Copyright 2013 by Paula S. Jordan
I’ve been going to Balticon off and on since the mid-1980’s and this year, as every year, I loved every minute.
This con somehow manages to cover every fanish interest, from Anime to Zombies, including music (loved your concert, Jonah,) costume, gaming, video, and dance, without slighting the books and the science that have always been its mainstay.
On the book side were Steampunk, character issues, book launches, writerly insights, and a discussion of the value of good writing in a changing literary world. On the science side were talks on dinosaurs, mutant viruses, invisibility, Mars landings, and the possibility of distant Earth-like worlds, all given by practicing scientists from NASA Goddard, the University of Maryland and other institutions in the area. In the overlap between the two were the science for writers panel (where writers in the audience ask the expert panel any scientific question they like) and Joe Haldeman‘s accounts of his decades at MIT teaching scientists to write.
Which brings me to the Guest of Honor.
As a good artist of any stripe will do, a good writer just keeps on getting better. Joe Haldeman, who was excellent to start with, has become one of our best.
He’s studied science (BS in physics & astronomy) and writing (Iowa Writers’ Workshop) and the rougher side of humanity (a pacifist in Vietnam 1968-69, with a Purple Heart.) But he learned about people on his own, as an interested, intelligent observer of life. In one of his earliest novels, a “… contemplative story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war….” he shows us the disconnection and loneliness at the heart of space travel as a soldier returns home after centuries away. That was The Forever War (now available on Kindle). It won the Nebula, the Hugo and the Locus Award, and became the first of the (now) 73 titles in the SF Masterworks collection.
At the con Joe talked about war in a quiet, insightful way. And about people. And also about the way he writes.
He starts each novel slowly, as a clean draft handwritten in pen and ink in a stitched, hardbound notebook. The subtle friction of nib against paper provides the speed he prefers for this phase, when, he seems to say, the editing occurs before each sentence meets the page. He adds fold-out sheets for rough outlines or sketches or maps. And sometimes, as in the one he showed us, he decorates the front with watercolors.
Later drafts are typed and edited (as needed) in the usual ways.
This way of writing seems almost to define him: a calm, thoughtful man of memories both peaceful and terrifying, violent and humane, whose gift it is to show us all the aspects of ourselves.