History & Politics

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:


  • 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.


  • 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:

Go read Captain Video and his Science Fiction Authors over on Kirkus Reviews.


  • 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.


The History of Serialized SF Gets a New Chapter

The History of Serialized Fiction Gets a New Chapter

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 Big and 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, Lonesome and 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.


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.


  • 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.


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

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.