Tag: science fiction

Short science fiction and short fiction editors

[Friends who don’t care about s.f., skip this post and get five minutes of your life back.]

I’m halfway through Gardner Dozois’ The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction and I’ve made an interesting discovery.  First, some background:

  1. Short fiction is my favorite form, whether reading or writing.
  2. I read s.f. because I love it, because I am a fan first and a writer second.  Some friends (and fellow writers) have warned me that becoming a professional writer (albeit only one professional sale) can spoil the reading.  So far that hasn’t happened to me.
  3. When I read short fiction these days, I feel like I am learning my craft from a hundred different teachers, all showing me what to do or what not to do.  I may not like a particular writer’s story or approach and so I try and learn from that, just as I try to learn from a writer that I think hits a home run.
  4. I am fairly well-read when it comes to short fiction from the 1940s, 1950s, and certain writers from the 1970s.  The gaping holes have been the 1980s and 1990s.  I’ve been spending my time back in the 40s and 50s and haven’t had time for the 80s and 90s.

My discovery:  Gardner Dozois and David G. Hartwell have very different tastes when it comes to science fiction, and my tastes tend to generally fall in the David G. Hartwell category, while my sympathies are in the Dozois category.

Prior to this book, I read David Hartwell and Kathryn Kramer’s The Hard SF Renaissance.  There is only one story shared between the two books, even though a good portion of each book is dedicated to the 1990s.  (The one story?  Greg Egan’s "Wangs Carpets.")  That was one clue.  Another clue is that the stories in the current book, many of them award-winning stories, many nominated, are a much softer science fiction than I would have imagined (some bordering on fantasy).  The focus on the stories is clearly more literary, something I would have expected in the 1960s but not quite what I expected for the 1980s and 1990s.  The stories that Garner Dozois considers the "best of the best" are good stories, but they are not necessarily the stories that I would consider the best of the best.

Now, as I said, I have done a woeful lack of reading of short s.f. in the 1980s and 1990s.  I am trying to make up for that now.  (I am slowly collecting all of the Year’s Best Science Fiction volumes, in reverse order and hope to get through them in my lifetime.)  That means that many stories that have been considered "classics" for some time now, are new to me.  Oh, I’ve heard of them, of course, I’ve just never read them.  Nancy Kress’s "Beggars in Spain" is one brilliant example of a "classic" that I recently read for the first time, and which blew me away.  Nevertheless, I find the varying tastes of short fiction editors fascinating.

I’m sure this is well-known to those of you who’ve read extensively in these years.  Stories in Hartwell’s books tend to be of a harder science nature.  That is not to say that Dozois’ books don’t contain hard s.f. or that Hartwell’s are exclusively hard s.f.  But as I said, my tastes tend more toward Hartwell’s than toward Dozois.  As editor of ASIMOV’S, Gardner won many, many best editor awards and rightly so, I imagine.  Perhaps some of my opinion is skewed by the fact that as a s.f. fan, my literary adolescence was spent in the 1940s and 1950s with Asimov and Heinlein and de Camp and Del Rey and Simak and Wiliamson and Bester and others.  I really enjoy the kind of stories that appear in Hartwell’s books, but I can also appreciate the stories that Dozois chooses.  So I got to wondering, is there anyone out there who has a kind of near-perfect amalgam of styles in story choice.

And it came to me that, yes, I think there is.

Back when scottedelman  was editing SCIENCE FICTION AGE, the stories that appeared in the magazine seemed to me (in reflection) to be a near-perfect meld of David Hartwell-esque hard-s.f. stories (Steven Baxter’s "Gossamer", Robert Reed’s "Morrow") and Gardner Dozois softer, more literary styled stories (Martha Soukup’s "In Defense of Social Contracts", shunn ‘s "Two Paths in the Forest Toulemonde")  I think that’s what made the magazine produce the highest quality short science fiction from 1993 to 2000.

Today, I almost always read stories out of ANALOG.  There are names that I look for in ASIMOV’S, I always read the editorials and Robert Silverberg’s "Reflections" column, but I often don’t read many of the stories.  I read very little out of F&SF, although my subscription is and will be current as long as the magazine is being printed.  I don’t yet have enough of a read Sheila William’s tastes to make a judgment, although I have enjoyed many of the stories that have appeared in ASIMOV’S since she took over.

I’m rambling now, I know, but I’m curious, is this Hartwell/Dozois dichotomy a "known thing" in fandom, and I’m just late to the party?  Has there every been an anthology of stories edited by both together?  Just curious.

