The Transformation of George R.R. Martin

I’ve been a fan of Game of Thrones since I first caught it a couple of years ago, and I’ve been impressed with the HBO series as I’ve continued to watch. When Season 1 hit, I pulled out my copies of A Song of Ice and Fire and started the first book, alternatively reading and watching the show. I’ve found the books to be a trial to get through, but I’ve ultimately enjoyed them.

I’ve found Martin’s rise to real fame in the last couple of years to be an interesting thing to watch, and it’s equally as interesting to look back and remember that he was a fairly prominent SF author throughout the 70s and 80s, and with this past weekend’s release of Season 4, it’s a good time to look back on his roots.

Go read The Transformation of George R.R. Martin over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, by Brian Aldiss: Aldiss notes Martin’s role in the late 70s in magazine fiction here, and it’s a helpful couple of pages contextually.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970-1980, by Mike Ashley. Like Aldiss above, Ashley provides some good contextual information on Martin’s writing.
  • The Heart of a Small Boy, George R.R. Martin: This is a cool autobiographical piece about Martin’s upbringing.
  • The Faces of Science Fiction: Intimate portraits of the men and women who shape the way we look at the future, by Patti Perret. This is a really cool book. It’s portraits of a ton of major SF/F authors, and a little bit about their background, in their own words.
  • Martin, George R.R., SF Encyclopedia. This is a helpful biographical sketch of Martin and his place in genre fiction.

Because of Martin’s fame, there’s been a lot of (well rehearsed) interviews about his background:

Interviews:

 

I would also be remiss if I didn’t point to two of Martin’s stories, currently online at Lightspeed Magazine:

The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Gnome Press

In my day job, I work with MBA students, and in the time that I’ve been doing that (and working at my regular job), I’ve gained a certain appreciation for how businesses function. When it comes to researching the column, looking at how a business functions has a certain appeal, especially since a major, unspoken element of SF History is really a sort of business history.

An excellent case in point is the rise and fall of a small, independent publisher, Gnome Press, which existed for just over a decade in the middle of the 20th Century. They published some of the genre’s greatest authors, but ultimately failed, overtaken by their own inability to sell books and by changes in the marketplace. Gnome is an interesting business to study, because it carries with it some important lessons.

This post is quite a bit longer than the usual ones, but I had quite a bit of fun reading up on the history of this small press, and learning of the real implications it had for the genre as a whole.

Read The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Gnome Press over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources for Gnome Press

  • I, Asimov: A Memoir, by Isaac Asimov. Asimov provides a short chapter on his own frustrating interactions with Gnome Press, as well as some good detail on its publisher, Martin Greenberg.
  • The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, by Jack L. Chalker and Mark Owings. This was an extremely detailed and in depth look at the history of Gnome, but also provides an excellent listing of the books which they published between 1948 and 1962.
  • Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard, The Creator of Conan by L. Sprauge de Camp, Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin. This text, while it has some problems, provides some solid details into de Camp’s interactions with Gnome Press.
  • Over My Shoulder: Reflections on a Science Fiction Era, by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. This was a whim buy at ICFA the other day, and nicely, it has a chapter on Gnome. Unfortunately, the book meanders quite a bit, and isn’t written well. It’s got a lot of very useful information on the history of Gnome and the people behind it, but it’s organized poorly.
  • A Pictorial History of Science Fiction, by David Kyle. It’s always good to get information right from the source, and in this case, Kyle briefly talks about Gnome in his book.
  • Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, by Neil McAleer. Gnome is mentioned sparingly in this biography, but the points are helpful as reference points.
  • The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, by Frederik Pohl. Pohl talks a little about Gnome in this book, chiefly noting the business opportunities that Gnome had, and squandered.
  • Robert Silverberg – I’ve been e-mailing Silverberg for another project, and he kindly answered a couple of other questions that I had with this.

The Innumerable Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon

One of the stories that remains a favorite for me is Theodore Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God”, which I tore through when I received a copy of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame way back in High School. Sturgeon became an author that I’d turn to pretty quickly whenever I picked up another anthology, and I’ve generally enjoyed all of the stories I’ve read from him.

Sturgeon is someone who’s popped up a bit in the column already, and he’s been someone I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now. He left an enormous footprint within the SF/F short fiction genre, and his work really ran counter to the largely conservative-leaning authors and stories that had been published by Campbell & imitators.

