Schenectady County

‘Schenectady’ author says sci-fi has staying power

Author Longyear will be honored at Proctors in Schenectady on Friday during a sci-fi movie night, an
Author Barry Longyear
Author Barry Longyear

All science-fiction ideas come from Schenectady.

That means the Klingon Empire, the Terminator, the Zanti Misfits, the Time Tunnel and the Keeper of the Purple Twilight all owe their beginnings to the Electric City.

Barry B. Longyear knows the connection. He used the original hypothesis as a title when a collection of his short stories was published during the early 1980s. “It Came From Schenectady” can still be found in libraries and book stores.

The 72-year-old Longyear, who lives in New Sharon, Maine, will be honored at Proctors in Schenectady on Friday. “It Came From Schenectady Salutes Barry B. Longyear” will feature screenings of two classic science fiction films, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” from 1951 and “Forbidden Planet” from 1956. The movie night begins at 7 p.m.; admission is $9 for adults, $6 for students.

Barry B. Longyear

What: “It Came From Schenectady” film series

WHERE: Proctors GE Theatre, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: $9 adults; $6 students

MORE INFO: Longyear will introduce his favorite sci-fi movies: “The Day The Earth Stood Still” and “Forbidden Planet.” 346-6204,

WHAT: Book reading and discussion

WHERE: Mabee Farm Historic Site, 1100 Main St., Rotterdam Junction

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $5. Free to Schenectady County Historical Site members

MORE INFO: 887-5073,

Longyear also will talk science fiction on Saturday at the Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam Junction, part of the “It Came from Schenectady: Science Fiction in the Capital Region” exhibit. Admission for the 2 p.m. event is $5, free for members of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

Longyear, the first writer to win science-fiction’s Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Awards for best new writer all in the same year, will read his short story “Dreams,” discuss the “Schenectady” collection and take questions from the audience.

He also took some questions from The Daily Gazette.

Q: I know you’ve told this before, but what’s the story behind “It Came From Schenectady?”

A: Years ago, an editor wanted me to collect a bunch of my stories and one of the things writers are always asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s gotten to be really dumb because everybody is swimming in an ocean of ideas. Harlan Ellison came up with the stock answer for the Science-Fiction Writers of America, when he was a member, which was, “Take $2, put them in a stamped, self-addressed envelope and send it to Schenectady, and they’ll send you back an idea.” So when I was going to publish a book of my stories, with the ideas that inspired them preceding each story. The title was mandatory. I also thought the title would get a guest of honor slot at Albacon, the science-fiction convention in Albany, but that never came to pass.

Q: Why do you think the book has stayed around so long?

A: Well, there’s a bunch of good stories in it, but in this digital age, one of the things that’s always been frustrating for me is, they publish a book and a month later, it’s off the shelves and it’s history. I always wanted to come up with some venue where I would keep all my books in print and now, through Amazon, Create Space, Kindle, electronic books and other venues, all my stuff is in print.

Q: What do you think science-fiction writers of the 1940s and ’50s would have thought, if they knew that sometime in the future, all this digital technology would help them tell their stories?

A: I remember my younger sister and I, we used to sit up all night watching the all-night movies, we lived in Pennsylvania. Channel 10 used to have the “Million Dollar Movie,” all night long, and we used to watch the movies. Our biggest dream that was so far beyond anything we could even possibly expect to reach in our lifetime was to have our own movie theater and all the films that we loved, we could see whenever we wanted to. Now, everybody in the world has got that.

Q: Speaking of movies, what science-fiction movies influenced you during your youth?

A: The first science-fiction film I ever saw, the script was written by Robert A. Heinlein, was “Destination Moon.” I was 11 years old and we saw it at its premiere in New York. They had a big spaceship on the corner of the theater building, it seemed like it was miles tall. I spent the next two years designing spaceships and I didn’t expect that better than half a century from that moment, my ass would still be stuck on this planet. I expected to be in space by now.

Q: Any other movies?

A: “The Thing from Another World,” the 1951 version. With all the monsters running around, the one scene that got a scream out of me was when they were looking around the greenhouse and the opened that one cabinet and all the dead dogs came out. That got me.

Q: How about current sci-fi? Any opinion on this summer’s “Terminator: Genisys” that will star Arnold Schwarzenegger?

A: I don’t know. I hope it will be OK. I liked the first two movies and then I lost track. The same thing happened with “Star Wars,” the first three movies were OK, and then I don’t know, I just got bored with it. The one series I liked all the way through and not everyone does was the “Alien” series. The first one was the best, from a structural standpoint. Alfred Hitchcock could have directed that, because you never see the critter until the end.

I thought the first “Matrix” movie was absolutely terrific and I thought the first “Conan the Barbarian” movie was terrific. . . . “The Matrix” was really a mind-blowing concept. All the sequels just seemed to be choreographed martial arts fights.

Q: Why do you think time travel works so well as a device to tell science-fiction stories?

A: I think it’s the same appeal post-holocaust stories have. You don’t have to worry about the cops pulling you over, you don’t have to take any crap from anyone at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And, you might get to change things forever.

Q: What is your current project?

A: What I’m writing now is a book called “The War Whisperer,” it’s basically the first time I’ve ever gotten into politics. This will essentially be the libertarian answer to the world’s problems. It has been a tough book to write, it’s going to be a long one.

Q: Have you ever considered graphic novels? Seems so many become popular and are then adapted for movies or television.

A: One of the problems I have, although I’ve done a couple collaborations, the main problem I have is I write in a very strange way. It doesn’t lend itself to collaboration very often. I did have a story of mine that was turned into a comic book and it went flat dead. It was “The Magician’s Apprentice,” one of the “Circus World” stories.

Q: Younger people still seem interested in the sci-fi and fantasy realms. What advice do you give future writers?

A: They need to learn how to write a story. You have to have a character, the character has a goal, there’s a conflict, something opposing the character achieving the goal, either he achieves it or he doesn’t, the end. There are about 10 billion variations of that. Actually, it’s an infinite number. But if you don’t have all those parts, it goes lame — even if you do know how to use the language and spell.

Q: What are science-fiction conventions like these days?

A: They’re getting older and older. One of the big draws science-fiction always had was it was the thing you couldn’t get anywhere else. Now they’re in video games. The readership science-fiction has always depended on has thinned out considerably. A lot of the professional magazines have been losing circulation for years and years and have eventually gotten down to where they’re almost fanzines.

Categories: Entertainment

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