocean of Night. By this time my research was well funded and we traveled extensively, taking sabbaticals in Cambridge, England, in 1976 and Italy in 1979 and 1982. I worked on jets of matter from energetic galactic centers, black holes, and pulsars, as well as assembling a laboratory group at UCI to study relativistic plasma dynamics in highly energetic experiments.
Life was rich, my family growing; my attention turned to the ground between science and science fiction. I began work on Timescape, finally finishing the manuscript in spring, 1979, quite sure that this novel was quirky, self-indulgent, and bound to have a marginal audience at best. I poured in historical detail, oddments of observation, and intricate scenes of scientists at work; the novel is more than a bit autobiographical.
I did not think such matters interested many readers. Certainly I didn't expect that, since the novel would inevitably be released as science fiction, the usual science-fiction audience would find in it the fare they relished. In truth, I am still rather surprised at the popularity of the book. It now has over a million copies in print and won a fistful of awards when it appeared in 1980. Yet to me it seems the most private of my novels (with the possible exception of Against Infinity, written just after Timescape). I spun it out of fifteen years of thought and experience.
The novel began as a short story, "3:02 P.M., Oxford," published in If in September 1970. I've never had the courage to reread this fledgling effort, concerned with an English laboratory where a time communicator is built. I never consulted it while writing the novel, but the basic notions are there—time and England. I tried another tack with "Cambridge, 1:58 A.M.," published in Epoch in 1975. Here some of the novel's major characters appeared and the English motif sprang full-blown into my mind as I wrote the story (by dictation; I was building an addition to my house and had little time). Only then did I have the scheme in full, and slugged away at the book for four more years, often with the help of my sister-in-law, Hilary Benford. David Hartwell later contributed excellent editing.
The underpinning of it all was a scientific paper on tachyons, particles that travel faster than light, which I wrote with William Newcomb and David Book in 1970 ("The Tachyonic Antitelephone," Physical Review, D2, p. 263). This idea and its causal problems intrigued me greatly and still do.
I remember thinking one day, Well, suppose we did detect tachyons? It wasn't a totally idle question, because an Australian cosmic ray experiment in 1972 reported a highly energetic particle moving above twice light speed. The observation hasn't been confirmed, but it did excite the scientific community for a while. Okay, what if? I tried to envision how working physicists would proceed. Build a time machine? Nonsense!—test the ideas and paradoxes first; one step at a time. That's what I kept in mind while I wrote.
Still, when I finished the manuscript it seemed to me a dense work, filled with knotty philosophical problems and lots of facets of the scientific mind, as I had observed. Not a fast-moving, gripping thriller, no. It played on what C.P. Snow called Two Cultures—the abyss that separates the scientific and humanist persuasions. I used my sabbatical leave experiences at Cambridge for color. As well I drew on my years as a graduate student in La Jolla—in fact, my identical twin and I appear as characters in the novel at just the point where we began graduate work. I also used a lot of my own life history in constructing Gregory Markham, who sometimes reflects my views in the text itself.
In the years of labor I had layered several other themes into the novel, lapidary imagery such as the varied use of waves in time, in oceans, in human affairs. I jockeyed the chapters about to achieve a symmetry: the action cycles between 1962 and 1998, and the novel was published in 1980, halfway between these two worlds. That was because I felt we were already halfway between these contrasting lands of light and darkness, but also for a further effect—the present acts like a lens in the novel, focusing events at the opposite time in a different fashion. And, as with a true lens, the image is inverted from the original.
But I wonder if readers truly care about such matters; these are authors' satisfactions, after all. I've gotten many letters about the book, often asking me to write a similar novel. Perhaps someday I shall, though I suppose I did write a similar one in Artifact, whose interests are archeology and physics. In Timescape I discovered how easily the realistic novelist can construct his realm. You simply observe closely and report back; much of the real-world context does your work for you in overcoming the reader's disbelief. But few science-fiction works can so rigorously make use of this method, and even fewer have enough science in them to invoke the power of deep scientific imagery.
Finally, the characters in Timescape seem to stay with me, like people you knew in college and every now and then wonder how they turned out. My subconscious has already supplied detailed stories of what happened after the novel, and in fact I cut from the manuscript an alternative ending which continued their lives further. So to me Timescape is a continuing story, given life as well by the fact that new readers still encounter it and bring their own freshness to that world. I'm quite grateful for that.
Perhaps I should have stuck to such near-future novels of scientists at work, but my imagination was not to be chained. As a fan, I had always loved the sweeping sagas of space and time from sf's Golden Age: the Foundation novels, Heinlein's Future History, Anderson's savvy tales of galactic trading and intrigue. Slowly, I began thinking of writing my own, never guessing that I was embarking not on a project but a voyage.
I did not set out to write a series of interconnected novels over a span of twenty-five years. The project grew on me, and I made plenty of mistakes bringing it to fruition.
I could describe here my inner struggles alone, the endless interior workings one performs before the blank page—but external events proved just as important. I suspect this happens more often than most of us would like.*
In 1977 I had published my fourth novel, In the Ocean of Night, concerning an irritable astronaut who discovers evidence of a galaxy-spanning network of intelligent machines. It was nominated for a Nebula and I went about my normal profession as a professor of physics at UC Irvine. But my subconscious would not let me alone. I kept thinking of what such ideas implied, and by 1982 wrote Across the Sea of Suns, with the same character exploring nearby stars. Here the physicist collided with the writer. I had been doing research in astrophysics since 1974, and noticed that our own galactic center was abrim with intriguing new observations. In the core, within a few light years of the exact center, there are a million stars within a single light year. On average, the nearer stars are only a hundredth of a light year away, ten thousand times the distance from Earth to the sun. Imagine having several stars so close they outshone the moon.
As one might expect, this is bad news for solar systems around such stars. Close collisions between all these stars occur in about a 100,000 years, scrambling up planetary orbits, raining down comets upon them as well.
The galactic center is the conspicuous Times Square of the galaxy—and far more deadly than the comfortable suburbs like ours. Joel Davis's Journey to the Center of Our Galaxy details how horrific it is, pointing out that the survival time for an unshielded human within even a hundred light years of the core is probably only hours.
In the Ocean of Night explored the discovery that computer-based life seemed dominant throughout the galaxy. The British astronaut, Nigel Walmsley, had uncovered the implication that "evolved adding machines," as he put it, had inherited the ruins of earlier, naturally derived alien societies.
Working with Walmsley set tough problems. I had picked a British point-of-view character because he was an outsider in a space program usually run by Americans. I had a feeling for the Brits from my sabbatical there in 1976, though I'd been writing stories which I incorporated into the first novel as early as 1972. Further, while one novel can trace the core events of a character over years, perhaps a life, still I did not know how Walmsley would change over the considerable span of Book 2.
I finished that book in a mental muddle. My subconscious had begun to present me, uninvited, with events beyond the end of the book. In the first version of Across the Sea of Suns, a Simon & Schuster hardcover, I ended on a note of difficulty and defiance.
Then publishing intervened. Timescape Books collapsed and Pocket Books held hostage several books, seeking to extract their investment. Pocket's publisher-in-chief told my agent (none of them would speak to a mere author) they would not publish the paperback of Across the Sea of Suns and wanted $80,000—yes, $10,000 more than they had paid me—for the rights. I refused and the book went into stasis for several years. I eventually escaped by paying $10,000, as I remember.
All this while scenes, ideas, and characters popped into my head as I worked on other books. By this time I had learned to follow my subconscious. If I didn't, I stalled on other projects. Slowly I realized that a larger series of novels yawned before me.
Bad news, I knew immediately. Series novels must each have a sense of an ending, while foreshadowing more. I hadn't done this in the first two books. Or had I? Book 1 closed with an expansive embracing, and Book 2 hadn't reached most of its audience yet.
When Lou Aronica at Bantam offered to publish the whole series, I took the plunge. I added more to the ending of Across the Sea of Suns and Lou remarked at the voice of the new material, which he said echoed the rest of the novel well. I blinked; I hadn't even thought of re-reading Across the Sea of Suns. The ambience had simply been sitting there, still fresh. Reassured, I set out writing Book 3—and hit a snag straightaway.
A series treats the arc of a figure's life, but the galaxy-spanning novel covers so much space and time, I couldn't get Walmsley around to see and live enough.
Worse, the galactic center was the obvious place for machines to seek. By the early 1980s we knew that there is a virulent gamma ray flux there, hot clouds, and enormously energetic processes. Most of this we gathered from the radio emissions, which penetrate dust clouds and revealed the crackling activity at the center for the first time. Infrared astronomy soon caught up, unmasking the hot, tangled regions.
By the time I finished Across the Sea of Suns in 1983, I realized that I could do some research myself on the galactic center. I had by that time written papers on pulsars and galactic jets, accumulating both expertise and curiosity. Strikingly, mysterious features appeared in the galactic center radio maps. In 1984 I was giving a talk on galactic jets at UC Los Angeles, and my host was Mark Morris, a radio astronomer.