“Microcosmic God” is still one of my absolute favorite stories in the genre. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so.

Go read The Innumerable Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

… are coming.

Sinking An Ally, 1940

The latest issue of Armchair General Magazine just arrived, and it includes an article of mine: Sinking An Ally, 1940. This is my fourth piece for them, and it’s a little shorter than my usual ones, but it’s no less interesting than those.

The topic this time is around the British attack on the French fleet anchored at Mers-el-Kébir. French? Weren’t they allies? I came across a reference to the battle in a roundabout way, and did a bit of a double-take. Shortly after the fall of France, Britain had grave concerns about the status of the French Navy, now nominally in Vichy French (read: German) hands. The result was a combination of mistakes, mis-communications and egos that caused some real splinters for the Allies.

The article isn’t online, but you can subscribe to the magazine here. It should be on newsstands at some point in the next month or two.

The Clients of Virginia Kidd

When Megan and I started dating, I made the trip from Vermont to Pennsylvania. It’s around eight hours, covering four states. On one such trip, I decided I really didn’t want to endure New Jersey, and took an early exit off of I-87 toward the alluring sign ‘Delaware Water Gap’. It didn’t take me much longer to cut through the two-lane road, perfect for driving a Mini Cooper on, and it took me through a quiet, quaint looking town of Milford. Since Megan and I have married, we make the trip frequently, crossing through Milford a couple of times a year. I like the town, even though I’ve never stopped.

While writing this column, I’ve come across the name ‘Milford Method’ a number of times, but it wasn’t until I started reading up on Virginia Kidd that I realized that the Milford that I’d been reading about was the very same quiet town that I’d been driving through for the last five years! Milford, PA, sitting right on the intersection of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, became a hub of activity for the science fiction world for decades, and is still home to the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency.

Virginia Kidd isn’t necessarily a recognizable name to anyone from outside of the genre’s walls: she worked behind the scenes, and appears between a number of pivotal figures within the genre. While authors get most of the credit, it’s important to see the influence of major editors and agents can play in shaping the direction of the arts world.

Go read The Clients of Agent Virginia Kidd over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Transformations / Gateways to Forever, Mike Ashley. Kidd pops up briefly here and there in Ashley’s books, mainly around her short fiction.
  • The Futurians, Damon Knight. This book contains a wealth of information about Kidd on her life and influence within the Futurians group, and after.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon. This book has a good couple of notes on Kidd and her anthology, especially with how it fits into the feminist movements during the 1970s.
  • Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril, by Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary. Merril was close friends with Kidd, and there’s some great letters and background information on their interactions.

There’s a number of online sources that I found helpful:

Also, many thanks to Ursula K. LeGuin for answering some questions for me about Virginia.

The Big Ideas of James Blish

The first Blish story I read was Surface Tension in Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology. While there’s certainly some issues with the anthology, it’s a solid collection of short fiction. Blish isn’t an author I’ve read extensively, but I remember him popping up frequently in the various anthologies I read over the years.

We’re getting to a transitional phase in the history of SF following the ‘Golden Age’ period smack-dab in the middle of the century. Now, we’re starting to get into the early 1960s and beyond, which will have some interesting things happen.

Go read The Big Ideas of James Blish over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources

  • Billion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss has some good things to say about Blish and his influence
  • The Scribner Writer’s Series: Science Fiction Writers, 2nd Edition, edited by Richard Bleiler. John Clute has a great section on Blish’s works and career, particularly about his Cities in Flight and A Case of Conscience stories.
  • Age of Wonders: Exploring The World of Science Fiction, David G. Hartwell. Hartwell mentions Blish a couple of times, with some good points about the political undertones to his stories.
  • The Futurians: The Story of the Great Science Fiction “Family” of the 30′s That Produced Today’s Top SF Writers and Editors, Damon Knight. Blish shows up quite a bit in Knight’s book (they were fairly close friends), and there’s some good information about his career.
  • Better To Have Loved, The Life of Judith Merrill, by Judith Merrill and Emily Pohl-Weary. Merrill and Blish didn’t get along, to say the least, and there’s a couple of good points about Blish’s politics.
  • The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, Frederik Pohl. Pohl bought Blish’s first story, and has some good rememberences in his memoir.
  • American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels, 1956-1958, edited by Gary K. Wolfe. I love the Library of America books. They’re beautiful to physically behold, and they include some great little biographical thumbnails that are great as starting points for this column.

