Speculative Fiction Authors Considered As High School Students

Michael, thanks for coming. I wanted to give you a chance to see a number of our students before they know you are their new principal and have their guard up. You’re in luck: since it’s lunchtime, nearly all of our students are in the cafeteria.

Right through here, please. Sorry about the color scheme. I suspect the orange walls with blue hexagons looked very futuristic in the 1970s. Perhaps next year will be the year the school board decides we can afford new paint.

I suppose it is very loud. Our students certainly like to talk, though I don’t know how many of them truly listen to each other.

Yes, they do tend to divide themselves up like this. Lunchtime is an especially good time to see the cliques as the students congregate into groups.

Of course. I’d be happy to discuss the students’ groupings with you. Let’s start with the fellows in the camouflage. They’re very interested in military science fiction. It’s all guns and dropships and the like with them. The student who’s holding forth very loudly is John Ringo, and that’s David Weber next to him. The quieter fellow holding the Bob Heinlein mask is John Scalzi. He’s one of our newer students. I’m not sure he’s going to stay at that table, to be honest. The MilSF crowd has been asking to stage mock battles during the lunch break, complete with imitation guns and blood packs. You can imagine how that request has gone over given the political climate. They’ll be in your office the first day you’re principal, mark my words.

Besides, if we let them bring imitation guns to school, the multi-book series fantasy students would want peace-bonded swords and rapiers. Just the other day Robert Jordan was telling me that we catered too much to the MilSF students. I reminded him that these days the only history classes we offer are on medieval Europe, but he was not mollified. They’re on the opposite side of the cafeteria from the MilSF students — look for the students wearing cloaks and carrying staves. I see Steven Erikson over there, and the nervous-looking girl standing near their table is Jacqueline Carey. The other high fantasy students aren’t sure what to make of her yet, I don’t think. One of our teachers, Mr. Tolkien, is of the opinion that she is far too interested in sexual matters for a proper high fantasist.

Ah, Mr. Martin. Your teacher says that you’re late on your term paper again, and that your last draft was above the allowed page count. Mmm? Yes, I see that Mr. Erickson is waiting for you at your usual table. Do try to be more prompt on finishing your assignments, George.

Michael, duck! Mr. Egan! Be careful where you clank! I apologize. Greg Egan’s robot body is a little hard to get used to, but either we let him wear it to school or he will simply upload a copy of himself into the school’s computer network. If we let him get away with that, that entire set of tables would be mostly empty, especially with the large number of Singularity students at that table. Kim Stanley Robinson would still show up in person, I expect, as would Robert Charles Wilson. Not planning on spinning up the school again, are you, Mr. Wilson? Once he accidentally encased our school in a bubble for two seconds and we missed most of the 1990s.

Oh, you’re unfamiliar with the Singularity? It’s all the rage among some students. It’s all computronium and s-curves that never turn over and uploading minds into silicon. Young Charlie Stross is the one with the interface glasses and all of that computer equipment, though his friend Ken Macleod runs a close second in terms of number of gadgets. The boy in the red cape and goggles is Cory Doctorow. He’s something of a Singularity student, though he uses more tag clouds than is usual. And Vernor Vinge is next to him. He could be sitting at the seniors’ table, but he stays at this one instead.

That’s the seniors’ table over there. They’re done with their exams. Many, though not all, of them are just marking time until they graduate. Generally they stay quiet, though you’ll have to watch Harlan Ellison. Mr. Ellison! I see you preparing to throw that food. We’ve had enough of that this year, thank you.

The mostly-empty table next to the hard SF students is where the cyberpunk students used to eat lunch in their leather dusters and mirrorshades. We haven’t had many new students join that group since Richard K. Morgan.

Mr. Ryman, I’ve asked you and the other Mundane SF students not to linger by the lockers during lunch. You can sit at a table like the other students. Yes, I know you have leaflets you want to hand out. That doesn’t permit or excuse your behavior.

