Hear a Playlist of the 336 Songs Mentioned in Bruce Springsteen’s New Memoir, Born to Run


Image by Michele Lucon, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

FYI: Ear­li­er this week, Bruce Spring­steen released his high­ly-antic­i­pat­ed mem­oir, Born to Run. It comes accom­pa­nied by a com­pan­ion album, Chap­ter and Verse. And now a Spo­ti­fy playlist that fea­tures every sin­gle song ref­er­enced in the pages of the book–his own or oth­ers’. There’s lots of Springsteen–most of his discog­ra­phy, in fact–but also great tracks from Aretha Franklin, Van Mor­ri­son, Cream, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and more. If you need Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here. Then set­tle in and enjoy 22 hours of music. You can start stream­ing the music below:

For any­one inter­est­ed, the nov­el­ist Richard Ford has a review of Born to Run (the auto­bi­og­ra­phy) in The New York Times. Ford’s Bas­combe tril­o­gy appears on Spring­steen’s List of His 20 Favorite Books.

Look­ing for free, pro­fes­­sion­al­­ly-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free tri­al with Audible.com, you can down­load two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bruce Spring­steen Plays East Berlin in 1988: I’m Not Here For Any Gov­ern­ment. I’ve Come to Play Rock

Heat Map­ping the Rise of Bruce Spring­steen: How the Boss Went Viral in a Pre-Inter­net Era

Springsteen’s Favorite Books & Read­ing List

A Complete List of the 533 Movies & TV Shows Watched on the International Space Station


Image cour­tesy of NASA

To keep some mea­sure of san­i­ty, the astro­nauts liv­ing aboard the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion (ISS), some 220 miles above our plan­et Earth, make a point of unwind­ing. Accord­ing to NASA, the astro­nauts get week­ends off. And, “on any giv­en day, crew mem­bers can watch movies, play music, read books, play cards and talk to their fam­i­lies.” Ear­li­er this year, Pale­o­Fu­ture gave us a fur­ther glimpse into what astro­naut down­time looks like, when its edi­tor, Matt Novak, print­ed a Com­plete List of Movies and TV Shows On Board the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. Acquired through a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion request, the list is a cat­a­logue of every film and TV show in the ISS media library. As Matt notes, there are many clas­sics (e.g. Alfred Hitchcock’s North by North­west), “plen­ty of space-themed and dystopi­an sci-fi movies” (2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and Blade Run­ner), and a help­ful serv­ing of com­e­dy (Air­plane). Below, you can find the first 100 items on the list. Get the com­plete list–all 533 movies and TV shows–at Pale­o­fu­ture.

  1. 1941
  2. 12 Mon­keys
  3. 12 Years a Slave
  4. 2 Fast 2 Furi­ous
  5. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  7. 21 Jump Street
  8. 24 (Sea­sons 1–8)
  9. 48 Hours
  10. 8 Mile
  11. A Christ­mas Car­ol
  12. A Christ­mas Sto­ry
  13. A Knights Tale
  14. A Man and a Woman
  15. A Night at the Opera
  16. A Night at the Rox­bury
  17. A Per­fect Mur­der
  18. A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion
  19. A Room with a View
  20. Absolute­ly Fab­u­lous (Series 1–3)
  21. Air Force One
  22. Air­plane
  23. Alias Sea­son 1
  24. Alien
  25. Alien 3
  26. Alien Res­ur­rec­tion
  27. Aliens
  28. All Good Things
  29. Along Came Pol­ly
  30. Always
  31. Amer­i­can Gang­ster
  32. Amer­i­can Sniper
  33. Amer­i­can Wed­ding
  34. An Amer­i­can in Paris
  35. An Arti­cle of Hope
  36. Ana­lyze This
  37. Anchor­man
  38. Anchor­man 2
  39. Ani­mal House (1978)
  40. Argo
  41. Armaged­don
  42. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
  43. Around the World in 80 Days (2004)
  44. Arrow Sea­son 1
  45. Arsenic and Old Lace
  46. As Good as it Gets
  47. Austin Pow­ers Inter­na­tion­al Man of Mys­tery
  48. Austin Pow­ers The Spy Who Shagged Me
  49. Aus­tralia
  50. Avatar
  51. Baby Mama
  52. Back to Bataan
  53. Back to the Future
  54. Back to the Future Part II
  55. Back to the Future Part III
  56. Back­draft
  57. Band of Broth­ers Sea­son 1
  58. Bataan
  59. Bat­man For­ev­er
  60. Bat­man Returns
  61. Bat­tle for the Plan­et of the Apes
  62. Bat­tle of Britain
  63. Bat­tle­ship
  64. Beneath the Plan­et of the Apes
  65. Ben-Hur
  66. Bet­ter Call Saul Sea­son 1
  67. Bev­er­ly Hills Cop II
  68. Bev­er­ly Hills Cop III
  69. Big Bang The­o­ry (Sea­sons 1–8)
  70. Big Eyes
  71. Big Jake
  72. Bil­ly Jack
  73. Bird­man, or the Unex­pect­ed Virtue of Igno­rance
  74. Black Hawk Down
  75. Black Mask
  76. Black Swan
  77. Blade Run­ner
  78. Blaz­ing Sad­dles Blend­ed
  79. Blue Plan­et Frozen Seas
  80. Blue Plan­et Ocean World
  81. Blues Broth­ers
  82. Bob Newhart But­ton-Down Con­cert
  83. Body of Lies
  84. Brave­heart
  85. Break­ing Bad Sea­sons 1–6
  86. Brides­maids
  87. Bull Durham
  88. Cad­dyshack
  89. Cahill Unit­ed States Mar­shal
  90. Cap­tain Amer­i­ca: The First Avenger
  91. Cap­tain Amer­i­ca: The Win­ter Sol­dier Cap­tain Phillips
  92. Casablan­ca
  93. Cast Away
  94. Catch-22
  95. Celtic Woman Songs from the Heart
  96. Chance Are
  97. Char­i­ots of Fire
  98. Char­lie St Cloud
  99. Chil­dren of Men
  100. Chisum

