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Hangin’ with Alan Dean Foster

Well, maybe not hanging out so much as me attending his visit to the awesome (more on that later) Borderlands Bookstore. This was one “SF in SF” opportunity I’m glad I did not miss.

Rather than do a reading – which he said he’d do if we wanted – Foster offered to take questions from the audience of about a dozen people (and one extremely ugly hairless cat). He talked about his many travels and, or course, science fiction.

I asked which book got him hooked on science fiction. It was The Spaceship under the Apple Tree by Louis Slobodkin. (I personally hadn’t heard of that book until last year, after which I bought a copy and read it to my young daughter. She wasn’t nearly as impressed as I thought she’d be. Kids.)

He used that question as a springboard to name his favorite writers – Eric Frank Russell, Frederic Brown (if memory serves) and Robert Sheckley. He particularly called out the genius of Sheckley’s short fiction stories from the 50’s and early 60’s. (For the life of me I cannot recall the name of the classic sf book – not Sheckley’s – he called the funniest, laugh-your-guts-out, roll-on-the-floor-laughing sf book ever.)

The subject, as it inevitably does, turned to movies. He talked about some movies he liked (Dark City, Alien, Aliens) and movies he didn’t (Disney’s The Black Hole). He also talked about some of the many novelizations he has done, film adaptations in general, as well as some scripts he has had part in. He worked on Star Trek: The Motion Picture but only takes credit for the first five minutes and making Kirk an Admiral. After that, it was Hollywood’s Extreme Makeover as usual. His book The Mocking Program was optioned for a movie, but history has taught him that very few options actually see celluloid. Star Wars also came up. He suspects that Lucas became so overwhelmed with the success of the 1977 film, that he somewhat lost sight of what made the first one good.

One thing he said struck a chord with me. He mentioned that, as an avid traveler, he gets to experience many different cultures. Through his personal observations, he sees how non-American cultures differ to what most of are accustomed. He tries to bring those experiences to his writing. Hearing it spoken out loud, that makes so much sense to me. He also finds it interesting that many science fiction writers don’t do the same, unless they travel to science fiction conventions. Heh-heh. Foster’s upcoming Pyr novel Sagramanda, is based on his recent travels to India. On the subject of Pyr and outside the context of his own book, he had some rather nice (and accurate, imo) things to say about Pyr and editor Lou Anders, noting Anders’ skill in recognizing good sf.

Some folks brought boxes of books to sign. Unfortunately for me, of the 45 (!) books of his I own (and haven’t yet read, much to my misfortune…Hello, my name is John and I’m a biblioholic…), I did not bring one with me to San Francisco from Houston. However, I did slip into fanboy mode and I bought a copy of Lost and Found (Book one of his Taken trilogy) for him to sign, which he did graciously. Hearing him talk about science fiction and what he brings to his writing really makes me want to read some of his work.

All told, Foster is an entertaining speaker and has lots of great science fiction stories to tell. (Like getting into a car at some convention and realizing that he’s sitting next to Fritz Leiber.) I asked if he would be willing to do an interview with us and, again graciously, he said he would consider it.

After the allotted time was over, my biblioholic innards bursting at the seams, I got to peruse Borderlands Bookstore. I had been there once before in 2002 and it was just as cool a store as I remember. The beauty of the store is that they only sell genre books. How many genre-only stores are left nowadays? Any science fiction fan would be gushing at all the juicy stuff they have on their shelves.

I have only one problem with the store, and that is the amount of merchandise that I’d like to buy would leave me penniless. Seriously, there was something on every single shelf that I had to force myself not to pick up. (Who wants to carry all that on a plane?) Their stock ranges from your standard B&N picks, to hard-to-find fiction, to a healthy collection of reference books. They also have quite a collection of used books. I was lucky to get out of there while my wallet still had some green to offer. One thing I couldn’t resist was an SF Masterworks edition of Cities in Flight by James Blish. They had several other SF and Fantasy Masterworks editions that I would have loved to have picked up (William Hope Hodgson, Gene Wolfe, Michael Moorcock) but didn’t. Stupid plane. At least, now I know where to get them if I want some more.

