Gardner Dozois got me into science fiction

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Word broke the other day that science fiction editor Gardner Dozois died suddenly. There's been a number of tributes to him from around the science fiction community, and for good reason: for decades, he's been one of the foremost forces in curating the cream of the crop that is the SF short fiction world, via his The Year's Best Science Fiction anthology series. 

I wrote about the series a while ago for my Kirkus Reviews column, where I looked at his work as a writer and later anthologist, but since his passing, I've been thinking about how his work impacted me: he is really one of the ones that got me interested in modern science fiction in a very big way. 

The re-release of Star Wars and Legends of Zelda: Link's Awakening were two big influences when it came to discovering science fiction and fantasy — later followed by Brian Jacques Redwall series — which in turn steered me towards some of the classics: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, and others. But it was an anthology by Dozois that made me realize that science fiction wasn't a genre that rested entirely on the classics: there were plenty of new and brilliant stories being published every year. During a family trip to New York in 2000 — I think it was a wedding or funeral — we stopped at a Barnes and Noble. I vividly remember the bookstore, and coming across The Year's Best Science Fiction: Eighteenth Annual Edition, and thought back to the classic anthologies that I'd been reading. This seemed like a good way for my teenage brain to read up on a whole bunch of adventures, so that was my purchase for the day. 

To this day, I haven't read all of it: (I read anthologies sporadically), but stories like Stephen Baxter's "On the Orion Line," and John Kessel's "The Juniper Tree" still stand out to me. I've picked up a handful of other Year's Best Anthologies over the years. Dozois always had an impeccable eye for curation, and beyond just the fiction that he included, there was a great survey of the output of the science fiction community: collecting the entire series and reading that alone would give you a great chunk of the genre's recent history. 

I went back to the anthology time and again, and a couple of years later, I first subscribed to Asimov's Science Fiction, which Dozois edited. Again, I found his curation to be fantastic, introducing me to authors such as Allen M. Steele, Walter Jon Williams, Robert Reed, Charles Stross, John Varley, Karen Traviss, Tanith Lee, Charles Sheffield, Nancy Kress, Bruce Sterling, and so many others. I never really read through each issue cover to cover, but Dozois's short introductions to each story served as a good guidepost for what appealed to me the most: adventures in space, biotechnology run amok, robots, and the like. 

Dozois's showed me that science fiction was alive and that it was not only something that was continually changing, but it was something that I could contribute to: I remember stuffing envelopes with terrible stories and mailing them off to Asimovs' and Dozois, only to get the standard form letter back. They were always polite messages that encouraged me to continue to try. 

For a long time, I stopped reading Asimov's and short fiction in general, but it's something that I've returned to in recent months, but when I was at a bookstore, I'd often flip through his latest Years' Best Anthology to see who made the cut for the year, even sitting down and reading through a story or two if I was killing time. 

There's a number of Year's Best Anthologies crowding the market now: Neil Clarke's Best Science Fiction of the Year series and John Joseph Adams' The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series are just two examples (and there's a ton of other, subgenre-specific ones that have popped up as well), but Dozois's loss leaves a Chicxulub-sized crater in the field. The genre and fandom community will move on, but that hole will never completely be filled, and he's a figure that will leave long-lasting changes on the genre for years to come.

 

Reading

I read a lot. I post up pictures of the books I get, and everyone from the UPS guy to random Twitter people ask how I have the time to read so much. I feel like I don't read all that much, especially compared to the piles of books that I have in my office. 

Last year, I fell far short of my 52 book reading goal. I keep track via GoodReads, and came in just short. I realized that I'd been falling behind simply because I was fitting in reading only occasionally throughout the days and weeks and months. I'd been hoping to hit that goal simply because it was there, and wasn't making the time to make it happen.

This year is different: I'm specifically setting aside time to read, usually the 8-9AM block, before I turn on any of my Twitter / Facebook / work feeds. Once those start up, it's hard to reclaim the time. And it's worked! I've made it through 25 books already this year, as well as a couple of abortive attempts that I later put aside. There's been days when I've blown through an entire short book in a sitting, which is a nice feeling, and I feel like I get more of the story processed. 

This past weekend, I realized that while I've been paying a lot of attention to novel/novella-length fiction, I haven't really been doing the same with short fiction. I grew up reading Asimov's Science Fiction, and we're in the midst of a golden age of SF short fiction. There's so many choices: Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Uncanny, Asimov's, Fireside, and others. I realized that like I wasn't making the time to read books, I haven't been making the time to read short fiction, and so I've started doing that. I'm not setting aside time for this like I do with books, but in between articles, over lunch breaks, while walking the dog, in random pieces of time throughout my day, there's time to consume a short story. It's been so easy to pick up, too. 

I've started documenting what stories I've been reading on Twitter: here's the thread for short fiction, and another for the books I've been reading. I figure it's a good way to keep me going, and something besides links to the articles I've been writing. 

The Expanse Is Here And It's Amazing

So, there's this book series that I've really enjoyed - The Expanse. I read the first book before it hit stores, and I've been hooked since. Now, it's been turned into a TV series on SyFy, and after watching the first four episodes, I'm pretty sure that it's as good as Battlestar Galactica. Yeah, I said it.

The show does a good job adapting Leviathan Wakes, but it does do it's own thing. They nailed the casting, and they absolutely nailed the sets and look and feel of the world.

I've been doing a lot with this show: earlier this May, I wrote up a major article for Barnes and Noble about how the Expanse came together, which is a really fascinating story. I'm very proud of that article. A little after that, I reviewed the 5th book, Nemesis Games for io9.

More recently, I've written up a couple of things:

Speaking of which.

The pilot is now available just about everywhere, including on YouTube:

https://youtu.be/FvZeQD1Vf2s

 

You should go watch it. It's pretty excellent.

Current Reading List

IMG_3636 It's been a while since I've done one of these posts. I've had a number of really cool looking books show up in the last month, and it's turned my to-read list into something really spectacular.

The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard

In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

I've really enjoyed de Bodard's short fiction in the past, and her debut novel looks like it's an astonishingly good fantasy. I haven't started it yet, but I've seen people whose judgement I trust really enjoy it, and I'm looking forward to this one.

The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The patched-up ship has seen better days, but it offers her everything she could possibly want: a spot to call home, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and some distance from her past.

And nothing could be further from what she's known than the crew of the Wayfarer.

From Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the chatty engineers who keep the ship running, to the noble captain Ashby, life aboard is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. That is until the crew is offered the job of a lifetime tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. Sure, they'll earn enough money to live comfortably for years, but risking her life wasn't part of the job description.

The journey through the galaxy is full of excitement, adventure, and mishaps for the Wayfarerteam. And along the way, Rosemary comes to realize that a crew is a family, and that family isn't necessarily the worst thing in the universe…as long as you actually like them.

I actually got this in earlier today, and read the first couple of chapters. So far, it's really, really fun - a fun, adventurous space opera, something that I've always enjoyed.

Sorcerer To The Crown, Zen Cho

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

I'm not familiar with Cho's work, but it looks like it's an interesting fantasy novel set in London. Comparisons to the fantastic Suzanne Clarke are always welcome.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson

Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people-even her soul.

When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, overwrites her culture, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her fathers, Baru vows to swallow her hate, join the Empire's civil service, and claw her way high enough to set her people free.

Sent as an Imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn, another conquered country, Baru discovers it's on the brink of rebellion. Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious dukes, Baru may be able to use her position to help. As she pursues a precarious balance between the rebels and a shadowy cabal within the Empire, she orchestrates a do-or-die gambit with freedom as the prize.

But the cost of winning the long game of saving her people may be far greater than Baru imagines.

I met Dickinson at ReaderCon, and got this book about the same time: I'm intrigued by the plot and the world that he's set out.

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

I loved Jemisin's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and while I haven't picked up her others, this one has really captured my attention. I can't wait to dig into it.

Speak, Louisa Hall

In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive.

A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.

Each of these characters is attempting to communicate across gaps—to estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or a computer program that may or may not understand them. In dazzling and electrifying prose, Louisa Hall explores how the chasm between computer and human—shrinking rapidly with today’s technological advances—echoes the gaps that exist between ordinary people. Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood.

I've been reading this one for a little while now, and it's an interesting one, with a story spanning centuries, from the distant past, to the near-ish future, ostensibly about robotics, but really about the types of stories that we tell. It's interesting that the book's title is Speak, given that the book is made up of written accounts from a really interesting cast of characters.

Landfall, Naomi J. Williams

In her wildly inventive debut novel, Naomi J. Williams reimagines the historical Lapérouse expedition, a voyage of exploration that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, more than two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France.

Deeply grounded in historical fact but refracted through a powerful imagination, Landfallsfollows the exploits and heartbreaks not only of the men on the ships but also of the people affected by the voyage-indigenous people and other Europeans the explorers encountered, loved ones left waiting at home, and those who survived and remembered the expedition later. Each chapter is told from a different point of view and is set in a different part of the world, ranging from London to Tenerife, from Alaska to remote South Pacific islands to Siberia, and eventually back to France. The result is a beautifully written and absorbing tale of the high seas, scientific exploration, human tragedy, and the world on the cusp of the modern era.

