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
11 thoughts on “Am I Losing My Memory?”
This is off topic slightly — but, have you read Heinlein’s super early work, Beyond This Horizon? I’m curious what you thought of it… But, I, well, had trouble…. Reading it… It was bad… And I like some of his earlier stuff.
I recently reread Beyond This Horizon by listening to it on audio. It’s a rather disjointed novel, that doesn’t have a plot but a bunch of episodes. I wondered if he had patterned it off of Brave New World. Plus the ideas are rather strange. And I really hated the whole revolution bit. It seemed so contrived. I started a review of it but never finished it.
So, finally finished the book and wrote a review…. I might not have been harsh enough. But yes, a disjointed wreck… I have no idea why David Brin liked it so much!
I forget what I write. I’ll read something months later and laugh at my own own jokes or wonder where I came up with a certain phrase or analogy.
Writing is like catching lightning in a bottle. Extremely difficult and even if you manage to do it you may not remember later how you did it.
I think it is more of just a sign of being human, Jim! You have written stuff for a long time, and have read a lot, so no big surprise that you forgot that your wrote that specific article. It is fun sometimes to read one’s older work. I sometimes read my stuff and think “who is that person”, especially those times where my blog “voice” is so much different from my real voice.
I’m listening to the full cast audio of Have Space Suit Will Travel (excellent!) and comparing it to Steele’s recent Heinlein homage, Apollo’s Outcasts and am liking the comparisons. I also am enjoying comparing the way Heinlein educated about space travel and how that compares to the fourth generation science fiction I just read in the Edge of Infinity anthology. These more plausible (in comparison to other works that make no effort to base themselves on science or scientific speculation) have a romance all their own and rekindle dreams from my younger years in ways different from (not better or worse than) other SF I’ve read/am reading.
I hope to get to Apollo’s Outcasts soon so I can compare too. I wish Edge of Infinity was available at Audible, but I might get it on ebook after I read Apollo’s Outcasts.
It sounds like you could write the essay I wanted about comparing how 1950s SF writers saw the final frontier, and how writers today see it.
Not with any degree of accuracy though. I’m gaining more knowledge but I am still woefully ignorant of the vast majority of what was really going on in those time periods. I read other people’s work, like that (annoying to me) article about SF history by Jonathan M. that I saw you commented on a couple of times and realize that even though I know in my core that he is wrong in his suppositions I don’t have the knowledge to accurately argue my point or to offer an opinion that will do anything but expose my ignorance.
It could be worse than forgetfulness. Sometimes, so I’m told, I repeat myself.
It could be worse than forgetfulness. Sometimes, so I’m told, I get redundant.
It could be worse than forgetfulness. Sometimes, so I’m told, I say the same thing over and over.
Yes, Jim, you are suffering a side-effect of getting old. However, the side-effect isn’t forgetting things, which happens to everyone, but worrying about it.
That’s the real side-effect of getting old, that you start to worry about such things.