Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sci-fi Author Larry Niven & Artist Michael Whelan Appear in Second Life (2008)

Originally published in September 2008 in Second Life Newspaper

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By  Bixyl Shuftan

Science-Fiction fans had a treat when author Larry Niven and artist Michael Whelan appeared via their Second-Life avatars at the Writer's Convention and Fundraiser in Monogram Tria at 11 AM SL time on August 30th. Taking place at the Monogram Virtua Convention Center, the event was held to raise funds for Alzheimer's research. They offered a poster/wallpaper for charity, and answered questions from the audience.

Niven and Whelan's virtual selves, LarryNiven Magic and MichaelWhelan Xue, were posed seated at a desk, signing copies of artwork. The art of Whelan's was the picture used for the cover Niven's book "Integral Trees," with the signatures of both the artist and author. For a donation to the Alzheimer's Association, one would get a copy, and a notecard for where to download a computer wallpaper version for one's computer.

In a conversation with Monogram Virtua VP Anakalia Catteneo after the event, she told me Niven's and Whelan's avatars were based on their real-life appearances, "That is as close as we could get to the photos we had."

Whelan and Niven took some time to answer some questions from the audience, Niven used mainly voice while Whelan was "stuck with typing only" with his computer. Monogram Virtua co-founder Dubble Rokocoko typed out what Niven spoke for those in the audience not able to hear sound.

Hiliary Grant: Mr. Niven....Please tell us your journey to getting published?

Niven, "Regarding my journey to getting published, I did two obvious things." He signed up for writer's school in the 1960s, "and learned enough to get going." He bought the magazines he most liked and looked at the inside editorial page. "You send your stuff there until somebody buys it." It took him about a year and a fourth.

Frond Karu: Mr. Niven, what type of science books or magazines do you research prior to writing?

Niven, "Scientific American, Science, I don't look into them much."

MichaelWhelan Xue: Fate magazine ;-)

Niven, "There's a guy who sends me anything interesting that comes up on the net. And I keep track of rocket research. Mostly, my sources are friends."

Scarlett Qi: Is this the first virtual world you both have visited?

MichaelWhelan Xue: yes, outside of things like the Myst worlds etc.

A1 Markstein: Is Ringworld over, dead and buried?

Niven, "No. As I was saying, Ed Larner and I are planning five books. The fifth book would be set after Ringworld, so we'll likely see Louis Wu going home."

A1 Markstein: what happened to J Pornelle?

Niven, "Pournelle is recovering from radiation therapy. His cancer is gone."

Katronix Serf: Mr. Niven what do you think of authors who podcast their novels?

Niven, "I have no opinion on that, except that there's probably more money in selling them as books."

Hiliary Grant: Mr. Niven..Other than copyright protection..were you ever afraid that someone would copy your ideas from your novels?

Niven, "It happens. I learned to use the word 'homage' rather than 'rip off" because it saves my sanity."

Hiliary Grant: Do you suggest sending a Non-Disclosure Agreement to protect yourself when sending your work in for submissions?

Niven, "I don't bother. Everybody knows the rules."

Frond Karu: When thinking through your story ideas, do you imagine them in color Mr. Niven?

Niven, "Yes. I am one of the more visual writers. I notice in my collaborators that they don't picture what's happening as readily as I do."

JordanM Rossini: What inspires you most Mr. Whelan?

MichaelWhelan Xue: The most...? I guess, my own work, now. Whatever I've done lately. I react to and am informed by both my recent work and things going on around me. As an illustrator, of course, my main influence is the written work I am illustrating.

Hiliary Grant: Mr. Niven...How long has it taken you to get your novels published...from the pen to the shelf and what was the longest novel written?

Niven, "I think my longest was a collaboration called 'Footfall.' A little over a year is how long it takes. It takes about a year to write, and another year to publish."

MichaelWhelan Xue: I was art directed to death for FOOTFALL. My preference was to do an entirely different approach to what ended up on the cover.

Paradox Olbers: surprising, Michael, [to a publisher outsider like me] after you being established for decades by the time you did Footfall cover...

MichaelWhelan Xue: I loved the book. Well, it wasn't the art director, actually. It was Lester Del Rey. He had a set idea about the cover and wouldn't budge from it. I thought it was terrible to give away the surprise of what the aliens looked like on the cover, but oh well

A1 Markstein: I hope to see you sometime in a SF convention. Will you be at any in the near future?