I get a lot of books here at the house: most are ones that I'll put aside, but every now and again, I find a book that absolutely catches my eye. This one looks excellent: a historical, nautical novel, about science. It's an era that I really want to read up on, and I'm eager to see how it turns out.

A Planet For Rent, Yoss

In his bestselling A Planet for Rent, Yoss critiques ‘90s Cuba by drawing parallels with a possible Earth of the not-so-distant future. Wracked by economic and environmental problems, the desperate planet is rescued, for better or worse, by alien colonizers, who remake the planet as a tourist destination. Ruled over by a brutal interstellar bureaucracy, dispossessed humans seek better lives via the few routes available — working for the colonial police; eking out a living as black marketeers, drug dealers, or artists; prostituting themselves to exploitative extraterrestrial visitors — or facing the cold void of space in rickety illegal ships.

This book is one of the first Cuban science fiction novels to be translated and brought to the United States. I'm reviewing this book for Lightspeed Magazine in an upcoming issue, and I've enjoyed what I've read thus far.

Lev Grossman: The Full Interview

[youtube=https://youtu.be/CkzZ19WVAEQ]

Last month, Phoenix Books of Burlington asked me to take part in their first 'interview-style' event with Lev Grossman, and they've just put the entirety of the interview up on the web for you to watch. This was a lot of fun to take part in. I'm a huge fan of the Magicians trilogy, and getting to interview Grossman about them was a lot of fun.

Enjoy!

Evolution of a Space Epic: James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse

Over on Barnes and Noble's SciFi & Fantasy blog, I've got one of the biggest articles I've ever written: the Evolution of James S.A. Corey's series, The Expanse. This has been in the works for several months now, and it's really exciting to see it hit the light of day.

This article covers the entire background of where The Expanse came from. It started as an MMO pitch, became an RPG, then a book, then a series, and now, a television show. In March, I visited the television set, and since then, I've been researching, interviewing and writing.

This was a helluva lot of fun to write about, and I'm looking forward to the television show. After all of this, I'm convinced that the show will be a big one, and one that'll be returning SyFy to its roots in a grand way.

Read the entire article here. It's a long read: 10k+ words.

Sources.

I'm not going to annotate these sources, but here's the list of interviews and articles I drew quotes from. In the article, where an interview isn't linked, it's one that I conducted myself.

  • Daniel Abraham Interview | Paying the Long Price: http://www.boomtron.com/2006/03/daniel-abraham-interview/

2007:

  • Interview | Daniel Abraham: http://aidanmoher.com/blog/2007/10/interviews/interview-daniel-abraham/
  • Daniel Abraham Interview: http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/2007/08/daniel-abraham-interview.html

2008:

  • An Interview with Daniel Abraham: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/abraham_interview/

2009:

  • Interview With Daniel Abraham, Co-Author Of Caliban’s War: http://isaachooke.com/interview-with-daniel-abraham-author-of-calibans/

2010:

  • Cover Launch: LEVIATHAN WAKES: http://www.orbitbooks.net/2010/11/01/cover-launch-leviathan-wakes/ Collaboration: http://bram452.livejournal.com/79711.html

2011:

  • Interview | Daniel Abraham, author of THE DRAGON’S PATH: http://aidanmoher.com/blog/2011/03/interviews/interview-daniel-abraham-author-of-the-dragons-path/
  • Sophomore Slump II: Why We Have Fan Fiction: http://bram452.livejournal.com/95055.html
  • Leviathan Wakes: A Chat with the Authors: http://www.geekachicas.com/index.php?option=com_myblog&show=leviathan-wakes-a-chat-with-the-authors.html&Itemid=55 Russell Letson reviews James S.A. Corey: http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2011/07/russell-letson-reviews-james-s-a-corey/
  • "Leviathan Wakes" is as close as you'll get to a Hollywood blockbuster in book form: http://io9.com/5802479/leviathan-wakes-is-as-close-as-youll-get-to-a-hollywood-blockbuster-in-book-form
  • An Unapologetic Embrace of Sentiment: PW Talks with James S.A. Corey: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/46795-an-unapologetic-embrace-of-sentiment-pw-talks-with-james-s-a-corey.html
  • Interview: James SA Corey (Originally on SF Signal)

2012:

  • Some Big News About The Expanse: http://www.danielabraham.com/2012/03/29/some-big-news-about-the-expanse/
  • Orbit signs up three new Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey!: http://www.orbitbooks.net/2012/03/30/orbit-signs-up-
  • three-new-expanse-novels-by-james-s-a-corey/
  • Interview: James S.A. Corey Talks 'Caliban's War': http://geek-news.mtv.com/2012/08/31/interview-james-s-a-corey-calibans-war/
  • An Interview With James S.A. Corey on LEVIATHAN WAKES: http://www.orbitbooks.net/interview/james-s-a-corey-2/

2013:

  • The Nomadic Alfred Bester, Renaissance Man: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/nomadic-alfred-bester-renaissance-man/
  • James SA Corey Author Spotlight: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/ebooks/june-2013-issue-37/
  • An Interview with Bestselling Author Ty Franck (James S.A. Corey): http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2013/05/an-interview-with-bestselling-author-ty-franck-james-s-a-corey/

2014:

  • James S. A. Corey on the Expanse TV Deal: http://www.orbitbooks.net/2014/04/14/expanse-tv-series-statement-james-s-corey/
  • Syfy’s ‘The Expanse’ Ordered to Series: http://variety.com/2014/tv/news/syfys-the-expanse-ordered-to-series-1201156302/
  • Interview: James S.A. Corey: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/interview-james-s-corey/
  • James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse Series Adds a Third Trilogy!: http://www.tor.com/2014/06/17/james-sa-corey-the-expanse-new-novels/
  • CIBOLA BURN is available now and a big announcement!: http://www.orbitbooks.net/2014/06/17/cibola-burn-available-now-big-announcement/
  • How Soon Is Agent Carter Coming to TV? Plus Tons of Arrow News!: http://io9.com/how-soon-is-agent-carter-coming-to-tv-plus-tons-of-arr-1563655337
  • Syfy Turns James S.A. Corey's Expanse Into "Game Of Thrones In Space": http://io9.com/syfy-is-turning-james-s-a-coreys-books-into-game-of-t-1562411885

2015:

  • Syfy orders 'The Expanse' series based on 'Leviathan Wakes' (think 'Game of Thrones' in space):
  • http://www.ew.com/article/2014/04/11/syfy-the-expanse
  • Interview with Ben Cook
  • Interview with Steven Strait
  • Interview with Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham
  • Interview with Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby
  • Interview with Liza Williams
  • Interview with Raja Doake
  • Interview with Daniel Docui

There's a ton of people to thank for their help here. In no particular order, the following people were instrumental in making this come to life:

  • Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham
  • Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby
  • Ben Cook
  • Steven Strait
  • Maureen Granados
  • Liza Williams
  • Raja Doake
  • Joel Cunningham
  • Karen Tyrell
  • Daniel Docui
  • Ellen Wright, Will Hinton, and Alex Lencicki.

The Very Amusing Douglas Adams

I remember the moment very clearly: I was with my friend Erica at a writer's conference in 2001, when we learned that Douglas Adams had passed away. It was the first time I was really struck that an author I enjoyed would no longer write something, and we both commiserated over the book that really really loved: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I read this book a number of times over the years, and I've always been struck at how *funny* it is. It's remained so in that time, and one of the things I was later surprised at was how the book came to be. It's alternatively been a radio show, audio drama, novel, television series and movie, and remained ridiculously popular throughout the whole time. I'll even admit that I enjoyed the filmed version.

Go read The Very Amusing Douglas Adams over on Kirkus Reviews:

Sources:

  • The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide: Complete and Unabridged by Douglas Adams. I don't know what happened to my original paperback copy, but my wife owns the omnibus edition, which has a very good introduction by Adams, which provides some good details about how the story came to be.
  • Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion by Neil Gaiman. Interestingly, Neil Gaiman wrote a guide to Hitchhiker's Guide. This isn't a great source most of the time: Gaiman assumes that you've read other texts, such as Webb's biography, and there's a weird apologetic "This has been covered elsewhere" attitude throughout some of it, but there's some interesting details that come out about the creative process.
  • Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams by Nick Webb. Nick Webb, who originally commission the novel, wrote the official biography after Adams' death, and it's full of details, interesting facts about Adams' life.

A. Merritt and Plausible Science Fiction

Last column, I wrote about Jack Williamson, and in doing so, I came across another name frequently: A. Merritt. Merritt was an pulp author in the early days of science fiction, and was highly influential to a number of other authors. His career as a journalist and his numerous short stories helped to reinforce some of the character of science fiction: he helped to establish speculative fiction as a genre, not through his imagination, but through his presentation of his characters and scenarios. This is a distinction that I feel is important: it's a characteristic that most science fiction stories hold to.

Plus, I love that cover up above. It's wonderful.

Read A. Merritt and Plausible Science Fiction over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950, Mike Ashley. Ashley has some good contextual information here, and Merritt shows up a couple of times.
  • Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965, Eric Leif Davin. Merritt shows up a couple of times here, as he was influenced heavily by Francis Stevens.
  • A. Merritt: Reflections in the Moon Pool, Sam Moskowitz. This is a longer biography of Merritt's life, authored by genre historian Sam Moskowitz. There's historiographic issues with Moskowitz's writing (he rarely cites sources and relies on ancedotes), but there seems to be some decent information here, as well as some good commentary.
  • Merritt, A. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has some good information here about Merritt's life and career.

