Today is the release day of my new book, Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, so it seems appropriate to say a few words about it in this space.
The word “enwonderment” is not a real word; it’s one that Bob Silverberg made up in the 90s. In one of the conversations in this book, which roams far and wide–travel, art theory and history, music, films, politics, reading habits, and of course Bob’s long and prolific career, in and out of science fiction–I asked him what he meant by the term “enwonderment.”
“There are words like ’empowerment’ that are bandied about very freely, especially here in California. Enlightenment is also frequently heard. As well as I can remember this, I thought I would create ‘enwonderment’ as a kind of analogous noun that explains what science fiction is supposed to do.”
If you read Bob’s monthly editorial at Asimov’s, or his occasional essays elsewhere, it’s clear that he has managed to preserve his own sense of “enwonderment” over sixty years as a professional writer, no small feat. I was curious about the role that community, particularly the science fiction community, might have played in that, since the human brain seems to require access to and frequent engagement with other people’s neurons to thrive and be healthy and experience wonder. Bob didn’t think community played much of a role:
“I don’t think it’s related to community. I rarely talk about science fiction with my colleagues. What I talk about with them is writing, or the business side of writing. We are not discussing the miraculous new Earth-like planet that was discovered the other day, or the flyby of Pluto. That has not been my experience of the community. Though we’re all watching the same things.”
Like many of Bob’s observations throughout the book, that struck me as interesting. Before I had had much interaction with other members of the s-f community, I think I had idealized what the subjects of discussion might be, naively imagining that there would be much fevered discussion about artistic responses or intellectual discoveries or scientific breakthroughs. In reality people tend to be more pragmatic, and they don’t necessarily want to get into long, detailed conversations about something they’ve just spent eight or ten hours working on in a professional sense (i.e. science fiction). But of course once in a while, unabashedly nerdy raptures or rants do happen. Those impromptu sessions are delightful. And on subject-specific panels at conventions it’s always possible to go deep on a particular technical or thematic aspect of s-f, even “enwonderment” itself.
I was also curious if anything besides literature sparked in Bob the “sense of wonder.” He suggested that some of the exotic plants in his far-out garden might, or might have at least done so once upon a time. But ultimately familiarity “leads to a lack of strangeness. And wonder requires a certain amount of strangeness.”
Again, how true.
And yet my experience in writing this book, and in the long correspondence and eventual friendship with Bob that presaged it, may provide a flip-side to the grimmer extrapolation of that comment (namely, that as everything becomes more familiar to us, we lose all wonder). Bob is an exceedingly complex man. As Gardner Dozois points out in his lovely introduction to Traveler of Worlds, “the depth and breadth of his erudition, and the range of topics that interest his restless intellect” are remarkable. I find that no matter how many times we’ve talked about something, I always discover something new and unfamiliar in the workings of Bob’s mind, even if it’s just a subtle shading of opinion or unexpected witticism. And in those little startlements–in those glimmers of strangeness–there’s ample room for my curiosity and my wonder to be born anew.
It happened many times throughout the year of working on this book, and I expect it will continue to happen indefinitely.
May the same experience hold true for you when you read it.
About the Author
Alvaro is co-author, with Robert Silverberg, of When The Blue Shift Comes and Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg. Alvaro’s more than thirty stories have appeared in magazines like Analog, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, Lackington’s, Mothership Zeta, Farrago’s Wainscot and Neon, as well as anthologies such as The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Tales, The 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Cyber World, This Way to the End Times, Humanity 2.0 and An Alphabet of Embers. Alvaro’s essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The First Line, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, SF Signal, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Foundation and In