"Explain this," he challenged, slapping down a radio map he had just made at the Very Large Array in New Mexico.
My first reaction was "Is this a joke?" The glossy print showed a feature I immediately called the Claw, but which Mark more learnedly termed the Arch: a bright, curved prominence made up of slender fibers. Though the Arch is over a hundred light years long, these filaments are only about a light year wide, curving upward from the galactic plane, like arcs of great circles which center near the galactic core, which lies several hundred light years away. These intricate filaments shine by energetic (in fact, relativistic) electrons, radiating in strong magnetic fields, which are aligned along the filaments.
My first intuition, seeing the radio map of the Arch, was "This looks artificial." Astronomy reflexively assumes that everything in the night sky is natural. The sf writer in me immediately explored the opposite. I decided to extend the Walmsley books by at least one more, set at galactic center.
I worked on a theory for those thin filaments which glow by electron luminosity, a hundred times longer than they were wide. I thought of neon lights, which are glow discharges sustained by electric currents in slender tubes. Could these fibers be a sort of slow-motion lightning, taking perhaps hundreds of thousands of years to discharge?
Those hunches became the kernel of several papers on the center, a model which has become generally accepted—for now, pending more data. While I was mulling over maps and jotting equations, I kept on writing fiction. Over years, the writing fed the physics, and vice versa.
Intriguing setting is essential in a series of novels, or else a sense of sameness creeps in. I used all the gaudy color and striking effects I could muster in Great Sky River, Book 3 of what came to be called the "Galactic Series" (by my publisher, Bantam), Great Sky River—a reference to the ancient Indian name for the Milky Way.
I focused on the inner few light years, for dramatic effects, even though I knew the sheer particle and energy flux there made humans quite vulnerable. To protect them I made them huge and armored. The central figure was a man named Killeen, who flees across a ruined landscape dominated by the black hole, which his people call the Eater of All Things—though they don't quite know why.
This ravaged panorama seemed an ample stage to act out my main theme, the superiority of machines in much of the galaxy. I also got to spring their size as a twist at the very end of the series, when they meet Walmsley, whom they take to be a dwarf.
By then, measures of the orbital velocities of stars very close to the true galactic center, called Sagittarius A, suggested that a point mass of about a million stellar masses lurks there, giving off very little light.
Much controversy surrounds these observations, though, with some holding that the data could mean only a thousand stellar masses is needed. I opted for a million, because then a ship could fly through the ergosphere, the very rim of the black hole, and not be crushed by the tidal forces. This would be crucial to the last volume, Furious Gulf—I thought.
The profligate energetics of the center would draw sentient machines, I felt. The black hole would intrigue any inquisitive life form, their struggles surging across a virulent territory. Humans would be part of it all, but certainly not the major players.*
How to put humans in this mix? I collided here with the classic hard-sf dilemma: humans versus the immense landscape. How to make them seem significant?
How to simply make it plausible that they could survive? One could invoke miracles, of course, in the form of magic materials or offstage events which just happen to put people where you need them. I wasn't willing to do that. Picky, perhaps, especially in a time when fantasy novels unbounded by visible constraint began dominating the market place, and hard sf held little sway on the best-seller lists. But I couldn't make myself take a simpler path, and this proved a significant slower of my work. I pondered and time slid by.
After stalling yet again on my "Galactic Series," slowly I went back to fundamentals. I began envisioning what it might be like at stage center, where the diet of particles and photons is rich and varied. Only hard, tough machines could survive for long there.
In the fourth novel, Tides of Light, I drew out these contrasts. Hard work, but fun, I devised "photovores" and "metallovores" as adaptations to special evolutionary niches. After all, machines that can reproduce themselves would, inevitably, fall under the laws of natural selection, and adapt to use local resources. The entire panoply of ecology would recapitulate: parasites, predators, prey.
How to envision this? I prepare for novels by writing descriptive passages of places and characters. In spare moments I began working up snapshots of possible life forms and their survival styles.
Years before I had found a technique to deal with "obstructions"—a better word than the fearsome "block," and to me it meant some thing rather more subtle. At times I simply couldn't get my subconscious to flower forth with free material along the lines of the novel.
So I pretended that I was working on an other story entirely and wrote that. Sometimes I found I was right—it really didn't connect with the novel. Most times, with some tuning, I did. I made a policy of following through, publishing the work independently if possible, out of an almost superstitious belief that my subconscious would catch on. So far it hasn't … I think.
That's why occasionally pieces of my novels appear first as short stories. I often don't know whether they fit the novel, sometimes until years later. This trick I had to use again and again, because my subconscious proved lazy and headstrong. I'd planned to rap out three novels and be done by 1989, but Book 3 appeared in 1987, Book 4 in 1989 … and then I got interested in another novel, wrote it in three tough years, and ground to a halt. The pesky subconscious just wouldn't cooperate with my game plans. This cost me considerably, for the series' momentum broke and undoubtedly some readers lost the thread.
In 1990 I had to start from scratch again, thinking through the overarching logic of the series. Slowly it dawned that some part of me had shied away from doing the last novel because I couldn't reconcile the many forces within the narrative. I realized with a sinking feeling that one more book wouldn't be enough, either.
Intelligent machines would build atop the galactic center ferment a society we could scarcely fathom—but we would try. Much of Book 5, Furious Gulf, was about that—the gulf around a black hole, and the gulf between intelligences born of different realms.
For years I had enjoyed long conversations with a friend, noted artificial intelligence theorist Marvin Minsky, about the possible lines of evolution of purely machine intelligence. Marvin views our concern with mortality and individualism as a feature of biological creatures, unnecessary among intelligences which have never had to pass through our Darwinnowing filter.
If we can copy ourselves indefinitely, why worry about a particular copy? What kind of society would emerge from such origins? What would it think of us—the Naturals, still hobbled by biological destiny?
Through Books 3, 4, and 5 I had used the viewpoint of humans hammered down by superior machines. This got around the Walmsley lifetime problem, but demanded that I portray people enormously different from us. They had to seem strange, yet understandable—a classic sf quandary.
A slowly emerging theme in the novels, then, was how intelligence depended on the substrate, whether in evolved humans or adaptive machines—both embodying intelligence, but with wildly different styles.
By the time I reached the last volume, in 1992, 1 had spent over twenty years slowly building up my ideas about machine intelligence, guided by friends like Marvin Minsky. I had also published several papers on the galactic center and eagerly read each issue of Astro-physical Journal for further clues.
I finished the last novel, Sailing Bright Eternity, in summer 1994. It had been twenty-five years since I started on In the Ocean of Night and our view of the galactic center had changed enormously. Some parts of the first two books, especially, are not representative of current thinking. Error goes with the territory.
I had taken many imaginative leaps in putting together a working "ecology" for the center. I included outré ideas, such as constructions made by forcing space-time itself into compressed forms, which in turn act like mass itself: reversing Einstein's intuition, that matter curved space-time.
All this was great fun, requiring a lot of time to think. I let my subconscious do most of the work, if possible—an easier way to write, but it stretches out projects, too.
Long-suffering readers wrote asking when the next volume would appear and I felt badly about it, but I knew the writing could not be rushed. I had not anticipated that each volume would demand so much thought, and still less that I would need an extra novel to do the job. In the end, all six books comprise about three-quarters of a million words.
My published physical model of the galactic center is done in what I call the "cartoon approximation"—good enough for a first cut, maybe but doomed to fail somewhere. Sf works in this approximation, necessarily. I had assayed a grand theme, how Mind relates to Nature.
In any case, models are like art, matters of taste. Nobody expects a French Impressionist painting to look much like a real cow; instead, it suggests ways of looking at cows. Sf should do that.*
I learned a lot of tricks along the way, many of them embarrassingly obvious. In 1969 I never outlined, though that year I had sold my first novel with a three-page description and 10,000 words of a novelette. By 1992 I kept notes by subheadings—INCIDENTS, NOTIONS, TECH, TIMELINE, CHARACTER, BITS O' BUSINESS, etc.—in a three-hole binder and on computer, so I could lift and insert.
More important, I had grasped that the climaxes of each book should resemble a stairway. Each should play for higher stakes which do not undercut the resolutions of the earlier novels. Each should open the philosophical canvas at least a bit, particularly in a galactic, hard-sf novel sequence such as mine. Each should explain mysterious elements of the past novels, but leave some shadows to shed a glow into for the future. Each should tell us something deeper about the lead figure. Each figure should move through a defining moment of his life.
This last point may be crucial. I used two central figures, Walmsley and Killeen, neither particularly likeable. This may be a quirk of mine, but I've never enjoyed trotting around in the head of a bright-eyed, perpetual optimist; this may reveal more about me than I wish, but there it is.
I felt the pressure of keeping these guys human more and more as the novels waxed on. So I gave them vices, irksome habits, troubles with their women, faults—big ones, including bad tempers and emotional isolation. (Even Einstein picked his nose, remember.) Yet each figure made progress, or at least came to understand himself better.
