SF writer gets by with help from his friends.
It's 7 o'clock–7 p.m., that is–and Spider Robinson has just finished the first pot of coffee of his working day. Nonetheless, the famously nocturnal author has already logged on to the Web and downloaded some tunes. Music has long been his passion, and he's absolutely enthralled by the wealth of new listening options available via BitTorrent and other file-sharing programs.
"It comes hot over the mojo wire, it's not violating anybody's copyright, and it's all free," he says, on the line from his Bowen Island office. "It's awesome. Suddenly the last 60 years of music has been laid open to me. Ray Charles in 1964, with the best band he ever had! John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk on the same stage! A cornucopia of music is opening up, and it's all just guys sharing shit, you know. Nobody's making a dime out of it–and that's a dream I've had since the '60s."
Music plays a key role in Robinson's most recent novel, Variable Star; its central character, Joel Johnston, is a saxophone virtuoso and an aspiring composer. Robinson, on the other hand, is a guitarist, and an amateur. To make sure he was in tune with saxophonic reality, he called on local musician Colin MacDonald–who, conveniently, is also his Web master. It's typical of Robinson's creative process. He tends to surround himself with gifted minds–like astrophysicists Douglas Beder and Jaymie Matthews, robotics engineer Guy Immega, and electronics specialist Ray Maxwell, the brains behind the science side of Robinson's fiction.
The four researchers will join Robinson at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday (May 26) for a panel discussion that promises to be both a look inside the author's mind and a chance to see where the real-life future might lead.
"This is going to be about the interface between a science-fiction writer who failed every science course he ever took and the actual scientists and engineers who have been helping him fake it for at least the last 15 or 20 years," says Robinson, a self-described "science ignoramus" and the centre's first writer in residence.
Alas, the author's best-known collaborator will not be able to attend Saturday's discussion, for the very good reason that he's been dead for nearly 20 years. Variable Star is based on a long-lost outline by SF innovator Robert A. Heinlein–who gets top billing, even if Robinson did almost all the work.
The assignment was a gift from the Heinlein estate–along with one other, perhaps slightly less prestigious item.
"One of the biggest writing aids I had, psychologically, was that Robert's granddaughter sent me his favourite gardening shirt," Robinson reveals. "That helped a lot in writing Variable Star–and now I own it and I can wear it whenever I go out to write.
"It actually does help," he adds. "When I put on Robert Heinlein's gardening shirt I feel like I'm part of something that stretches back before I got here, and that will keep on going after I'm gone. And you know, that makes it easier to do this shit!"