I am writing this in the hour after I learned I learned that Frank Robinson died this morning in California. Frank was one of the finest people I have known professionally and through science fiction fandom. He was kind, helpful, good-humored, passionate in his opinions, a first-rate writer, and a hard-bitten publishing hand (for the most part magazine publishing). He had an astonishingly fine collection of pulp magazines. I spoke to him on the phone two weeks ago about his manuscript autobiography, which I am reading, and he burst into tears of happiness when I told him I liked it.
This group of stories is the second in a series of story groupings based upon a pre-existing work of art, in this case a Richard Anderson painting. The first such group, The Palencar Project, was published by Tor.com a year ago, and I refer you to my short essay, Introducing the Palencar Project, for an explanation of the rationale for doing stories based on paintings, a long tradition in popular fiction that has apparently fallen out of fashion in recent decades.
I find it intriguing that in two of the stories, the painting itself is part of the setting and plays a role. The relation of illustration to the written word is complex and deep, and is centuries old. Perhaps a lot older. In my imagination there were words in some oral tradition associated with the astonishing cave paintings of the Neanderthals in Europe.
One day I was walking down the hall past the Tor Books art department and noticed, not for the first time, a fine painting by John Jude Palencar in the hallway. On that day, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked Irene Gallo what it was to be used for, or if it had been used and I had missed it.
She said that in fact it was unassigned, and she needed to find a book for which it would be appropriate.
And without missing a step I said, “I could commission stories based on it.” You see, writers of a certain age and experience know what that means.
Series: The Palencar Project
Today’s Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Pick is The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, Volume 1 by David Drake. In appreciation, enjoy this introduction to the second volume of The Complete Hammer’s Slammers by Tor Books editor David Hartwell (this originally appeared on the Baen Book website):
Any fiction that portrays war in SF, since the 1960s, has generally been eliminated from the leading ranks unless it is entirely dedicated to the proposition that war is, in Isaac Asimov’s phrase, the last refuge of the incompetent. All military SF became suspect in the 1970s, and most of it was rejected by major portions of the serious readers of literate SF, as advocating war. This was evident at Robert A. Heinlein’s famous guest of honor speech at MidAmericon in Kansas City in 1976, at which he was publicly booed for stating that war was a constant in world history, and that there was every indication that there would continue to be war in the future. At least since that time, much of the literary SF community has unfortunately failed to distinguish portrayal of war from advocacy of war, or to be interested in examining military SF. The literary community even tends to avoid the authors at convention parties. The only leading writer to overcome this has been Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War, and a majority of his fiction since has not been military SF. And so those authors hang out with their own crew, usually the Baen crew, mostly at conventions in the midwestern and southeastern US, where they are not so easily marginalized.
One of the great living SF and fantasy writers, Michael Moorcock is known more for his avant garde work, and his support of other writers pushing the boundaries of genre, than for his genre work. He is now a recognized literary figure in the UK, a significant contemporary writer. Nevertheless, he has deep roots in genre fiction, and his love for certain genre works and writers (for instance, Leigh Brackett, Charles Harness, and Alfred Bester) is long-term and enduring.
George Scithers died yesterday, and I want to speak well of him.
George Scithers was a competent, hard-working member of the SF community for decades, and richly deserved the Life Achievement Award he was given by the World Fantasy Convention in 2002.
Young George Scithers was a Colonel in the US Army and studied at West Point in a class taught by Robert A. Heinlein’s older brother.
George Scithers was responsible more than anyone else for the rise of heroic fantasy between 1959 and 1979, through the medium of his fanzine, Amra, in which he encouraged the serious discussion of the form. He won the Hugo Award for best fanzine in 1964 and 1968.
He began a small press of distinction (Owlswick Press, 1973 onward). His bestselling title was probably The Necronomicon, limited, bound in red leather with introductory notes by L. Sprague De Camp. His funniest was probably To Serve Man, a cookbook. Perhaps the most important was Avram Davidson’s Adventures in Unhistory. He wrote the first guide to chairing a science fiction convention in 1965, after chairing the 1963 Worldcon in Washington, DC, Discon I.
We are saddened by the passing of our esteemed author and loyal friend, Kage Baker (1952-2010), at home in Pismo Beach, California, after a difficult battle with cancer. A fine career has been cut short, and we and all SF and fantasy readers are poorer for it.
She describes her background thusly: “graphic artist and mural painter, several lower clerical positions which could in no way be construed as a career, and (over a period of years for the Living History Centre) playwright, bit player, director, teacher of Elizabethan English for the stage, stage manager and educational program assistant coordinator. Presently reengaged in the above-listed capacities for the LHC’s triumphant reincarnation, AS YOU LIKE IT PRODUCTIONS.” She was nominated for a number of awards for her writing, and in recent years was a weekly blogger for Tor.com, where her Ancient Rockets series on early fantasy and SF films has been a popular feature.