I didn't actually figure all this out clearly—in fact, some of the above paragraphs have made these points clear to me only while I was writing them. (This is a common experience for me, too. I don't know what I think until I express it. That old subconscious, again.)
I had always intended to make the series Stapledonian, recalling Star Maker, but squeezed through the aperture of a modern, rounded novel. I used talks with aliens, with machines, with disembodied intelligences lodged in magnetic configurations, with archly amused denizens of the far future—anything to avoid the overweening narrative voice; though I used that, too.
This single decision—more aesthetic than craftsmanly, and made unconsciously as well—created more work for me than anything else in the sequence. It is my preferred method overall, even outside the "Galactic Series," but it imposes great constraints. That fits with my own feeling about hard sf—that it works best because of its self-imposed restrictions, in the fashion that a sonnet does. Constraints improve.
Would I write a series again? Maybe, but not right away.
Do it this way again? Nope—I hope I'd avoid some of the traps.
Most important, I fathomed my own limitations, and how little my subconscious could be bossed around. It's useful to know who really does most of the heavy lifting.
Along the way I had taken excursions. I published two volumes of short stories, their origins best discussed in my notes in In Alien Flesh and Matter's End. I wrote the scientific suspense novel Artifact, based on Greek archeology. This attempt to reach a larger audience failed when the publisher refused to treat it as anything other than a Benford sf novel. I tried again, more ambitiously, with Chiller, published under the pseudonym Sterling Blake in 1993. Its cryonics theme sprang from my discovery that a solid organization, Alcor, existed to freeze people in hopes of eventual revival by future technology—fruitful ground, I thought, for a scientific suspense novel, whereas other treatments had all been horror novels.
Alas, as with Timescape, I found that when your publisher is not really behind a book, little else matters. Chiller's Blake was supposed to get treatment as a new scientific suspense novelist, but the editor who bought it, Lou Aronica, had departed, so the novel was simply dumped with no advertising or real promotion beyond issuing a lot of bound galleys. It got no reviews in major places (much like Timescape, which the New York Times Review of Books ignored) and when word of Blake's identity leaked, I discarded the pseudonym, though Blake did one short story, and an essay on Chiller's topic, the modern cryonics movement.*
By the middle 1990s I had come full circle, finished a long series and seen my children grow to adulthood. Time to look back, assess the path followed. I was still happily married and doing research, though I had folded my experimental program in the funding crunch of 1994; maintaining a lab was simply too much work. We had found a lot of new physical effects, but money was ebbing in such fundamental areas, so I reverted to doing only theory—principally in astrophysical plasmas. By 1997 I had written about 150 scientific papers, held many grants, and became aware of the transient nature of even scientific discovery. Much work is read by but a few, and soon forgotten.
After reflection, I changed vectors again. I agreed to write a novel set in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe. Foundation's Fear is just out as I write this, spring 1997, and seems very successful. I have also finished a new novel, Cosm, which returns to my attempts to unite sf and modern suspenseful narrative. As with Chiller, I felt there had to be a way of using science in fiction which did not rely upon scaring the audience or raising unfounded apprehensions about the science which fascinates them.
I had thought about this unitary goal long and hard. Sf is seldom best viewed as a laboratory for the construction of a better world. Precisely when fiction becomes programmatic, focused on a commanding agenda, does it lose its ability to engender life in the mysterious labyrinths of words. The terrible truth is that writing is hard and will stay that way; that the correct attitude won't help you get under the skin of characters and produce work which will outlive yesterday's newspapers; that what is worth listening to in a writer is his individuality, his quirky reflection in his prose; and that you betray him or her if you seek to reduce writers to a set of positions. Tories can be masters and revolutionaries can be sods, and vice versa, of course.
I have worked through decades when sf was overtaken by events and by the visual media. TV and film have pilfered many sf ideas and approaches, usually without attribution, and without the informing vision surrounding the effects it lifts. I had my own engagement with TV and learned much from it. I'll devote some attention to it here, for it dominated several years and illuminated much of the troubles scientists have communicating in our time.*
Of all areas I worked in, TV took the prize for roller-coaster living. In the late 1980s Japanese National Broadcasting (NHK) approached me about a project they had in early planning stages. It was to be a big series show on modern science, stressing the astronomical connections.
I consulted for them, reviewed memos, went to innumerable dinners with passing squads of producers, directors, and scriptwriters. Eventually they asked me to help outline the show and I gave it a working tide which stuck: A Galactic Odyssey.
They wanted to take a very different approach to the problem of popularizing—using elements of drama alongside straight expositions, interviews, graphics, and the like. What kind of frame could do that? Intriguing, I thought. I worked up a plan to shape the shows around the voyage of the starship Helios, on the first flight beyond our solar system.
Most of the airtime would be in documentary format. In the sf frame, we would follow the adventures of the Helios crew of six as they visited sites in the Milky Way. The first ninety-minute-long introductory segment was straight documentary. The next seven were hour-long shows, each with three dramatic scenes, at opening, middle, and close, totaling about twenty minutes.
Halfway into outlining the show, they asked me to write the fictional frames. I had my misgivings. A year before I had written a TV script which did get shot, but emerged mystifyingly different from my vision. This was standard for the business. Since I wanted to learn more about scriptwriting, I took the job.
By now the show was behind schedule. I wasn't surprised, since NHK had spent a year and a half planning and fidgeting and re-planning. So when I received a visit about doing the scripts, they saved for last the fact that I had only a month in which to do them.
I learned something about writing under pressure. In TV writing, you must keep it simple, be direct, use sights instead of talk. I made the deadline, with two hours and twenty minutes of (estimated) drama screen time.
Writing such compact drama scripts was an education in brevity. I began to long for the elbow room of novels. There were compensations, though, in the freedom to let the audience see what you mean.
Using sf at all in the solemn format of upscale, top-ticket documentaries implies that science fictional devices are becoming commonplace vehicles. Still, I was somewhat surprised that NHK cheerfully accepted sf ideas; they saw that showing people visiting exotic sites was far more immediate than merely doing better computer graphics of them.
So I indulged myself. I stretched the physics a bit and had Helios fly by a star just as it goes supernova. Pretty unlikely, even though they had selected the star because it was close to that point. Great graphics, but how could they survive? I let them narrowly escape, using a trick: they used a Jovian-sized planet for a shield, speeding radially outward in its shadow.
This was a cheat, actually. The neutrino flux alone would have killed them, even with the Jovian trick. So I gave them a neutrino shield. Physics knows of nothing that can absorb neutrinos effectively, but there have been some theoretical speculations … so I yielded to temptation. A slight crack in my realism armor, perhaps, a step down the road that leads to the "wantum mechanics" of such shows as Star Trek—you wantum, you gettum. Anything you want, boss, and consistency from show to show be damned. Drama, y'know.
Midway through the writing, NHK came visiting again. They had never decided how to handle the connecting-up of all these elements. Perhaps it would
be best to have an occasional on-camera commentator? Well, I said, that was one approach, sure. They looked pleased. And would I please consider being this commentator?
This was much more than I had bargained for. My imagination was fixed on the blithe abstractions of writing. Actual work in front of a camera was a decidedly daunting prospect. Still….*
The starship Helios loomed large, a clean white sphere sprouting antennas. It glided away from a barren desert planet, heading into serene deep space…
DISSOLVE TO: Traffic. Horns. Gasoline stench. Gaudy neon.
Well, I thought, we wanted a jarring cut for the opener, and this certainly fit the bill.
I was a minute into the take when the bag lady came shuffling into my field of view. If she just moved across the camera angle and kept going, I thought, maybe things would be all right. I kept on talking about alien life forms, a topic carefully selected for this location—a traffic island smack in the middle of Times Square.
"The sorts of aliens we could discover with our current approach bear a striking resemblance to the radio astronomers themselves—curious, devoted to the night sky, with lots of technology and energy. We—"
The bag lady swerved toward me and called jerkily, "Hey! Somebody's trying to start a war between us and Germany."
Well, maybe the mike wouldn't pick her up. I kept talking and got through the next sentence. If she would please just keep moving—Don't you care? Somebody's trying to start a war between the United States and Germany!" I shrugged. "Actually, lady, it's been done. Twice."
One of the cameramen came trotting across the traffic lanes. He waved the bag lady away, but since he spoke only Japanese, they got into a tangle of angry incomprehension.
After she had wandered off, and after a gang of Puerto Rican teenagers tried to persuade us to make them famous by letting them do their dance routine behind me, we did five more takes—seventeen in all. By that time I was feeling pretty alien myself.*
Location shooting, I learned, is fraught with weirdness and accident. I had to shoot about thirty locations in six months for the series, which was running further and further behind schedule.
This meant, for example, standing in the rotor wash of the camera helicopter as it lifted from the floor of Meteor Crater, Arizona, smiling numbly for five takes, as the subzero wind blew my hair around and turned my lips blue. I was clad in a sports jacket and light slacks, for the sake of clothes continuity with the preceding shot, which had been two months before and thirty degrees warmer.
