The Vorkosigan Companion


"Gosh, is it midnight already?"

There are many memorable firsts in a writer's career. First story started—first finished. First submission. First rejection. First sale! First review, good/bad. First public speech about one's writing, urk. First fan letter! First time meeting one's editor face-to-face. First award nomination—first win! Maybe, a first film option. First time on a genre best-seller list—first time on a general best-seller list, though this is a much rarer prize. First career award—what, already? but I'm not finished yet! First book about one's books.

I'm not just sure where we've arrived, but we're definitely here.

Head down and pedaling as hard as possible, it's not often that working writers have a chance to look back and see just how far they've traveled. Much of my biography and literary biography are covered in the articles and interview that follow, so I won't linger to recap it all here. But in this year, 2007, and in 2008 upcoming, have fallen a couple of firsts that force me to pause and put it in perspective.

My first career award came last month from the Ohioana Library Association. Literary awards generally, by nature intrinsically subjective, are mysterious gifts bestowed upon writers; it is something done to us, not something—like finishing a novel—that we do. Career awards seem to be awards for winning awards, a suspicious circularity. (That said, this year's Ohioana memento takes the prize for being the prettiest ever, a gorgeous piece of art glass looking like a transparent blue jellyfish. Lead glass apparently looks extremely strange on airport X-ray machines, however. Someone could write a whole essay on the sometimes-deadly designs of the various awards and the challenges of getting them home.)

Next year, as I write this (though it will be a done deal by the time this book is published) I have been invited to be Writer Guest of Honor at the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention in Denver, Colorado, which is very much a career award in its own right. I put pencil to paper for my first science fiction novel in 1982; from there to this in a mere twenty-six years. Seems . . . fast.

Writing stories, using words to sculpt other people's thoughts, would appear to be the most evanescent of arts. Writers make and sell dreams; the vast publishing industry that conveys those dreams between the writer's head and the reader's seems a lumbering vehicle for such a light load. And yet, of all the many tasks I've undertaken in my life—apart from bearing and raising my children—it's my books that have best lasted and carried forward, the main thing I have to show for all my efforts. The lineup of first editions on my office bookshelf seems a procession of captured years, my basement full of books like an array of vintages laid down in a wine cellar.

A certain branch of linguistics and culture studies has a catchphrase—"time-binding"—to tag those inventions, including writing, that allow humans to carry their culture and achievements forward, through time that otherwise destroys all things each instant. I would quibble a little with the phrase, since it's not actually time that is bound. "We can neither make, nor retain, a single moment of time," as C. S. Lewis remarks somewhere. But for a little while, time's grinding teeth may be eluded. Most of my life's labors were consumed almost as soon as committed—all that housekeeping plowed under, all those meals I cooked gone in a day, all the forgettable daily tasks duly forgotten. But "Words," as another writer said, "can outlast stones." I'm not sure mine will go that far, but they definitely outlast