Science fiction authors share their experiences at Old Firehouse Books

Matthew Smith

Science fiction authors Kevin J. Anderson and Rick Wilber came to discuss themselves and their most recent works at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins Wednesday. Seated in front large promotional posters for their books “Navigators of Dune” and “Alien Morning,” the authors divulged their backgrounds, inspirations and writing processes in a casual conversation with a small audience of three.

Anderson, the most prolific of the two, has written over 120 books, over 50 of which have been New York Times bestsellers, with more than 23 million copies in print worldwide.

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His newest book “Navigators of Dune” is the result of a collaborative effort with Brian Herbert, son of the author of the original “Dune” books Frank Herbert. After Frank’s passing, Anderson and Brian became the sole heirs to the series, collaborating on all its continuations. “Navigators” is the final book in the prequel trilogy “Great Schools of Dune,” itself a sequel to the trilogy “Legends of Dune.” The “Great Schools of Dune” chronicles the early years of the Spacing Guild, Mentats and other secretive societies featured prominently in the “Dune” series.

For a long time, Wilber’s interests diverged from the novelist caste. “I’ve been primarily a short story writer for a long time,” he said.

Wilber wrote his short stories primarily for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. One series of stories followed a similar universe in which an alien mercantile empire arrives on earth much like the East India Trading Company arrived in India. “What if they came here and we were on the receiving end?” Wilber thought. “They would just want to make sure we are productive and make money for their home world.”

What was once a series of thematically linked short stories became a novel, and then a trilogy. “Alien Morning” is the first book, following 2030 social media expert Peter Holman. When the aliens arrive, Holman is made head public relations officer for cross-species interactions. But as he gets closer to the strange S’hudonni race, secrets reveal themselves that threaten Holman and the rest of humanity.

After hearing the title of Wilber’s book, Anderson jokingly commented “so it’s ‘Alien Morning,’ ‘Alien Lunchtime,’ then ‘Alien Supper?’” Wilber replied that “the best name for the sequel so far has been ‘Alien Second Breakfast.’” The two laughed.

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Left to right: Kevin J. Anderson, Rick Wilbur Photo credit: Matthew Smith

This exchange and others like it mark the event’s casual atmosphere. With only three attendees, this joint book tour of sorts was more like a conversation between friends.

Among topics the two authors talked about included Anderson’s inspirations for writing. “Frank Herbert was my favorite author growing up,” Anderson said. “I read all of his stuff, not just the Dune books. I’m a storyteller. My head will explode if I don’t keep taking these stories out.”

“I was always told you can’t make a living as a writer so don’t major in creative writing,” he said. “So I majored in Russian History, because of course you can get a job in that, right?”

But Anderson does not feel like he missed out on an education that could have aided him in his writing career. Replying to those English majors who say they take every writing class and workshop, he said “that’s like saying you want to be a chef and you’re buying lots of cookbooks but you don’t have any ingredients. (Experiences) are the stuff you use to write with.”

The biggest tip both authors could give to up-and-coming science fiction writers was to get published, win awards and gain recognition. Anderson serves as a judge for Writers of the Future, a quarterly science fiction and fantasy story competition. Three winners are selected from every pool and sent to Hollywood for an intensive, week long workshop with some of the industry’s greatest.

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Wilber recommended the Dell Award, an annual short story competition specifically for unpublished undergrads.

After concluding the talk and signing the stacks of books they brought with them, Anderson and Wilber left to continue their conversation over a few drinks in Old Town.

Their signed copies can be bought at Old Firehouse Books at 232 Walnut St. while supplies last.