Arthur C. Clarke, Proselytizer Of Space

There were two authors I read extensively when I first started reading science fiction. The first was Isaac Asimov, because, well. Robots. Foundation. Reasons. The other was Arthur C. Clarke. The first story I really remember reading from him came from a thick anthology cultivated by Asimov, with one fantastic story by Clarke in it: Who’s There? I then ran through a bunch of his books: 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010, 2061 and 3001 are the ones I checked out over and over again. Later, I dug into Rama and even later, Childhood’s End.

A while ago, I had some grand idea of doing a parallel column for another website on the history of SF film, but quickly found that I didn’t have the time or background to really get into it. I started writing an inaugural piece on – you guessed it – 2001: A Space Odyssey, before quickly realizing that I was really writing a column about the book.

There’s a lot out on Clarke, more than most of the authors I typically write about. As a result, this column’s quite a bit longer than what I usually put together.

There’s a lot of tie-in novels out there, from all the major franchises, but typically, the books come as a result of the film, or there’s a film based on the book. Far less common is when the book and film are created simultaneously, as is the case with Clarke’s book. It’s not his best work, but it’s probably his most visible.

Go read Arthur C. Clarke, Proselytizer Of Space over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

Billion / Trillion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss. Aldiss comes out of the British scene, and has some interesting and good notes on Clarke’s works, although not as much on 2001 specifically.
Science Fiction Writers: Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. This book has a good section on Clarke and his life, which works as a good thumbnail for his life and where everything fits.
2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke. I have two editions of this book: a special release from 2001, and an original Signet Paperback from 1968. The latter has a good forward with some helpful details. The former is also neat, and it’s helpful to hold something one’s writing about in one’s hands.
Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Biography, Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke wrote a short autobiography of his time at Astounding, which helped with some of his earlier moments as a writer. This is pretty limited, only going up to the 1950s, but it’s a neat look at Astounding.
The Lost Worlds of 2001, Arthur C. Clarke. Not merely content to write a book to have a movie based on it, Clarke also did a book on how the movie came about. This has some particularly good details on the writing process, repent with dates and neat details. (Asimov’s 3 Laws in the movie? Think of how it could have changed!)
Olaf Stapledon: Speaking for the Future, Robert Crossley. Stapledon was a major influence on Clarke’s works, and this book recounts his encounter with Clarke, who invited him to a BIS meeting.
Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, Neil McAleer. This book is a very good biography. Detailed and interesting, it provides a great amount of detail into how Clarke and Kubrick came up with the story.
History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts. Clarke makes an appropriate appearance here, and Roberts has a good discussion of his works.

The Fantastic Foresight of Katherine MacLean

Over the last year, I’ve been trying to write more about the women who wrote SF throughout its history. We’ve seen a bunch: Francis Stevens, Margaret St. Clair, Judith Merrill, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and Mary Shelley. While fewer in number than their male counterparts, they were all pretty influential. Recently, there’s been quite a bit of talk over the role of women who write genre fiction, and a common argument that women simply don’t write hard science fiction. Katherine MacLean counters this argument, adapting well to the world of magazine fiction from the 1950s through about the 1980s. For me, it was an introduction to a new author whom I have never come across before, and it was a delight to read up on some stories that really should be read more widely. 

Also, go wish her a happy birthday – she turns 89 today.

Go read The Fantastic Foresight of Katherine MacLean over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources

  • Science Fiction Writers, 2nd Edition, edited by Richard Bleiler. Part of the Scribner Writers series, this volume has an excellent section on Katherine MacLean’s life and works.
  • Interview, Katherine MacLean. Katherine is the first subject which I’ve directly interviewed for this, and she provided quite a bit of detail for this piece.
  • The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy, Katherine MacLean. This is an excellent collection of 8 short stories – in particular, read Incommunicado.
  • An Interview with Katherine MacLean, Darrell Schweitzer. This interview appeared in the New York Review of Science Fiction’s July 2013 issue, and it’s an excellent, in depth chat about her life and works, conducted at the 2012 ReaderCon in Burlington MA. It’s worth a read.