Niven, "Yes. There is one coming up in San Jose this month. And then, thank God I'll be clear. I've gone to too many conventions this summer."

Abronia Mubble: With all the recent advancements in science and technology, does this make it easier, or harder, to come up with unique ideas for science fiction?

Niven, "What I've found is I used to be able to be first with an idea.  This is no longer possible. Everyone has access to everything that happens. Now I have to be best."

JordanM Rossini: Mr. Niven, what was the hardest book for you to write? What made it a challenge?

Niven, "I had some real trouble getting into 'Destiny's Road.' It was an irresistible idea, but I found myself trying to write a man's story from childhood to middle age. I flinched from that. When Michael Whelan did the cover, he thought it was finished. It took me four years before it was finished. Of course, he worked from outlines and some text I'd written."

Frond Karu: Mr. Niven, do you write everything on your computer (I am slow typist).

Niven, "Yes I write everything on my computer. Given the right keyboard, I'm a fast typist."

Mira Caerndow: Where do you find inspiration, Mr. Niven?

Niven, "I find it in all directions. I never know, but I don't do research as I do read for fun, and let the research create the story."

A1 Markstein: What did you think of the cartoon Star Trek "Slaver Weapon" story?

Niven, "I wrote it. ... I liked the way they handled it."

Charlene Siemens: Have you ever rejected an idea as too implausible or unlikely, only for it to become reality some time later?

Niven, "No."

Abronia Mubble: What do both of you think about sci-fi movies these days? Good, bad, indifferent?

Niven, "I'd say that sci-fi movies are getting better. A little more attention is being paid to the values that wind up in the books."

MichaelWhelan Xue: I agree with Bill Maher. He said that maybe we shouldn't be releasing so many movies based on comic book stories. The rest of the world might think Americans live in a fantasy world where all problems are solved by violence. I'm still waiting for a movie as good as 2001 and Bladerunner. SF movies these days are too empty-headed for me. They are nice visually, but not much to speak of in terms of real meaningful content.

(following a comment about Ringworld) Niven, "I heard from Mandell recently. Mandell is the guy who owns the movie rights to Ringworld. He's thinking of generating a lead up, 13 episodes.

A1 Markstein: There's already been a Ringworld game Sir.

Niven, "There have been Ringworld games, yes. Two from Tsunami. They felt a little claustrophobic to me. There are possibilities, I'd rather not talk about them. It isn't that I'm afraid of jinxing anything. it's just nobody's business until it becomes real."

Frond Karu: Mr. Niven, when collaborate with another author, does it expand your writing time to more than one year?

Niven, "Writing with another author can make it shorter or longer."

Hiliary Grant: Mr. Niven...Do you suggest joining a Writer's a published author of Cyber Blues by Love Freeman..would that be the best avenue for me?

Niven, "I think anyone might benefit from joining the Writers Guild."

At one point, there was a bit of funnery when a young girl avatar tried to wear an object only to find it was still in the box. Niven asked, "and what is that little girl holding?A book?" Someone answered, "Newbee oops." Another mused, "She wasn't holding a Soft Weapon, thank goodness." Niven's comment about jinxing a Ringworld game led to a joke, "Hey, watch that ethnic comment! Re: Jinxians" (Jinx is a world in Niven's "Known Space" series). Whelan joked about having "virtual writer's cramp."

At the end of the hour, Niven and Whelan thanked everyone for coming, "It's been a pleasure interacting with your virtual selves."  "Thanks all." Anakalia Catteneo told everyone, "Please feel free to stay for the workshop, seminar and live music today. Also, enter the raffle to win the prizes that are on display, proceeds benefit the Alzheimer's Association." The guests of honor then took their leave and logged off.

Bixyl Shuftan

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Being behind the "Man-Kzin Wars" series of sci-fi novels, Larry Niven was known by some friends of mine. I never did hear of them appearing in Second Life again. Of the autographed artwork of their "Intergal Trees" story, I went ahead and bought one. Proud of it, I hung it up in my office. Today, it can be found at the SL Newser office in HV Community, a lasting reminder of this meeting with a well known sci-fi author.

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