Find the com­plete list of 533 films and TV shows here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Astro­naut Chris Had­field Sings David Bowie’s “Space Odd­i­ty” On Board the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion

Every­thing You Want­ed to Know About Going to the Bath­room in Space But Were Afraid to Ask

If Astro­nauts Cry in Space, Will Their Tears Fall?

William Shat­ner Puts in a Long Dis­tance Call to Astro­naut Aboard the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion

Chris Rock Creates a List of His 13 Favorite Standup Comedy Specials

We know Ellen DeGeneres as the super­star host of her own talk show and the voice of cud­dly, for­get­ful fish Dory. No doubt many of her younger fans have no idea she was a standup com­ic, before The Ellen DeGeneres Show, before even the 90s sit­com Ellen, which most­ly gets men­tioned for the “com­ing out” episode that sup­pos­ed­ly end­ed her career almost two decades ago. But even if all the TV and movie star­dom had nev­er come her way, come­di­ans like Chris Rock might still remem­ber Ellen as one of their favorite standup comics.

Rock adds DeGeneres to his list of “Favorite Standup Spe­cials” for her 2003 HBO per­for­mance Here and Now, which you can see in part above. “Most comics just talk about what they see,” he writes, “This is the first time I heard some­body talk about what they felt.” Ellen works clean, and in that respect she’s in a minor­i­ty on Rock’s list (she’s also the only woman). Even the come­di­an Rock com­pares to Andy Grif­fith— “Blue Col­lar” com­ic Ron White—gets a raunchy aster­isk next to that ref­er­ence. And indeed, he’s both down home and dirty. So what con­nects the come­di­ans on Rock’s list?

Aside from the fact that they’re all big names, not much, it seems. In choos­ing these 13 spe­cials, Rock seems drawn not to a par­tic­u­lar genre or brand of humor, but to the skill­ful, mov­ing per­for­mance of com­e­dy: dirty, clean, polit­i­cal, top­i­cal, observational—it’s all good as long as it’s fun­ny. A good com­ic can make ‘em laugh by riff­ing on the mun­dane annoy­ances of dai­ly life, or by telling uncom­fort­able truths with a smile like Dave Chap­pelle, above, whose spe­cial Killin’ Them Soft­ly also appears on Rock’s list of favorites.

Like Rock, Chap­pelle knows his com­e­dy his­to­ry, and fans of The Chap­pelle Show know too—at least when it comes to the leg­endary Paul Mooney, a comedian’s come­di­an and one­time writer for Richard Pry­or. Mooney’s spe­cial Jesus is Black. So Was Cleopa­tra. Know Your His­to­ry makes the list for “more edge than any­thing you are ever going to see.” And his one­time boss Pry­or gets top billing for the “per­fect” Live in Con­cert 1979—“what every com­ic is striv­ing for,” says Rock, “and we all fall very short.”