I have to admit being puzzled by Geoff Ryman and the other Mundane SF students. Rumor has it they own no rocketpants underwear, which is unusual among our students.

Ms. Bujold, Ms. Asaro, good morning. I see you chose the chili. Brave of you both.

Lois McMaster Bujold and Catherine Asaro are among the students who are interested in science fiction that approaches romance novels. Some of the other students give them grief over that interest, though I enjoy seeing students who are interested in non-mainstream subjects. When you are principal, you may want to investigate an exchange program with a more romance-oriented high school.

Mr. Miéville! Mr. VanderMeer! That is enough! If you want to argue about what is and isn’t New Weird, you can do it after school. Thank you. And you as well, Mr. Duncan; all three of you can move along.

Do you have a handkerchief, Michael? I appear to have nicked my hand on China Miéville’s remade body.

Ah, yes, the urban fantasists. They’ve complained about our history classes focusing on the Middle Ages, and I expect them to bring those complaints to you. Neil Gaiman’s recent term paper on American legends was quite good. Across the table from him is Robin Hobb, and next to her is Jim Butcher, though I see Jim is going back to the high fantasy table to talk to the students there.

I saw that, Mr. Ringo! No, it does not matter that the gun fires Nerf bullets. You’ll turn it in to me right this instant. Thank you.

That very large group of students near the middle of the cafeteria are the short fiction students. They look so underfed because they are. This group contains our poorest students. One of our teachers has called them the “government cheese brigade,” though I discourage such language from our staff. Ted Chiang is the best-fed among them. Also at that table are Yoon Ha Lee, and Eugie Foster off to one side, and I see K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl as well.

My apologies, Mr. Chiang. I did not mean to point this Nerf gun in your direction.

Mmm? Yes, it’s true that the nec-romance students’ clothing skirts near the line of propriety, but they’re careful not to exceed the bounds of our school dress policy. Laurell K. Hamilton is the de facto leader of that group these days, though Kelley Armstrong has her followers among the group.

Sorry about the glare. The space opera students’ sliver jumpsuits and bubble helmets have an unfortunate tendency to reflect the sun into your eyes. Here, I’ve been carrying this extra pair of mirrorshades around for years and not worn them. Perhaps you will get more use out of them. We’ve spoken to students like Alistair Reynolds, Karl Schroeder and Wil McCarthy about their jumpsuits, but they too are within the bounds of our dress code.

That nearly empty table is where our minority students often sit. I remember when Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany attended this school and sat at that very table. Of course, Butler has graduated, and Chip Delany transfered to another school. What? Who are our current minority students? I mentioned Butler and Delany, did I not? Well, there is Nalo Hopkinson and Steven Barnes. Really, a lot of our minority students these days sit at the short fiction table.

The other nearly empty table is for exchange students. Ms. Atwood, I see you are eating by yourself again, and that you chose the pizza for lunch.

No, I’ve never seen her speak to any of the other students, either.

Mr. Turtledove, Ms. Novik, I see you two are holding forth on historical matters again. Yes, I’m aware of your complaints regarding our history department. I trust you are aware that your teachers are tired of essays and term papers about historical events that did not happen and that include bibliographies filled with books that are not in our school library?

Some of our students are interested in fiction for younger audiences. You can see them over near the food line. Philip Pullman is on the side next to the wall, and Diane Duane is opposite him. Jane Yolen is the one carrying the tiny stuffed dinosaur dressed in pajamas. It’s dark because of the shadow cast by you-know-who — unavoidable in this case.

The new freshmen tend to stay together when they first arrive, no matter what group they might better fit with. Toby Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, and Jay Lake are among our freshman crowd, as is the aforementioned John Scalzi.

Ah, so you’ve heard about a number of our students transfering to other schools. I hear good things from other school administrators about William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, and of course Jonathan Lethem, one of our most recent students to transfer from here, is making quite the name for himself.