Location shooting also meant flying to keep the script straight in my head atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, at 13,-700 feet. After a few hours of walking about, cold was the least of my problems. I found that oxygen deprivation kept snatching away bits of my memory. I would hit the end of a sentence and hang there, with no idea of what came next.
Oddly enough, it was fun.*
The NHK producers were quite happy to spend, say, $300,000 creating a flyby of the black hole at the galactic center, complete with burnt-orange accretion disk and silvery jets. They even wanted me to talk about my own novels set there. Pulsars, neutron stars—anything astronomical was OK, fit for the computer graphics budget of several million dollars. This was big time TV, yes.
But aliens…. Well, maybe Godzilla had spooked them.
They wanted a whole hour about life in the galaxy, but refused to ever show aliens. My entire script about planets as potential life sites was rewritten, by a director, to treat only dead worlds. So the crew spent its time in Death Valley digging holes for the camera.
Why? I asked. Prospecting for life, the director said.
Any biologist could have told them that the atmosphere, observed by Helios from space, would reveal signs of life. Chemical cycles for any gas-breathing life are constrained to a fairly narrow range. This argument had been used by James Lovelock to predict that Mars would reveal no life, back in the early l970s.
Such arguments got waved away. People could understand prospecting for life—it was just like digging for gold, see? I shook my head. Cultural mismatch.*
While there is no detail whatever about how Helios worked, I did get away with basing the last hour show, "The Anvil of Time," on relativity. No super-duper faster-than-light space drive for we hardnosed types—so we got some pretty special effects of Helios zooming by stars at near-light speed. The crew used Einstein's time dilation to span the galaxy, so they had to pay the price.
We spent months debating whether the crew, seeing that thousands of years had passed Earthside, would return. People took rather fierce positions, some holding that the Helios crew would fly ever onward, drawn by mysteries. I made them return; an Odyssey has to come home. But then the directors refused to show Earth or its solar system altered after millennia. No orbital colonies, no signs of humans visible from space.
Why? I asked. They frowned.
Antiecological. Tampering with the natural solar system. Bad vibes. "Such changes are disturbing." An enigmatic smile. The cultural thing again.
The Japanese took an aesthetic approach to much traditional scientific material. We opened the series with a shot of leafy glades and the line, "We love natural beauty, but what does it imply?"—then cut to a rocket, the planets, and stars.
NHK spent huge sums developing a new type of camera, capable of shooting in mere moonlight. It gave high-quality, fully colored pictures, so that while I walked by an observatory in Chile, you could see my red tie and also make out the bright colors of stars overhead, including Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system.
In that shot the director laughed out loud at the Carl Sagan reference when I said, "There aren't merely billions and billions of stars in our galaxy; there are a good fraction of a trillion—and maybe more."
His laugh loused up the first take, which would've been perfect. On the other hand, on a later take they caught a meteor that flashed in startling yellow overhead as a punctuation, as I finished the last line.
It helped in dealing with the producers that I could switch from sf writer to scientist at the drop of a metaphor. I was scientific advisor, host, and drama script writer. When the drama director wrote in a scene in which the Helios engines failed, he didn't know that devising a wholly new kind of drive on the spot was both unlikely and a genre cliché.
Merely saying so didn't dissuade him, of course. So I pointed out that the big scene, in which they reach their difficult destination by withstanding 3-g acceleration for a full minute, would take Helios only a few more kilometers.
Even a director could see that wasn't much on a galactic scale. So we tinkered, cut, made it not quite so askew.
The best thing about making a grueling show is the people you meet. I spent a day with Stephen Hawking, the first time I had seen him in years. He had prepared a long response to some questions I'd sent. We discussed on camera the philosophical implications of modern cosmology, and he remarked on the "argument from design" resurrected by Freeman Dyson and others of note. (They have used observations that the crucial numbers which govern natural laws, such as nuclear binding energies, seem extraordinarily finely tuned to the values which make life and intelligence possible. Maybe even suspiciously so.)
Hawking was skeptical. He remarked that this might provide solace for some, "but only for belief in a distant, cool, and indifferent God."
The working scientists were always a pleasure. The interminable delays for setup of lighting and cameras were great times to get caught up on shoptalk.
Astronomy and physics are now thoroughly worldwide activities, threaded through with sf fans. I found Aldiss and Anderson paperbacks stashed for a dull moment in the control room of the big telescope at Las Campanas, atop the Andes mountains of Chile.
The woman director of the Mount Wilson Observatory took me on a tour of the undergalleties of the 100-inch scope, where Hubble measured his plates and discovered the expansion of the universe. I got to do a shot sitting in the same rickety chair Hubble used for decades to discover the expansion of the universe. That was thrilling, as was the fifteen-foot plunge only inches away. Hubble had never fallen off; I came quite close twice in a single hour.
The director took all this for granted, of course. She then asked me if I knew Hal Clement or Joe Haldeman. What were they like?
We did a shot with me standing on the Bonneville salt flats, playing on the fact that in winter they look like a snow field. This was to suggest the freezing out of our atmosphere if the Earth were a bit farther from the sun. Then we switched to the opposite possibility, that a nearer sun would evaporate away our oceans, leaving meters-deep salt plains.
"Very fantastic," the director said happily.
A park ranger with us said skeptically, "Sounds like science fiction to me."
The director looked shocked and countered, "Oh, but it is! Of the very best kind—it is true!"
The most imaginative element NHK would allow in the documentary was a series of paintings by Bill Hartmann, the astronomer-artist at Kitt Peak Observatory, a most pleasant fellow.
We worked out a water-world sporting only minor islands, and sea life just beginning to discover simple technology. A gloomy city loomed in the background of his undersea painting. We shot a discussion between Bill and myself of the possibilities available in odd planets. A tide-locked world with a thin, life-supporting twilight zone. Twin inhabited planets—one with an oxygen atmosphere, the other still methane-dominated. An inhabited moon. The documentary director wanted all these discussed, but the drama director would have no part of them in his show….*
I learned a lot about how science and sf interact. The Los Angeles public television station KCET was producing a rival show, The Astronomers, to air in the fall of 1990. I saw rushes from it, then the final show. While its desire to show the life of scientists was commendable, I was reminded that from the outside, watching us work is remarkably like a long, close scrutiny of paint drying. Still, the speculations of scientists are just as wild as anything we sf writers do; theirs are merely government funded.
It's an unnerving experience, standing in a Los Angeles studio and watching actors play out scenes you've written, word for word. Quite solid and quite uncanny, like walking into one of your own dreams. It took far longer to shoot a script than it did to write one.
It's even stranger to turn from the set and look into the synthesizing eye of the monitors, where the set image was superimposed on the graphics, in real time. I could see beyond the Helios crew the swirling, technicolor disk of a monstrous black hole.
This ability to place frail human figures against the immensity of creation is powerful, and is only beginning to be dramatically realized. In counterpoint to all this techno razzle-dazzle, I had to underline in the closing comments that our goal in understanding nature is in part to fathom ourselves, our uniquely human place in nature.
I found it doubly striking that the churn and dazzle of warped space-time is still an idea of ours—a metaphor, if you will—not yet truly confirmed by observation. Increasingly, the objects of high science are fictions toward which reason and inference lead us. They will remain unseen, glimpsed only with the lens of scrupulous deduction—and with the telescope of our imaginations.
I ended the entire series with the only real indulgence the mass of producers and directors allowed. The NHK method was a sort of corporate mentality gone mad— each hour had a separate authority, with whom I negotiated the script. This is how I tried to sum it all up, with my own personal flavor:
I hope that the interwoven strands of the sciences can lead to a philosophy for our century which will be of one piece, reflecting the seamless connection we have to this world that came out of nothingness and into something so vast and various.
A great astronomer, Harold Shapley, once said "we are the brothers of boulders, the companions of clouds." Astronomers know that we are also the sons of the stars.
Yet the stars are mortal, just as we. Our galaxy is the stage for a drama of worlds being born and dying, while even mighty galaxies collide, shatter, and merge. In grand diversity the action continues.
Biology teaches us that if somewhere along the way evolution had made a small change in the script, we humans would not be here. We are fragile—but so, in the long run, is the universe.
The galaxy is still young, only ten billion years old. Within twenty billion more the stars which nurtured life will ebb, growing cooler, redder. The giant blue stars will be gone forever. The galaxy will dim as black holes grow. There will be fewer warm spots for life. The Milky Way will witness the final act, a long twilight struggle, and if life remains anchored to planets, it is doomed.
I take a brighter view of the far future. Just as astrology once said that the stars rule the affairs of men, I believe, as Arthur Clarke put it, that the time will come when men rule the affairs of stars.
Life's greatest challenge will be survival after the stars are gone. As Shakespeare said,
Now entertain conjecture of a time
when creeping murmur and the poring dark
fills the wide vessel of the universe.
