Flying high with Sci-Fi

Three award-winning authors came to USF and lectured on behalf of their science-fiction and fantasy novels in front of students, faculty and adoring fans.

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning authors Harry Harrison, Joe Haldeman and Piers Anthony participated in a two-hour discussion panel at the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom on Wednesday, where they discussed their writing process and answered questions from the audience.

“These are three of the major stars in science fiction,” event moderator and USF professor Rick Wilber said. “These people are part of the history of science fiction and are part of the major development of science fiction as a field, and I think that was why this was a major event.”

According to Wilber, today’s style of science fiction began about 150 years ago, with the works of authors such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. In America, science fiction was prevalent during the ’20s and ’30s, and in the ’50s and ’60s it gained popularity with the general public after Hollywood took interest in the sci-fi genre. The authors at the discussion are a product of this development.

Science-fiction literature can lead to an array of interpretations from loyal readers.

“I think it helps us to examine ourselves as a society and a culture,” said Robin Bajkiewicz, USF history professor and humanities coordinator. “Maybe if we go to these kinds of events, we can talk about the future and think about the consequences of war and how to avoid getting involved in another one.”

All three authors have had experience with the U.S. military, and all have strong opinions on war and government.

Haldeman served in Vietnam, and, according to Wilber, was terribly injured during combat. When he returned, he finished writing The Forever War, which is one of the most famous sci-fi novels of all time, Wilber said.

“My stories have even forced some people to stay out of the Army,” Haldeman said. Achieving similar success, Harrison has also influenced the decisions of young people. An 18-year-old male was considering enlisting in the Army but ripped up his application papers after reading Harrison’s anti-war novel, Bill the Galactic Hero, said Harrison.

Anthony also presented his stance on the Iraq War.

“It’s an expensive folly, and I have nothing good to say about it,” he said.

After leaving the book signing with an autograph, returning USF student Anne Younger had to acknowledge her son’s dependence on Anderson’s Xanth series.

Her son eagerly awaits each novel, and it’s the only thing that keeps him going while he is in the Navy, Younger said.

Harrison and Haldeman explained why war veterans might have a difficult time getting back to their old lives.

“In the days of the Vietnam war, kids went to war at age 18,” Harrison said. “And that is a very young age to be going into the military. When these boys came back, they were never fully adjusted into life as an adult.”

“I was 24 when I went to Vietnam,” Haldeman said. “I was theoretically an adult when I was drafted. And all that managed to do was that it kept me out of college for six years, and after combat, when I came back, it took me years to get out of war. I was still jumping at things, and I would drink often.”

Today and Friday, Haldeman will travel to MacDill Air Force Base, where he will teach returning Iraq war veterans to write about their experiences as part of a traveling workshop, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.