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SF Writers


15 Nov 2002
(info taken from SFBC.com)

Donald A. Wollheim: the man who built DAW Books and much more

Although he once said "science fiction is literature for adolescents of all ages," Donald Allen Wollheim, throughout his fifty-plus year career as editor, anthologist and writer, always approached SF with a decidedly grown-up professionalism and gravity. An early, enthusiastic pioneer of SF conventions, fanzines and fandom in general, he realized the infinite potential of a burgeoning literary genre, helping to forge the international community and industry that we love today. As an editor for Avon, Ace (winning a 1964 Hugo) and his own DAW Books as well as numerous magazines, he discovered such legendary authors as Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Silverberg, C.J. Cherryh and Tanith Lee.

The lifelong New Yorker was born in 1914, the son of a doctor. He earned a B.A. at New York University, and published his first short story, "The Man from Ariel," in Wonder Stories at age 20. Remembered more for his contributions as editor, he nevertheless went on to publish many short stories, novels and series (such as the Ajax Calkins and Mike Mars series), writing SF for adults and children under several pseudonyms as well as his own name.

During the mid-to-late 1930s, he co-edited the semi-professional magazine Fanciful Tales of Time and Space, co-founded the Fantasy Amateur Press Association and, most famously, the highly politicized group known as the Futurians, which also included C.M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl and Isaac Asimov. Ironically, in 2002 he received a posthumous induction into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame alongside James Blish; during the early days of the Futurians, Wollheim and Blish began a left-versus-right wing quarrel that lasted until their deaths.

Yet Wollheim ultimately couldn't self-identify as a liberal or a conservative; after observing America endure the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II and all the fleeting sociopolitical movements in between, he simply became a cynic. "Appearances are always deceiving," he once surmised. "Everything is imperfect and compromised . . . nobody has the complete answer to anything . . . everything is in a complete state of flux heading no one exactly knows where at a pace no one can truly estimate."

Apolitical cynicism aside, Wollheim's career as editor was off and running by the early 40s. After editing the influential magazines Cosmic Stories and Stirring Science Stories he compiled The Pocket Book of SF, the very first American anthology, for Avon Books. He followed this up with the Avon Fantasy Reader and Avon SF Reader series. In 1952, his own "golden age" began in earnest at Ace Books, where he remained for 20 legendary years. A shrewd proponent of the paperback book and creator of the "double-back," Wollheim helped Ace dominate the industry with breakout authors and a huge catalog of space operatic SF adventures. In 1965 he began to issue the annual World's Best SF, a groundbreaking anthology that was an institution until the end of his life.

Finally breaking out on his own in 1971, he founded DAW Books with his wife, Elsie. With his own imprint Wollheim was able to take more chances with the content and format of the books he sold, encouraging authors to experiment with series, subgenres like science fantasy and planetary romances, varying lengths and taboo subject matter.

Declining health forced him to turn the leadership of DAW Books over to his daughter, Betsy, in 1985; he died five years later, a revered SF forefather mentioned in the same breath as Asimov, Heinlein and others.
SF good for nothing? Robert Charles Wilson explains

Although his work is lauded for its crisp prose, emotional acuity and rigorously applied science, Robert Charles Wilson fails to see a definitive, grand purpose in his writing--or SF in general. "Sometimes I think one of the virtues of SF is that it isn't good for much of anything," he said in an interview with Challenging Destiny magazine. "SF is for satisfying your curiosity, for stimulating your imagination. . . . I think our purpose is to sit outside the other genres and to make up own purposes, and to be both trivial and profound."

This unpretentious approach certainly works for Wilson, winner of the John W. Campbell Award (for The Chronoliths), the Philip K. Dick Award (for Mysterium) and the Prix Aurora Award (for "The Perseids" and Darwinia). The author of eleven novels and many short stories has also received several nominations for Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards as well as "Notable Book of the Year" honors in The New York Times-- which exclaimed "Wilson has produced one of the most impressive bodies of work in contemporary SF."

In his newest novel, Blind Lake, he speculates about telescopes fifty years into the future, imagining technology that can observe distant planets and their inhabitants in minute, intimate detail. The titular "Lake" is an Earth-bound research facility devoted to tracking an alien life form light years away (a crustacean-like creature known as the Subject). Heading the study of the "Subject" is scientist Marguerite Hauser, who must also contend with dangerous complications in her romantic and family life--and a sudden, mysterious lockdown of Blind Lake. As Booklist says, "Wilson builds suspense superlatively well, to a resolution that packs all the emotional wallop anyone could wish. Wilson's fans will come looking for this one, and others will follow."

It's just the latest in a career of imagining brilliantly realized premises that defy easy categorization: The Chronoliths considers temporal paradox through the first-person perspective of an immature loner; Darwinia is a complex romance/epic/mystery in which the Europe of the early 20th century has been replaced by an alien terra incognita; Mysterium imagines a small town transported to an alternate America under the rule of a Valentinian Gnostic theocracy; The Harvest offers up the impossible temptation of "virtual immortality."