Life—that is, mind—arose out of matter.
The grandest philosophical question is, will all life's struggles come to nought? Can we survive the gathering cold and dark? Will the universe slow, contract, and collapse, reversing the big bang? Astronomers' quest for the shadowy dark matter will perhaps answer this question.
I believe that life will persist through the dimming of the galaxy, the growth of monstrous black holes, even through the eventual decay of matter itself into nothing more than electrons, their antiparticles, and light. I hope there will always be a role in the galaxy's evolution for beings capable of knowing joy. As the poet T.S. Eliot put it, "We are the music, while the music lasts."*
We shot all that, but when the final editing got done, only about half got through. Still, NHK wedged a lot into the series, and it aired repeatedly in Japan, its first venue, in 1990 through 1991.
It won the Japanese version of the Emmy for Best General Program. It showed in 1991 in Europe, in translation. NHK published a five-book series, full of gorgeous color photography, graphics, and with short introductions by myself. They sold well.
Then nothing happened. The show had ended up costing over $6 million, the biggest budget overrun NHK had ever had, and they needed to sell it in the U.S. market.
But the NHK structure took nearly all support money away from the program as soon as the final cut came out. Negotiations with U.S. networks were cordial, but the program needed editing. The Japanese style is alternately leisurely, with long panning shots, and then jerky. But there was no money for re-editing.
So the entire project fell into a corporate hole, one step short of the major market that could make the whole enterprise profitable. KCET's The Astronomers had fallen on its face in the market, with less than ten percent of the audience that Sagan's Cosmos had garnered a decade earlier. The word was out that astronomy shows didn't work.
This tendency of TV and films to ride on conventional wisdom about the market is notorious, and amusing. Once I saw a letter written on luxurious stationery by a studio maven about buying an option on a novel of mine about Greek archeology, Artifact. "Nobody goes to movies about archeology," he said. "Too intellectual and dry." This was a year after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
And nothing kept on happening.
So A Galactic Odyssey never showed in the United States. The Carnegie Institute did re-edit the first episode for brief showings, but not the series. NHK broke up the entire team and the project is now solely in the hands of marketing, which means no creative people involved. They have shown it around and it is reasonably well received, I hear. But it would need reworking for the more sophisticated American market, and there's nobody around any longer to do that delicate job.
People ask me about it, and I just shake my head. What did I learn from an involvement of fully three years, finally?
First, novelists don't fit well in intensely committee-dominated projects. Decisions about showing aliens, or even categorizing civilizations by their energy consumption (somehow not an ecologically virtuous point of view), were made by faceless executives—most of whom had no scientific training whatever. And they don't think that it is important.
Novelists think in larger chunks. Hard-sf novelists probably don't make the best diplomats, either, about scientific facts. Or at least, this novelist didn't.
Second, don't let the scientific content get compromised for schedule or convenience. Realize that just about nobody has the same commitment to the material that scientists do—but apply pressure at the essential points.
Third, use a particular rhythm in presenting science, to draw out its human aspects. This rhythm runs
Begin with a grand overview, posing certain human or social problems as they relate to science. Then go to the science, the technical true grit, that can then lead back to those deep philosophical issues. Offer a response, maybe even a solution, on the basis of the scientific content just detailed.
This rhythm opens the sciences, imbuing large human issues with the flagrant excitement of the new, the fresh, the real. You can even yield to calls for a new vision or morality, speaking from the solidity of a scientific pulpit.
In both visual and print media, this has been the style of the best broad scientific popularizations of the last few decades. Recall Steven Weinberg's The First
Three Minutes, Douglas Hofstader's Godel, Escher, Bach, Sagan's Cosmos, E.O. Wilson's On Human Nature, and many others.
Lastly, have some input in editing. Much of A Galactic Odyssey got rearranged, slanted, and cut by people who knew little or nothing of the technical material. Such power is hard to get, but essential.
A minor point: never do location shooting without firm guidelines. Otherwise, you are the tool of the lighting, camera, and sound crews. I waited atop Mount Wilson from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. for the crews to set up. It was a chilly January night and after rehearsing, there wasn't much to do. Then I had to do moving-and-speaking shots over precarious walkways outside the big dome of the observatory, while worn out. We finished at 4 a.m. I looked pretty awful on camera, too, and nearly went off a hundred-foot drop, but the lighting was perfect….
Science is hard to popularize; its material is arcane, dense, and, for many, forbidding. But scientists themselves must keep trying. Of course, much of the process of popularizing is, for the scientific mind, disagreeable.
But what's the alternative?
For the moment I have resolved to try again with Cosm, my latest novel, to speak to the larger, mainstream culture which fears science as often as it enshrines the technology science engenders. I shall then write at least one nonfiction work, Deep Time, and reconsider fiction thereafter. I am less convinced that science fiction can communicate directly to the mainstream audience; instead, more often our inventions are filtered by the hacks like Crichton and Cook, who know how to thrill the large audience, and to deftly pickpocket the genre. Sf as the literature of ideas unfortunately implies that its central concerns and methods can be detached from the works themselves and pirated by those who neither know nor respect the field. These screenwriters and pop novelists end up conveying sf to the public more effectively than we genre novelists do, alas.
So here I am in 1997, still charting a career which I've given up trying to predict. The comforts of writing are many, as are those of physics. The two worlds rub against each other uneasily in my life. I shall probably always cycle between them, seeking the ideas and experiences that lend a vibrancy to life. The richness of science opens to an informed writer, while the imagination in fiction can fuel that of the scientist.
To be continued, I hope.
Benford contributed the following update to CA in 2008:
THE GREAT TEACHER
Time is the greatest teacher, but in the end it kills all its students. Time has taught me a lot (often against my will) since my first autobiographical essay, which brought me to the early 1990s. Reading that essay now is like reading a biography of someone I used to know.
Since then, troubles, triumphs and tragedies changed my views of both life and literature. I now feel that I have largely finished the arc of my writing career, as I suspect do most authors by their sixties. I still enjoy writing, but the tidal tug of life itself beckons more strongly, as shadows lengthen.
The first harrowing event that began to alter me was the fire that destroyed over 400 homes in Laguna Beach, where I lived, in 1993. My wife Joan escaped the fire but not its emotional impact. I was lecturing in a graduate class in plasma physics at UC Irvine, and emerged to see a black plume blotting out the southern sky. I drove around the town and ran to within sight of our home, turned back by firemen. For a day Joan and I thought the house was gone, since a wall of flame had held me back from it. But it survived with minor damage; firemen camped on its deck. I had bought the house, with its stunning view, in part for the seemingly prosaic point that it had a fire hydrant across the street. The neighborhood stank for months and eighty percent of the homes on our street (the longest in town) burned to the ground in the white-hot fire, cars dripping melted aluminum onto the street. But our home still stood.
The experience unsettled Joan, beginning a long decline. Shocks unsettle anyone, but as well, Joan was a classic bipolar, with a mother who had repeated shock treatments and spent forty years taking lithium. Throughout the 1990s she withdrew into bouts of depression, hastened by her declining health, relieved a bit by intermittent travel. Her kidney transplant still worked, but the antirejection drugs she took to keep it led her into strange pathways.
Life went on, but matters between Joan and me only worsened. Joan would disappear for days, returning with a blithe comment that she had felt like going to Mexico, or to see friends, or sometimes no explanation at all. Our son was living at home in the early part of this and was quite puzzled. He said little, though clearly something was going wrong. His leaving for university seemed to liberate Joan and me for a while, but the joy of a new life faded. Mark eventually became a classical archeologist.
Our daughter Alyson astonished us in the early 1990s by announcing that she was moving into a house with a man we did not know. She had graduated from Willamette University and gone into the art industry, creating watercolors and working in framing shops. We flew to Portland to meet The New Guy, who disturbed me. He was my age and had the controlled movements that I sensed went with years of careful moves. Back in Laguna, I worried, though Joan did not. Alyson knew her own tastes, after all. "Artistic people are different!" she insisted. Blithe spirit, bird thou never wert.
I hired a private detective to look into The New Guy. Joan was insulted, demanded that I stop the investigation. I didn't. When the detective came forth with background checks, The New Guy proved to be a career criminal with over twenty years in the slammer, starting at age eighteen in Leavenworth Prison; the "careful moves" were the body habits of a career con. A detective on the Portland force strongly suspected he had murdered his last wife with a drug overdose.
We coaxed Alyson home for her birthday and the detective laid out the facts for her. She resisted for hours but then admitted that The New Guy's control- ling ways worried her. So we put together a team of three detectives who went with her and Joan to Portland. Better I not go, they all thought; I was too emotional. They were right.
They tracked the ex-felon to his job one rainy morning, and then went into Alyson's house and cleaned it out. They found a gun under a bed ("He said he needed it because he had enemies," Alyson said.). Such possession was a felony for an ex-con. They took back Alyson's car from his company parking lot, took the moving van full of her possessions, and drove south. Joan and Alyson flew back and left me alone in our Laguna home, while they stayed in the mountains with Joan's sister. I waited for two days in our house, a detective in a van up the street.