Captain Video and his Science Fiction Authors

While I've written about books and magazines for this column, there's other mediums where science fiction lives: television and film. I haven't talked about that much for the column (given that Kirkus Reviews is primarily a book magazine), but there's some fascinating times when they've crossed over. One such case is one of the first science fiction television shows, which caught my interest based on the authors who wrote for it: Asimov, Clarke, Vance, and others. The show was Captain Video and his Video Rangers, and it's a neat program that forms a solid branch from the literature world to the television world, helping to bring about other major television shows that followed.

As a bonus, there's several episodes online:

[archiveorg id=captainvideo width=640 height=480] Go read Captain Video and his Science Fiction Authors over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • The World of Science Fiction, 1926-1976: The History of the Subculture, Lester Del Rey. Del Rey mentions this show in passing, and how it related to the early TV world at the time.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World,
  • Thomas M. Disch. Disch also mentions this in passing, and notes that it's a forerunner to some of the early TV shows.
  • Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, by Neil McAleer. There's some great quotes in here from Clarke's experience working on the show, as well as quotes from the producer, Druce.
  • Hugo Gernsback: A Man Well Ahead of His Time, edited by Larry Steckler. This fannish (read, meh) biography of Gernsback provides some good context for SF as a technological phenomenon.
  • The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television, David Weinstein. This book has some fantastic information about the DuMont network and particularly, some great details about the TV show and the behind the scenes work, although not much about the authors.

Online:

Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

 

Andrew J. Liptak: When did you first read science fiction, and what about it made you stick with it?

KSR:  I began reading science fiction when I went to college, at UC San Diego in the early 1970s.  I had grown up in Orange County California, and seen an agricultural community (orange groves) get turned into a giant urban sprawl very quickly, and when I ran into science fiction it seemed like a realism to me; it expressed things I had seen with my own eyes.  That made it very appealing and I was instantly won over.  That it was the time of sf's New Wave made it extra exciting.

 

AJL: What were some of the New Wave books that you read that excited you the most?

KSR:   Joanna Russ's AND CHAOS DIED and THE FEMALE MAN, J.G. Ballard's disaster novels especially THE CRYSTAL WORLD, Samuel R. Delany's THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, Thomas Disch's CAMP CONCENTRATION, Ursula Le Guin's THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, Gene Wolfe's THE FIFTH HEAD OF CERBERUS, and many others.

 

AJL: What are some of the authors who have inspired you and your books?

KSR:  All of the writers in the previous list, plus Stanislaw Lem, the Strugatski brothers, Philip K. Dick, also many non-science fiction writers such as Joyce Cary, Peter Dickinson, Cecelia Holland, Virginia Woolf, and so on.  I like a lot of writers and then go from there.

 

AJL: Your background is a bit different from other science fiction novelists: you earned your PhD in English. How has that shaped how you put together your novels?

KSR:  I love reading and it is for me a kind of religion in that it is the source of my values.  So it was natural to become an English major, and I am still always reading fiction.  I like the history of the novel and feel that early novels like Defoe's Moll Flanders or Sterne's Tristram Shandy are among the genre's masterpieces, so I am always reading backward in the history of the novel and finding new treasures.  When it comes to how that applies to my own novels, I'm not so sure how it works; it's very indirect.  I like reading all kinds of literature, and literary criticism too, but how all that influences me when I write my own books is mysterious to me.  Mostly I am trying to make scenes work and then put together stories.  It's very immediate, and what I've read previously seems distant in those moments of creation.  But I'm sure it is helpful even if I don't know how.

 

AJL: Your doctoral thesis was on Philip K. Dick’s novels: has his works had a particular impact on your own writing?

KSR:  There are two main aspects to it, I think.  One has to do with form, and involves Dick's use of the roving point of view, in which different chapters are narrated from the point of view of different characters; he did that a lot, and I have too.  Then in terms of content, I like how he always featured ordinary people caught up in large historical situations, from a leftist perspective.  I've done a lot of that too.

 

AJL: Tell me a little bit about your Mars trilogy: When did you first realize that you wanted to write about Mars?

KSR:  I knew it when I saw the photos from the Viking orbiter, which included stereoscopic 3-D photo pairs where you could see what the landscape might look like, somewhat like early primitive versions of Google Earth.  These were NASA publications that came out in the late 1970s.  At that point I had started writing science fiction and had been hiking in the Sierra Nevada of California for some years, and so I began by writing stories about hiking around the amazing Martian landscape, which really was something quite new, revealed to us at that level of detail for the first time in 1976.  At that point I also realized that only by terraforming Mars could you actually backpack there; and there were scientific articles coming out about terraforming Mars in those years, so I paid attention to those, and thought, that would be a good story to tell.  I spent about ten years thinking about that and collecting research materials.

 

AJL: How much of an impact did those pictures from the surface of Mars have on science fiction fans, do you think?

KSR:  It's hard for me to judge or say for sure, but I suspect they were viewed by all science fiction fans with great interest, as the community already had a strong feeling for Mars as an sf landscape, and the "dry Mars" that turned out to be the real one was portrayed by Bradbury and Clarke, so it was no great surprise or disappointment.  Possibly there was a feeling of "we knew that, but it's nice to see the details now."

 

AJL: You were seventeen when the Apollo 11 lunar mission landed on the moon: what were your memories of that?

KSR:  I was with my parents in Florida where my dad worked in summers at Eglin Air Force base, and I recall watching the landing on TV and feeling amazed.

 

AJL: Do you see any differences in how the science fiction community responded to Apollo 11 vs. that first Viking lander?

KSR:  Again, hard to speak for the sf community, and I only got to know it personally in the early 1980s, so this is guesswork or historical, but I think the moon landing with people was world history, whereas the Mars Viking thing was less huge, more a space science specialist thing, although it's also true that anything to do with Mars gets a big response from the general public.

 

AJL: The Mars books cover a lot of ground: colonization, politics, corporations, environment. What particular challenges did you have when assembling the books?

KSR:   It was a long project, but I wasn't doing anything else in those years except take care of my family as a house husband, so I had the time and the focus to go long.  The challenges I guess involved keeping a sense of the flow of the book, and keeping the balance between the various point of view characters; and then above all, figuring out what happened next in the story, why and how.  It was basically the usual novel writing problems, but extended over a long time and a lot of pages:  six years, 1700 pages.

 

AJL: What was the writing process like? In my copy of Red Mars, your blurb mentions that you were hard at work writing Green Mars. When you wrote the first book, did you know what would be in store for Book 3?

KSR:  I knew all along that I wanted to tell the story of the terraforming of Mars, and the creation of a new human society there, multicultural and in certain ways kind of utopian compared to now.  So I knew that much, which was enough to guide me through the process of figuring out what should happen along the way.  When I started writing the book, in 1989, I quickly realized that it was going to be a very long book, and my agent and editor of that time said to me, Stan, we call that a trilogy; and so I shifted the title from Green Mars, which was my idea for the title for the whole book, to Red, Green, and Blue Mars.

 

AJL: What was the publication process like, and how did you integrate any new scientific information about Mars into your books?

KSR:  Publication was straightforward, led by my HarperCollins editor Jane Johnson in England, who always got the books out first, and encouraged me greatly throughout the process; a driving force.  There was not much new information about Mars in the years I wrote, but what information there was came out packaged in a huge anthology from the U. of Arizona called MARS which came out in 1992 and gave me new things to say in GREEN and BLUE MARS.  It looked like I had saved good things for later in the trilogy, but actually I learned them while writing and did not know them before, so that was a nice thing to have happen.

 

AJL: What did you learn from your California Trilogy that you applied to writing your Mars trilogy? What did you learn from your Mars books that you applied to the ones that came after?

KSR:  Three Californias is not a trilogy in the same sense as the Mars trilogy or the 40-50-60 trilogy.  The latter two are really just long novels in three volumes, but Three Californias is a triptych of three novels each portraying a different future for California and the world.  So, what I learned from those three novels is that I could write a novel, and in writing a novel I was helped by moving around in point of view, from one character to another, so that the reader got different perspectives on the characters and the story.  Those lessons I applied to the Mars trilogy, although everything was then done on a larger scale.  Also, writing the Three Californias taught me there were things I wanted to do differently in the Mars book; I wanted to do more exposition, to talk about history directly, to tell a global story.  So there were negative lessons as well as positive lessons, you could say.

From the Mars trilogy, I learned that I could use a similar format to tell a global story that covered centuries, which helped me hugely when I wrote The Years of Rice and Salt.  After that the help was more indirect.  I think I could say the Mars trilogy made me fearless.  After doing that, I was willing to try anything.

 

AJL: Your fourth Mars book is a collection of short fiction: how did that book come to be?

