Catholics & Science Fiction | An Interview with Sandra Miesel | Ignatius Insight
IgnatiusInsight.com: When did you first start reading science fiction and fantasy (SF & F) and what attracted you to it? What were some of the first SF & F books that you read? Which authors did you gravitate towards?
Sandra Miesel: Before I get into that, lets define our terms. In theory, science fiction is not supposed to contradict known scientific facts while fantasy uses premises contrary to fact. In practice, these distinctions are rather fudgy. Time travel and faster than light travel are impossible as far as science knows, yet theyre conventional devices in science fiction. Angels should belong to fantasy, yet as Catholics we believe them to be real.
It really comes down to what label a publisher uses to market a given work of fiction. Both SF & F can take place in the past, present, or future or alternate versions of same, on Earth or on other worlds. Together SF & F compose the highly flexible literary category of speculative fiction.
My first exposure to science fiction came around 1950 from radio broadcasts of the show Dimension X which dramatized classics of the genre. My father read the magazine Astounding but I didnt at that time. The first real SF novel I read was A Case of Conscience by James Blish, which incidentally has a Jesuit scientist as its hero. It was 1953 and I was eleven years old. But Id already been heavily exposed to fairy tales, myths, and legends from the time I could read. Andrew Langs Blue Fairy Book and an old British edition of The Book of Knowledge were seminal influences on my childhood.
So I found into the landmark compilations, The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology and Adventures in Time & Space in junior high school, Ray Bradburys Martian Chronicles in high school, and Walter Millers Canticle for Leibowitz in college. In graduate school I met my husband John who already had a large collection of SF paperbacks. We liked Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance, read the various SF & F magazines, and discovered Tolkien.
IgnatiusInsight.com: How did you go about starting to write F&SF? What was your involvement in the SF & F world? Which SF & F books and authors, in your opinion, will stand the test of time?
Miesel: When we got out of school in 1966, I had a letter to the editor published in IF magazine (the same publication where Id read my first novel). People started writing me, sending me amateur magazines about SF called fanzines, and telling me about conventions.
In those days, fans and pros mingled freely and fandom was a distinct subculture of people with "broad mental horizons." So I wrote lit crit for fanzinesmuch like the papers I used to do in grad schooland also personal essays and humor. (I was nominated for the Hugo Award as "Best Fanwriter" three times.) The pros liked what I wrote about them, which led to getting assignments to write a lot of Introductions and Afterwords and reference articles, two chapbooks, and even a few academic papers.
One editor that I worked with, Jim Baen, invited me to write a novel and then to help him put together reprints. Ive edited about a dozen collections of stories by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson (Im the worlds greatest expert on those two authors) and co-edited two anthologies with David Drake. Im still editing a line of Andre Norton reprints for Baen Books. I also sold six short stories.
I remained active in fandom while my pro career
was unfolding, attending maybe eighty conventions. (The convention scene
is different now and I dont recommend it.) I won prizes for my costumes
and art, the later leading to a spot on the official NASA Artists
team at the Apollo-Soyuz launch in 1975. (For the record, my art is embroidery.)
I had also gone to the last Moon shot in 1972 on credentials from the
newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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