Science fiction writers often live solitary, private lives, but those lives can be stranger than their fiction. What you may think you know about the genre and its authors may be wrong, and you may have missed some fascinating facts completely.
10. William Gibson Doesn’t Care About Technology
Anyone familiar with cyberpunk would recognize the name of William Gibson. He invented the genre with his 1984 novel Neuromancer, which paved the way for movies like The Matrix. In fact, the Wachowskis borrowed the term “matrix” from him. One would think that a literary pioneer would be attracted to technological advancements and be an early adopter of new gadgets.
But while Gibson is intrigued by the way technology shapes humanity and society, the technology itself doesn’t interest him. He said that even as a boy he was never into the idea of robots. Back in 2010 he was still sending out faxes. Despite the fact that many sci-fi fans consider him the literary godfather of cyberspace, he’s never been interested in computers as technological objects. He’s claimed that his favorite technology is the latest word processing software, and he was very slow to adopt e-mail and the Internet.
9. Michael Crichton’s First Love was Medicine
Everyone knows Michael Crichton as the author of science-driven novels like Jurassic Park and Congo, which were turned into blockbuster movies. But most forget that he was behind the creation of ER, one of the top medical dramas of all time. In fact, he had been shopping the idea of a medical drama to TV studios since the 1970s. After directing Westworld, he wrote a documentary-style movie about how things really go down in an emergency room. Since the idea of realism in TV dramas was ahead of its time, he had to shelve the concept until the 1990s, when he and Spielberg came together to produce ER.
When Crichton was in medical school he wrote a different type of work featuring medicine. Novels such as Drug of Choice and Zero Cool focused on doctors and scientists put into spectacular mystery situations. Although firmly based on scientific principles, they featured a pulp sensibility lacking in his later works. Publishers have re-released these James Bond-type works following his passing.
8. Frank Herbert Disliked Homosexuality
The relationship between Dune author Frank Herbert and his son Bruce was a difficult one growing up. It became even more difficult when Bruce started living in a drug house and began dating men in the 1970s.
If you’ve read the Dune series, you have a sense of Frank Herbert’s view of homosexuality. In the first novel, Baron Harkonnen is a loathsome ephebophile with sadistic tastes. In God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune, he negatively described homosexual forces at work in fictional armies. To him, such behavior was unseemly and immature.
Despite the tension that occurred for years between Frank and Bruce, they reconciled enough that Bruce and his then-boyfriend showed up at the Dune film premiere in 1984, a little over a year before Frank Herbert’s death in 1986.
7. Philip K. Dick was Pro-life
Philip K. Dick never liked abortion. In 1961, his then-wife Anne terminated her pregnancy because she had just had their daughter Laura. Although he begged her not to go through with the procedure, she believed she couldn’t raise two small children at the same time, especially with Dick’s constant money troubles. His anger at the situation shows in his then-unpublished novel, The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, where he modeled the couple on his own family.
He was also furious when he heard the result of Roe v. Wade. To vent his feelings, he wrote the short story “The Pre-Persons.” In it, the government doesn’t consider a person a legal entity until the age of 12. In order for the country to consider someone a person, they must learn certain tasks like algebra. It ends in a twist when the father, who was considering giving his son to the abortion truck, offers himself up as he has forgotten algebra even though he once was a math professor. Dick received a lot of hate mail, but said that his beliefs on the matter were firm. In fact, he donated money to a pro-life group despite the fact that he lived in poverty until his death.
6. Marion Zimmer Bradley was Complicit in Child Abuse
Bradley’s most famous work, The Mists of Avalon, was particularly popular among feminists, who loved that she took on the legends of King Arthur from the female characters’ perspectives. A hit miniseries was even based on the work. But when she died in 1999, revelations revolving her relationship with ex-husband Walter Breen burst forth.
In the sci-fi community, it was common knowledge that Breen was a child molester. The law had charged him twice, with the second conviction sending him to prison. However, it wasn’t known that Bradley had been subject of a civil lawsuit. It was believed that she had helped him procure young girls or turned a blind eye to his abuse, which also occurred against Bradley’s daughter, Moira Greyland.
Then another bombshell dropped in 2014. Greyland said that not only had her mother been complicit in the abuse, but she had participated as well, abusing her from the age of three to 12. She described her mother as violent and cruel. This probably shouldn’t have surprised Bradley’s associates, as in her 1998 disposition on the Breen case she stated that she believed young teens should be able to have sex with adults.