Don’t concern yourself about the students surreptitiously smoking under the bleachers and setting off firecrackers. Those are the infernokrusher students. They’ll either tire of blowing things up really good or take off some fingers, after which they’ll no longer be our problem.

Now, you should not think that these are set in stone. Many of our students wander from group to group as the mood strikes them and the groups will have them. Why, Charles Stross is so peripatetic that he’s lunched with the space opera students, the mundane SF students, and even hosted a lunch with the urban fantasists and the high fantasists.

Thank you again for coming, Michael, and I hope this has been instructive. If you have time before you go, I’d like you to stop by our writing classes. Our writing-in-longhand instructors are among the best in the school system.

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  1. on July 25, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Wow, that must have taken some time to do. Well done.
    I would have been one of the leather duster & mirror shade kids on even days and odd days would be the fantasy kids.

  2. on July 25, 2007 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    *twitter* Feed a starving writer, please sir?

  3. on July 25, 2007 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I can’t say that I’ve read everyone mentioned, but man, well done! I snicker loudly.

  4. on July 25, 2007 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Eugie, you should make up writerly business cards. “Will write for cheese.”

  5. on July 25, 2007 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    That’s wonderful! Has Scalzi seen it?

  6. on July 25, 2007 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Quite possibly. He’s not quite grep-the-spool Kibo, but the laws of Internet mean that I’ve drawn his attention by talking about him.

  7. Lysana
    on July 25, 2007 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I love this, but I’m afraid to say I noticed you left out an entire group. The class clowns. Mr. Anthony would be hauled up for pulling the rubber vomit trick *again* while Robert Asprin and Esther Friesner were busy concocting a prank to pull during history class. Terry Pratchett would appear to be just a tad above both, but his English teachers know better based on the content of his essays. And my, but we all miss Mr. Adams around here…

  8. k
    on July 25, 2007 at 9:28 pm | Permalink


    Alas, no mention of Rudy Rucker or, worse, Gene Wolfe… or has he graduated?

  9. on July 25, 2007 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    WOW I think I need to read this again =)

    awesome story my man

  10. kat
    on July 25, 2007 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant! I really enjoyed reading that. You have a great knack for writing. I’m really glad you take the time to exercise it beyond proposals and documentation. 🙂

  11. Anthony Cunningham
    on July 26, 2007 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    Wot? No Peter F. Hamilton?

  12. on July 26, 2007 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    As a confirmed SF/Fantasy fan, THAT rocked, that more than rocked, that was brilliant!

  13. on July 26, 2007 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I certainly did leave out a number of authors, and did so for one of two reasons. One, I couldn’t figure out where to slot them. (Hi, Nick Mamatas!) Two, I plain forgot about them (Hi, Peter Hamilton!) or didn’t know them at all. Sadly, most of the omissions are in the latter category.

    And Lysana, that sound you hear is me facepalming. That would have been a great category.

  14. on July 26, 2007 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “The other nearly empty table is for exchange students. Ms. Atwood, I see you are eating by yourself again, and that you chose the pizza for lunch.

    No, I’ve never seen her speak to any of the other students, either.”

    In the interests of office courtesy, I had to murder the guffaw in my throat. Well done.

    Sadly, I know a lot of the names, but only read maybe a handful. Something to amend.

  15. David Lomax
    on July 26, 2007 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    That was bloody hilarious! Thanks for a series of really good laughs.

  16. DaibhidC
    on July 26, 2007 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    The last exchange student, Phyllis James, was just the same…

  17. Anonymous
    on July 27, 2007 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Where does this leave Peter Watts? Is he the kid who cooks up LSD in the labs during lunch?

  18. on July 27, 2007 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Good question. I have no idea where Peter would go.

    For those of you who don’t know his works, go read Blindsight. Though be warned: as James Nicoll says, “Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts.”

  19. J. C. Runolfson
    on July 27, 2007 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    An alarmingly accurate take, but where are the Mythpunk kids? Oh, wait, never mind, in the library. Because most of us are also poets and can’t afford lunch.

