Posts tagged ‘Hugo Awards’

Galaxy Aug 1962

 

Jack Vance

Jack Vance

Starting early yesterday morning, my computer’s little warning bell has been ringing. Just one ring each time, because there is only one news item it wants me to know about: Jack Vance died yesterday. He was just three years older than I.

People will be posting all kinds of things about Jack, and if any of them seem worth it perhaps I’ll pass some comments on to you. But there’s just one memory that illuminates all the others in my mind, and that is of the morning when I came into the Galaxy office on Hudson Street and found waiting for me a manila envelope from Jack What was in it was a novelette called “The Dragon Masters.”

I’m not sure I poured myself a cup of coffee or lighted a cigarette (ah, those carefree smoking days.) I’m not even sure I sat down. What I’m sure of is that after a few moments’ thought when I had finished it I picked up the phone and called Jack Gaughan.

“Jack,” I said, “I’ve got a new story from Jack Vance that I love. It’s called ‘The Dragon Masters,’ and it’s about a race of dragon-like creatures from a distant planet who are at war with the human race. The dragons have captured some humans and the humans have captured some dragons and they both have genetically modified their captives to fight for them. Altogether there are around a dozen modified races, and I want a portrait of each, plus anything else you want to draw. I think Hugos will rain for this, so come get the ms.”

And he did, and they did. Vance won the Short Fiction Hugo that year and Gaughan got his first nomination for Professional Artist.

Who Bashed People With His Wit, Then His Cane

Keith Laumer

Keith Laumer

The first manuscript by Keith Laumer that I remember seeing was about an interstellar diplomat named Retief, which caused me to stop reading manuscripts that day to write the author a letter, telling him I was buying the story and adding, “Please write me more stories, lots more stories, about this guy, because I love him.” And Keith did it, too, becoming, I’m pretty sure, one of the three reasons why If, the magazine I published them in, won the Best Prozine Hugo for three years in a row. (The other two reasons? Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker stories, and Robert Heinlein’s serials.)

I felt pretty proud of myself for recognizing their worth so quickly, but I later learned that he had intended them as a series all along, but planned for the series to run in Cele Goldsmith’s Amazing (and I can’t imagine why Cele, bright as she was, let them go). The thing about Laumer is, first, that he was great at satirizing people he had had a bellyful of, particularly Americans in the diplomatic service. (Keith had served a tour in Burma, which gave him much grist for his mill.) Second, that he had a keen sense of comedy, and, third, that he wrote quickly and well.

Not all of Keith’s sf was part of a series. He wrote stand-alone stories when the spirit moved him, some of them really good. There was one in particular — I’ve forgotten its name — which had to do with a time traveler who, leaving his family behind, travels a century or so into the future, where he finds a dreary, post-catastrophe world where his only companion is a nearly out of it centenarian who, when the time traveler mentions his name, sobs, “Daddy.” Corny, maybe, but it took me unawares to the point of actually bringing a tear to my eyes — something which rarely happens.

I left the Galaxy group shortly before Keith suffered the massive stroke that pretty much ended his successful writing career, but I did see him from time to time. Sadly, the wreck of his brain made him the legendary even-tempered man: mad all the time. It was a terrible fate for one as talented as he and, though he lived for twenty-some years after the stroke, he never regained the art of writing a Laumer story, and almost never managed to carry on a conversation without breaking into rage.

Harlan Ellison, 1969.

Harlan Ellison, 1969.

Harlan Ellison did not appear from nowhere. When he first began to show up in the sf magazines he had already been writing from an early age — had even had his work appear in as prestigious a magazine as The New Yorker, but had never really found his voice until the beginning of that period in the early ’60’s. That’s when he began to write the astonishing series of pyrotechnical masterpieces sometimes referred to as the “Repent, Harlequinstories.

More than for most writers, Harlan’s stories and his life seemed both almost part of the same work of art. His home was in the hills overlooking Los Angeles — well, not exactly, in a technical sense, really overlooking it. To overlook the city from Harlan’s front door you would have had to be able to see through some miles of solid rock, because he lived on the far side of the hills.