Speak­ing of truth-tellers, the great George Car­lin makes the list for his spe­cial Jam­min’ in New York. Car­lin spared no one, and come­di­ans love him for it, even if few peo­ple have the courage or the wit to do what he did. Rock has come close, with rou­tines that make peo­ple laugh as they squirm in their seats. His deliv­ery is all his own, but we can see Car­lin’s bristling social cri­tique in his act as much as Richard Pry­or’s riffs on race and sex.

Oth­er big names on the list include Steve Har­vey, Eddie Mur­phy, the-once-beloved Bill Cos­by, George Lopez (“the Mex­i­can Richard Pry­or and Bill Cos­by at the same time”), and even Andrew Dice Clay for his The Day the Laugh­ter Died, “a com­e­dy album only a come­di­an could love.”

But it isn’t sole­ly about laugh­ter or can­dor for Rock; as he not­ed in his Ellen pick, it’s also about feel­ing, and in the case of one spe­cial, Bil­ly Crystal’s one-man-show 700 Sun­days, the com­e­dy sits side-by-side with pathos. Drawn from a bit­ter­sweet auto­bi­og­ra­phy of the same title, Crystal’s show pre­miered in 2004 and was revived in 2013 and filmed by HBO (trail­er above). “Bril­liant, touch­ing and f*cking fun­ny,” says Rock, “First time in my life I cried at a com­e­dy show.”

Round­ing out the list is Sam Kin­i­son, whose unfor­get­tably unhinged role in Rod­ney Dangerfield’s Back to School brought thou­sands of curi­ous new fans to his clas­sic album Loud­er than Hell. “The last orig­i­nal com­ic,” says Rock. “Most comics are deriv­a­tives of Pry­or, Cos­by, or Sein­feld. Sam remind­ed you of Bil­ly Gra­ham.” I’d say he was more Jim­my Swag­gart, if Jim­my Swag­gart screamed obscen­i­ties at starv­ing chil­dren. See Rock’s full list below.

  1. Richard Pry­or Live In Con­cert 1979
  2. Paul Mooney: Jesus Is Black. So Was Cleopa­tra
  3. Dave Chap­pelle: Killin’ Them Soft­ly
  4. Eddie Mur­phy: Deliri­ous
  5. Bill Cos­by: Him­self
  6. George Car­lin: Jam­min’ in New York
  7. George Lopez: Amer­i­ca’s Mex­i­can
  8. Steve Har­vey: One Man
  9. Bil­ly Crys­tal: 700 Sun­days
  10. Andrew Dice Clay: The Day the Laugh­ter Died
  11. Ron White: They Call Me Tater Sal­ad
  12. Ellen DeGeneres: Here and Now
  13. Sam Kin­i­son: Loud­er Than Hell

via Austin Kleon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear 30 of the Great­est Standup Com­e­dy Albums: A Playlist Cho­sen by Open Cul­ture Read­ers

Steve Mar­tin & Robin Williams Riff on Math, Physics, Ein­stein & Picas­so in a Heady Com­e­dy Rou­tine (2002)

Bill Hicks’ 12 Prin­ci­ples of Com­e­dy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

How the Coen Brothers Storyboarded Blood Simple Down to a Tee (1984)

Sel­dom, in the films of the Joel and Ethan Coen, do char­ac­ters’ schemes go accord­ing to plan. You can watch it hap­pen all across their fil­mog­ra­phy: the baby theft in Rais­ing Ari­zona, the own-wife kid­nap­ping and ran­som in Far­go, the casi­no-vault tun­nel heist in The Ladykillers, the Com­mu­nist con­ver­sion of a screen idol in Hail, Cae­sar! But they’ve earned their enor­mous cin­e­mat­ic rep­u­ta­tion not just for their themes, but for the pre­ci­sion with which they con­struct movies around them; it some­times seems that the more dis­solute the char­ac­ters and ulti­mate­ly dis­as­trous the plot they fall into, the more care­ful­ly-made the pic­ture.

This pat­tern began in 1984 with their first fea­ture, the Texas neo-noir Blood Sim­ple. Despite its rel­a­tive­ly small-scale pro­duc­tion (espe­cial­ly by the stan­dards of their peri­od piece-heavy recent work), it show­cas­es every ele­ment their fans love: the sense of place, the sharp dia­logue, the fas­ci­na­tion with “low” life, the dark humor, the atten­tion to detail.