Wilson was born in Whittier, California in 1953, "back in the days of orange groves, smog alerts, and duck-and-cover exercises," he told sfrevu.com. Employed by Gibson Greeting Cards, Wilson's father was transferred to Toronto, where the family moved in 1962. Young Robert discovered SF early via "bad movies and kids' books." As he explained to CD, "the authors that really influence us are the ones that we read when we're young and naテッve . . . you can read it utterly uncritically . . . When you're 45 your enthusiasms are a little more restrained."

As he devoured the works of Bradbury, Asimov and the rest, Wilson also followed the early days of the space race, which was "frustrating . . . for a kid well-versed in SF. TV commentators giving long and often laughably incorrect explanations of fundamental ideas like 'escape velocity' and even 'weightlessness.'"

A writer for as long as he could remember, Wilson sold his first short story to Analog when he was nineteen--"but that was a fluke," he told sf.revu.com. His publishing career didn't gain momentum until 1985, when he sold several short stories to F & SF. Working on his twelfth novel, tentatively titled Spin, Wilson remains in his adopted home of Toronto, where he looks optimistically towards the future of SF. "I think we're going to see some really interesting stuff happening . . . And the best thing is that I can't predict what it is."
Glen Cook: An Auto Factory Worker Fights Boredom Through Fiction

There's nothing like a thankless, drudgery-filled day job to spark a writer's imagination--not to mention a pitch-black sense of humor. Just ask Glen Cook, creator of the hard-boiled-detective-meets-fantasy series Garrett, P.I. and the military fantasy saga Black Company. For 33 years, Cook worked an assembly line at a GM auto manufacturing plant in St. Louis. "There were a lot of days I sat in the parking lot for a while and talked myself into going in," he said in an interview at quantummuse.com. On the plus side, the work demanded very little mental effort: "I wrote three books a year on that job," Cook estimated.

More than just sanity maintenance, Cook's books have earned him fans worldwide--including the U.S., Germany, Russia, even Poland, which recently flew him over as the guest of honor at a convention. His Black Company series has found readers in the U.S. military, with many Desert Storm soldiers reading the saga while serving the call of duty. "I wanted to write a book about real medieval mercenaries. These aren't kind and gentle people," he explained of the Black Company. Hired by the sovereign sorceress of an evil, enchanted empire, the band of fighters must battle with a rebel army struggling for its own freedom; told in gripping prose, the epic blends gritty realism with high fantasy in an uncommonly compelling landmark work.

Similarly blending genres is the ingenious Garrett, P.I. series. The titular character is a private dick in the classic mold of Hammett and Chandler. The twist lies in Garrett's realm, one populated by vampires, wizards, werewolves and other occult entities--all of which make solving and surviving your average case that much more challenging.

In an early book-jacket bio, Cook described himself as "very tall (6'5"), heavily-built and shaggy, not at all a writer image. I should be raiding the English coast or playing football, not living by my wits."

Nevertheless, he's been writing--mostly fantasy and SF--since seventh grade, when he penned "Hawk," in which a Civil-War battle is seen through the eyes of a hawk. That same year young Cook also wrote his first novel, a SF saga involving aliens and ancient Egyptians. Born in New York City in 1944, he grew up in northern California, and served in the U.S. Navy, spending time with the Force Recon unit of the Third Marine Recon Battalion. He earned a degree in Psychology at the University of Missouri and also attended the Clarion Writers' Workshop in 1970. His first novel, The Heirs of Babylon, was published in 1972, yet the demands of family and work--he and his wife Carol now have three children--temporarily slowed down his output. Yet soon after he began work at the GM plant, "I was reading a fantasy book by Lin Carter, and I threw it across the room and swore I could do better." Using the company's typewriter and paper, he started writing at a furious pace. In addition to Black Company and Garrett, P.I., he's written the Dread Empire series and much more. An avid stamp and book collector and military enthusiast, Cook "can be found behind a huckster table at the conventions he attends" according to a recent book-jacket biography.

Click below to browse all available titles from Glen Cook!
The Kids Are All Right: Young Readers' SF & Fantasy Explored

Just as children are often smarter and more perceptive than adults give them credit for, the books they read are often more astute and engaging than grown-up readers assume. By further extension, just as adult SF and fantasy are frequently undervalued as legitimate literary genres, SF & fantasy for children has historically enjoyed less respect than it deserves. Yet the most famous exceptions to this rule have turned the world on its ear. For example, though initially classified as "children's fantasy," J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series continues to be an unprecedented phenomenon worldwide, enthralling readers and movie fans ages seven to 97. We really shouldn't be so surprised by this overlap of fantastical material enjoyed by young and old alike, considering that mythology and folklore (The Odyssey, Arthurian legend, the Norse Sagas, Gullivers' Travels, the Brothers Grimm) have helped define culture for thousands of years.