The house was worth the trip. The name on the door was “Ellison Wonderland.” His writing office would not have shamed a banker, though it centered on nothing more spectacular than a typewriter, and one that was neither computer-based nor even electrified, but powered only by the muscles of Harlan’s ten fingers. His office’s central sound system, he boasted, could deliver any music a visitor requested at the press of a button; and the whole place, like any proper wonderland, had a secret chamber.

And there, in those years of the 1960s, he wrote stories like “‘Repent, Harlequin,&rsqu; Said the Tick-Tock Man,” “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World,” “A Boy and His Dog,” “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” and “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin,” racking up a considerable collection of Hugos and Nebulas in the process. (One writer said, “They ought to give him a Hugo every time he writes a story, just for the titles.”)

I was Harlan’s editor for the first publication of some of the best of those stories, and I have to say that it was not an easy job. We were in a state of war for five or six years on end. There was the Battle of the Douchebag, when Harlan fought tenaciously for his right to have one character in a story call another by that epithet. In a large sense, he was sort of in the right; for generally speaking a writer should be entitled to have his story presented as he conceived it. But I was aware that a significant fraction of our magazine’s readers were fairly young boys, of an age where parents, not themselves readers, might pick up a magazine to see what Tom Junior was reading and be shocked to see that word becoming part of their son’s vocabulary. (Remember we’re talking about a time half a century ago.)

Or the Battle of the 4-Color Border, in which Harlan, having seen some colorful graph strips in, I think, Scientific American, wanted similar strips to frame his next story, and didn’t want to accept the judgment that he couldn’t have them unless we took the printing of the text of the magazine off the cheap black and white press they had always been printed on and substituted a budget-busting color press. And additional skirmishes beyond count.

There was no doubt that Harlan was a major sf writer. The only jarring note was that Harlan was dissatisfied with the possession of that pigeonhole, and so his production of sf stories dwindled as he went on to the exploration of other pastures.

The pasture that was most financially rewarding, I think, was a career as professional lecturer. In return for taking a plane to some college town and talking for an hour or two to a couple of thousand college undergraduates he would receive a check that was usually larger than what a short story brought in, and was a lot less trouble. Moreover, he soon hit upon a way of making it more profitable still. He brought along remaindered copies of his backlist books, and when the talk was over sold them, autographed, to members of the audience.

Audiences loved him. At least, most of the members of his audiences did, though for a few people it was not all that pleasurable. Those were people who were the subject of some of his reminiscences. If I had had any doubt this was true — I never did — I would have learned better on one occasion, in New York one evening just before that year’s annual Nebula Awards dinner.

Harlan had come to New York to speak at the dinner, and his publisher’s publicity people had taken advantage of the opportunity to put him on some radio and TV spots to promote Harlan’s latest book, the anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions. One of the programs was Long John Nebel’s all-night talk show, on which I was a regular. John had had some troublesome experiences with West Coast writers not long before, including Terry Southern, the man who wrote all the funny parts in the film Dr. Strangelove, but on six hours of John’s show rarely responded to a question with more than a “Yes,” “No” or “I don’t know, but maybe.”

So John called me up before booking Harlan with a worrisome question, “Can he talk?”

I assured him that the one problem no one had ever had with Harlan was getting him to talk, but John, wanting insurance, asked me to join the show anyhow.

I’ve made many mistakes in my life. That day I made a big one. I said, “Yes.”

When we assembled in the studio and John began to talk he spent a good twenty minutes praising the anthology, though of course he hadn’t read any part of it. Then he turned the mikes over to Harlan, who spent another twenty minutes modestly praising the talents of all the authors in the book, Then John said, “What about you, Fred? What did you think of Again Dangerous Visions?”

That sort of question is not meant to be answered candidly on that sort of program, but I could not make myself join in the previous hymn of worship. What came out of my mouth was something like,, “Well, it’s interesting that Walter Bradbury, the book’s editor at Doubleday, describes it as ‘stories that have been rejected by every editor in the science-fiction field.’ All the same, I think there are some stories there that are really good.”