I struck up a conversation with Alan Beatts, the owner. (Like Foster, another stand-up guy.) We talked a bit about bookstores in general, publishers, the market, etc., all interesting stuff. I hit him up for an interview and he also graciously agreed.

This was my very first in-person author event and I have to say it was very enjoyable. All of it puts me in a sf mood. Excuse me while I go read a book.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

7 Comments on Hangin’ with Alan Dean Foster

  1. Stop blaming the poor innocent plane.

    Books are especially designed, with great foresight, in a standard shape which makes them ideal for packing neatly into large cardboard boxes (unless you get both US and UK editions, which has this very annoying size difference). The box can then be shipped home by mail. 😉

    Not spending money on so many books books that you’ll have to sell your bookcases in order to be able to afford them, that’s a whole other problem. I have no helpful tips for that one, and a very large amount of books to prove it.

    Was his agreement for an interview a sort of “I’ll think about it and let you know” sort of thing, or something more definite? Good luck with that, in any case!

  2. Well, I had to find some reason to keep my addiction-spending in check. It might as well be the plane. As it is, I came home with 15 books including – besides the aforementioned Cities in Flight – Margo Lanagan’s acclaimed Black Juice and Metropolis by Thea Von Harbou.

    Mr. Foster seemed sincere when he said OK. He said he does it all the time. Many authors, I think, are open to interviews since it gets their name out there for little or no pain. Email interviews are easy because you can answer at your leisure, especially with the low-ball questions we ask.

  3. Alan Dean Foster is a gentleman and a terrific conversationalist. A couple of years ago I was in attendance at ConCarolinas where he and David Weber were GoHs. The programming guy comes into the green room Saturday night and says, “does anyone have a car? Alan Dean Foster wants to go to the Capitol Grill and David Weber wants to go [somewhere else] and my wife’s a huge Weber fan and I can’t be in two places at once help.”

    “I have a car,” I said.

    “Here’s [$],” the guy says. “Please take Alan to the Capitol Grill.”

    I got two hours with him and a terrific meal I didn’t have to buy. What a great guy. I hope we cross paths again.


  4. Cities in Flight and Metropolis are both among my favorites, especially Cities. There are some very amusing bits in there.

    Foster has been one of my favorite authors for decades. I still recall reading “Tar-Aiym Krange”, “Orphan Star”, “Icerigger” and a few others when I first stumbled across them. I had read his ST novelizations, but they did not make much of an impact. His tales of Flinx and Pip were a lot of fun, and filled a gap between authors that I had read as a kid (Nourse, Norton, Heinlein, etc.) and authors I read as an adult. I still revisit the Humanx Commonwealth whenever a new book comes out in the series and I look forward to getting his new UFO trilogy when it is complete (I have the first, but I like to read trilogies back-to-back).

  5. Foster mentioned that there would be some long-unanswered questions finally addressed in a Pip/Flinx book he’s working on right now.

    Oh, other tidbits I neglected to mention:

    – He’s a fan of Futurama.

    – He suspects Lucas did not have the entire Star Wars story mapped out after Episode IV, otherwise he wouldn’t have allowed the Luke/Leia flirting in Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

  6. Cities in Flight is very good, and a fun read. Though I’m biased, as I like everything by Blish, with the exception of some of the stories in The Seedling Stars.

    I had one question I wanted to ask added to the interview, but according to your comment he answered it already. So things will come to some conclusions for Flinx, instead of the constant sidetracking he’s been going through on the recent books. Good.

    I mean, I like the series a lot, but at some point I got the feeling it’s just going to go on and on without any resolutions. I’ll be very happy to go on reading more self-contained Pip & Flinx books, but after the remaining big loose ends are tied, just so I know they will be.

  7. John,

    I’m not in the least suprised by that last statement. I always thought Lucas’ claims of having plotted all six Star Wars films out in advance was ridiculous.

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