People often wonder if short s.f. is dead or dying.  Things ebb and flow.  Like gas prices there are ups and downs.  I don’t think it’s dying.  But if I were asked what I think could be done to save short science fiction, I could do no better than suggest a hybrid of Hartwell and Dozois–in other words, a Scott Edelman.  Bring back a magazine like SCIENCE FICTION AGE and you’ve got everything you need to "save" science fiction.  (The problem is, I don’t think it would work without Scott and he’s got himself all busied up writing excellent stories rather than editing them.)

Happy Birthday ANALOG/ASTOUNDING (and a related dream)

If I am not mistaken, today is ANALOG/ASTOUNDING’s 79th birthday.  For those who don’t know, ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION is the longest continuously running science fiction magazine around.  It started up in 1930 (when my Grandpa was 10 years old!) and is still going strong today.  (In the 1960s, the name was changed to ANALOG).  It is usually considered to be the "major" science fiction magazine market.

On a related note, I have a story that’s been out at ANALOG for 31 days now (that’s longer than any story I’ve ever submitted there, but I attribute that to the holidays).  Last night, I had a dream that I received a "rejection slip" from Stanley Schmidt, editor of ANALOG for 30 years now.  What was strange about it was that it was a long, handwritten note (several pages) with questions about the story scrawled in between references to various articles on the science contained within the story.  There was not a word saying that the story was accepted or rejected.  This is interesting because mabfan, in a radio interview, described getting a similar letter from Stan and not knowing whether this meant Stan wanted a rewrite or not.  To me, it’s just a sign that the submitted story is in my mind.  One other thing about the dream:  in his note, Stan asked "What happened to Norman?" (Norman is the protagonist in the story)–implying that the ending was not clear.  This is contrary to the actual story where it is very clear (to me) what happens to Norman.

Heading off to go shopping now.  Hoping to get some writing in later today. 

“It wasn’t all that easy”

The February 2009 issue of ASIMOV"S has a great "Reflections" essay by Robert Silverberg called, "It Wasn’t All That Easy", in which he talks about the the time when he was a young, would-be writer, seeing all of his heroes sell stories and become famous, while he collected rejection after rejection.  He wondered if he’d ever make it, ever become like them.  I know how he feels, and that made the essay all the more meaningful.  You should check it out, if you are so-inclined.

March Analog!

I neglected to check the mail yesterday, but when I went out to check it this morning, I found the March 2009 issue of ANALOG waiting for me.  This issue contains the conclusion of Robert J. Sawyer’s serialized novel, Wake.  Now I can take all 4 issues and read the whole thing straight through before the book hits the shelves in April.

Wake, part 1

I just finished reading part one of Robert J. Sawyer’s serialized novel Wake.  As usual with Rob’s stuff, it’s outstanding.  It pulls you in, and keeps hold of you, and entertains you and makes you think, and makes you crazy for the fact that you have to wait nearly a month before part 2 comes out!

Beyond that, it clearly shows the difference between the Big Leagues and the minors.  I consider myself to be in the minors, single A, if you will, with my one professional s.f. story sale.  Not only is Rob in the majors, but he has demonstrated time and again that he is an All-Star.  Wake is just another example of this.  I’ve been getting a lot of help and good feedback from my fellow work-shoppers, and I feel good about that.  But it is still an effort for me to produce  a story.  Reading Rob’s stuff makes it look easy.  I’d love to be in Majors some day, but for now, I’m quite content sitting on the sidelines and observing how the pros do it.


A character in my workshop story is a fan of D. D. Harriman, for purposes that become more clear as the story progresses. Anyway, I was doing some brainstorming tonight, some mind-mapping (since the writing really wasn’t working) and I decided to go back and read Robert Heinlein’s story "Requiem", in which Harriman is the main character. I read the story only once, way back in October 1997. But it was one of the more memorable Heinlein stories I’ve read. Tonight I read it again, with it’s brilliant, touching ending:

He sat very quietly, rubbing his hands against the soil of the Moon and sensing the curiously light pressure of his body against the ground.  At long last there was peace in his heart.  His hurts had ceased to pain him.  He was where he had longed to be–he had followed his need.  Over the western horizon hung the Earth at last quarter, a green-blue giant moon.  Overhead, the Sun shone down from a black and starry sky.  And underneath the Moon, the soil of the Moon itself.  He was on the Moon!

He lay back while a bath of content flowed over him like a tide at flood, and soaked to his very marrow.

His attention strayed momentarily, and he thought once again that his name was called.  Silly, he thought, I’m getting old–my mind wanders

–"Requiem", Robert A. Heinlein, 1940

Maybe one day, I’ll be able to write like that.

