Posts tagged ‘Algis Budrys’

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Marty Greenberg and a couple of the others who were clustered in the Kansas City hotel lobby were coaxing me to stay, and one of those (apparent) teen-age graduate students nailed me down with a comment that was clearly intended to lead to a series of questions, “I understand you know Mr. Heinlein quite well, and I’ve just finished reading his Stranger in a Strange Land,” the apparent teen-ager informed me.

And Marty, eager to put temptation in my way, said, “Tell her the story about the Budrys review.”

Everybody seemed to be listening pretty attentively. Robert A. Heinlein being the Guest of Honor at MidAmeriCon, nobody wanted to go home without a few new Heinlein stories to spread around. The one Marty wanted me to tell was a favorite. I had at the time just recently taken on the job of editing Galaxy when Horace L. Gold got too sick to continue, and I had also just made AJ Budrys the book reviewer for the magazine when Stranger popped up. I handed it over to AJ as his first assignment.

I had told him he had a week to do the review, but at the end of the week, and a few extra days, there was no sign of the review. When I got him on the phone he told me that it was a big book and he would need at least another week or ten days to do it justice. That wasn’t really a surprise, or, indeed, much of a problem. I had confidence in AJ’s writing and was pretty sure the review would be worth waiting for. So I pulled a 5,000-word short story out of inventory to replace it, and rescheduled AJ’s first column for the next issue. And when at last he did deliver the review I saw that, ah, yes, no matter what I had expected, there certainly was going to be a problem.

AJ had given Heinlein’s science-fiction novel the sort of close-focused attention that I suppose Bishop Challoner must have given the Vulgate texts when he was preparing the Rheims Bible. It was a splendid review, both erudite and entertaining.

It described all the influences that must have been whirling around in Robert’s head as he was creating the book, as well as everything that could be said about Robert’s background and private life. Among the liberties AJ had allowed himself in writing the review was the privilege of speculating how much of Heinlein’s Naval Academy experience — the discipline, the hazing of first-year men, the prohibitions of marriage and various other distractions affecting young men and so on — had caused Heinlein’s obviously troubled feelings about patriotism, authority and proper behavior.

I was absolutely certain that the readers would love both the book and the review … but even more convinced that I couldn’t allow Robert’s first glimpse of the review to be when, all unsuspecting of what was in store for him, he opened up his subscription copy of the magazine that contained it.

So I pondered the problem for a while, and then I took out a little insurance policy. There were no such things as Xeroxes in our little office so I had my assistant of the moment — I think by then it was Judy-Lynn Not-Yet-del-Rey — type out a copy of the review, which I mailed off to Heinlein, with a note explaining that, due to the importance of this novel, I would like to hear any comments he might have about the review before scheduling it.

And time passed.

Continue reading ‘Arrival, Part 2: Heinlein Stories’ »

Ben Bova

Ben Bova

In the beginning of his career, young Ben Bova had a good job writing about the hardware his employer, Avco-Everett Research Laboratory, dealt with, but a yearning to write something less confining, particularly science fiction. When he began trying his hand at that he got a welcome from John Campbell, arguably the top editor in the field, who was fond of nuts-and-bolts science fiction anyway. But even that wasn’t quite satisfying.

In Milford, Pennsylvania, three established writers — James Blish, damon knight and Judy Merril — had just banded together to start the first in the long subsequent series of Milford Science-Fiction Writers Conferences. Ben signed up and became one of their early graduates.

For those unfamiliar with writers’ conferences, it often seems that even the best of them appear to be almost as much encounter groups as writers’ tutorials. Enrollees are expected to spend one or more weeks in shared housing, to each write a new story of some kind at regular intervals, and then to sit in a circle setup to have other participants discuss his or her story, sometimes to the point of exploring what hidden emotions had caused him or her to write it. It is a pressure-cooker environment and it was my personal observation that many writers who had gone through the experience — Cyril Kornbluth and Algis Budrys — for example, went through post-Milford periods of writing little or nothing for a time.

I still think that is a danger for those attending writers’ conferences, but as far as Ben Bova was concerned I could not have been more wrong. Whether because of Milford or simply because some of the synapses in his brain re-hooked themselves into new patterns, beginning around that period, his fiction began to show deeper insights into his characters, and thus were better books.

Or it simply may have been that he went through an even more demanding tutorial when John Campbell unexpectedly died, and Street & Smith hired Ben to replace him. I have long held that being an editor of other people’s stories is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. (I’m pretty sure it helped for me.)

