Blake Charlton, George R.R. Martin, and Lois McMaster Bujold walk into a room…

And about six hundred people rush to follow.

The ALA Library Information Technology Association and Tor Books hosted another science fiction and fantasy author talk at ALA this year.  I have to say, this is a pretty awesome public service these folks are doing.  If you wanted to see GRRM talk in Portland, you’d pay at least $26 for a ticket to the Aladdin, and you still wouldn’t get in.  (If Literary Arts unbent a little, maybe you could pay $75 to see him at the Schnitzer…and still not get in.)  Getting to see these great folks talk for free, in a venue big enough to accommodate just about everyone, is pretty awesome.

It’s never very useful to summarize these things, except maybe for the broad strokes.  (That’s why we go to them in person.)  In very broad strokes, all three speakers touched on the ability of fantasy and science fiction to empower its readers, both literally and metaphorically.

Blake Charlton is funny, energetic, and knows how to keep a talk moving and an audience happy. He fell in love with fantasy literature because it was the “literature of ability”–as a dyslexic kid who grew up thinking he was stupid, fantasy helped him dream of being powerful.  And now he’s a Yale graduate, Stanford medical student, and author of two fantasy novels, Spellbound and Spellwright.  So, yeah.

Lois McMaster Bujold, who should probably be Dame McMaster Bujold by now, talked about getting letters from people who told her that her books helped them through bad times, and how moving that could be.  During the question period, someone asked her about Miles Vorkosigan, the hero of her Vorkosigan Saga books.  Miles has congenital physical handicaps, including brittle bones, a spinal deformity, and dwarfism. Did McMaster Bujold have any trouble publishing a book about a disabled hero?  Sounds like no.  How and why did McMaster Bujold choose such an unlikely character for a hero?  Sounds like he walked on stage that way.  In other words, sounds like Miles is a pretty awesome, compelling character (I haven’t read any of those books yet–but will look them up now.)

George R.R. Martin, in his trademark cap and suspenders, talked about growing up poor in the small town of Bayonne on the New Jersey waterfront.  The family had so little money that they could only afford to take the excursion ferry to Rockaway Beach NY once a year–when the Democrats sponsored a free day.  (The Republicans sponsored a sailing too, Martin said, but it cost money.  Make of that what you will.)

Martin mentioned that his mother’s family had once had money in their small town.  Their home in the projects was only a few blocks from old family seat, now sold off and housing a new family.  He described regularly walking past that old house, which was dredged in bittersweet family memories.  Early origins for his  themes of lost greatness and faded glory.

Martin stumbled over fantasy literature in thirty-five-cent pulp paperbacks, slowly acquiring enough to fill up the tiny shelf in the headboard of his bed.  He recalled surveying his book collection in a lordly fashion.  (“Eight books!  I have eight books!  Eight of them!  There they are!”)  Recently, he built an addition to his house to hold his expanding library, he said–and it’s already full.  Librarians everywhere relate.

There was an obligatory question about when his next book will be out (“Every time someone asks him that, he kills a Stark.”) and another about when he’ll write a gay character who isn’t punished horribly (“When will I write any character who isn’t punished horribly?”)  And then, amazingly, it was time to pack up and go.

Big thanks to Tor and Baen Books, who gave away several hundred books to attendees.  I had the chance to talk to Baen’s Senior Editor Jim Minz shortly after the panel, and he was a super-smart, friendly guy.  Baen offers about 100 of their books for free online, and when I (sort of stupidly) asked him how they can do that, he laughed and said basically, “It’s great for sales.  Dummy.”  Except he didn’t say the “dummy” part.

Thanks for the great session, Tor, Baen, and LITA!  And thanks to the panelists, who were all kinds of awesome.

Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of anyone from Game of Thrones SMILING?

ETA:  Thanks to Jim Minz for setting me straight on a few key points, including his name.  Mea culpa!!

2 responses to “Blake Charlton, George R.R. Martin, and Lois McMaster Bujold walk into a room…

  1. Thanks for the terrific summary of a really wonderful event, but I do need to clarify a couple of things. First and foremost, Jim Baen passed away in 2006. You were speaking with me, Jim Minz, Senior Editor at Baen Books. (Don’t worry, I’ve been mistaken for Jim Baen many times…)

    And while all of our titles are available as ebooks (at http://www.baenebooks.com), of our 1200 or so titles, only about 100 are free, many of them the first (and sometimes second) novels in ongoing series–including novels in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series.

    Thanks again for covering this event. Kathleen Doherty of Tor Books has been putting this program together at ALA for 20 years now, and Baen is thrilled to be a small part of it. (Next year in Chicago, Larry Correia will be one of the attendees…stayed tuned for the rest of the lineup.)

    • Hi Jim! Thanks so much for catching and correcting my mistakes. I must have had one too many glasses of Chardonnay at the reception–but I really enjoyed talking with you and I hope we cross paths again, maybe in Chicago. I need to check out the Vorkosigan series now…

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