  20. on July 28, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Very funny!

    I’ll mention it on my Blog 🙂

  21. on July 28, 2007 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    [howl of laughter, helpless giggles] Thank you for this! (And if only because everyone else is also correcting you, but probably mostly because I’m a knowledge geek like everyone else; Toby Buckell can be in the “minority” group with me and Chip.

  22. on July 28, 2007 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I think Peter W would go with the Canadians.

  23. CF
    on July 30, 2007 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Of course Devid Levine doesn’t get mentioned.

    He’s from Oregon — “the place where men go to disappear from history”….

  24. on July 30, 2007 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Nalo, feel free to correct! This essay is like one of those “top 100 SF books” lists: half of the fun is disagreeing with the author. We talked about where Toby would eventually go over on his blog. Maybe we can get Buckell added to the “no really, we’re diverse!” cant next to your name.

    And if we add a Canadian table, I’ll have a place for Robert J. Sawyer.

  25. Pat Lundrigan
    on July 30, 2007 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised Miss Atwood wasn’t alone and talking to a plate of fried calimari.

  26. on July 30, 2007 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    I was a much rejected geek in HS and except around close friends rather quiet.

    Now get me around friends and I was more, ahem, talkative.

  27. Alex Jay Berman
    on July 31, 2007 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    It’s a shame that the Art and Music programs were phased out of the school curriculum; how often did we hear rousing rounds sung by Messrs. DeCandido, Heck, de Lint, and Ms. Bull (those latter two often lunching with Mr. Gaiman’s table).
    … and oh, yes; there was that lanky fellow who went by the unfortunate sobriquet “Spider”, as I recall …

    And were it not for their constant defacing–however lovely it may have been–of walls, desks, and in one memorable instance a faculty member, Art students such as James Owen, Larry Dixon, and others did much to beautify this school’s halls. And my, but what a crowd they did attract! Messrs. Moore, Ellis, David and so many more were always to be found chattering on at the Art table as drawings and paintings took shape all around them …

    We have, of course, had our, ahem, “problem children”. So often, the quickening of blood and the rush of hormones in young students’ bodies leads them to an unhealthy fascination with all things sexual, usually to their detriment. the deportment Mr. Norman, Ms. Rice, and several others earned them expulsions despite repeated warnings. Young Ms. Carey has eluded such a fate due to her high marks, as has young Ms. Scott, but I fear that Ms. Hamilton may be drifting away from us. Sad, sad …

  28. on July 31, 2007 at 9:35 am | Permalink


  29. Eleanor M Lindsay
    on August 4, 2007 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    my sister forwarded this – now I gotta go find some more books! (and I Do Not Have Room!) I do wish you had included the class clowns. also, my daughter said there were three groups in her school, the preppies, the druggies, and the rowdies…

8 Trackbacks

  1. By Antigravitas on July 25, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    SF authors as High School cliques…

    Read the whole thing! Nisi Shawl, Jay Lake, Ted Chiang, and Elizabeth Bear all get namechecks, but David Levine is unaccountably missing……

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  4. By Big Dumb Object on July 26, 2007 at 6:17 am

    The SF Writers School…

    This made me chuckle, Speculative Fiction Authors Considered As High School Students: I have to admit being puzzled by Geoff Ryman and the other Mundane SF students. Rumor has it they own no rocketpants underwear, which is unusual among our……

  5. […] Granades has a survey of current SF, done in the form of a school walk-through with new principal Michael Capobianco (who won the SFWA election discussed earlier this year). It’s pretty amusing if you know the […]

  6. […] Granades has a survey of current SF, done in the form of a school walk-through with new principal Michael Capobianco (who won the SFWA election discussed earlier this year). It’s pretty amusing if you know the […]

  7. By Benjamin Rosenbaum on February 26, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Under the bleachers with the government cheese brigade…

    I hadn’t seen this… :-)……

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