KSR:  I wanted to create a context for two earlier Mars stories I had published, "Exploring Fossil Canyon" and "Green Mars," what I called my Roger and Eileen stories, and these were a different Martian history than the one in the trilogy, so I started thinking about alternative Mars and how I could portray a kind of cloud of alternatives around my trilogy, along with some "secret histories" about relationships and so on, that had not been revealed in the trilogy but would help to explain some things.  Also more folk tales, some new stories, some poems, the Martian constitution, etc.  It became a true anthology and companion volume, not straightforward but I hope interesting if one liked the trilogy.  It helps make that book more interesting if you've read the trilogy first, for sure.

 

AJL: Critics have noted that one of your recent books, 2312, bears a number of similarities to your Martian books: what potential do you see for humanity in the solar system?

KSR:  Well, that's a good question, and I guess it takes all my books to answer it.  I've been thinking for a long time, since Icehenge and The Memory of Whiteness, books from the early 1970s and early 1980s, that the solar system is our neighborhood, so to speak.  We can reach it, move around in it, establish scientific stations on various planets and moons in it.  It's a resource, and a place to learn things about how to live on Earth.  It's spectacular real estate.  Earth will always remain our home and our main place.  It might be best to think of the solar system in the way we think about Antarctica.  It's there, it's interesting and beautiful, it can help us learn how to live; it will never be our main place.  Then beyond that, meaning centuries from now, it could be that Mars in particular might become an even more human place, a second home.  But it won't happen unless we learn how to live on Earth sustainably.

 

AJL: I attended a NASA conference where a speaker noted that modern spaceflight and exploration isn’t like the US expansion into the west, but more like the early polar exploration missions of the 1800/1900s.

KSR:  I agree with that.  It's not the wild west, but Antarctica, that provide the more accurate analogies.  It's like a super Antarctica up there, even colder, more dangerous, more interesting, etc.

 

AJL: Mars is one of the first destinations for science fiction, ever since someone misinterpreted the word 'Canali'. Wells, Burroughs and Bradbury have all set stories on the red planet: did this figure into how you developed your own trilogy?

KSR:  Mars is a great science fiction story space.  In the way they talk about "The Matter of Britain" when they talk about all the Arthurian legends, sf has "the Matter of Mars."  In each generation since the time of Percival Lowell, the Mars presented by the scientists has been taken up by sf writers to become a new story space.  All that got hugely sharpened in focus in 1969 and 1976, when Mariner and Viking gave us the planet in so much more detail than we had ever had before. But the fundamental truths of the human relation to Mars were mostly set out by Bradbury's Martian Chronicles:  the Martians are us, we will change there, the ghosts of our stories about the place will always haunt us when we really get there.  These are permanent truths, and things I wanted to join and emphasize in my own Mars novel.

 

AJL: Do you pick up other books about Mars? Andy Weir's debut seems to have become extremely popular (Ridley Scott is set to start filming an adaptation soon.)

KSR:  I have not read the Andy Weir book though I hear good things about it.  "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" is a good story, first told around 1903, but bringing it up to date with the latest knowledge about the planet and our space program is an excellent idea.

 

AJL: There have been plans over the years for various adaptations, and last I saw, Spike TV is looking to adapt the trilogy for a television series. How is that progressing? Does it stand a better chance as a television series now that shows such as Game of Thrones have proven to be successful?

KSR:  I don't know enough about TV to answer these questions, but I have the sense that TV in general is on the look-out for stories that are long and complex and historical in nature, partly because of Game of Thrones, so in that sense I think the time is right for filming a TV series based on my Mars trilogy, and Spike TV seems committed and serious.  So it seems very possible that it might happen.  That would be great, but for the most part I am just cheering on the people involved with this process.

 

AJL: Did you watch the Curiosity Rover's landing? What are your thoughts on the current efforts to explore and reach Mars?

KSR:  I love Curiosity and all the other robot landers on Mars.  The clarity of their photography is just mind-boggling to me, after 25 years of looking at fuzzy Viking images.  It's like getting glasses for the first time.  And the planet is looking more and more beautiful.  So I follow all that with great pleasure.  And I see NASA is again proposing that we go there with human astronauts, a very exciting idea.  I think it can stand for our utmost reach outward, the hardest technological thing that we can do in terms of travel, in our time.  It's not the solution to creating a sustainable civilization, which is our first priority, but it's very exciting and inspirational.  A beautiful project.

 

AJL: I came across a video recently called Wanderers (http://vimeo.com/108650530), which the filmmakers directly cite your books, and they really speak to the beauty of the potential for humanity in space. Do you think we have the ability to leave behind our darker elements if/when we do venture onto other worlds?

KSR:   Many have noted that this beautiful little film seems to be illustrating scenes from my 2312 and Mars books, and I would agree.  Some scenes portray things written only in my books, such as surfing the rings of Saturn, etc.  It's a great tribute and very beautiful.

 

AJL: What can we expect from your upcoming novel, Aurora?

KSR:   I've tried to do my usual thing, and write about the idea of going to a nearby star system, in this case Tau Ceti, which has an array of planets we know about, and in doing so describe what would really happen in such an attempt.  So it is a novel about coping with problems, and committing to a giant adventure based on this old and great science fiction vision, the multi-generational starship, and the arrival at a planet new to humanity.

The History of Serialized SF Gets a New Chapter

Princess-of-Mars-A-C-McClurg.jpg

Since its early days, Science Fiction and Fantasy has told astonishing stories, but you couldn't always find them in a bookstore, or even as a single novel.

The genre has seen many changes over the years, beginning with the magazine before the rise of a bound novel, and now, the introduction of the eBook. The pioneering SF novels weren’t released at once, but in a serialized format. Now, that might be returning.

In the early 1900s, magazines reigned supreme in the United States. One author, a destitute Edgar Rice Burroughs, in a magazine market with fiction of such poor quality, he could write something just as entertaining and just as bad. He was enormously successful with it: his first serialized stories created iconic characters and story lines, such as John Carter and Tarzan in the early 1910s, and continued for decades. Shortly after the serialization of his stories, he was able to quickly put his serialized stories back together into a single volume: Tarzan of the Apes was published in 1914, and A Princess of Marswas published in 1917. He eventually published dozens of follow-up novels.

Other authors, such as E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, followed suit, writing up his stories, and splitting them up for the magazine market, and eventually publishing them as a single, cohesive novel. Smith, considered the founder of the Space Opera subgenre, wrote long, episodic space epics which were well suited for the pulp magazines. His first serialized series, Skylark, was assembled in 1946 with The Skylark of Space. Another was collected in 1947 as Spacehounds of IPC, while his next major series, the Lensmen, was serialized in Amazing Stories in 1934, eventually published as novel,Triplanetary, in 1948, with a number of sequels.

The first major stage existed without a dedicated market for novels, and as a result, authors found ways to get their stories published, helping to set up the demand for standalone science fiction novels. As the market for novels grew, authors began putting their short stories together into books of their own, in a type of story known as the ‘Fix-up’ novel.

One notable story, A.E. van Vogt’s, The Black Destroyer saw publication the seminal July 1939 issue of Astounding Magazine.  The story was the first part of what would be an early example of a ‘Fix Up’ novel, where several stories, not all of which were necessarily related, were re-edited and assembled into a single story. Three other short stories by Vogt, War of Nerves, published in May 1950 in Other Worlds Magazine, Discord in Scarlet, published in the December 1939 issue of Astounding Magazine, and M33 in Andromeda, appeared in the August 1943 issue of Astounding Magazine came together in 1950 to formThe Voyage of the Space Beagle.

Other novels followed in similar fashion: in the same year, Ray Bradbury’s acclaimed novel,The Martian Chronicles, contained almost 30 short stories, some of which had first appeared with the novel’s publication. Another notable book, Isaac Asimov’s collection, I, Robot, features ten short stories, all centered around Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

Asimov would return for another collected novel, Foundation, considered his greatest work, assembled from four stories, Foundation, Bridle andSaddle, The Wedge and The Bigand the Little, all published in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and 1944, with a fifth, The Psychohistorians, written specifically for the novel.

The serialized novel was a popular format for authors for a couple of reasons: the science fiction market was mainly focused around the short fiction and magazine scene, and the successful authors were writing numerous stories for publication, leaving plenty of material for larger stories. Additionally, there was a much smaller market for standalone novels: full time authors, who depended upon the small paychecks that they received from magazines, found this a harder market to break into.

In the mid 1930s, publishers had begun to experiment with cheaper, mass produced books. In 1935, Penguin Books founder Allen Lane found himself looking for something to read at a train station, only finding cheap magazines. He wanted a cheap, high quality paperback, and within the year, a publishing experiment had begun: Penguin began selling their classic novels, and was immediately successful. The success spread: in 1939, Simon & Schuster introduced Pocket Books. The world had been introduced to the mass-market paperback, a new format for books.

Serialized fiction continued: while science fiction magazine markets did decline, they didn’t vanish, and authors continued to find success with longer stories that were eventually republished in a single volume. A number of notable SF novels found their way to print in this fashion: Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz was published in 1960, which had originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Joe Haldeman’sThe Forever War was originally serialized in Analog Magazine (formerly Astounding), and Stephen King’s famous novel The Gunslinger were put together from various stories published between 1978 and 1981 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

As the magazine markets faded over the course of the century, the market for novels grew, aided by changing tastes in literature, and by the 1990s, fewer stories were published first in magazines before being published in a regular novel. However, a number of notable stories have followed this historical route to the bookstore.

