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Gregory Benford

Gregory Benford

George Slusser
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt5hjjhc
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  • Book Info
    Gregory Benford
    Book Description:

    Gregory Benford is perhaps best known as the author of Benford's law of controversy: "Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available." That maxim is a quotation from Timescape, Benford's Nebula and Campbell Award-winning 1980 novel, which established his work as an exemplar of "hard science fiction," dedicated to working out the consequences of modern science rather than substituting pseudoscience for fantasy. Like many other current science fiction writers, Benford has tackled the major genres: space travel, time travel, technology running amok, prolonged longevity, searing apocalyptic cosmic events, and alien life, which he theorizes to be more likely viral than intelligent. An astrophysicist by training and profession, Benford has published more than twenty novels, over one hundred short stories, some fifty essays, and myriad articles that display both his scientific rigor as well as a recognition of literary traditions. In this study, George Slusser explores the extraordinary, seemingly inexhaustible display of creative energy in Gregory Benford's life and work. Presenting Benford's ideas on science and the writing of science fiction, the volume addresses the writer's literary production and his place in contemporary science fiction. By identifying direct sources and making parallels with other works and writers, Slusser reveals the vast scope of Benford's knowledge, both of literature and of the major scientific and philosophical issues of our time. Slusser also discusses Benford's numerous scientific articles and nonfiction books and includes a new interview with Benford.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09603-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Gregory Benford’s life has been active, varied, and highly significant—a life that has generated much fiction. Born in 1941 in Mobile, Alabama, he has strong roots in the American South. But as member of a military family, he spent much of his adolescence in such far-flung places as Germany and Japan. Of this was born a cosmopolitan perspective, which gave rise to a lifelong fascination with “alien” cultures. Benford chose a career in science. He and his exact twin brother Jim—with whom he has remained close throughout his life—earned doctorates in physics at the University of California,...

  5. Chapter 1 GREGORY BENFORD: The Scientist as Writer
    (pp. 5-19)

    Throughout his long career as science fiction writer, Gregory Benford has remained steadfast in his claim that science is at the center both of the twentieth century and of the form of literature he sees as its central mode of expression. What else should SF deal with than the impact of scientific ideas and discoveries on society and the individual? Remarks he made to physics graduate students at UCSD in 1985 are typical: “Science is the mainspring of this century. Historians will call this the century of science . . . because it is where it became obvious that the...

  6. Chapter 2 BENFORD IN HIS OWN WORDS: Toward a Craft of Science Fiction
    (pp. 20-44)

    Gregory Benford has written much nonfiction commentary over his long career, both on his own fiction and on that of others. He has also written on philosophical, cultural, and political issues that concern science fiction. These writings are essential to understanding Benford’s science fiction, for in their aggregate they define his science fiction as a literature of action. The purpose of his SF is not to describe possible futures or to predict them (this for Benford is nonscientific, for there is no way to verify predictions). Instead, science fictionengagesthe future, and in doing so it gives mankind an...

  7. Chapter 3 FICTIONAL DIRECTIONS: The Makings of a Scientist-Writer
    (pp. 45-76)

    Gregory Benford is a writer who came up through the science fiction pathway, but he, like many of his generation, had ambitions to break out of the SF ghetto, to write literature. In Benford’s case, the goal from the outset was to write serious fiction about the new world that science offered to mankind, and to present, in fictional works, the scientist’s role in shaping and understanding that brave new world. Like so many SF writers, Benford wrote in fan publications, then moved to publishing stories in science fiction magazines. From there, he began producing novels, and a successful writing...

  8. Chapter 4 GALACTIC CENTER ONE: Benford’s Space Epic
    (pp. 77-86)

    The works that make up the series of Benford novels commonly called the Galactic Center saga span nineteen years of the author’s career. They encompass as well a changing landscape of science fiction, in which space adventure, once central to the genre, becomes a near relic. The first novel,In the Ocean of Night(1977), is close enough to the Apollo program and an iconic work like Clarke’s and Kubrick’s2001: A Space Odysseyto reflect the period’s spirit of high adventure in the promise of space travel. Even so, on opening this novel, we know immediately that ten years...

