Diaz, Delany, Dinner

by wjw on January 23, 2009

Last night Daniel, Ty, and I drove up to Santa Fe to enjoy dinner with Samuel R. Delany and Junot Diaz. Junot was doing a reading at a local theater, after which Chip would interview him— the event was completely sold out, by the way, we could only get tickets in the next-to-last row of the balcony.

Junot, incidentally, is so totally brilliant that he blurbed Daniel’s novels, which is a sign of good taste in my world.

Joining us were George RR Martin, Ian Tregillis, Emily Mah, Terry England, and Parris.

Delany was gracious and funny. He was genuinely pleased that I teach his Nova at Toolbox.

Junot was extremely funny. (“Ayn Rand is a disease of white people. A black person would start reading Atlas Shrugged and think, ‘Whooaa, what is this shit?”)

And as an immigrant of color, he was totally gabberflasted by Obama’s being elected president. He kept bringing it up.

His Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by the way, is the only Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to begin with an inscription from Galactus, and is full of references to science fiction, Lord of the Rings, comics, and RPGs. (Trujillo, the novel informs us, “suffered four hundred hit points” of damage during his assassination.)

Junot mentioned in the subsequent interview that he wasn’t just riffing on these elements, he had something in mind. He was describing the inner life of a Dominican immigrant, and of Dominican experience, for a USian audience, and thought that the best way to describe the horror and madness and genius of Santo Domingo was to approach it as an alien world, through the medium of science fiction.

Which I totally understood, because that’s how I approached New Mexico when I wrote Days of Atonement. The only way to describe New Mexico to someone who hasn’t spent time here is to think of it as an alien world.

So we discussed RPGs, and he mentioned that he’d played a lot of FGU’s Space Opera, which had so terrified me with the World’s Most Vast and Cumbersome Character Generation Rules that I’d never dared to approach it. (Oh, we totally geeked out on our sad, wasted youth, practically rolling 2D10 at each other.)

Chip and Junot didn’t eat anything, because the folks who had invited them to New Mexico were taking them to dinner after the talk, so they watched us eat. Then we trooped over to the packed theater and listened to the reading, with Junot paying very close attention to the young folks in the audience and cracking jokes about his own work as he read it, after which Chip began his very intelligent, very sensitive interview. (He is someone I would like to interview me.)

And then the event came to an end, and Chip and Junot were born off on the shoulders of the crowd to wherever they were going to get dinner.

And while this was going on, Kathy was geeking out in a whole different way, down in Socorro listening to Kari, Grant, and Tory from Mythbusters. They’ve done a show down at EMRTC, blowing things up I assume, and on a campus like Tech would be complete folk heroes, and— like us— Kathy was lucky to get a ticket.

robp January 23, 2009 at 6:33 am

You’d probably get more comments on this but I suspect that those who appreciated it most are probably also the most envious. Sounds like a fantastic night.

On the rpg front, I’m currently reading Halting State by Charles Stross, which I bought for my gamer teenage son after reading its synopsis involving orcs committing a bank robbery. A fine book so far, you and your buddy Junot (you see, I can’t keep the envy out, I like my life but I’m not dining with Samuel R. Delany and Junot Diaz) would probably enjoy it if you haven’t already.

I think your bit on Days of Atonement touched on something possibly crucial to a lot of not only science fiction, but great fiction in general: a lot of us see where we are as an alien world. Some describe it far better than others, but the world we live in is not only different from what we are told it is supposed to be, it is different from what we are told it is.


Ian McDowell January 23, 2009 at 7:10 am

That’s hugely cool, Walter. Oscar Wao is a great novel. Mind you, I didn’t immediatley recognize the author by his surname alone, and for a moment thought you might have had a dinner with Chip and the star of There’s Something About Mary.

Not that I don’t also envy Kathy. Not a day goes by without me having at least three naughty thoughts about Kari Byron.

Max Cairnduff February 6, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Space Opera, gosh, I played that once. I wanted a dashing space pilot, as per the genre. Somehow I got a low level functionary in the civil service, a job more boring than the one I had in real life. Terrifyingly complex game, playing it should probably be eligible for educational grants.

Just looked up the Oscar Wao novel, it sounds quite interesting, somehow it had largely escaped my radar so thanks for that.

Interesting comments on approaching a real place as an alien one, for me Days of Atonement is one of your best novels and that realisation of place may be partly why. I’ll have to think about that.

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