No won­der, then, that it has now arrived in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion, in an edi­tion which includes sup­ple­men­tary mate­ri­als like the com­par­i­son between the sto­ry­board and fin­ished scene above, fea­tur­ing com­men­tary from the Coens Joel and Ethan both, as well as direc­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Bar­ry Son­nen­feld and actor Frances McDor­mand.

“There are direc­tors who are com­plete­ly com­fort­able extem­po­riz­ing on the set, and oth­ers who are not,” say Joel and Ethan, trad­ing off obser­va­tions. “Some direc­tors want to throw every­thing up in the air and just see where it lands; that’s real­ly how they work, fun­da­men­tal­ly, and get great results. We’re kind of the… oth­er end of the spec­trum. We’re more com­fort­able if we have a plan, even if we stray quite a dis­tance from that plan while we’re shoot­ing.” They seem not to have strayed at all in the par­tic­u­lar scene in this video, but their fil­mog­ra­phy boasts more than enough vital­i­ty to rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of com­plete, con­trol-freak­ish rigid­i­ty. All of it shows us how the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry — but only because the Coen Broth­ers lay even bet­ter plans first.

via No Film School

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Coen Broth­ers Put Their Remark­able Stamp on the “Shot Reverse Shot,” the Fun­da­men­tal Cin­e­mat­ic Tech­nique

Watch the Coen Broth­ers’ TV Com­mer­cials: Swiss Cig­a­rettes, Gap Jeans, Tax­es & Clean Coal

Tui­leries: A Short, Slight­ly Twist­ed Film by Joel and Ethan Coen

World Cin­e­ma: Joel and Ethan Coen’s Play­ful Homage to Cin­e­ma His­to­ry

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

When an Octopus Caused the Great Staten Island Ferry Disaster (November 22, 1963)

Where were you on Novem­ber 22, 1963?

I had yet to be born, but am giv­en to under­stand that the events of that day helped shape a gen­er­a­tion.

Doc­u­men­tar­i­an Melanie Juliano knows this too, though she’s still a few months shy of the legal drink­ing age. The 2014 recip­i­ent of the New Jer­sey Film­mak­ers of Tomor­row Fes­ti­val’s James Gan­dolfi­ni Best of Fest Award uses pri­ma­ry sources and archival footage to bring an imme­di­a­cy to this dark day in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, the day a giant octopus—“a giant fuckin’ octo­pus” in the words of mar­itime expert Joey Fazzino—took down the Cor­nelius G. Kolff and all 400 hun­dred souls aboard.

What did you think I was talk­ing about, the Kennedy assas­si­na­tion?


Image via the Face­book page of the Stat­en Island Fer­ry Octo­pus Dis­as­ter Memo­r­i­al Muse­um

Those who would ques­tion this tragedy’s authen­tic­i­ty need look no fur­ther than a recent­ly ded­i­cat­ed bronze memo­r­i­al in Low­er Manhattan’s Bat­tery Park. To require more proof than that is unseem­ly, nay, cru­el. If an esti­mat­ed 90% of tourists stum­bling across the site are will­ing to believe that a giant octo­pus laid waste to a Man­hat­tan-bound Stat­en Island fer­ry sev­er­al hours before John F. Kennedy was shot, who are you to ques­tion?

The memorial’s artist, Joe Reginel­la, of the Stat­en Island-based Super Fun Com­pa­ny, is find­ing it hard to dis­en­gage from a dis­as­ter of this mag­ni­tude. Instead the crafts­man, whose pre­vi­ous work includes a JAWS trib­ute infant crib, lingers near­by, not­ing vis­i­tors’ reac­tions and hand­ing out lit­er­a­ture for the (non-exis­tent) Stat­en Island Fer­ry Dis­as­ter Memo­r­i­al Muse­um.

(New York 1 reports that an actu­al muse­um across the street from the address list­ed on Reginella’s brochures is not amused, though atten­dance is up.)

A Stat­en Island Octo­pus Dis­as­ter web­site is there for the edi­fi­ca­tion of those unable to vis­it in per­son. Spend time con­tem­plat­ing this hor­rif­ic event and you may come away inspired to learn more about the Gen­er­al Slocum dis­as­ter of 1904, a real life New York City fer­ry boat tragedy, that time has vir­tu­al­ly erased from the pub­lic con­scious­ness.