  9. Chapter 5 GALACTIC CENTER TWO: Nigel Walmsley’s Space Odyssey
    (pp. 87-112)

    The first two novels in the Galactic Center series are set in Earth’s near future. The dates are from 1999 (twenty-two years after the novel’s publication) to 2061, a time when mankind has conquered space in the sense that it can reach nearby stars and thus stands on the edge of “the ocean of night,” deep space. By the end of the first novel,In the Ocean of Night, protagonist Nigel Walmsley has discovered a cosmic struggle between machine intelligence and organic life that will soon engulf Earth. Through several contacts with alien artifacts and entities that had come to...

  10. Chapter 6 TO THE GALACTIC CENTER: From Earth to Eternity
    (pp. 113-138)

    The next four Galactic Center novels span vast expanses of spacetime and nine years of the author’s career, from 1987 (Great Sky River) to 1996 (Sailing Bright Eternity). The reader of this human saga wants to know how it will end at a place of such unthinkable magnitudes as Galactic Center. What will humanity encounter there? What kind of “humanity” will it be, and can anything vaguely human survive this encounter? Do the Nigel novels promise some special destiny reserved for humanity at this terminus? Benford delays answers to these questions for the first three novels, as he chronicles mankind’s...

  11. Chapter 7 THE SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL OF MANNERS
    (pp. 139-153)

    During the late 1990s, after the completion of his final Galactic Center novel, Benford produced a series of novels that could be classified as “science thrillers.” These are novels where some strange and often menacing occurrence (such as the approach of an alien object to Earth) triggers conflict between scientists, government interests, and global politics. Benford here is writing the kind of fiction—science-based but involving international intrigue—that will be later produced by writers like Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon, 1999) and Howard Hendrix (Spears of God, 2006). But Benford’s scientific thrillers—Cosm (1999),The Martian Race(1999), and Eater (2000)...

  12. Chapter 8 BENFORD’S SHORT FICTION
    (pp. 154-172)

    Since his first published story “Stand In” appeared in 1965 inThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Gregory Benford has published a large number of short stories in magazines and in anthologies. He collected many of his best stories in two landmark volumes—In Alien Flesh(1986), andMatter’s End(1990). These were followed by three more recent anthologies—Worlds Vast and Various(1999),Immersion and Other Short Novels(2002), andAnomalies: Collected Stories(2012). The short story is often seen as the essential form for science fiction. Indeed, many of the most revered SF novels have their beginning...

  13. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 173-176)

    There are many other aspects of Benford’s work which, alas, cannot be studied in detail because of space. One particular aspect—which has been part of Benford’s approach to fiction from the start but which has intensified in his later career—is an open process of creation. By this I mean not only his interest in collaborating with other writers, but in actually writing sequels to their work, in which he continues a story they started, andin the manner of a creative dialogue, blends his vision skillfully with theirs. One notable example, his rewrite of Clarke’sAgainst the Fall...

  14. INTERVIEW WITH GREGORY BENFORD
    (pp. 177-184)
    GREGORY BENFORD

    GEORGE SLUSSER: Greg, the definition of SF I find challenging, and yet vague, is that of Robert L. Forward: “Science writes the fiction.” Could you tell me how you, as scientist and writer, see this definition? How do you see you must nuance it?

    GREGORY BENFORD: I often begin by imagining how a scientist will confront a new scientific result, discovery, or idea. I then use what I know from long observation to elicit how scientists think, which may be my central theme—even when writing of events distant in time and space, as in the Galactic Center series. Long...

  15. A Gregory Benford Bibliography
    (pp. 185-186)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 187-190)
  17. Index
    (pp. 191-198)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-202)