First The New Guy went for my son Mark's apartment a few hours from Portland, but Mark had moved in with a friend to elude him. Then he came to Laguna and prowled our neighborhood at night. He had been a second-story man in most of his crime career, but as I waited each night he didn't break in. I had a 9 mm and a Magnum placed at each end of the house to use if he entered—having consulted the police about legal matters—and would have cheerfully put rounds through him if he had taken the risk. But he didn't. Too smart.
Some find such excitement thrilling, but I recall it now as mostly harrowing. In real life you have people you love on the line and don't know the outcome. It all blew over. Alyson moved back home, then to an apartment, then in with her old high-school boyfriend. They're married now. I've had other such dangers—being shot at, nearly arrested by a foreign intelligence agency—but they've never entered my fiction. I'm not sure why.
KEEPING ON KEEPING ON
This New-Guy incident drove Joan and me further apart and I could not see why. Joan and I had more disagreements and I took solace in my writing, a strategy I'd always used when life got me down. Art doesn't imitate life, but art learns from the writer's experience. My professional life dwelled on airy abstractions of physics, and so did some of my fiction. But life got tougher, and drove the fiction.
In the late 1980s I wrote a mainstream thriller about cryonics and published Chiller under a pseudonym, Sterling Blake. I intended to start a series of such novels to counter the Crichton-style thriller that uses science for its sizzle, but ends up canceling the implications by returning the world to its comfy prior state. It seemed to me that scientific suspense novels (not necessarily thrillers) could capture the feel of doing science—a rare delight indeed, for a general reader. Though Chiller sold well to good reviews, my Bantam editor had been fired several months before it appeared, and the incoming editor cut all advertising and publicity beyond the perfunctory. Bantam then cast aside many good writers—Bill Gibson, Bob Silverberg, Joe Haldeman—and I followed them, leaving for HarperCollins. The whole scientific suspense novel strategy died.
I spent time finishing my "Galactic Center" series, which I much enjoyed. It came to six novels totaling around 750,000 words—a project I had pursued for over twenty-five years, often not knowing where I was going. In 1994 came Furious Gulf and in 1995 Sailing Bright Eternity. I was genuinely surprised when finished that I could lay out a timeline covering many millennia, fitting the threads together; it's in the uniform six-volume edition published by Time Warner. It hadn't occurred to me in the beginning to construct a timeline at all, and I'm not sure it would have done me any good. The whole structure emerged as I marched in fits and starts through the novels. By the mid-1990s I often thought on time scales exceeding a millennium, leading to several books that followed. Indeed, I feel that one of the important lessons of the last few centuries has been that we must consider such vast eras, for we act on them, whether we know it or not. Modern technology especially has extended our knowledge and our reach through huge distances and long times, so these are the legitimate material of fiction, especially science fiction.
I then wrote a novel in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe, Foundation's Fear. The idea came from Janet Asimov, his widow. I at first declined, being busy with physics and my own novels. But my unconscious had other plans; once aroused, it insisted. After half a year of struggling with ideas delivered straight from my unconscious (even dreams), all plainly made for the Foundation, I realized that I wasn't going to get much done on other projects. When your own instincts persistently demand expression, you listen. I finally began putting together a plan to construct a fittingly complex curve of action and meaning, then realized it would have to be revealed in several novels. I then enlisted two hard-sf writers broadly influenced by Asimov and of unchallenged technical ability: Greg Bear and David Brin, old friends. It was great fun, and the books sold well, with good reviews. We did a big tour when David's book came out, ending the arc, and had big crowds. Some writers hate touring, but I'm fairly gregarious. (Or as a fan once said to me about my many-sided careers, "You're Greg various.")
This prompts me to reflect on what is for most writers a very odd attitude; why work in someone else's universe? And why write a sequence of books with your friends? A simple motive is that writing is a lonely profession, sitting before a computer for hours each day. Working with friends dispels some of that.
But a better explanation notes that, unlike literary fiction, genres are constrained conversations. Genres are also like immense discussions, with ideas developed, traded, mutated, their variations spun down through time. Players ring changes on each other—more like a stepping-out jazz band than a solo concert in a plush auditorium. Science, too, runs on collaborations; a majority of published papers have multiple authors. Contrast "serious" fiction (more accurately described, in my eyes, as merely self-consciously solemn). It has canonical classics that supposedly stand outside of time, deserving awe, looming great and intact by themselves—and created by lone geniuses.
Much of the pleasure of mysteries, of espionage novels or of sf, lies in the interaction of writers with each other and, particularly in sf's invention of fandom, with the readers as well. This isn't a defect; it's the essential nature of popular culture, which the United States has dominated in our age, with the invention of jazz, rock, the musical, and written genres such as the western, the hard-boiled detective, modern fantasy and other rich areas.
Constraint is essential, defining the rules and assumptions open to an author. If hard sf occupies the center of science fiction, that is probably because hardness gives the firmest boundary. Science itself yields crisp confines.
Genre pleasures are many, but this quality of shared values within an ongoing discussion may be the most powerful, enlisting lifelong devotion in its fans. In contrast to the Grand Canon view of great works standing like monoliths in a deserted landscape, genre reading satisfactions are a striking facet of modern democratic (pop) culture, a shared movement.
Why work in the famous Foundation universe? The problems it provokes—can there really be a theory of history that predicts? Can a new generation add anything to the ongoing discussion? Sure we could. There are questions about how writers deal with what some call the "anxiety of influence" but which I'd prefer to term more mildly: the digestion of tradition.
I'm sure some thought Bear, Brin, and I did this for the money. Not so; it was fun. I had invested most of my writing earnings, so that by the 1990s I made more in the stock market than I earned at UC Irvine; money was never an issue in my writing career. After all, it was a hobby.
Surely outside influences influence the work? Fair enough; but this can happen in any context. Working in a known region of concept-space does not necessarily imply that the territory has been mined out. Nor is fresh ground always fertile.
Surely we should notice that a novel Hemingway thought the best in American literature, Huck Finn, is a sequel—indeed, following on a boy's book, Tom Sawyer? Sharing common ground isn't only a literary tradition. Are we thrown into moral confusion when we hear Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini? Do we indignantly march from the concert hall when assaulted by Variations on a Theme by Haydn? Sharecropping by The Greats? Shocking!
Re-inspecting the assumptions and methods of classical works can yield new fruit. Fresh narrative can both strike out into new territory while reflecting on the landscape of the past. Recall that Hamlet drew from several earlier plays about the same plot.
LITBIZ IN ACADEME
Questions like those above come up because I've had long exposure both as a writer and a scientist to what I call LitBiz. In the academic world where I also dwell, I have never responded favorably to the late-twentieth-century razoring of literature by critics—the tribes of structuralists, postmodernists, deconstructionists, and Marxists. (These last often refer to our times as "late capitalism" while not realizing that they live in the era of late Marxism. Indeed, of dead Marxism; or at least it smells that way.) To many genre writers, "postmodern" is simply a signature of exhaustion. Its typical apparatus—self-reference, heavy dollops of obligatory irony, self-conscious use of older genre devices, pastiche, and parody—betrays lack of invention, of the crucial coin of sf, imagination. Some deconstructionists have attacked science itself as mere rhetoric, not an ordering of nature at all, while seeking to reduce it to the status of the ultimately arbitrary humanities. Most sf types find this attack on empiricism a worn old song with new lyrics, quite quaintly retro.
At the core of sf lies the experience of science. This makes the genre finally hostile and impervious to such fashions in criticism, for it values its empirical ground. Deconstructionism's stress on contradictory or self-contained internal differences in texts, rather than their link to reality, often merely leads to literature seen as empty word games. Language is sloppy, though powerful; this is new?
Sf novels give us worlds that are not to be taken as metaphors, but as real, for the moment of reading. We are asked to participate in wrenchingly strange events, not merely watch them for clues to what they're really talking about. (Ummm, if this stands for that, then the other stuff must stand for… Not a way to gather narrative momentum.) The Mars and stars and digital deserts of our best novels are, finally, to be taken as real, as if to say: life isn't like this, it is this. Journeys can go to fresh places, not merely return us to ourselves.
Some see science as just another agenda; sf doesn't. Even at UC Irvine I saw this as a battleground of power politics, where we "naïve realists" met relativist worldviews. I listened to attempts to portray scientists as no more the holders of objective knowledge than are lawyers or travel agents.
It's odd being an sf writer in a university, because sf speaks of the future, but to the present. The grand issues of social power and the technology that drives it will never fade. Often problems are best seen in the perspectives of implication, before we meet them on the gritty ground of their arrival. Yet many academics follow the ideas and politics of the moment as if they are eternal.