 

 

The Influential Pulp Career of Francis Stevens

Over the course of writing this column for Kirkus Reviews, I’ve found that the early women authors writing in the genre were some of the most influential, producing some incredible stories over their careers. I’ve looked at quite a few who were incredibly influential: Margaret St. Clair, Judith Merrill, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and Mary Shelley. This week, we finally get to the woman who was considered one of the very first professionals in the pulp field: Gertrude Barrows Bennett, who wrote under the name Francis Stevens. She only wrote for a couple of years, but proved to be an incredible influence on the authors who followed her.

Go read The Influential Pulp Career of Francis Stevens over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965, Eric Leif Davin – Stevens’ active publishing period falls before this time, but she does get some good mentions throughout this book, which poists that discrimination in the SF world wasn’t entirely accurate on an industry level, which runs counter to current perceptions of SF’s roots. It’s an interesting theory, one which he breaks down quite a bit.
Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of the “Science Romance in the Munsey Magazines, 1912-1920, Sam Moskowitz – This is a fantastic hybrid of anthology and history. Moskowitz is to be handled with care, but in this instance, he seems to be mostly accurate (he does continue the idea that Augusust Swift was H.P. Lovecraft – he wasn’t), but presents a nice history of the Munsey Magazines along with some solid biographical information on Stevens.
American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, edited by Peter Straub – Like all other Library of America volumes, this contains a short, updated biography, alongside her story Unseen-Unfeared.
The Nightmare, and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy, edited by Francis Stevens, Gary Hoppenstand – You can read the introduction here, and it’s an interesting read with some good biographical points about Bennett/Stevens and her life that don’t show up in many other places.
Stevens, Francis, SF Encyclopedia – There’s a short entry on Stevens here, with some notes about her impact.

The Unauthorized Lord of the Rings

I bought my first copy of The Hobbit at a library sale in Quechee, VT when I was a kid. At the time, I remember noticing that the cover was graced with an ‘The Authorized Edition’, and it’s been something that I’ve noticed over the years. A couple of months ago, I wrote a column on Ace Books and their double novels, and came across the reason for the words: Ace had published an unauthorized version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, citing a publishing loophole and sparking a publishing row that had some pretty profound implications on the fantasy publishing field.

There’s the common narrative that the book was stolen outright, but digging a little deeper finds that there’s quite a bit more to the story than Ace’s edition.

Go read The Unauthorized Lord of the Rings over on Kirkus Reviews.

  • Trillion Year Spree, Brian W. Aldiss – Aldiss recounts this incident briefly, and notes that the impact that it had on fantasy: that it generally heightened the profile of the fantasy trilogy.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter – Carpenter’s biography comes out of Tolkien’s camp, and it’s understandably tilted more towards Tolkien’s views of how this happened, but it does provide some good details as to what his reactions and motivations where here.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, Wayne Hammond and Douglas A. Anderson – This book is a detailed look at the publication history of Tolkien’s works, and they provide a good look at the Ace and Ballantine editions.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien – My recent copy of Fellowship of the Ring (the hardcover boxed set with art from Alan Lee) contains a note that talks a bit about the text of the books, including (but not naming Ace) and their editions.
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien – My 1966 edition of the Hobbit features the ‘Authorized Edition’ and a note from Tolkien in the back of the book.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Tale of a Text, Pat Reynolds – This site has some good additional information on the incident.
  • Betsy Wollheim: The Family Trade, Locus – Wollheim’s daughter, Betsy, now the president of DAW books has a couple of good quotes on just how her father came to the decision to publish his own version of Lord of the Rings.
  • Donald Wollheim, Betsy Wollheim – Betsy was an invaluable help here, pointing me to her father’s side of the argument, which was largely overlooked. She provided me with a copy of her essay about her father that provided some very helpful insights into his character and personality.
  • Eisen, Durwood & Co., Inc. v. Tolkien: This is the 1993 court ruling that ruled on the legality of Wollheim’s actions many years after this happened.
  • ISFDB Bibliography – The Internet Speculative Fiction Database provides a comprehensive listing of the releases for Tolkien’s books, along with dates, which was very helpful.