The complex themes (violence, sexuality, politics) contained in many of these stories, however, rendered them off-limits to children for centuries, and few fantasies were written expressly for children up until the Victorian era. Although European folk and fairy tales (derived from the oral tradition) began being published in the 1600s, moralists continued to condemn them. The tide began to turn in 1823 with the publication of the Grimm Brothers' German Popular Stories, which helped establish the folktale as an acceptable means of moral instruction and entertainment for children, paving the way for Children's Fantasy. Children's fantasy evolved from a simply didactic tool to a more intense imagining of the fears, challenges and transitions in young people's lives. The narrative vehicles that explore these issues are what we remember: magical transformation (Pinocchio), time and dimensional travel (Alice in Wonderland), anthropomorphic animals (The Wind in the Willows, The Rescuers) miniature, hidden and alternate universes (Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz) and all things supernatural.

The paperback reprint of Tolkien's Rings trilogy in the 1960s signaled a new heyday for fantasy, and many fantasies which might have previously been considered exclusively children's were marketed to adults and vice versa: Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series, several works by Patricia McKillip, Diana Wynne Jones and Jane Yolen and more.

The ambiguities of audience, tone and genre definition deepen in Children's SF. Children's fantasy contains many SF elements (time travel, parallel worlds), and children's SF is similarly heterogeneous. To tell their stories of space travel, alien encounters, time portals and PSI-empowered beings to younger audiences, authors often favor magic and the dream state over scientific plausibility. Yet children--particularly boys--have been considered as long as SF has existed, dating back to Jules Verne's Voyages extraordinaire, and the early dime novels of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The roots of SF in pulp magazines, of course, underscore the blurry distinction between the "juvenile" and "adult" readership of SF. Yet as the SF genre proliferated, heavyweights like E.E. "Doc" Smith, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein created works specifically targeted to youth. Heinlein, in particular, managed to create compelling, rigorous hard SF for younger readers, all the while exploring rites of passage, in which children grow into adulthood and accept the burden of moral responsibility.
Robert Sheckley's Darkly Comic Visions

To SF grand-jester Robert Sheckley, humor, paradox and satire aren't just his chosen tools of the trade. They're "the three horsemen of my own apocalypse," he mused in an online interview. Indeed, Sheckley's acclaimed oeuvre (40-plus novels, nine short story collections) showcases not just his uniquely vivid imagination, deftly written prose and razor-sharp wit but a darkly prophetic look at human civilization. Sheckley has long enjoyed high-profile admirers within and without the SF genre, who've mentioned him in the same breath as Lewis Carroll, Voltaire, Franz Kafka, Jonathan Swift and even Hollywood entertainers. Harlan Ellison, for example, once noted "if the Marx Brothers had been literary rather than thespic fantasists, they would have been Robert Sheckley." Likewise, The New York Times Book Review said "one of the few acknowledged humorists in SF, and by far the funniest, Sheckley plays with myths the way Mel Brooks plays with classic movies."

Case in point: the classic Immortality, Inc. (featured in the omnibus collection Dimensions of Sheckley), which sends up one of the most timeless of wish-fulfillment myths. It's 2110 A.D. and just about anyone can live forever, courtesy of Hereafter Insurance Corporation; trouble is, the technology employed ("The Machine") has a nasty penchant for separating souls from their original bodies, and vice versa. Marvin Flynn, the nebbishy protagonist of Mindswap, (also in Dimensions of Sheckley) has similarly been separated from his original corporeal self, and flails about a bizarre galaxy in search of it. Lost treasure Minotaur Maze (in Dimensions of Sheckley), meanwhile, takes a sardonic look at the ancient yarn about the half-man half-bull and his travails versus Theseus in the Cretan labyrinth. Sheckley's Hugo- and Nebula-nominated short stories set similarly absurdist yet disturbing sights on the future, envisioning a planet inhabited solely by Disney-Technicolor characters, a world so overpopulated that its denizens must battle for the literal air they breathe and much more. He was also one of the first to envision "smart" gadgets that "think" for humans, such as intelligent refrigerators.

Sheckley rose to prominence during the Golden Age of SF, publishing in Galaxy and other pulp mags in the 50s and 60s. "Science fiction felt like belonging to a special club back then," he said in a recent online interview. "Now SF has swollen into a megabucks proposition with the movie people defining the genre and the rest of us trying to shake a few dollars out of them. It was better in the old days."

Born in Brooklyn in 1928 and raised in New Jersey, Sheckley served in the U.S. Army in Korea after graduating from high school. Upon his discharge, he acquired his arts degree at New York University, selling his first short story in 1951. Soon thereafter he also found work on the TV show Captain Video, for which he wrote 15 episodes. Other TV-movie projects included 60 short stories read aloud by Basil Rathbone on Monitor Radio, The People Trap (the basis of a two-hour TV special on ABC-TV), and the 1965 film The Tenth Victim starring Ursula Andress; in 1992, Immortality, Inc. was adapted for the film Freejack, starring Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger and Rene Russo.

Sheckley also collaborated with Roger Zelazny in a well-received fantasy trilogy that began with Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming; in addition, he wrote a soft-boiled detective series starring European P.I. Hob Draconian. Recent works include contributions to the Alien and Deep Space Nine franchises (in the form of novels) and more.

He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, writer Gail Dana. "I'm not planning to retire," he told Locus magazine. "I want to go out slumped over the keyboard (or whatever I'm writing on)--to go out still working."
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