Posts tagged ‘Bob Guccione’

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.

(And One of the Smartest)

Kathy Keeton

Kathy Keeton

In the spring of 1978, I was doing a book-promotion tour in the general area of Boston, Massachusetts. That sort of thing was usually scheduled to take advantage of the fact that I would be in that area anyway, for some other commitment such as a lecture date. The rest of that sort of tour is drudgery. Did you ever see the old TV comedy series, “WKRP in Cincinnati”? That’s it, one WKRP after another, cabbing all over some unattractive neighborhoods of Boston or Chicago or Philadelphia or Detroit or — well, any big, or formerly big, city in the USA. I guess the worst of it is that when those little stations want a five-minute guest to drag in their listeners, it’s most likely to be in drive time— 7 to 9 AM or 5 to 7 PM, when the commuters will flick on their car radios, hungry for anything to take their minds off the job.

And what I particularly noticed about that morning tour was an extraordinarily good-looking blonde woman who always seemed to be coming out of a studio as I was going in. or the reverse. And that evening as I got to my 5:30 she was waiting for her turn to go on and she looked up from what she was pecking at in her lap and said, “We have to quit meeting like this. You’re Frederik Pohl, the receptionist told me. I’m Kathy Keeton, and I’m editing the new science and sf magazine, Nova.”

Well, actually she wasn’t. PBS had a lock on that title, and rather than go through a lawsuit they decided at the last minute to change their title to another four-letter word, Omni, and it was as Omni that their first issue came a few weeks later.

It wasn’t exactly a fact that that was a good year for popular-scientific magazines to come out. Half a dozen of them had already popped up, like mushrooms after a rain. A few years later, most of them had vanished, because although it was true that the American consumer had become more interested in science than before, that didn’t mean they were interested in buying magazines about it. Omni survived a few years longer than the others, though I don’t think it ever turned a profit.

It didn’t have to. Bob Guccione, the magazine’s publisher as well as Kathy’s boyfriend, and later husband, didn’t know what to do with all the money that was pouring in from his magazine Penthouse described as a magazine like Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, but just a tad dirtier. Things went sour for him a few years later, but he had no trouble diverting some of the earnings from Penthouse into subsidizing Omni.

 

The next total solar eclipse is predicted for 11 July 2010.

The viewable path of the next total solar eclipse, predicted for 11 July 2010.

Remember Omni? It was a wonderful, slick-paper magazine published and edited by Bob Guccione and his gorgeous wife, Kathy Keeton, and I just this minute realized that one of the reasons I liked it so much was that its basic editorial policy was pretty much identical with that of this blog: Its primary interests were science fiction and science, with excursions into anything else that attracted the attention of its editor — in Omni’s case Guccione, in this blog’s case me. We knew that we had interests in common, too, and that’s why I did a lot of writing for Bob’s magazine throughout its all-too-short history.

Pretty much the whole editorial staff of Omni suffered from the same streaks of curiosity as Bob and Kathy and I did, which included not only the policy-makers but the ones that made it happen day by day — that is, Ben Bova, Bob Sheckley and maybe one or two others. And when, in the spring of 1991, we all became aware that one of those splendid sky shows that are called total eclipses of the sun was going to happen later that year it seemed to all of us that someone (preferably me) should cover the event for the magazine.

At the same time, I’ve been looking over some pieces I wrote on various subjects for various periodicals long ago, and wondering how many of you guys would like to see some of them reprinted here. So let’s find out. And to do that, here’s the eclipse of ’91 report, just as Omni published it nearly twenty years ago.

 
7:27 a.m., July 7, 1991. We’re ninety-six hours from the eclipse, but some of the dedicated eclipse fans are already out on the starboard railings of the S.S. Independence, squinting anxiously at the sun. It’s good and bright, right this minute. That’s pretty much the way you’d expect the sun to be here in these sunny Hawaiian waters, and the good news is that if the moon were going to slide in front of it today instead of four days from now you’d surely say that it was being eclipsed, all right. The bad news is that you wouldn’t be able to make out some of the fainter outer corona because there’s a thin, high fan of cirrus that starts at the horizon and spreads out over the eastern sky. It won’t keep you from getting a sunburn, but it’s just enough to fuzz out the fainter patches of coronal light. Maybe our luck will be better on July 11.

Maybe it won’t, too. Pacific skies are cloudy. I’ve flown over this ocean twice in the last few weeks, fourteen and a half hours from San Francisco to Hong Kong, and there was never a minute when I could look out my window and see no clouds in the sky at all. This morning there are fluffy little clumps of cumulus all over the eastern horizon. Twenty minutes later, while we’re eating our breakfast papaya and omelets on the fantail, a couple of clumps slide right over the sun, and that’s the kind of thing that can really spoil an eclipse for you.

Of course, on the Independence we’ll be a moving target. We should be able to dodge a few cumulus shadows. We’d better do it, too. There are 800 passengers who have booked passage on the Independence for the sole and simple reason that they want to see the sun go out. If they don’t see it with their own eyes some of them are going to be thirsting for blood.

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