So there I was, a few years back, sitting before the massed ranks of the British Science Fiction Association as Maureen Speller grilled me for the record. After the hypercaffeinated interview was done, BSFA stalwart Tony Cullen wandered up and asked if Richard Feynman was one of my heroes.
"Absolutely," I told him. "Feynman and Chuck Norris. My all-time heroes. Kinda explains everything." Or words to that effect.
I never got round to telling Mr Cullen that his question was very astute, and I still don't know how he guessed. (When I spotted the chance to use Feynman as a character in my novella, The Swastika Bomb, I leaped at it. Writing the story was a blast.)
Sometime later, when my Beautiful Webmistress, aka Bridget McKenna, left rainy Seattle to visit rainy England, I showed her those great Horizon documentaries on Feynman, and she was pleased that I'd guessed she'd adore the man. (I think that Horizon = Nova, for US viewers.)
On a different occasion, the BW was present while I performed a solo martial arts talk: demos interspersed with reminiscences. Last year's Eastercon, it must have been. I mentioned the old Japanese saying: "When a nail protrudes from the floorboard, hammer it flat." It's how they treat students of all traditional disciplines, not just the martial ones. When you deviate from the pure way of doing things, you're hammered down... until the pure art is part of you, and you blossom into individual expression which is unique to you, while remaining true to the art.
The BW speaks Japanese (as well as Spanish and Irish) and knows about this stuff, so she thanked me afterwards for explaining the saying's intent: that it's not about eradicating individuality, but about something rarer and truer and subtler than the Western mind expects.
Which brings me onto senseis and heroes, and the meaning of shu-ha-ri. It refers to the three stages of development: following along blindly, internalizing the art, and finally walking along your own path (or as Steven Barnes might put it, when the Warrior becomes the Teacher).
The late Richard Feynman is a distant idol for me. Always something of a cult figure among physics undergraduates, I guess his aura fades for many working scientists. There are scientists and mathematicians who detest personality cults and popular science books, and I can see their point, but I don't agree.
That most energetic and erudite of biologists and nexialists, Dr Jack Cohen, once told me that he'd been lucky enough to meet all but one of his heroes. The exception was Robert Anson Heinlein, and they did have a long phone conversation.
In retrospect, I'd say that was a specialized use of the word 'luck': the kind that only comes with determination. Anyway, I've been lucky enough to meet Jack Cohen, and that's a privilege.
Who are my idols in the world of writing? Well, I grew up reading Heinlein and Andre Norton. Later, there were Clifford Simak and Frank Herbert. Distant figures.
Then there was the late great master, Roger Zelazny, whose writing devastated me with its poetry when I discovered it. I watched him once place a Worldcon audience under his spell; later, I had a stammering fanboy conversation with him: he was gentle and dignified and, my God, the aura of the man!
Somehow wrapped up in my mind with Zelazny was a very different writer who also lived in the American southwest: the English-born Elleston Trevor, aka Adam Hall, who brought a physical tension to his espionage books that no one in the world can match.
They were both martial artists, too.
I guess Mr William Gibson would have to be an idol, also -- maybe an Idoru? -- but we're growing closer to the current moment. I've talked to him twice, the last occasion being when I lined up for him to sign Pattern Recognition in Forbidden Planet bookshop, in London. (Kevin, Wise Ruler of the Book Section, remarked: "It's not many writers who have other writers in the queue.")
Who else? Well, Nicola Griffith's writing is sheer magic, and I told her so in person. (I've read The Blue Place half a dozen times, and I've read Stay twice, at least.) Manda Scott is great, and I passed on my admiration via our shared editor, Simon Taylor.
And someone I've known for decades: Anne McCaffrey. Not distant at all. My true sensei as a writer. I've only known one other person with anything like the same strength of spirit, and that was the indomitable Enoeda Sensei, scion of an ancient samurai lineage. (He had the strength, but Anne's an awful lot nicer. She brings warmth to the world.)
Perhaps I'll chat more about the physical disciplines next time. (How *are* the New Year resolutions going?) For now, I'll just sit back and contemplate those great writers we've been talking about.
My most recent reading: the blockbusting Pandora's Star by Peter Hamilton, out soon -- the ultimate space opera; Martin Sketchley's first book, The Affinity Trap, which is full of weird alien sex and violence; Michael Chabon's first novel, which in retrospect forms a warm-up for two later splendid mainstream books: Wonder Boys, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay (which is a MUST READ for comicbook fans); the latest Jesse Stone adventure from Robert Parker which I read in one sitting; Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. Oh, and Farnham's Freehold: it's been a long while since I re-read any Heinlein, and that's one with an *interesting* mix of attitudes. (Steve Barnes mentioned 'uncomfortable moments' when he read it.)
And the good news (in the UK; I haven't checked the US situation) is that the second volume of Manda Scott's Boudica trilogy is just out in hardcover. (And if you haven't read the first one, the handy-sized paperback is out right now.)
(Just in case any Chabon fans were wondering... I've read Summerland, and liked it, but not as much as it deserved, due to its Surfeit Of Baseball. American kids should love it.)
Take care, my friends. Goodnight from the Labyrinth.