Posts tagged ‘John Brunner’

Part 7 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
 

Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

    Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

Pohl: I want to tell you something about this arrogance that you were talking about. It is not just editors, although the best in science fiction have been pretty insufferable in one way or another. We’ve mentioned Horace Gold, who was also demented. John Campbell clearly had a very decisive personality and impressed it on everybody around him all the time.

Some years ago two psychologists decided they wanted to find out what science-fiction writers were like. They sent out a questionnaire to a bunch of science-fiction writers and asked them to answer the sort of questions you get on psychological-testing papers. How do you feel about your mother and this and that. And from these they prepared a group psychological profile of science fiction writers.

They compared it with a similar group profile for some other kind of writers and for a third group of people. They found out that the science fiction writers were in many ways similar to most human beings! There were a couple of differences, and one was in what is called “aggressive” versus “withdrawn” “cyclothymia.”

Bester: What is “cyclothymia”?

Pohl: It’s a kind of lunacy. [Editor’s note: Cycling mood swings, but short of actual bipolar affective disorder.] But the question was not whether you had it, but if you had it which way you would go. Withdrawn cyclothymic people are more or less passive and tend to let things go; they overlook something that is wrong. The people who tend the other way are stubborn and won’t take nothing from nobody, and have their own opinions which you’re not going to change with an ax!

And science fiction writers were like that — the stubbornest, most difficult human beings alive!

Audience: How do writers get along with their readerships?

Bester: Fine, splendid. People ask me questions, and I answer them. People ask for autographs and I sign them. People want to talk to me. They’d like to be writers, so l try to help as hard as l can. I get along fine with readers.

Fred, have you ever been attacked by a reader?

Pohl: Not physically, no! But I went to a meeting in Boston some years ago; it was a Mensa meeting, and I was supposed to talk about science fiction and discuss it with somebody else, and this person came up to me and handed me a copy of one of my books.

I said, “Oh, you want my autograph.”

And he said, “No, I want to give it back to you. I hate it. I don’t want it in my possession.” And that’s the closest I ever came to being attacked. Of course, I started out as a fan.

Bester: So did I. I read what’s his name’s Amazing Stories when I was only that high. I couldn’t even afford to buy any. I used to read it on the newsstand. Until they chased me, and I’d come back five minutes later and I’d finish the story.

Pohl: Well, I didn’t do that. I bought them in secondhand stores and got them for a nickel. I identify more closely with readers than I do with most writers. I still read science fiction for pleasure. Not all of it, because who can? 1,200 books a year is more than I can handle. But when I have finished reading what I have to read professionally in science fiction, I read some just for fun.

Bester: Fortunately I don’t have to read it professionally. I read it just for fun, and I do read science fiction regularly.

Alas, there is not as much fun for me today because now that I’m a professional writer, always in the back of the mind is the critical writer, saying “Oh man, you loused that scene, you could have done it better.” That kind of thing kills a lot of stories for me. But occasionally a beaut comes along.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 7: Cyclothymia’ »

Some Techies supplemented their education at Minsky’s Brooklyn Burlesque.

Some Techies supplemented their education at Minsky’s Brooklyn Burlesque.

The fall term of the year 1934: For all of us Techies, it was a watershed event in at least two ways.

First there was the sybaritic opulence of our new home. Everything was so clean! Not only that, the rooms smelled better. In every washroom, the toilets worked whenever you flushed them, and each workspace in chem lab was covered with a glass hood to contain their toxic gases, with the result that the whole building had lost that familiar acid reek. And, oh, yes, there were electric motors in every metal-working machine, eliminating the old main building’s tangle of overhead belts and pulleys. You just pushed a single button and the machine was on!

Most impressive of all, the New Building came with giant elevators, so you didn’t have to develop the muscles of a Himalayan mountaineer to get from one class to another. (Well, maybe we’re going a tad too strong here. The New Building had those elevators, all right, but few of us were allowed to use them. And compliance with the rules was enforced by a horde of student monitors, called the Longfellows because you had to be at least six feet tall to join. Dirk Wylie and I signed up at once in the hope that, as enforcement officers, we might be allowed elevator privileges, or even the right to leave the building when we had open time so we could explore the park across the street. But we weren’t.)