John, who had been about to lean back in his chair, gave me a quick look and then one at Harlan, whose mouth was already opening for rebuttal. John rapidly returned to the upright position and addressed me. “And why don’t you tell us about some of the stories that impressed you, Fred?” And bloodshed was postponed.

A consideration I had overlooked, however, was that Harlan was to be the keynote speaker at the next evening’s banquet. And I would be sitting at a head table, right under the speaker’s place, in full view of the audience for all of the three-quarters of an hour that Harlan spoke.

It was a memorable evening. There are, however, some memorable evenings that I really would prefer to forget. What’s more, I can prove that some of his assertions were false, as I have, for instance, a copy of my parents’ marriage certificate and the record of my own birth nearly two years later.

Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg

Although Robert Silverberg was born (in Brooklyn, home of literary giants) in 1935, his first novel, a juvenile entitled Revolt on Alpha C, was not published until 1955. Asked to explain this prolonged period with no new book appearing, Silverberg is quick to respond. “What do you think, I’m some kind of freak who never has periods when he just can’t seem to get words on paper? I’m human, you know. Just last week I had a really scary episode of writer’s block that lasted from about 10:45 in the morning almost till lunch.”

Nevertheless he carries on. His current total is 245 books — sorry, 246 books and more than — no, make that 249 books, as the latest one was a trilogy. . . .

Well. perhaps some of that is slightly exaggerated, but it’s true that Silverbob has an almost pathological craving to produce books at very near an Isaac Asimovian pace. For some time the more critical (read j-e-a-l-o-u-s) members of the field of science fiction’s commentators contented themselves by sneering that most of his output was pure pulp and thus was not to be taken seriously. However, when science fiction began to be taken seriously indeed, in the decade of the 1960s, Silverberg began to write a new kind of science fiction. The volume became somewhat less, but the stories themselves — “Nightwings,” “Passengers,” “Good News from the Vatican” and many more — began to reveal a color, an intensity and a probing of values of kinds seldom revealed in his earlier work, and the Nebulas and Hugos began to accumulate,

 
I think I can claim a tiny fraction of the responsibility for Robert’s development over that period, for reasons which I don’t think either of us has made public before. . . . Although science fiction had always been his primary field of writing, it wasn’t the only kind of writing he did. He had schooled himself to be a money writer. When science-fiction publishing prospered, Bob wrote largely science fiction. When sf markets cooled off a little, he switched to action pulps, juveniles or, now and then, a leavening of porn. His income remained stable and comfortably high.

But Bob was a birthright science-fiction fan. His first attempts at doing any writing of his own were science fiction. He still read the magazines for pleasure, and he missed the expansive freedom science fiction gave its writers.

By the early 1960s, I had become the editor of the Galaxy group of science-fiction magazines. And one day, opening my mail, I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter from Bob Silverberg. It said, as nearly as I can remember:

Dear Fred:

I’m missing science fiction. I want to write more of it.

The trouble is that all of this other stuff I’ve been writing is a guaranteed acceptance. If Editor A asks for a 10,000-word Western I know that once I write this 10M piece about how the cowboy wants to marry this farmer’s daughter but her father hates the ranchers — but then it gets worse because the cowboy’s drunken cousin, who is a prospector, has a mule that kicks over a lantern in the farmer’s hay loft and — Well you get the picture. Editor A gets his story, and a week or so later a check for 10,000 words appears in my mailbox.

I don’t have that assurance with science fiction, and it slows me down when I think of writing some. Can you help me?

Well, of course I could. We got together for a lunch to talk it over, and we wound up with a deal He would write sf stories and send them — all of them — to me. I would issue a check, probably before I even read the story, because I committed myself to buy everything he sent.

I did keep one escape route for myself. If I ever got a story from Bob that I really disliked, I’d buy it anyway, but then I had the privilege of canceling the deal from that point on.