Anyway, Ben was a great disappointment to Street & Smith. Not as an editor; he kept up the standing of the magazine. May even have improved it, as when Ben manumitted the writers from the I-hate-smut fervor of John Campbell’s (and also Ben Bova’s) associate editor, Kay Tarrant, who had made it her calling to expunge anything that hinted at the possibility of excretion or intercourse from every story, a step which added some parle to the magazine. No, what disappointed the elder gods was just tenure. They had hoped for an editor who would stay on the job for thirty or forty years, like Campbell, and through all that period continue to act as the small but welcome cash cow Astounding/Analog had always been for them. That didn’t happen. Bob Guccione came along with an offer Ben couldn’t refuse to become fiction editor (later managing editor) of Omni, where he stayed until the magazine itself died

Which was probably a good thing for Ben’s writing career, because it freed him to put in his time writing the more than 100 successful books that now grace his shelves.

Algis and Edna Budrys, 1985 (Photo by William Shunn).

Everything, you see, was going beautifully. So then, guess what AJ did next.

I’ll tell you what he did next. Basically, he quit writing.

 
I haven’t played quite fair with you because, actually, those last four or five sentences covered that many years, and he did do some writing, part of the time. In Budrys-units the time involved amounted to one new Budrys son every year for four years. That added up to four sons, one a year. The first was born in New Jersey, and I had the honor of driving his wife, Edna, to the Monmouth Community Hospital to deliver him, AJ having gone off to reconnoiter the city of Chicago in search of a well-paying job in marketing.

He found what he was looking for, more or less, although the money and the permanence weren’t quite what he had envisioned. Still, it gave him the opportunity to dress up as Mr. Pickle for one client — and gave him, too, the capital to import Edna and Son No. 1 to the house in Evanston that he occupied (along with Edna and Sons 1 through 4 until his death in 2008).

But public relations, glamorous though it was said to be, was not just what he wanted to devote his life to. Over the next few years he worked at various jobs, including a couple of years as Book Editor for the magazine Playboy, with occasional stints of writing.

Then he met the Scientologists.

Continue reading ‘Algis Budrys: The Iron Thorn’ »

Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys became my client within a matter of just months before, crippled by money troubles, I closed my literary agency’s door forever. I hadn’t really had enough time to position him in the kind of publications he deserved, but I had made a pretty good start. I had sold almost all of his backlog of science-fiction short stories and novelettes. I got him contracts for paperbound novels — not the genteel old-line kind of publishing house I had envisioned for him, but at least a step in a better direction. And then I turned him loose.

By then A J had begun to have a certain reputation. He negotiated a few contracts on his own, he got a film offer for one of them and successfully saw it through all the log-jams that lie between an expression of interest and an actual movie that people buy tickets to and then watch in a real motion-picture theater. It wasn’t big money, but it was a sign of success denied to almost all of his colleagues.

He didn’t abandon science fiction, because one of his best friends — me, that is — having jettisoned his literary agency, had become the editor of the Galaxy group of magazines. And, for the next couple of years almost every issue of my magazines had at least one Budrys story in it.

I should describe A J’s work habits, because they were a bit unusual. Every evening, after supper and perhaps an hour or so of television, AJ would fill a thermos with hot coffee, check his tape recorder to make sure the batteries were healthy and there was plenty of tape, kiss his wife, Edna, good night and then get into his car and drive away. Drive where? That didn’t matter because he wasn’t sightseeing. What he was doing, Scheherazade-like, was dictating a new story each night, though instead of into the impatient ears of a threatening sultan it went no farther than a spool of magnetic tape — at least, not until AJ got home sometime in that early morning, dumped the filled tape spools next to Edna’s typewriter and went cheerfully off to sleep. Edna was an excellent typist, so by the time A J shambled into the kitchen for breakfast around early afternoon, the manuscript was ready to be shown to an editor.

You must understand that by the words “an editor,” what I mean is me. The Budrys house in Monmouth County. New Jersey, was no more than a twenty-minute drive from mine, and on “story days,” the ones on which typing had produced a salable manuscript, A J, having phoned to make sure I was going into the office the next day, would bring in the story and sit in my third-floor office while I read it.

Truthfully, the act of reading A J’s stories was little more than a formality. I never rejected one. I had no reason to do so; AJ was hot. And the next morning I would pop the manuscript into my briefcase, along with anything else I wanted to buy and their purchase orders, take the Jersey Central train to New York and my little fraction of the offices of Bob Guinn, the man who owned Galaxy.

I had long ago convinced Bob that writers weren’t like printing-supply vendors. Each one had his own peculiar ways, and A J’s weird trait was punctuality. That is, he would give me first look at everything he wrote as long as he could get the check to pay for it the next day. So that’s what he got, By the time I got home for dinner AJ would be sitting in Carol’s kitchen, with a cup of her coffee in his hand, the other hand poised to accept the check.