The second great improvement was location. The New Building wasn’t out in the unexplored boonies like the old one. The new neighborhood was a lot nicer. Just across the street was that pretty little Fort Greene Park that I just mentioned, commemorating the first full-scale engagement between the two armies in the war of the American Revolution. (We Americans lost that one, but later we came back strong.)

More immediately interesting to us newly arriving Techies, the school was only a few blocks from the very heart of Brooklyn’s commercial and entertainment life, where Flatbush Avenue crossed Fulton Street. The area was home to half a dozen huge and ornate first-run movie theaters, not to mention several live legitimate theaters where Broadway producers sometimes sent their biggest productions for their “out-of-town tryouts.” And almost any Broadway show might wind up in one of them when its New York run was finished and it went on the road. And there were perhaps one or two less legitimate live theaters — Billy Minsky’s Brooklyn Burlesque comes to mind — that were nevertheless so greatly appreciated by male Techies (and in those benighted days there were no female Techies) that it was sometimes called “the ninth period.”

That same neighborhood held three huge department stores plus three equally immense five-and-tens and numerous lesser enterprises of all kinds. At last we Brooklyn Tech students had arrived in the Promised Land!

But I guess I couldn’t take prosperity. I had been doing worse and worse academically, failing several subjects — even one semester failing in math, and honest, I am pretty good at math. I expect that if I had put my mind to it, I might have been able to get back on the ball, studies-wise, but, of more practical importance, the Depression turned into the Recession and there was no longer any hope that I could continue these sort of studies at some such school as Rensselaer or MIT.

I decided that what I was really failing was School. I transferred to an easier school for starters and then, as soon as I was legally old enough to do so, I dropped out and never attended an actual school again. Although I hadn’t yet met John Brunner, who did what I had done at about the same age, I adopted as my own what he announced as his rationale: “I had to leave school because it was interfering with my education.”

And so I did. But I still treasure those three years and the things I learned about math and chemistry and physics and the way things work that have stayed with me ever since.

 
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Achilles Perry and the proud graduate

Achilles Perry, president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Association, and the proud graduate

Happens that I never graduated from high school, the reason being that I quit school as soon as I was old enough, which was 17. I had several reasons for doing that, but the one I prefer to give when asked that question is the one given by my friend John Brunner when he quit in England, at about the same age. That was, “I had to leave school, because it was interfering with my education.” (In case you wonder, I didn’t go to college, either. I did teach at several and lectured at scores if not hundreds of them, all the way from local community two-year schools to the Ivy League, in maybe a dozen different countries as well as our own, but I never attended one.)

My diploma

My diploma

Anyway, this summer, along comes a letter from a man named Jeffrey Haitkin, who is a successful businessman and an officer of the Brooklyn Technical High School Alumni Association. He states that he had been reading me since he himself was in Brooklyn Tech, but he had had no idea I had been to school there until he read the novel I co-wrote with Arthur Clarke, The Last Theorem, where it was mentioned. Jeffrey checked me out in the school archives to make sure I wasn’t some impostor falsely claiming an illustrious past, and then wrote this letter that said that he liked my novels, etc., etc., and it was a pity I hadn’t got a Tech diploma, etc., etc., and would I like them to give me one now?

I was flabbergasted. It was one of the kindest things that any total stranger had, without warning, ever stepped up and done for me. I showed the letter to Betty Anne and she was as touched as I was. So I wrote him to say I would be honored to accept and so on August 20, Jeff Haitkin, with Achilles Perry, the president of the Alumni Association, and Ned Steele, their volunteer press person, flew out from EWR to ORD and wound up in the library of my home, where the presentation was made before their cameras and one from the New York Times.

And I couldn’t be more pleased.

I do have one problem, though. I remember matchbook ads for a correspondence school, back in the days when people still carried matchbooks, which promised that people who got a high-school diploma would get $25 more a week. The problem is I don’t know whom to bill.

 
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