My university labors changed. I ended lab work in the early 1990s, but kept the lab while others used it. Then in the late 1990s my brother Jim and I got interested in combining our expertise in high-power microwaves and space travel. Jim is the world expert on high-power microwaves, author of the reigning textbook. We did sail experiments at JPL and UC Irvine on NASA grants, discovering methods that could be used to power orbiting gossamer spacecraft from the ground by beams of microwaves. Science fictional stuff, indeed, though I haven't used it yet in fiction.
Joan's declining health shaped my novels. I wrote Cosm about the UC Irvine physics department, combining far-out physics with an academic satire that was simple to write, since I look askance at the groves of academe. I set Chiller and Cosm around Laguna Beach, and found, as I had in my other novels with one-word titles, that enjoying the graces of realist fiction (a known background, people I understood well already) made for easier work. My 1996 excursion into big-time space opera with friend Mark Martin, A Darker Geometry, was for sheer fun.
I also used much experience I had gathered in the 1990s in Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates across Millennia, my first nonfiction book. I served on a Congressionally mandated panel to estimate the probability that people would inadvertently intrude into the Waste Interment Project salt flat repository 2,300 feet below the New Mexican desert, where mild radioactive waste from medical and industrial processes would lie for the next 10,000 years. That got me fascinated with the parallel problem of marking such a site with a warning. Few intentional messages survive more than a millennium, and no museum or library of the ancient world made it into modern times. Then artist Jon Lomberg, whom I met in that work, brought me into the effort to put a durable message on the Cassini spacecraft bound for Saturn. Earlier I had published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, proposing a "Library of Life" to store species information for far-future use.
All this came together in Deep Time, which I concluded by observing that the longest lived message we leave for our descendants will be the condition of the natural Earth—a message received but usually taken as the way things have always been. Ours is an Age of Appetite, and the future will remember us for that. This enhanced my studies on methods of cooling the planet, since I had long thought that greenhouse warming was inevitable. These ways, mostly just reflecting sunlight, will dominate our global politics in decades to come. Yet again, I haven't used this work in fiction yet.
Such work slowly drew me away from fiction. Nonfiction has a different tone and uses different literary muscles. I did some work and writing on "geoengineering" approaches to avert the rapidly rising changes in climate (though "climate control" is a better term). I wrote some policy pieces on biotech (living longer is the best way to get people to think about the long future). My research continued to center on my old love, astrophysics and plasmas. In the 1990s and the 2000s I broadened my range of pursuits, while still writing novels, articles and short stories.
A 1992 cover feature for Reason magazine predicted that the 21st would be the Biological Century, a term later lifted by many slow savants. Another such piece foresaw that the carbon-restricting strategies envisioned to slow climate change would fail, because they demand that people everywhere, with cheap fossil fuels readily at hand, nonetheless act against their own short-term interests. Any economist can predict how that turns out, and so it is now. Cooling the world by reflecting sunlight surely lies in our future, though it is politically incorrect now, even among scientists. Within a decade all such attitudes will shift as our global climate worsens.
THE LONG GOODBYE
The fiction most revealing of my state of mind in those years lies in Eater, another one-word title that came from experience too close, too cutting to avoid. The protagonists are all astronomers who discover that a small black hole with completely unforeseen properties has entered the solar system. Though the impact of this broadens to take in the whole world, I kept the focus on the three lead characters, the brightest of them a woman dying of cancer. She solely among them is ironic, funny, her dialog full of gallows humor. She faces life squarely, getting all she can from it. And she dies.
She's Joan, of course. I had already portrayed her several times in my novels, starting with the wife who has a long-term disease in In the Ocean of Night and most directly with the female lead of Artifact, who comes from Boston and smokes a lot—both traits true of Joan. (Indeed, the novel is packed with details from our courtship, including Boston's sights and sounds.) Her own disorder, polycystic kidney disease, led to her loss of kidney function in mid-1980s. She went on dialysis and within three years had dialysis dementia, a state of mental confusion. Luckily, she got a kidney transplant that was an excellent fit.
But transplant patients often succumb to cancer, since the drugs reduce the body's immune defenses. Few live beyond twenty more years.
In the late 1990s Joan told me one evening that her mammogram had turned up an oddity. She had been feeling pain in her left breast, and within days her breast cancer stood revealed—a particularly deadly form. She had one mastectomy, then chemo and radio therapy, but refused the second mastectomy, despite the risk. A second mastectomy in an apparently unaf- fected breast was beyond her tolerance; she accepted the risk. I went to the UC Irvine medical library and read up on the risks, which were considerable, but Joan was never a quantitative person. She did not grasp that a seemingly minor fact—the cancer had spread into a dozen lymph nodes, which were removed—had huge implications.
I had moved out months before this news, finally giving up on the evenings of stony silences—but this abrupt turn drew me back; I could not leave her to face this alone. She recovered from the therapy but the chilly distance between us did not warm. I lasted a year.
In the fall of 2000 I bought a house on the UC Irvine campus, leaving Joan to the Laguna Beach house. Shortly after, she told me that the breast pains were back. She swore me to secrecy and would not tell her doctors. She went on a farewell tour. Alone she traveled to China, a lifelong dream. Italy had always drawn her and she took a month-long sojourn there around the new year, meeting our son Mark to tour Sicily. I heard little from her. The clock ran.
In 2001 I started on a novel that ruminated through these events, but the emotional weight was too great; it did not jell. I took on new scientific roles, joined boards of foundations, took up lab work with my brother Jim, wrote papers … and watched the clock. Returning from a Templeton Foundation meeting at Princeton, I could not reach Joan at home. She was in hospital with a misdiagnosed "flu." Our children flew in, flu changed to cancer, and she died a week later, March 25, 2002. With help from friends we got her back home barely ten hours before she died, looking out over the ocean at sunrise.
If nothing else, the reality of death and the experience of losing loved ones punctures even the most gratifying and well-ordered life. I collapsed two days after her death and left many of the details of her memorial service to our children.
Days later, coming out from an errand onto the street in Laguna Beach around noon, I looked up at our house and mused about Joan's schedule, where she would be, calculating if we could meet for lunch—and suddenly saw that she was nowhere now, not in this universe any more. In such moments the enormity of our lives hammers home.
It kept hammering. Three months later my father died. By that time I was embroiled in disputes over Joan's estate with my children; this lasted for years. My mother became very stressed by such fights in the family. Her faith carried her through. A few months later, as I walked with her through Fairhope, Alabama, where I grew up, we met an old family friend who had not heard the news. He asked how my father was. "Oh, he's in heaven," my mother said in a lively voice, but I could hear something darker under it. In two more years she was gone, as well.
My greatest comfort in the 1990s and into the 2000s was Elisabeth Malartre Brown, a field biologist who is president of the Greenbelt around Laguna and a lifelong sf reader. When I left Joan (several times) I sometimes lived with Elisabeth, and in 2005 we were wed. In those years we wrote two books together, the 1999 novel The Martian Race (one of my best, I think) and nonfiction, Beyond Human. It is an easy, warm marriage, marked by much travel and many friends. I feel myself lucky to have found such refuge from the emotional stresses of the previous fifteen years.
My children persisted with a set of lawsuits, claiming most of the estate Joan and I shared. This ground through the courts and estranged us. Elisabeth was essential in getting me through this aftermath to an already depressing era; the lawyering did not stop until 2006.
I hope the present hard-won equilibrium in my life will last. I've led a busy life all the way, drawn by interests rather than power; why academics want to become middle managers in academe eludes me. Writing was far more fun than dry academic politics.
During the long battle with my own children, I found time to write two novels based on earlier work. In the long processes of settling the estates of Joan and my parents, writing was a refuge from the fraying world.
Writing Beyond Infinity was a lot of fun. Published in 2004, it falls out of a novella I wrote in the late 1980s to match Arthur Clarke's Beyond the Fall of Night. I got to use ideas for the far future, such as the evolu-
tion of life that lives in the high vacuum of outer space. It's probably the most high concept (as they say in Hollywood) of my novels, and quite unlike my other work.
The Sunborn is a sequel to The Martian Race. Both concern a subject that has always intrigued me, wildly different life forms that could exist in the far outer solar system. In The Sunborn I used my plasma physics background. Magnetic field lines must tie up, like rubber bands that cannot break. This imposes constraints on their dynamics and can force them to self-organize. This echoes the structures that solid state physics imposed on early evolving life on Earth. So I proposed that the properties of magnetic field equilibria could make a flexible substrate. There metabolism could come from electrodynamics, not chemistry. Then reproduction could emerge from the twisting of magnetic configurations, to form new ones. Perhaps such entities could thus begin the long ascent to complex forms, and finally, intelligence. They might lurk at the plasma-rich outer regions of our solar system, far from our furious sun. What would they think of us?—small, cold, curious chemical mites?
Where but in science fiction could a scientist unleash his specialist knowledge in the service of imagination? That is why I think of the genre as a special preserve, the expression of an immensely powerful element in society that finds little voice in the literary establishment: the scientific culture. The establishment bears most of the cost of this estrangement, not the sf writers; we have more fun. Indeed, there's a conspicuous lack of competitive angst among the hard-sf writers, unlike the literary business. It is as if they intuit the culture of science itself, which fosters coauthors and collaboration, and has higher goals in mind.