Barrington J. Bayley (Barry Bayley) died on October 14. Of the important writers in the launch of the British New Wave in SF in the 1960s, Bayley was among the best, and in later decades, the most neglected. Chip Delany told me an anecdote about attending a meeting/party at Mike Moorcock’s in the mid-sixties in London. It was clear that Bayley was one of Moorcock’s notable supporters in the New Wave overthrow of science fiction.
To the best of my knowledge, I was the last editor to publish him commercially in the US (The Rod of Light, Arbor House, 1987). It was a companion to his earlier The Soul of the Robot (1974). His reputation in the US suffered from the publication of his early novels by Ace, at a low point in their reputation in the early 1970s, and later frequently by DAW. Even with Doubleday hardcovers of two of his best novels, The Soul of the Robot and The Garmets of Caen, and some good reviews, no one paid much atttention in the US to this intelligent and accomplished writer.
I was delighted to find in the mid-1980s that Bruce Sterling was a fan of Bayley’s work, but I couldn’t find many others. There’s a good bibliography of his work and I recommend you try one of the novels mentioned above. His work deserves better than to be marginalized as merely of historical interest.
NBCC Panel on Merging Genres:
Peter Straub, Robert Polito, Geoffrey O’Brien, Lev Grossman
There was a panel discussion on Friday September 12, in New York City at the New School, sponsored by the National Book Critic’s Circle, entitled Merging Genres. Peter Straub, prolific multiple Bram Stoker award winning author and editor of Poe’s Children: The New Horror, just out from Doubleday, and of the Library of America’s H.P. Lovecraft: Tales, was the moderator. The panelists were Lev Grossman, book editor at Time magazine; Geoffrey O’Brien, poet, editor in chief of Library of America, and frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books; Robert Polito, editor of the Library of America editions, Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 1940s and Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s, and director of the Graduate Writing Program at the New School.
As Patrick mentioned earlier in the week, I won my second Hugo Award, following some decades of losses, last Saturday night in Denver. The first time, a couple of years ago in Anaheim, was an utter shock, and this time it was still quite a fine surprise. It was good to win, but after all these years I still feel a strong connection to the nominees who do not, and to the deserving people not nominated. I also lost a Hugo that night, for a magazine I have devoted twenty years of unremitting effort to publishing, and which has received twenty Hugo nominations without ever winning. And I had been told earlier in the day that all the magazines in our category had been defined out of Hugo eligibility henceforth that morning at the business meeting. (Pending ratification by next year’s Worldcon.) So I felt a certain schadenfreude….
Anyway, after midnight, making my way back to the Westin, ten blocks from the party hotel, carrying my Hugo with a necktie on it, I encountered more people admiring my award than I had expected. There were fans on the street at the bus stop, pleased to see a Hugo up close, and generally happy to see me, whoever the hell I was. On the bus, fans waved and smiled, and made their way over to look closely and offer friendly comments. A few stops down the mall, the bus became crowded, and three teenage girls in tank tops and shorts got on by the Rock Bottom Cafe, sort of jammed in front of the Hugo trophy. They said , “Wow, did you win that? What for?,” and I said “Yes,” and explained that it was for editing, and the little blonde one swayed a bit and said, “Maybe I’ll get an award for drinking.” “Perhaps you will,” I said. And thought to myself: I hope it is not in the form of an unanticipated baby boy or girl…
The bus stopped and I got off at my corner and walked up the block to my hotel lobby, actually feeling as good as I had felt all evening. It has just been a pleasant ride. As I entered the lobby and started walking toward the elevators, down the stairs came a young bride, attended by bridesmaids on either side holding her train. They were headed out to a limo in the front driveway. They were hefty, healthy young women obviously in good spirits from the happy occasion. They stopped and exclaimed, “Gee, is that an award, did you win it?”
I said “Yes” and “Yes,” and the maid of honor said, “That’s great! Want a hug?” and I said “Yes,” again, and got a big hug from a big girl in a red dress with tattoos on each shoulder. Then they hustled out the door and I went to the elevator, and was the happiest I had been all evening. Except for the absence of my wife and children, this is how I would have wanted my evening to end .
The next day I felt like celebrating. It was a good way to end a Worldcon.
I have spent portions of the last 72 hours arranging with Readercon and with producer Eric Solstein for a showing of Tom Disch reading his “suicide note” poetry sequence, which will take place at 9pm on Friday, July 18, this week, in Burlington, MA. Tom shot himself in the head on July 4th. This has been much discussed in the blogosphere, and there have been some fine obituaries by his friends and acquaintances.
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