King would later have enormous success with another serialized novel: The Green Mile, which was first published in six smaller volumes beginning monthly in March 1996, before being published as a single volume in 1997. The unique publication method earned King the title of the first author to place 6 novels on the best seller list at the same time.

Allen M. Steele’s novel Coyote: A Novel of Interstellar Exploration was initially published as a serialized novel in Asimov’s, beginning in the January 2002 issue, with Stealing Alabama, and continued with The Days Between, Coming to Coyote, Liberty Journals, Across the Eastern Divide, Lonesomeand a Long Way From Home and Glorious Destiny, with the final book published together at the end of the year. A sequel, Coyote Rising, continued the story in 2004, and a third book, Coyote Frontier was written as a single novel, but wasn’t serialized.

Another author, Charles Stross, published his novel Accelerando in 2005, which was put together from a collection of stories from Asimovs between 2001 and 2004: Lobsters, Troubador, Tourist, Halo, Router, Nightfall, Curator, Elector and Survivor. The novel would eventually be nominated for the Hugo, Campbell, Clarke, and British Science Fiction Association Awards, and won the 2006 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

By this time, fewer stories seem to be Fix Up novels, although there are exceptions to this rule: Will McIntosh’s debut novel came together out of three of his short stories set in the same world: Soft Apocalypse, Street Hero and Dada Jihad. McIntosh noted that when the time came to write a novel, he found that the three formed the core of a connected story. The final version, bearing the title Soft Apocalypse, was released in 2011.

The major change has come with the rise of the eBook market. As the print magazine market has declined, the publishing world has moved into unknown territory. With eBook sales doing well, but conventional, mass market novels declining, it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a major shift in the landscape. Where publishers were limited by the physical limitations of books, online booksellers have found an unprecedented ability to market and publish fiction of all lengths: where novellas and novelettes might have only been found from specialty publishers, websites such as Amazon.com, and online Magazines such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons and Lightspeed have the ability to publish a wide range of stories of all lengths.

In 2013, author John Scalzi began a new experiment in publishing with a serialized novel called The Human Division. Taking advantage of both electronic, audio and print media and distribution, the latest addition to the Old Man’s War universe was serialized through e-retailers with an episode a week, beginning in January. The model for these thirteen stories appears more along the lines of a television show than that of a magazine, and a completed version will be collected in a hardcover volume set for release in May 2013.

With the rise of eBooks, tablet computers, eReaders and smartphones, it’s going to be interesting to watch how the publishing world will change and adapt to new reading habits. Throughout the history of the science fiction field, it’s clear that change has been a constant and continuing factor in how readers receive their entertainment: from weekly and monthly magazines to assembled novels to electronic experiments, the serialized novel has had a constant presence on readers bookshelves, and from all appearances, will remain there for years to come.

Interview with C.J. Cherryh

Late last year, I wrote about C.J. Cherryh about her career for Kirkus Reviews. During the research process, Cherryh kindly agreed to be interviewed. Here's our conversation: Andrew Liptak:  Where did you first come across science fiction, and what about it made you stick with reading it?

CJ Cherryh: My dad gave me a copy of Tarzan and the City of Gold---when I was about 7. Before that it was comics. I graduated to Conan at about 9-10. Read every 'lost world' I could find and was a fanatic listener to Tom Corbett on radio. When I found books of the same ilk, I read them. Age 9-10 family got a telly and I got addicted to Flash Gordon. Beyond that, I wrote my own.

AJL: I saw that you had begun writing when you were disappointed with the cancellation of your favorite television show at a young age. Did you continue to write between that time and when you began to publish professionally?

CJC: Yes. Daily.

AJL: Where did you first come up with your first novel, Gate of Ivrel? What was the writing and publication process like?

CJC: I'd sent Don [Wollheim] Brothers of Earth and he sent me a letter saying it wasn't quite in their size range. First time I'd gotten a publisher to answer in person, so I wrote Gate in 2 months while teaching a full schedule. Ate at the keyboard, slept when I could.

AJL: How did Donald Wollheim first come across your stories at DAW Books?

CJC: I targeted Don, finally taking a systematic approach to sending out books, because I went through my own library and investigated who was the editor who had bought most of my favorite books---figured we had similar taste.

AJL: Serpent's Reach was your first Union-Alliance novel. How did you go about constructing that world? Was there anything particularly different about the writing and publication process from your earlier novels?

CJC: I don't know that it was the first. But I researched real astronomy to find a couple of stars in the right relationship and built the ecology based on what I thought might result from that class star. (Beta Hydri.)

[Her first was Brothers of Earth - this question was the result of me misreading her ISFBD entry]

AJL: Your novels are notable for their female protagonists in a field that was considered male-dominated: how was this received by readers while they were being published? 

CJC: My goal is to create characters that men can identify with just the same as women identify with the male heroes. Everybody wants to be a hero in what they're reading.

What some of the Union-Alliance influences? I decided to set up a situation in which there were no 'evil' superpowers, just superpowers doing what superpowers do re their own survival, and to write stories from the viewpoint of people on both sides.

AJL: Who were some of the authors who inspired you?

CJC: Jack Williamson, Robert Heinlein, Don Wollheim, Andre Norton, and Publius Vergilius Maro.

The Rise of the Paperback Novel

My latest post is up on Kirkus Reviews, this time pulling back from the trenches and looking at what my boss calls the 20,000 foot strategic picture. Throughout the column, I've largely looked at authors who've shifted the genre from point to point, but over time, I've started getting interested in the larger forces at play: the publishers and reading habits of Americans. As I work towards putting these columns towards a book, I've begun looking at some of the other influences outside of the arts world that have shaped SF.

One notable example of this is the actual medium in which people are reading. SF is a neat example of this, going from Dime Store novel to pulp magazine to mass market paperback / hardcover book, and now, to eBooks.

A while back, I went to a talk where the speakers described government and rules as the sort of software that makes society run in a particular way: in many ways, it's a technology in and of itself. By the same token, these invisible systems that we construct - logistics, education, and science, are examples of this sort of technology: it's not just the gadgets that we construct, but the way we make people live in a society that isn't a hunter-gatherer one.

The paperback novel is one example of a technological innovation that really changed a lot in the publishing world: it not only changed how people began to read stories, but how they were produced in the first place. Authors had to shift their habits, but also the very types of stories which they had begun to write. Thus, the science fiction of the 1930s is vastly different in style, structure and content than that of the 1970s. It's an interesting thing to examine.

This is the first part of two columns: the next is going to look at another major element that we might not think of often when it comes to the writing of books: chain and super bookstores.

Go Read The Rise of the Paperback Novel over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, Kenneth C. Davis. This is *the* book to read if you want to read about how paperback books came into being, in a great amount of detail. This is an excellent read, although my copy has been falling apart.
  • The Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Publishers, Their Editors and Authors, Al Silverman. This is a memoir from a major publisher, and he provides some interesting details into the workings of that world.
  • Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, Second Edition, John B. Thompson. This is a new-ish book on the publishing industry, and it provided some excellent overviews on the broad history of the book and how it has been sold.

Web:

Huge thanks for Betsy Wollheim and David G. Hartwell for their input.

Interview with Ken MacLeod about Iain M. Banks

Recently, I wrote about Iain M. Banks for Kirkus Reviews. In conducting the research for that post, I spoke with one of his friends, fellow SF author Ken MacLeod, who graciously agreed to answer my questions. Here's our interview.

Andrew Liptak: When did you first meet Iain Banks?

Ken MacLeod:  At Greenock High School around about 1969 or 1970. He claimed we met when I approached him to write a story for the school magazine (a story the teachers who had the last word on what went in rejected as too sweary or too gory) but I have only the vaguest recollection of the incident.

AL: Were the two of you close friends throughout High School?

KM: Not exactly. I have to be a bit tedious and specific here. There are two towns adjacent to Greenock, which is a small town on the Firth of Clyde on the West coast of Scotland. Upriver is Port Glasgow, which is where most of the maritime industry used to be, and downriver is Gourock, which was originally a resort – back in the day when steamship excursions on the Clyde were the best holidays most people could afford. Over the years the towns basically merged at the edges. Anyway, Iain's family lived in Gourock, where his father worked for the Admiralty. Iain went to Gourock High School, which only catered for students up to their third year and the exams then known as O-levels. Anyone who wanted to do the next grade of exams, Highers, which were what you needed for university entrance, had to go to Greenock High School. So Iain arrived along with several other boys and girls in our fourth year. I was already part of a clique who thought they had deep thoughts and who were considered promising by our English teacher, Joan Woods. She encouraged us to form a creative writing group or something like that. Joan was a remarkable and much loved teacher who right from the start did innovative off-curriculum things like getting the first or second-year English class to analyse Simon and Garfunkel lyrics after listening to the album, and to study poems so new that they were literally only published as duplicated handbills. Years later I amused and surprised Brian McCabe by quoting a line or two one of his early poems from memory.

Anyway – the meetings of the writers' circle began in some public room but soon became evening gatherings in Joan Woods' living-room, and they continued even after the students involved had gone on to university. Several of us remained friends with Joan for many years afterwards. At some point in his high school years Iain became part of that clique, and we became closer friends when we were both at university – he at Stirling, I at Glasgow. We had an interest in SF in common and we used to meet on Saturdays when we were both home for the weekend, go out for long walks with our pals or go round to see Joan, who put up with our antics and gave us coffee and biscuits.