ADVENTURES IN HOLLYWOOD
Starting in the mid-1990s, several of my novels got picked up for development in Hollywood. There I learned that town's basic rule, the Law of Thermodramatics. To get more audience, turn up the gain. If you must use scientists as characters, make them odd, nerdy, obsessed, self-important or, even better, quite mad. The Law overwhelms the niceties that scientists would like in movie depictions of them, especially logic or truth.
Pitching a movie or TV project is humbling. Everybody in the room is passing judgment on your ideas, lounging back on sofas in the baseball caps and jeans Stephen Spielberg made into a uniform. Each gets his turn at bat. In my world of scientists, the rule is Everybody has a right to their own opinion, but they don't have a right to their own facts. In Hollywood, I learned, the part after the comma does not apply.
So it went with several novels—Timescape, Eater, Cosm, The Martian Race. Friend Michael Cassutt and I got a good agreement with Mandalay Productions to do The Martian Race as a miniseries, after only one pitch to the CEO. But then Mandalay crashed. Months later, somebody came out of left field at us, as well—a small production company that had tried to buy the rights the year before. Elisabeth and I tuned in, puzzled by a short note in the TV schedule: Escape from Mars on UPN. It was the original Malartre-Benford story, wrenched around and with eye-widening technical errors.
They used centrifugal gravity on the way to Mars, as any expedition must, to avoid the effects on the body of more than a few weeks of zero-g. But their scheme had the ship as the axis, while the counterweights spun around it, so that the weights felt the centrifugal effect, and the ship and its crew did not. It sure looked pretty, though.
Add to this dreadful acting, stilted dialog, lousy science—including the obligatory meteorite storm, with pellets smacking into the Martian soil every few meters, like a red hail storm—and it was a truly awful film. A consortium of Canadian investors had struck a deal with Paramount to produce twenty-five two-hour films for UPN, and then used only Canadian "talent," which got them big Canadian tax benefits.
So we sued. They acted outraged. Lawyers traded shouting phone calls and documents for nine months. Got nowhere. So we told our lawyer to file—and within an hour the Escape from Mars office gave in. We got a lot more than I would've expected for the TV rights to the novella. Paramount killed the twenty-five-film deal and a major source of down-market "sci-fi" died a timely death.
Several other such shopliftings have happened, too, over the years. Why is theft so common in Hollywood? You can teach technique, but you can't teach talent. Logic and facts don't matter if you can keep the viewer's eyes moving. The Law of Thermodramatics dictates that plot momentum trumps all other suits. Shut up and deal.
Hollywood views science fiction as a genre of detachable ideas. That is why so many science-fiction works have their concepts and story structures shoplifted, the serial numbers filed off, presented anew with a fresh wig and some lurid lipstick. Behind this lurks the more insidious notion that writers of short stories and novels don't have screenwriting savvy or skills. That's why so much "sci-fi" (a media term) has wooden speeches and cliché logic.
Defeating these assumptions will take a lot of effort and some counterexamples, such as the tight collaboration between Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrik for 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember my last conversation with Phillip K. Dick, when he had just returned from seeing the rushes for Blade Runner. He said plaintively, only a few weeks before his death, "I sure wish they'd let me work on some of the dialog." But then, he lived in a small apartment in Santa Ana and didn't wear sunglasses indoors.
A PROFESSIONAL LIFE
The writing game had changed a lot by the 2000s. Fantasy rose to surpass science fiction in sales. Some urged me to write it to expand my audience.
I lack resonance with fantasy. Second-rate readers like to see their own thoughts set forth in a pleasing disguise; fantasy does that a lot. Science fiction, less so; it must face the implications of technologies now barely perceived.
To me, fiction about our prospects should have the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. (How often people assume the opposite qualities in these two fields!) So I can't get into the mindset of nostalgia for the era of kings and palace intrigue, which I suspect reflects a longing for simpler times. Behind this longing lies an odd egoism. After all, should we cause catastrophe—by raping the planet, failing to address social problems, maybe by angering a deity—then our generation becomes the most important to ever have lived! Every minute in our world brings a disaster, amped to the max by digital fights for our attention. No wonder some flee to the past.
But it isn't there. Our world cannot return to an imaginary idyllic yesterday. Nor can I. My family of thirty-five years was sundered, and I had to begin anew.
So I began tapering down my writing rate. With my brother I did a series of stimulating experiments and theory on advanced spacecraft.
In 1999 I was the guest of honor at the world science fiction convention in Australia, and this set off a long series of trips to places I had long wanted to see. I've now visited about forty-five countries, and have another dozen on the list.
I also got interested in the rise of biotech, and in 2006 took the plunge. With a coinvestor I bought the longest-lived animal model in the world: fruit flies. We started two companies devoted to finding what genetic lore lay in these creatures that, through decades of forced selection, now live three times longer than ordinary flies. This is going well, and I am learning new skills as I try to start a major change in how we attack the deep roots of our own mortality.
To become a corporate officer I had to formally retire from UC Irvine, though I retain my office and still do considerable research. With freed time I revisited geoengineering, proposing avant-garde ways of offsetting the coming warming. I devised an Arctic strategy to stop the loss of sea ice by injecting stratospheric aerosols that reflect sunlight, then come down in rain. Simulations at Stanford show such ideas could restore the ice within a few summers.
Writing looms less in my life now. The world beckons. I write short stories and may attempt a major novel again; after all, I haven't processed the events of the last decade, and they may bear fictional fruit. If not, so be it; the inner pressure to write has ebbed a bit. Direct experience is the best teacher, but it can also be the most expensive—in emotion, in stress, in drive.
Perhaps that's for the best. Life is enough, for now.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Carr, Terry, editor, Universe 6, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1976.
Platt, Charles, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1980.
Slusser, George E., George R. Guffey, and Mark Rose, editors, Bridges to Science Fiction, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1980.
Analog Science Fiction & Fact, March, 1995, Tom Easton, review of Furious Gulf, pp. 162-179; December, 1995, Tom Easton, review of Sailing Bright Eternity, pp. 181-189; June, 1998, review of Cosm, p. 132.
Booklist, August, 1995, Carl Hays, review of Sailing Bright Eternity, p. 1908; November 15, 1995, Carl Hays, review of Far Futures, p. 538; March 1, 1997, Roland Green, review of Foundation's Fear, p. 1114; January 1, 1998, Eric Robbins, review of Cosm, p. 785; November 1, 1999, Roland Green, review of The Martian Race, p. 512; March 1, 2000, Roland Green, review of Skylife: Space Habitats in Story and Science, p. 1200; December 1, 2003, Regina Schroeder, review of Microcosms, p. 655; March 1, 2005, Carl Hays, review of The Sunborn, p. 1150; October 1, 2007, David Pitt, review of Beyond Human: Living with Robots and Cyborgs, p. 7.
Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 1999, Frederick Pratter, review of Deep Time, p. 19.
Fantasy Review, September, 1985, Gary K. Wolfe, review of Artifact, p. 17.
Kirkus Reviews, February, 2004, review of Beyond Infinity, p. 113; January 15, 2005, review of The Sunborn, p. 89.
Library Journal, December, 1995, Jackie Cassada, review of Far Futures, p. 164; March 1, 1997, Susan Hamburger, review of Foundation's Fear, p. 93; February 1, 1999, Dayne Sherman, review of Deep Time, p. 116; December, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of The Martian Race, p. 192; March 15, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of Immersion and Other Short Novels, p. 112; February, 2004, Jackie Cassada, review of Beyond Infinity, p. 166; March 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of The Sunborn, p. 74.
Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1985, Gregory Feely, review of Artifact.
New York Times Book Review, April 6, 1997, Gerald Jonas, review of Foundation's Fear, p. 24; April 18, 2004, Gerald Jonas, review of Beyond Infinity, p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, July 24, 1995, review of Sailing Bright Eternity, p. 52; July 4, 1994, review of Furious Gulf; November 6, 1995, review of Far Futures, p. 86; February 24, 1997, review of Foundation's Fear, pp. 67-68; December 8, 1997, review of Cosm, p. 59; January 4, 1999, review of Deep Time, p. 84; November 1, 1999, review of The Martian Race, p. 78; February 1, 2000, review of Eater, p. 69; February, 2004, review of Beyond Infinity, p. 63; February 14, 2005, review of The Sunborn, p. 58.
Times Literary Supplement, December 5, 1980, John Clute, review of Timescape.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 23, 1986, review of Timescape.
Washington Post Book World, October 27, 1985, Gregory Feeley, review of Artifact, p. 6; March 23, 1986, George R.R. Martin, review of Timescape.
Writer, July, 2001, Faith L. Justice, review of Skylife, p. 44.
Gregory Benford Home Page,http://www.gregorybenford.com (January 15, 2008).