Workshopping and working

Up at 6:30 after a good night’s sleep and into the office a little while later. It wasn’t a terribly busy day at the office, but there was still stuff to do.

I did 5 of 6 workshop critiques that came in today. The sixth one came in late this evening and I won’t get to it until tomorrow. I sat out on the balcony for the first time after work this evening. I sat there reading more of Old Man’s War, which is getting really good.

Good day for science fiction, in general. I got most recent issue of F&SF with a new Stephen King story. I also got the most recent issue of ANALOG with part 1 of Rob Sawyer’s new novel, Wake. The issue also contains a new story by Paul Levinson.

And then there is the SFWA Bulletin which, in addition to containing the Resnick/Malzberg dialogs, also contained the most recent Nebula Awards report. There, on page 60 is my name and my story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” listed under Novelettes. The story is no longer eligible for recommendations, but I think it’s cool that it showed up in the Bulletin.

We got some more wedding gifts in the mail today. And Kelly got some shoes and a pillow she ordered for the wedding.

No elaborate dinner tonight, just heated up some left over meat balls while Kelly had carrots and hummus. We both relaxed on the couch for a while and then headed to the gym. I did a light chest/back workout.

mabfan called me on his new iPhone this evening. Good thing he did too, because I was supposed to pick Kelly up from work and I was so lost in Old Man’s War that if he hadn’t called, Kelly might still be standing at the Metro station.

Going to shower and then go read for a while.

Science fiction harvest

There are occasionally harvests in science fiction and I love when they arrive. Unlike a traditional harvest, science fiction harvests can arrive at varying times of the year. One arrived today, in the form of four books that I ordered from Amazon just a few days ago. I haven’t been reading much science fiction these last few months, but with the writing workshop starting up, and three new books on the shelves, I knew it was time. (The fourth book, while not new on the shelves, is new to me.)

In the mail was City at the End of Time by Greg Bear, Marsbound by Joe Haldeman, The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl, and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. And just like with any crop, I’m eager to taste the fruits, and am having trouble deciding which to start with. (I’ve already cast aside Rama II; I’ll come back to it when I’ve finished with these.) I’m leaning toward The Last Theorem, but that’s not yet set in stone. I’m very much looking forward to Scalzi’s book, having heard it was terrific, and fits in nicely with the decades-long dialog initiated by Robert Heinlein’s, Starship Troopers and responded to with Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.

Harvests like these are feasts. I can devour these four books in no time, if nothing else gets in the way, and I tend to cast aside things I might otherwise care more about in seasons like this. It got me thinking about the biggest harvest I’ve experienced, which came to fruition back in the fall of 1997.

The Harvest of Autumn 1997

The Hugo Winners

First, congratulations to all the winners.

This was my first time voting for the Hugos. One of the stories I voted for won a hugo, matociquala‘s “Tideline”. I also voted for Rob Sawyer’s Rollback, Stanley Schmidt for Best Editor, Short Form, and Barry N. Malzberg’s excellent Breakfast In the Ruins. None of these won, and I would be lying if I did not admit that I was disappointed. Especially about Barry.

I’ve read Michael Chabon’s stuff before and enjoyed it. But I simply couldn’t get into The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. I tried, really I did. I think this marks the first time that I was not able to get through a book that ultimately won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. I’m sure the fault is with my tastes and not Chabon’s writing or story-telling ability.

I find it remarkable that Stanley Schmidt has been editor of ANALOG for 30 years and never received a Hugo award. F&SF is a great magazine and Gordon Van Gelder published outstanding stories. But so does ANALOG, especially their recent serials (like the Hugo Nominates Rollback or the Nebula-nominated Marsbound by Joe Haldeman).

Barry Malzberg should have won a Hugo back in the early 1980s for Engines of the Night. (He should have won for Beyond Apollo also, but the competition was particularly tough that year.) Breakfast in the Ruins was an improved and expanded version of Engines and I was certain that there was no way he could lose this time. Clearly I was wrong.

I was torn over the novella category between “Rescuing Apollo 8” and “All Seated on the Ground”. Ultimately, I voted for the former because I have a particular fondness for the Apollo program. But Connie Willis is a brilliant writer, and I was ultimately happy to see her recent Christmas story win.

We had a late dinner with a friend last night, and when we got back home, I began searching the internets for word of winners. Finally, just before we went to bed, I saw mabfan‘s post on the results.

I had more invested this time than ever before since (a) it was the first time voting and (b) I know some of the people nominated. I think it made it that much more exciting and I think the thing that I was most disappointed about was that I couldn’t be there in person to watch it all unfold.