AL: Can you describe a bit about what he was like in person?

KM:  He was cheerful, affable and sociable, but enjoyed solitude -- he sees to have done a lot of thinking while walking or driving. Very generous and loyal to his friends -- he made a lot of new friends in the course of his career, but remained close to the friends he already had from his schooldays, and to his family. He had remarkable equanimity -- in all the years I knew him I never saw him in a bad mood, or show more than a rare and momentary annoyance. He had a penchant for ordering and organising things: bookshelves and CDs and tools and so on, which I think went with how carefully he planned everything from his books to his schedule for the year. He had this focus and work ethic along with a capacity for recklessness, spontaneity and risk-taking -- which, now I come to think of it, was quite measured and calculated as well: he took care to endanger only himself, and he could now and then get hilariously drunk in company but never drank alone.

AL: To the best of your knowledge, how did he begin to write science fiction? 

KM: The best person to ask is David Haddock, editor of the fanzine 'The Banksonian', even though I was there at the time and he wasn't. He's done the research, asked Iain questions and correlated reminiscences from interviews and so on.

You can find his talk outline on Iain's pre-publication writing here.

However, as far as I know Iain's first extended work of fiction that was actually typed and not handwritten was 'TTR' [The Tashkent Rambler] - a huge sprawling work set that wasn't SF but was set in the (then) near future. (In the interviews with Andrew J Wilson cited below, he says that it was inspired by Catch-22 and Stand on Zanzibar.) Then after a couple of abortive novels, one of which was SF, he wrote the first draft of 'Use of Weapons'.

AL: Where did he discover science fiction, and what about genre stories attracted him to them?

KM: Probably through TV series like Thunderbirds, Dr. Who and Star Trek, then SF books in the local libraries. Like every British SF writer of our generation, he'd mention seeking out the yellow-jacketed Gollancz SF books on library shelves. He read very widely in all kinds of fiction even in high school, and gravitated towards SF by I guess his mid-to-late teens - in his final year in high school he wrote a dissertation on SF, and it had sections on 'The Escapist Stuff', 'The Hard Core', and (though I can't swear to the title of this one) 'The New Wave'. He'd read all the standard Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein and then found the New Wave - Spinrad, Ballard, Keith Roberts, M. John Harrison - with Aldiss, I guess, as the bridging figure. The 'New Worlds Quarterly' paperback series was a big influence, both the stories and the criticism, mostly by Clute and Harrison.

AL: His first book was The Wasp Factory, a non-genre story: it's not often that we see genre authors writing outside of the genre to the same regular schedule as he did: why do both? 

KM: He'd already written, sent in to publishers, and had serially rejected 'TTR', Use of Weapons, Against a Dark Background, The State of the Art, and The Player of Games. So he thought he'd try something mainstream and middle-of-the-road ... I remember him telling us he was writing a mainstream novel and sounding almost apologetic, as if we might think he was letting the side down. But I think he continued to write both literary fiction and SF because he could and also because the mainstream novels sold better.

AL: I remember reading somewhere that he wrote science fiction simply because he loved it. 

KM: Yes, that seems about right. He would say he enjoyed it slightly more than writing non-genre fiction (which is a genre in itself, one he and I sometimes labelled 'LF', 'lit-fic', or 'lie-fi').

AL: Do you recall what his reaction was like when he finally sold Consider Phlebas? Was there a sense of relief?

KM: Glee, I seem to recall. He was very pleased to have an SF novel published at last, but I don't think he ever doubted he eventually would.

AL: What inspired his Culture novels and the world he built?

KM: The way he explained it was that he wanted to write about a morally and psychologically flawed mercenary fighting on the side of a genuinely good society, and so proceeded to work out what kind of society he himself would most like to live in. When he told me about this society I told him it was communism, in the sense of the Marxian vision of a society of abundance without classes, the state, or money. He came to agree but I don't think that influenced anything that went into the Culture: he just worked it all out from first principles. I've written about this here and here.

AL: I know there’s been a number of people who have pointed to his Ringworlds as being directly borrowed from Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld. Was there a sense of ‘let’s add in everything that’s cool’ to the Culture novels?

KM: No – look at all the trad space opera cool stuff he left out! He may well have been inspired by Ringworld, but he arrived at Rings by his own route. As far as I can recall he worked out Orbitals first – he figured out how big a rotating structure would have to be to have centrifugal force of one gravity on the inner surface and a 24-hour day, quickly realised that no known material could sustain it, and handwaved in force-fields to hold it together. If you can do that you can do Rings, so he threw them into the background but I don't think there's a story specifically set on a Ring.

AL: What did Banks hope to accomplish with the Culture: where there certain things he sought to cover and examine? 

KM: His running gag was that he'd sought to capture the moral high ground of space opera for the Left. He wanted to write big-scale colourful adventures that were well written and weren't Social Darwinism Within that he explored particular topics -the themes are pretty much worn on the sleeve: there's an ongoing debate over the morality of outside intervention, for instance, and responsibility in general. But I think the themes kind of emerged from the settings and stories.

AL: What particular right-wing elements of space opera was he uncomfortable with?

KM: Basically the unimaginative projection of present-day societies into the far future, and the not exactly hidden endorsement this gives to aspects of these societies, such as imperialism and militarism as well as capitalism. He was just as sceptical of Asimov's more liberal version of that, taking suburbia to the stars. I seem to remember him saying that Dune – which he enjoyed and admired, though he derided the ending (he said something like "'History will call us wives' – come on, Frank, is that the best you can do?") was somehow absurd in postulating an interstellar humanity that wasn't just imperial but feudal. I replied that it wasn't really compatible with the materialist conception of history, which made us both laugh at such a mild and obvious demurral.

AL: Which of the Culture novels were his favorites?

KM: He always said Use of Weapons was his favourite – I think partly because it's a very strong book, but also because it's full of the joy of inventing not only the Culture but also the other worlds where the action is set, a joy that's itself shot through with his own youthful vigour and sense of discovery, and of making use of all the knowledge and experience he'd had up to that point. Beyond that it's hard to say. Look to Windward was one he was fond of, partly because of the intensity of its moral seriousness.

AL: He wrote several non-Culture SF novels. Why did he take the break in the 1990s?

KM: The break wasn't quite as big as it seems. We have to bear in mind that the sequence of writing wasn't the sequence of publication. Against a Dark Background was the second SF novel he wrote, though it was published fourth. After Consider Phlebas, he revised his three already-written and oft-rejected space operas. It may be just a matter of chance that the non-Culture one was the last of these. By this point he wanted to 'write something I could cut loose on, something that wasn't the Culture ... I'll go back to that in the next science fiction novel.' ('Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill: Conversations with Iain Menzies Banks', Andrew J Wilson, Foundation Vol 42, No 116, Winter 2012/2013, 2014). It's interesting that the next Culture novel, Excession, is a departure from all the earlier works in that the attention is much more on the Minds, we see them and other machines more often as viewpoint characters, and the Culture is brought bang up to date with nanotechnology and virtual reality and much more intimate interfaces between humans and machines than we see in the earlier work. But all that is adumbrated in Feersum Enjinn, which I think is his first real 1990s, post-cyberpunk SF novel.

AL: Did he have the same goals with those books as the Culture novels?

KM: There was the same moral sentiment, and the same exuberance of creation, but without the constraint of having to think 'Now, how would a truly good and immensely powerful society respond to this appalling situation?' Though of course one of the non-Culture novels, Transition, has in that respect a Culture analogue in the Concern.

AL: Why write outside of the series?

KM: He wanted to explore other possibilities – to set a novel with megastructures in it on Earth, in the case of Feersum Enjinn, or a universe full of aliens and empires in our own future, in The Algebraist. Also, quite simply, he came up with ideas that didn't fit the Culture universe and he didn't want to be locked into one series, however open-ended.

AL: What was the first thing from him that you read? 

KM: A pun-filled parody spy-thriller-type adventure story hand-written in a school exercise book and illustrated with montages of pictures clipped from magazines, mostly Sunday colour supplements. (A technique inspired by Terry Gilliam's graphics from Monty Python, and possibly Private Eye covers and the alternative/underground press of the time.)

AL: Can you tell me a little about the Scottish SF circle? I know that there's a solid knot of authors from there. 

KM: Well, it's more of a loose skein really - there are separate knots of fans and writers in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, and I don't know about any other local concentrations though they must exist. There's a very active fandom and writers' circle in Glasgow. In Edinburgh there is a loose circle around people who were members of the Edinburgh University SF/F society years ago, and the friends they've accumulated along the way, with Charles Stross and Andrew J Wilson as central figures. There's also an overlapping circle of writers who met through Andrew Greig, who used to live in South Queensferry and who I first met many years ago when he was writer in residence at Edinburgh University. I introduced him to Iain, and he introduced us to novelists and poets such as Ron Butlin, Regi Claire, Ian Rankin, the late Edwin Morgan, Brian McCabe, Lesley Glaister, all of whom became our friends too.

AL: Is there something about Scotland that sets you guys apart from the rest of the genre field, either politically, environmentally or otherwise?