(The memo­r­i­al for that one is locat­ed in an out of the way sec­tion of Tomp­kins Square Park.)

H/T to read­er Scott Her­mes/via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Dancer on the Stat­en Island Fer­ry

“Moon Hoax Not”: Short Film Explains Why It Was Impos­si­ble to Fake the Moon Land­ing

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Benedict Cumberbatch Sing Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” with David Gilmour Live on Stage

Around here, when we talk about Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, we usu­al­ly talk about his knack for read­ing clas­sic texts–Kafka’s Meta­mor­pho­sis, Melville’s Moby-Dick, a poignant let­ter by Alan Tur­ing, even pas­sages from a Guan­tá­namo prisoner’s diary. But today we’re putting anoth­er one of his tal­ents on dis­play.

Above, watch Cum­ber­batch join David Gilmour live on stage to per­form Pink Floy­d’s 1979 song, “Com­fort­ably Numb.” The per­for­mance took place last night at Lon­don’s Roy­al Albert Hall. Enjoy.

Note: You can down­load free audio­books read by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch if you sign up for a 30-Day Free Tri­al with Audi­ble.com.  That includes read­ings of Sher­lock Holmes, Jane Austen and Neil Gaiman. Find more infor­ma­tion on Audi­ble’s Free Tri­al pro­gram here.

via Rolling Stone

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Son­net 18

Ultra Ortho­dox Rab­bis Sing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” on the Streets of Jerusalem

Hear Lost Record­ing of Pink Floyd Play­ing with Jazz Vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li on “Wish You Were Here”

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Artificial Intelligence Program Tries to Write a Beatles Song: Listen to “Daddy’s Car”

Last May, we told you about Flow Machine, an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence-dri­ven music com­pos­er that analy­ses composer’s styles and then cre­ates new works from that data. Devel­oped by François Pachet at Sony CSL-Paris, the ini­tial exper­i­ments demon­strat­ed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as played in the style of bossa nova, the Bea­t­les’ “Pen­ny Lane,” and Ennio Morricone’s roman­tic work. Admit­ted­ly, it wasn’t the most stun­ning moment in A.I.—a com­put­er was now doing what arrangers have been doing for years, apply­ing genre rules to a melody cre­at­ed in anoth­er genre.

How­ev­er, Flow Machine has returned with an inter­est­ing devel­op­ment: two upcom­ing albums of A.I.-created songs, from which two tunes have been released to give you a taste of com­put­er cre­ativ­i­ty. French com­pos­er and musi­cian Benoît Car­ré helped out with the arrange­ments and pro­duc­tion of the songs, and also wrote the lyrics, so it’s not com­plete­ly an A.I. cre­ation, we should note.

So what should we make of “Daddy’s Car,” above, an attempt to cre­ate an A.I song in the style of the Bea­t­les? The open­ing sec­onds fea­ture the three-part har­mo­ny of “Because,” but when the band kicks in, it’s clos­er to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds than the Fab Four. (If any­thing, it’s clos­er to the High Lla­mas.)

But does it sound like it was writ­ten by a human? Yes.

For some­thing stranger, try the oth­er song released so far: “Mr. Shad­ow,” writ­ten “in the style of Amer­i­can song­writ­ers such as Irv­ing Berlin, Duke Elling­ton, George Gersh­win and Cole Porter.”

Now this is much odd­er, a mix of coun­try twang, Daniel Lanois-style ambi­ence, along with a vocal that sounds like a cor­rupt­ed audio file. If you are look­ing for a true glimpse of the future, wrap your ears and san­i­ty around this one. Musi­cians and music fans, let us know in the com­ments what you think about this brave new world that has such hit sin­gles in it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Chat­bots Talk to Each Oth­er & Get Into a Deep Philo­soph­i­cal Con­ver­sa­tion

Noam Chom­sky Explains Where Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Went Wrong

Stephen Hawk­ing Won­ders Whether Cap­i­tal­ism or Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Will Doom the Human Race

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Sci-Fi Icon Robert Heinlein Lists 5 Essential Rules for Making a Living as a Writer


So you want to be a writer? Good, you’ll find plen­ty of advice from the best here at Open Cul­ture. Oh, you want to be a sci­ence fic­tion writer? The great Ursu­la K. Le Guin has offered read­ers a wealth of writ­ing advice, though she won’t tell us “how to sell a ship, but how to sail one.” But wait, you also want to know how to pub­lish, and make a liv­ing? For that, you’d bet­ter see Robert Hein­lein, one of the acknowl­edged mas­ters of the Gold­en Age of sci­ence fic­tion and a huge­ly pro­lif­ic author who pio­neered both pop­u­lar hard sci-fi and what he called “spec­u­la­tive fic­tion,” a more seri­ous, lit­er­ary form incor­po­rat­ing social and polit­i­cal themes.

