This morning I got the idea of writing an essay about how there are generations of popular writers in all genres. I had been looking at lists of bestselling science fiction books on the web and I was surprised by how most of the authors were unknown to me. Obviously a newer generation has supplanted all the popular writers I once knew.
I figured at any given time there are a cadre of top writers whose names come to mind when people think of science fiction writers. Because I’m 61, I’m tied to the past, and think of SF writers long dead, and maybe forgotten, or never known to new readers.
Think of it this way, the stars of Hollywood in the 1930s would be much different from the stars of the 1950s or the 1990s. That people would think of the rock stars or baseball stars of the 1960s as a different generation or group than those of the 1980s.
I grew up reading science fiction in the 1960s, and Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were the SF stars of that era. Who are the science fiction writing stars of the 2010s?
Now here’s where I lose my memory. I thought of writing an essay about how Heinlein rose to fame and then show how his fame diminished over time. I got some ideas about how to start the essay and decided to check on some facts I knew I had written about before. Then I found: “The Fall of Robert A. Heinlein and The Fading of the Final Frontier” by James Wallace Harris. That’s me.
I had completely forgotten I had written that essay. Not only that, but when I reread the essay it covered ideas I wanted to write in the essay I was imagining. What’s even scarier is I think the earlier essay had some better ideas that really impressed me. They didn’t even seem like my ideas. I had forgotten this essay so well that I could admire the writing like it was written by someone else. That feels weird.
Now is this common for writers to forget what they’ve written? Or am I suffering a side-effect of getting old?
I had already written the title for the new essay, “The Rise and Fall of Robert A. Heinlein and His Vision of Science Fiction.” Very similar to the earlier title. Now, it was going to be a different slant. I wanted to capture the flavor of science fiction that Heinlein and others created and show how that’s changed. 1950s and 1960s SF feels very different from 2000s and 2010s science fiction. That was going to be a lot of work, and I wasn’t sure how I could do it.
If I had unlimited time, I would describe how Heinlein saw space travel in the 1950s, and compare it to how science fiction writers in the 2010s see space travel. I may have had that idea before. I don’t remember. I think of ideas to write about all day long, and forget them just as fast. But that was true in my teens so I don’t think it’s an age issue.
Memory is such a weird thing. Back in the 1960s I swear my best friend Connell bought a book Birds of Britain by John D. Green, now a collector’s item. It was a photo book of British girls during the Mod era. Today Connell swears he doesn’t remember ever seeing such a book. Just now I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone about three astronauts coming back from space and how each of them slowly disappears from people’s memories. Reading my own essay that I had forgotten felt like being in The Twilight Zone.
For all I know I could have written this essay before.
The public is forgetting my favorite writers. I forget my own writing. Memories are fleeting. They’ve always have been.
JWH – 1/29/13