KM: I think in most respects we're fairly typical of British SF writers. The famous Caledonian antisyzygy can be seen in my writing and in Iain's, but by and large you'd be hard put to distinguish Scottish SF from British SF as a whole. Besides - as I think it was Paul McAuley who said - there just aren't enough of us to be a statistically valid sample.

AL: Did Banks have plans for other Culture novels beyond Hydrogen Sonata? What might it have covered?

KM:  He had an idea for a novel about a character who had stored some of his memories in ammunition, so every time he used his weapon he lost part of himself. He hoped to have left enough of an outline and notes for me to write something from if he didn't have enough time left to write it himself, but sadly his illness didn't even leave time for even an outline. It was a generous idea, and typical of Iain, in that he inisted he would like me to write the novel in my own way and not in a pastiche of his, but even so I think I would have found it almost impossible.

AL: What was his writing process like, and how did he construct The Culture as a world?

KM: He read widely, thought a lot, made page after page of notes of ideas, and then when the time came to write another book he would look through his notes, extract or otherwise come up with a story idea, write a detailed outline and then sit down for two or three months and bang the thing out at a rate of about five thousand words a day. He constructed the Culture initially with a lot of drawings of ships and orbitals, weapons and drones and so on, maps of locations, lists of names ... ship names and character names, which he had a real knack for inventing or finding. There's a minor character in Against a Dark Background called Elson Roa, the leader of gang of solipsist bandits, and after I'd read it in draft Iain showed me where he'd found it: a broken street sign for the street where he lived, Nelson Road.

The Culture of Iain M. Banks

Last year, I was shocked to read that Iain M. Banks announced that he had cancer and was going to die within months. I had first come across him when I picked up Consider Phlebas, and several of its sequels when my Waldenbooks shut down and liquidated its stock: his books were amongst the first that I grabbed and stuck in the backroom to hold while we waited for the store to close. I really enjoyed the novel, although I've yet to really pick up any of the others. I was facinated by the depth and breadth of the Culture.

Banks plays a critical role in the resurgence of space opera in England, leading a number of other well-known authors such as Alastair Reynolds, Peter Hamilton, Stephen Baxter and others around the 1990s. Space opera is a type of story that's not been well recieved, and Banks sort of bridges the gap between authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and C.J. Cherryh and those such as James S.A. Corey.

I have a growing stack of Culture novels that I've picked up over the years, and I look forward to digging through them. After Banks passed away in 2013, I think it's best to savor them.

Go read The Culture of Iain M. Banks over on Kirkus Reviews.

Print:

  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss speaks about Banks briefly, as his career was just starting up.
  • SciFi Chronicles, Guy Haley. Haley's book has a page about Banks and his works. This is a neat book, and while it's not terribly scholarly or anything, it provides a LOT of information to work with.
  • The Space Opera Renaissance, edited by Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell. Cramer/Hartwell have a fantastic introduction to Banks' short story in this fiction anthology and a look at the evolution of Space Opera as a whole. Banks is noted as someone who brought a new resurgence to the genre in the late 80s/90s.
  • Science Fiction, Roger Luckhurst. Luckhurst speaks about Banks and his works in some critical detail.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts devotes some space to Banks, placing him in context with a greater SF movement in English space opera.

Online Sources:

This was probably the first time I found a lot of online sources, commentary and interviews with one of my subjects. Here's where I went for information:

I'd also like to throw out a huge thanks to Ken MacLeod, who agreed to speak with me about Banks and his life. I'll put the interview up in a bit.

The Worlds of C.J. Cherryh

C.J. Cherryh is an author that I've come across quite a lot, but was never one that I really ever got into. Recently, I've become more interested in her books, particularly Downbelow Station, which prompted me to take a look at her career. It's a facinating one that pulls in some of the legacies of her predecessors (such as Robert Heinlein and similar), and newer innovations that made her career different than that of her predecessors: she was primarily a novelist, rather than someone who started in the pulp magazines.

Go read The Worlds of C.J. Cherryh over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Science Fiction Writers Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. This volume has a solid biographical sketch of Cherryh.
  • Science Fiction Culture, Camille Bacon-Smith. Bacon-Smith's book had some excellent insights into the work of women during the 1980s which I used for the Russ piece, and it once again came in handy this time.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, Thomas Disch. Disch has some interesting things to say about how genre fiction changed with female authors being influenced by one another.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. Brooks has some good points about genre placement.
  • The Faces of Science Fiction: Intimate Portraits of the men and women who shape the way we see the future, Patti Perret. Perret has a photograph and paragraph from Cherryh, which I found particularly helpful.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts has a solid, critical section on Cherryh's works.

Online sources:

 

Many thanks as well to Cherryh herself, who kindly answered some of my questions. I'll post that up at some point.

2014 Award Eligibility Post!

 

The Science Fiction awards season is upon us, and I have something that I can actively promote: War Stories: New Military Science Fiction!

War Stories has 23 short works in it. Of those, two (Graves, by Joe Haldeman and War 3.01, by Keith Brooke) are ineligible, as they're reprints.

The anthology as a whole can be nominated for a Locus Award for Best Anthology.

The following stories can be nominated for Best Short Story in the Hugo and Nebula categories:

    • War Dog, Mike Barretta
    • The Radio, Susan Jane Bigelow
    • Valkyrie, Maurice Broaddus
    • Contractual Obligation, James Cambias
    • Where We Would End a War, Brett Cox
    • Non­Standard Deviation, Richard Dansky
    • Always the Stars and the Void Between, Nerine Dorman
    • One Million Lira, Thoraiya Dyer
    • The Wasp Keepers, Mark Jacobsen
    • Mission. Suit. Self, Jake Kerr
    • Ghost Girl, Rich Larson
    • Black Butterfly, T.C McCarthy
    • Warhosts, Yoon Ha Lee
    • In The Loop, Ken Liu
    • Invincible, Jay Posey
    • Enemy States, Karin Lowachee (Read it here)
    • In Loco, Carlos Orsi
    • All You Need, Mike Sizemore
    • Coming Home, Janine Spendlove

The following stories can be nominated for the Best Novelette category:

  • Light and Shadow, Linda Nagata
  • Suits, James Sutter

Galen Dara, for her cover art and interior illustrations is eligible for the following awards:

  • Hugo Award, Best Professional Artist/Fan Artist
  • Chesley Award, Best Cover Illustration, Paperback Book
  • Chesley Award, Best Interior Illustration

I do hope to see some of these stories on the awards ballot. You can read Karin's story on Apex Magazine (and I highly recommend this story - it's fantastic!). This book was a real treat to edit and put together, and I'm very, very proud of what is in it.

Personally, I'm not eligible for Best Editor, Short Form, because I don't have 4 editing credits under my belt. However, I am eligible for a couple of things:

    • Best Short Story: Fragmented, Galaxy's Edge Magazine, May/June issue.
    • Best Related Work: History of Science Fiction column. I'm guessing that this column in general can be nominated, or individual pieces. It's really a collective work, however.

Up to this point, the following columns have come out in the 2014 calendar year:

There's a couple of additional columns coming this year, and they can be included as well.

After all that, there's a couple of other places to consider: Lightspeed Magazine and Galaxy's Edge Magazine, which should be eligible for Best Semiprozine, and John Joseph Adams for Best Editor, Short Form. I'd also recommend looking into the works of Usman Malik, Ken Liu and Jaym Gates, each of whom have published this year.

When it comes to novels, Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance (Jeff Vandermeer), The Emperor's Blades (Brian Staveley), Breach Zone (Myke Cole), The Martian (Andy Weir), Defenders (Will McIntosh), The Three (Sarah Lotz), Cibola Burn (James S.A. Corey), Rooms (Lauren Oliver) and Ancillary Sword (Ann Leckie) were all some of the best books that I picked up over 2014 (plus a couple of others that I'm currently reading.

I look forward to seeing what's on the ballots this year!

The Radical Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ wasn't an author I came across when I first came across science fiction: she was someone that I slowly became aware of more recently, when I started working at this on a more professional and critical level. Part of this came from friends who were interested and researching her, and over the last couple of years, I've gained an appreciation for the few works that I have read.

What I find most interesting is her relationship with the genre: many of the arguments she put forward back in the 1960s/70s/80s still hold true today, and if anything, they're even more relevant. For me, Russ makes a lot of sense, and her arguments not only apply towards better representations of men and women in science fiction, but make an excellent argument for simple innovation in writing science fiction. I can see why she was frustrated, and why she was angry.

Go read The Radical Joanna Russ over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Science Fiction Culture, Camille Bacon-Smith. This is a book that I think I need to pick up for my own library at some point: it's a very interesting survey of SF literature.
  • Science Fiction Writers, Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. Solid biographical sketch of Russ here. The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Essays on Science Fiction, Samuel R. Delany. Delany has a short essay on Russ's Alyx stories, and it's a good one.
  • The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, Thomas Disch. My feelings on Disch's book is complicated: it feels a bit argumentative at points, but he has some interesting insights into Russ fit with other contemporaries during the 1970s.
  • Across The Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, Larry McCaffery. McCaffery has an excellent oral history interview with Russ, which provided me with a wealth of information, but some good ways to look at science fiction as well.
  • We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling, Brit Mandelo. Brit's a friend of mine, and I've been wanting to read this for a while now. She's become a good expert on Russ through this book and her column on Tor.com.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Roberts devotes a good amount of space to Russ in this book, placing her in some good context with her peers.
  • NY Times Obituary: This obit has a number of good, critical details of Russ's life.
  • Joanna Russ Biography: This was particularly helpful figuring out where she worked, year to year.
  • Russ, Joanna: Clute has a short, insightful biographical sketch of Russ here.
  • Joanna Russ (1937-2011): Locus's obituary, which provided some minor details.

