Saturday, April 30, 2011


The YA anthology LIFE ON MARS, edited by Jonathan Strahan, turned up in my mailbox yesterday. It includes my story "First Principle," as well as fiction by Ian McDonald, Cory Doctorow, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ellen Klages, Stephen Baxter, the late Kage Baker, and more.

I noticed an interesting thing about this anthology. From the author bios as well as the contributors that I know personally, only Stephen Baxter and Alistair Reynolds are actual scientists. Stan Robinson, of course, wrote the RED MARS trilogy that (deservedly) set the standard for colonizing-Mars novels. But he did so as an obsessed writer, not a working scientist. Some of the rest of us in the anthology (me, Ellen) have no scientific credentials whatsoever. This underlines an important point that came up on panels over and over again last weekend at Norwescon:

One of the tasks of a writer is to research a story's background. But even more important is take a little bit of knowledge and make it sound like you know a lot. This is true whether the "knowledge" is of Mars, genetic engineering, the workings of dryad magic, or the history of the Seven Kingdoms. In other words: For fiction, it's not what you know, and it's certainly not who you know -- it's how skillful a liar you can be, giving the impression that you know a lot more than you do. One of the ways to do this is by understatement. The casual throw-away reference, artfully placed, can convince more than the earnest block of exposition.

On another subject: I have finally untangled my long-dormant and badly confused Twitter account. Is there a word for people who follow tweets, as opposed to dispensing them? If you are one, you can follow me on Twitter at nancykress.

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