Saturday, September 05, 2015

National Book Festival from Library of Congress: authors Weber (sci-fi) and Kristoff and WuDunn (policy)

Today, I did attend the National Book Festival in Washington DC at the Convention Center.

I was amazed at the size of the crowd, and overheard a woman say how much she admires these authors.  But you probably had to be a best selling author to be invited to have a podium.  The festival was divided into many fiction and non-fiction areas of genre categories. 

I first picked out David Weber, author of the “Honor Harrington” military science fiction series with a female hero. Weber explained how he first got published – by a referral from a big publisher who foun his work too long.  He said that writing is a skill like walking.  He also talked about storytelling, and that in his works he tries to have his characters do “what they have to do because they can”, not because they made some choice that obligated them. He distinguished between fantasy and science fiction.  In fantasy, you have a world that is impossible but self-consistent.  Characters in fantasy tend to be more clearly good or evil than in proper science fiction, which is supposed to be a scenario that really could happen.

My own science fiction is more concerned with what would really happen if there were initial contact, or what it would be like to live on another planet if abducted and the alien world somewhat resembled ours. Will all advanced civilizations have money systems?  Are non-monetary advanced societies possible?  (Try orcas.)  Another thing: my novel plots and scripts never have sharply defined villains as such.  (But then, I don’t see the “Autarch” or the “Unbeheld” as a villain in “Imjica”.)
Weber did talk about adaptations of novels to movies and television.  He feels that some of his work is better adapted to cable series than to 100-minute films.  He said that most writers (particularly if in the “business” of being best-selling authors as such)  don’t try to control how their novels will play out in film, and let others approach them about this (although I often see novelists credited as secondary “screenwriters” on

Weber’s Festival site is here.   Here is his regular site
Then I visited the Contemporary Life sessions, and listed to Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, whose featured book is “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity”, published by Vintage.  I may purchase this and do a separate review later. 

But I did want to hit their theme of inequality, and how they see the biggest problem as inequality of opportunity, not just income or wealth (Piketty and Stiglitz).  WuDunn talked about the importance of parental (especially maternal) attention very early in life (which feeds the paid parental leave debate). Kristof talked about the fact that in poor societies, children fall behind very early in life in brain development that would enable them to learn to behave according to modern western ideas of “personal responsibility”.

 He gave one example where there was more benefit in Gambia for paying for deworming kids than anything else.  He also gave any example of a librarian who allowed a poor kid to “steal” books to read, and the kid grew up to become a leader of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Kristof’s event site is here.  The site for the book is here and there is a DVD (don’t know if this actually has a film, too, will look). 
I know someone can ask me, why didn’t I hustle and get a session in the Current Life pavilion?  I haven’t made “sales” of books as a commodity my main objective.  I work horizontally, trying to develop the same content across all media, rather than selling on just one medium. 

Update: September 8, 2015

"A Path Appears" is indeed a series on PBS Independent Lens, three episodes so far.  Check my TV Blog Sept. 8 for details.

Kristof and WuDunn had previously authored "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide"  (Vintage, 2010). 

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