Interview with Joe Haldeman

A while ago, I wrote about Joe Haldeman and his debut novel The Forever War, and promised to post up our conversation. Here it is: Andrew Liptak: What can you tell me about how you first came across science fiction? What do you first remember reading, and what made you stick with the genre?

Joe Haldeman: The first sf book I read was the Winston Juvenile ROCKET JOCKEY, by Philip St. John (pen name of Lester del Rey).  My teacher caught me reading in class and took the book away – but then returned it with the admonition not to read in class, and loaned me a bunch of other YA science fiction, from her daughter's collection.

Why did I stick with the genre?  There was nothing else like it.  It totally captivated me, and in fact I resisted the teachers and librarians who tried to interest me in other books.

AL: I've read that you traveled quite a bit as a child - how did that impact how you viewed the world? Did this impact your writing?

JH:  I suppose it must have affected my writing, because "home" was rather a plastic designation; I lived five places in my first seven years.  The huge wild beauty of Alaska might have made the unearthly more accessible to me than it would have been to a child who grew up in a more prosaic place.

AL: You attended University of Maryland, where you studied physics and astronomy. Was it your interest in the subject that brought you to science fiction, or the other way around?

JH:  My interest in sf and astronomy grew simultaneously, at least through my mid-teens; I didn't think of them separately until I was older.

AL: Following your graduation from college, you were drafted into the Army. What were your feelings on the Vietnam War at that point?

JH:  I was against it – certainly against my being in it!  I was a pacifist by natural inclination, but knew that pacifism didn't make sense to other people.  (Of course the status of a draft-age pacifist is necessarily ambiguous.  He may just not want to die or lose precious parts.)

AL: What was Basic like after graduating from college?

JH:  I was the only college graduate in my company, and also the oldest man.  I got some grudging respect from the others for both things.

None of them read science fiction, of course; most of them either couldn't read or found reading difficult.  Only two other guys read for pleasure.

I must say more than that, though.  These illiterate men had a very high regard for the books they couldn't read.  That's not meant to be ironic.

And I learned invaluable things from them.  Not being able to read is a handicap, but it doesn't make you subhuman.  I was astonished (in my naiveté) at how much we had in common.

AL: Do any of them appear in your books?

JH: I took the protagonist's name Farmer in WAR YEAR from a friend who was in my platoon in Vietnam.  The character in the story looks like the real person and has a similar background.

AL: What can you tell me about being shipped out to Vietnam? Your biography on your website states that you were assigned to the 4th Division. What was your job here?

JH:  I was made a combat engineer (pioneer), but that doesn't have much to do with engineering as a professional or academic discipline.  What we repeated to each other, wryly, was that engineers were too dumb for the infantry, so they gave us a shovel rather than a gun. (Of course we did have guns, in every variety, but I used the pick and shovel more often.)

AL: How did you experience the war?

JH:  I sort of passed through it like a very realistic nightmare.  Badly injured, I stayed in Vietnam, rather than returning stateside, because of a clerical error (though I was mostly out of combat those five months – only three enemy attacks).

AL: What can you tell me about your injuries?

JH: One big bullet wound in the upper thigh, a .51 caliber machine-gun round that was part of a booby trap.  At the same time I absorbed about twenty large shrapnel wounds and perhaps a hundred smaller ones.  Five of those impacted my testicles, and gave me as much trouble as the bullet.

AL: Your first story was 'Out of Phase', published by Galaxy Magazine in 1968. What prompted you to start writing science fiction?

JH: I was writing science fiction (in the form of long comic strips) in the fourth grade.  Never stopped.

AL: Your first novel was titled War Year, about your experiences. Why write a fictional account of your experiences, rather than a memoir or history?

JH:  I saw myself as a fiction writer.  WAR YEAR is a slightly fictionalized memoir.  It seemed like the natural approach.  I wrote up an outline and a couple of sample chapters (with Ben Bova's encouragement) and sold it to the first publisher who saw it.  Most of the action and descriptions are copied from the daily letters I wrote home to my wife while I was in Vietnam, combat and then hospitals.

AL: The novel you're best known for is your debut SF title, The Forever War, written at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where you got your MFA. Where did this story first appear from?

JH:  It came out of a series of novelettes and novellas that were published in Analog magazine.  (Actually, it was written as a coherent novel, and dissected into episodes for the magazine.  Makes it an "episodic" novel, but so what?)

AL: Sorry, I think that I phrased that poorly: where did you come up with the idea for William Mandela and the plot of The Forever War?

JH: He was almost purely autobiographical.  The  plot of THE FOREVER WAR grew out of the novelette "Hero," which was just a science-fictional translation of my experiences in Vietnam, plus some cool aliens.

AL: How much of your experiences in Vietnam inspired The Forever War?

JH: Almost all of it.  I wouldn't have even thought of writing the book if I hadn't been a soldier.

AL: A lot's been made of its connections to Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and how you felt it was a work that glorified war. Do you write The Forever War as an anti-war novel?

JH:  Of course it was an anti-war novel, but it wasn't an "answer" to STARSHIP TROOPERS, as some people claimed.  Novels aren't conversations.  I liked STARSHIP TROOPERS for what it was, a quickly written didactic novel with some great action scenes.

AL: What did Heinlein think of The Forever War?

JH:  He liked it very much.  When we met, he told me he had read it three times.

AL: The Forever War was written as a sort of thesis for your MFA program? I take it you passed? ;)

JH:  Easily.  I don't think anyone who actually finished a book did not get his or her degree, while I was at Iowa.  (Not unusual for MFA's, anywhere.)

AL: What did your instructors think about the book? Was there any question about genre or encouragement to steer clear of SF?

JH: My advisor, Vance Bourjaily, liked it very much, and really, his opinion was the only one that mattered.  The professor in charge of the department, Jack Leggett, and one senior professor, Stanley Elkin, detested any science fiction – or genre fiction of any description, for that matter.  But Vance liked it very much (partly as a fellow combat veteran), and we became friends.

Stephen Becker, another senior professor, really liked my work, and I loved his.  A few years later, I went out to Tortola to collaborate on a novel with him.  We had a good time, but couldn't make the novel cohere.

AL: Once the book was written, what was the sales process like?

JH:  (for WAR YEAR) Almost invisible.  Holt didn't know what to do with it, so it didn't do anything.  One ad, about an inch square in Publishers Weekly.

It got a full-page review in The New York Times, but Holt never followed up on that.  The advertising budget was less than a thousand dollars.

Maybe this was the low point of my career:  Right after WAR YEAR came out, I went to the annual publishers' convention in Washington, D.C.  I had borrowed an editor's name tag, and so was anonymous when I went to the Holt, Rinehart and Winston table.  They had a copy of WAR YEAR there, and I asked the salesman about it.  He said he'd read it and thought it was a good book, but they weren't pushing it.  "It's about Viet Nam," he said, "so nobody's gonna read it."  So I slunk out radiating despair.

(For THE FOREVER WAR --  It got a small positive review in the New York Times – as a mainstream book, not science fiction.  I think that helped quite a bit.  In those days the NYTBR did have a science fiction column, but it was definitely treated as a poor relation, compared to things that were published in the main part of the book.)

AL: I heard that you first sold The Forever War to Terry Carr at Ace Books. What happened with that?

JH: Terry got fired and was told to take his books with him.

AL: The Forever War was also serialized in Analog (I have a copy with ‘Hero’ in it!): what was the reception like in the fan community as that was being released?

JH: What I remember is that everybody loved it.  That's probably not true, but it's what I remember.

AL: What was your reaction to the number of awards that it began to win in the mid-70s?

JH:  I was surprised.  Now I'm less surprised.

I knew I was a good writer then, but I was surrounded by good writers who weren't making a living.  Now I know that if a person is a good writer, success may come from a combination of luck and talent -- or it may not.  I had enough of both, and good timing along with the luck.

Seventeen publishers turned down THE FOREVER WAR, usually with the explanation given above – good book but nobody will touch it.  The eighteenth, Tom Dunne at St. Martin's Press, decided to take a chance.  That made all the difference.

AL: Nobody would publish the novel because it was about Vietnam?

JH: Right.  Vietnam novels were un-sellable.

AL: The book has consistently been named as one of the best SF novels out there since it’s publication: do you think that it’s become more relevant since the US has been engaged in the Middle East?

JH: Maybe so, but that doesn't have anything to do with my intentions – except that one war is much like another, from the ground-pounder's point of view.

AL: What has the reaction been like from the veteran / soldier community?

JH: Soldiers and veterans have been very positive about the book, though I suspect that a large part of that is people not saying anything if they didn't like it.  Criticizing a disabled veteran, after all.