5. Ray Bradbury Became a Staunch Conservative
When Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, he was concerned about government censorship. Looking at the examples of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, he was worried about a totalitarian spirit surfacing in the United States. However, another major theme is political correctness and mass media swallowing up the pleasures of critical reading. In the novel, the public abandons reading because it’s too difficult, and because different groups view certain books as too offensive. By the time of his death, Bradbury argued that this was the principal theme of the novel.
His political beliefs changed over the years, particularly during the tumultuous 1960s. His parents raised him as a staunch Democrat, but after becoming disgusted with the foreign policy of Lyndon Johnson he voted Republican in 1968. Although he registered as an independent, he voted for the Republicans in every election with the exception of Carter in 1976. Shortly before his death he began supporting the Tea Party movement, saying “There is too much government today.”
4. Dr. Jerry Pournelle Is Buddies With Newt Gingrich
If you’ve followed Newt Gingrich’s political career, you’d recognize that space exploration has a special place in his heart. During the 2012 Republican primaries he talked about a moon base. In his second term in the House of Representatives he proposed the NASA Policy Act of 1981, which offered a pathway for statehood for a potential American moon colony. Later, he proposed taking away farm subsidies and using those taxes to invest in space travel. Gingrich claimed that the works of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke showed him the possibilities of space exploration. However, he also received direct advice from a modern titan of science fiction.
Since the 1980s, Jerry Pournelle has served as an advisor on Gingrich’s scientific proposals. When Gingrich published his first book, Window of Opportunity: A Blueprint for the Future, he consulted Pournelle about the possibility of climate manipulation from the moon and space tourism. Pournelle is the first name in the list of acknowledgements. Gingrich even hired Pournelle’s son as a congressional staffer.
3. Robert A. Heinlein Hated Bigotry
If you came across reviews of Heinlein’s work, you’d assume that Heinlein was a racist, misogynist, authoritarian. Some think that Starship Troopers lauds fascism. But Heinlein had strong black, Latino, Asian and female protagonists before it was politically correct. How did his personal actions reflect his views?
In 1964, Heinlein supported the candidacy of Barry Goldwater. Heinlein had met and befriended the Senator when Goldwater was visiting Colorado for a hunting trip. Heinlein was impressed that Goldwater had taken the initiative to start hiring African-Americans at his business even though it might upset customers. He also appreciated Goldwater’s efforts to desegregate Sky Harbor Airport. When an associate suggested that African-Americans willing to campaign for Goldwater should form their own committees, Heinlein told the associate that he should treat them equally. Heinlein’s political views are complicated, but his progressive views on race were always clear.
2. A Bunch of Writers Formed a Space Advisory Council
In 1980, many astrophysicists believed that the incoming Reagan administration would take space policy more seriously than the last. So a group of military personnel, entrepreneurs, scientists and sci-fi writers formed the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy, largely under the leadership of Dr. Jerry Pournelle and his frequent co-writer, Larry Niven. Soon, technically proficient science fiction authors packed the meetings: Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Robert A. Heinlein and prolific publisher Jim Baen joined the meetings, which at times ran up to 90 people.
The group helped formulate policy that defined the 1980s. The Citizen’s Advisory Council provided much of the material that resulted in Reagan’s famous speech that endorsed the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative satellite system. Although the government failed to complete SDI, the threat of it brought the Soviets to the negotiating table.
1. Orson Scott Card Loves Video Games
Even if you’re not a regular sci-fi reader you’ve likely heard of Card’s Ender’s Game. The story revolves around Ender Wiggin, a young boy who Earth recruits for an ongoing war against aliens. He believes he’s training in a simulation, but in reality he’s sending real troops into the line of fire.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Card has an interest in video games. In an interview, he mentioned that he had to stop playing Civilization II because it was encroaching on his family life and the time he spent writing. He estimated that there were about 20 novels never written because of his addiction, and he even compared himself to a recovering alcoholic.
Card’s interest in gaming goes back to the early ’80s. When Card took the position of book editor at Compute!, he reviewed games and wrote a column on programming. He followed the progression of the game industry and made contacts with other professionals. George Lucas noticed the success of Ender’s Game, and invited Card to work with LucasFilm games. Card served as a dialogue consultant on The Secret of Monkey Island and The Dig. In recent years, he collaborated with a publisher to produce Advent Rising, a he wanted to bridge the gap between literary storytelling and video game plots.