In his 1947 essay “On the Writ­ing of Spec­u­la­tive Fic­tion,” Hein­lein refers to these “two types” of sci­ence fic­tion as “the gad­get sto­ry and the human inter­est sto­ry.” The lat­ter kind of sto­ry, writes Hein­lein “stands a bet­ter chance with the slicks than a gad­get sto­ry does” because it has wider appeal. This advice sounds rather util­i­tar­i­an, doesn’t it? What about pas­sion, inspi­ra­tion, the muse? Eh, you don’t have time for those things. If you want to be suc­cess­ful like Robert Hein­lein, you’ve got to write sto­ries, lots of ‘em, sto­ries peo­ple want to pub­lish and pay for, sto­ries peo­ple want to read.

Hein­lein spends the bulk of his essay advis­ing us on how to write such sto­ries, with a pro­vi­so, in an epi­gram from Rud­yard Kipling, that “there are nine-and-six­ty ways / Of con­struct­ing trib­al lays / And every sin­gle one of them is right.” After, how­ev­er, describ­ing in detail how he writes a “human inter­est” sci­ence fic­tion sto­ry, Hein­lein then gets down to busi­ness. He assumes that we can type, know the right for­mats or can learn them, and can spell, punc­tu­ate, and use gram­mar as our “wood-carpenter’s sharp tools.” These pre­req­ui­sites met, all we real­ly need to write spec­u­la­tive fic­tion are the five rules below:

1. You must write.

2. You must fin­ish what you start.

3. You must refrain from rewrit­ing except to edi­to­r­i­al order.

4. You must put it on the mar­ket.

5. You must keep it on the mar­ket until sold.

You might think Hein­lein has lapsed into the lan­guage of the real­tor, not the writer, but he is dead­ly seri­ous about these rules, which “are amaz­ing­ly hard to follow—which is why there are so few pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers and so many aspi­rants.” Any­one who has tried to write and pub­lish fic­tion knows this to be true. But what did Hein­lein mean in giv­ing us such an aus­tere list? For one thing, as he notes many times, there are per­haps as many ways to write sci-fi sto­ries as there are peo­ple to write them. What Hein­lein aims to give us are the keys to becom­ing pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers, not the­o­rists of writ­ing, lovers of writ­ing, dab­blers and dilet­tantes of writ­ing.

Award-win­ning sci­ence fic­tion writer Robert J. Sawyer has inter­pret­ed Heinlein’s rules with com­men­tary of his own, and added a sixth: “Start Work­ing on Some­thing Else.” Good advice. Hein­lein’s rule num­ber three, however—“the one that got Hein­lein in trou­ble with cre­ative-writ­ing teachers”—seems to con­tra­dict what most every oth­er writer will tell us. Sawyer sug­gests we take it to mean, “Don’t tin­ker end­less­ly with your sto­ry.” Writer Patri­cia C. Wrede agrees, but also sug­gests that “Hein­lein was of the school of thought that felt that ‘good enough’ was all that was nec­es­sary, ever.”

Like 19th cen­tu­ry writ­ers who churned out nov­els as seri­al­ized sto­ries for the papers and mag­a­zines, Hein­lein and his fel­low Gold­en Age writ­ers made their liv­ing sell­ing sto­ry after sto­ry to the “pulps” and the “slicks” (prefer­ably the slicks). One had to be pro­lif­ic, and being “’pro­lif­ic enough’ often involved not hav­ing time to pol­ish and revise much (if at all).” So rule num­ber three may or may not apply, depend­ing on our con­straints. The lit­er­ary mar­ket has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly since 1947, but the rest of Heinlein’s rules still seem non­nego­tiable if we intend not only to write—speculative fic­tion or otherwise—but also to make a career doing so.

via Ken St. Andre

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Writ­ing Tips by Hen­ry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Mar­garet Atwood, Neil Gaiman & George Orwell

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Pieces of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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