It was, for both of us, a pretty smooth-running machine, most of the time.

 
(More to come.)

 
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William Lindsay Gresham

    William L. Gresham

By the third or fourth year of the Ipsy, the great house in Highlands had pupped a fair-sized litter of clones. There was me and my family in Red Bank, the del Reys a quarter of a mile away, George and Dona Smith in Rumson and, at least briefly, the Kornbluths in Long Branch and the Budryses in Oceanport … and, perhaps most important, the Laurence Mannings in Highlands itself, next door to the Ipsy-Wipsy itself.

When Laurence Manning — Fletcher’s long ago collaborator from the days when science-fiction magazines had the square footage of telephone books (no, not in the number of pages, of course!) — and his family came out for a weekend, they loved the location as well as the company. And when Laurence mentioned that he was looking for a house to buy and move to, Fletcher was quick to say that when he and Inga had bought the Ipsy, they’d bought more acres of land than they had any use for, and the Pratts would be happy to hive off a few acres to sell to the Mannings if they’d care to build a house next door. Which they did, and so the Pratts and the Mannings were next-door neighbors.

Actually that seemed like quite a nice arrangement. Although Manning didn’t have much interest in science fiction anymore he still liked the company of writers, and the conviviality of an Ipsy-Wipsy weekend. And we liked the Mannings.

He knew everything about home plantings, which made him a useful resource for those of us who, like myself, had never had to plant a space much bigger than a windowbox before. He was good company and by no means limited to shop talk. So things went swimmingly, with the Mannings’ house guests walking the couple hundred feet of lawn to the great house next door on Saturday nights … until they didn’t.

Remember that I once said that, with all the social drinking that went on of an Ipsy weekend, I had only once seen anyone unpleasantly drunk?

This was the once. The man in question I did not know well, though I had read some of his work. His name was William Lindsay Gresham.

Continue reading ‘Fletcher Pratt, Part 5: Shadow Over the Ipsy’ »

Cordwainer Smith, 1965.

Cordwainer Smith, 1965.

Scanners Live in Vainwas the first published work by the pseudonymous Cordwainer Smith, but not of the real person behind the pseudonym, Paul Linebarger. Linebarger had published numerous nonfiction works and three novels before writing “Scanners.”

Two of these, Ria and Carola, both published under the pen-name of Felix C. Forrest, were parts of a single extended story, told from the point of view of a central character who has the good fortune to just happen to be on the scene when and where all of the significant events of the mid-20th century are happening. This is a device several authors have employed when they wished to write a commentary on that period, and had elected to write in the form of fiction in the hope that doing so would get some intellectually lazier citizens to read it. (I don’t know how well the stratagem worked. Certainly I, as an omnivorous reader, had never heard of either book until Paul told me about them.) While not as attention-grabbing as the Cordwainer Smith stories, both of these were reasonably good, if not compelling, reads. (Paul had also published at least two other early books, a cloak-and-daggerish near-future story called Atomsk and a collection of poems, the title of which he may well have told me but I don’t remember, under yet a third and fourth pseudonym. But I haven’t read either of these. )

Since my own addiction to the use of pen-names was total for the first fifteen or so years of my professional writing career, I probably shouldn’t speculate about why other writers choose to hide under a nom d’escrit. But it happens I do know something in Paul’s psychic makeup which bears on that question.

Paul rarely came to New York, but my ramblings did occasionally take me to Washington, where he and his wife lived, in a nice house with a huge, red and gold congratulations-on-your-birth banner from no less than Sun Yat Sen himself on the wall. (Paul’s parents, along with infant Paul himself, had spent years in China, in the course of which they had come to know that founder of the modern Chinese republic.) The house was in the exclusive district that I think is called Rock Creek, and if you had to live in Washington that’s the part of the city where you would like best to live.

One of those expeditions came about in 1963 because the peripatetic annual Worldcon was being held in Washington that year. As soon as I got there for that weekend, I paid a call on Paul at his home. His stories in Galaxy, I told him, had been attracting a lot of attention and scores or hundreds of his most devoted readers would be at this con, barely a few miles away. Why not drop by and let a few of them get a look at you?

It was a simple enough suggestion, but it seemed to fill him with alarm. No, he said, no, no, that wouldn’t be possible. But I could make sure it was painless. I promised. I would get the con to give us a room somewhere with a service elevator nearby for easy escape after his appearance. Indeed, I could keep him away from possibly unruly fans, by escorting him directly to the SFWA suite, where as a past president I could arrange a closed-door session with his science-fiction writing colleagues —

Continue reading ‘Cordwainer Smith: The Ballad of Lost Linebarger, Part 2’ »