Of course, I didn’t think that would ever happen. I recognized that even Bob was capable of producing a turkey now and then. But I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen often, and when it did the fans would read it and say, “Wonder why Silverberg is off the mark this time? Wonder what he’ll do on the next?”

Even that never happened. After some years my time to edit those magazines ran out and so I turned Bob loose and moved on.

 
More to come.

 
Related posts:
Robert Silverberg, Part 2

Part 2 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Bester: It’s kind of peculiar, we are finally accepted — the Johnny-come-latelys are now talking about “sci-fi,” which is an abbreviation which I loathe. But what makes me very curious is what the hell people are looking for in science fiction. Predictions of the future, extrapolations of technology, that sort of thing?

I still think science fiction is the poetry of literature, and if you want new ideas and ways of telling a story and new kinds of stories, you go to science fiction, because God knows you can’t find it in ordinary commercial fiction today. Most of the hundreds of science fiction soft-cover books are old-style space opera nonsense to which we pay no attention.

If you want something arresting, read a novel by Fred Pohl, which yesterday won the most distinguished award that science fiction has to offer.

Pohl: The name of the book is Gateway and it won the heaviest damn award I’ve ever had to carry around. [Editor’s note: It won the Campbell, Nebula and Locus Awards that year, and — two months later — the Hugo Award as well.]

Bester: Now tell them about the book, because you will be explaining to them, Fred, what I’m talking about, about the freshness of approach, freshness of ideas.

Pohl: The book concerns a man about 20, 50, 100 years from now whose name is Robinette Broadhead and who works in the food mines in Wyoming. Here they dig out the shale rock and squeeze out the oil, and grow single-cell protein on the oil (there’s a British Petroleum patent on this). He happens to hit lucky and get some money and pays his passage to an asteroid, somewhere out in space, called Gateway, where, half a million years ago, some wandering people, creatures, beings of another star left a lot of spaceships around. They still work. There is nobody there, there is no explanation of anything, but there are the spaceships. And if you get into them and push the right buttons they will take you anywhere in the galaxy.

The difficulty is that you don’t know where, because nobody knows how to read their inscriptions. And you don’t know if you will come back and you don’t know what you’ll find. So what you do is you get into it and you pray hard for a while and you push a button and by and by you do or do not emerge on another planet somewhere. And do or do not find something, some artifact, some mineral, some gem, whatever, that will make you rich forever. If you’re lucky you get back. If you’re very lucky you get back rich. Most people don’t get back or don’t find anything. And this is the central story of Gateway, which may or may not be flashingly original but I kind of enjoyed it.

At the same time, there’s a parallel story going chapter by chapter, which is the story of this man’s psychoanalysis. His shrink is a computer programmed to be a psychoanalyst, whose name is Sigfrid von Shrink. He’s my favorite character in the book. And there’s a dialogue between Broadhead and the computer that goes all the way through it.

I will reveal to you the depths of my vanity. I like the book a lot and I’m awfully pleased that it won. I worked hard on it over a long period of time. The thing about the book is, as Alfie said, I didn’t set out in my mind to construct this book.

I began writing different things and throwing half of them away and then writing sections and not being sure where they fitted in. And thinking more about the character and perceiving that these things must be true of him, I put them in. And thinking about what he would do and how he would feel, and changing the book because he developed a life of his own as he went along. Changing the book to make it conform to the realities of what I perceived of him, and after five or six years I had a stack of papers so high, which amounted to 50 or 100 little scenes that I knew contained within them, somewhere, a novel, if I could only find it.

Then — one of the side benefits that are sometimes given to science-fiction writers — I was lecturing on science fiction and they gave me a cruise to six ports in the Caribbean while I did it. And I had pieces of paper strewn all over my stateroom, trying to find out which went in front of which, and the steward kept wanting to come in and clean the room, and I kept saying “No, no, stay away, you’ll destroy seven years of work if you do.”

But I got it sorted out and pieced it together. It was a laborious way of writing a novel and usually I’m much more efficient and linear, but I’m pleased with the way it came out. I have no modesty in this matter.

Bester: Fred’s neglected to point out that he has extrapolated our great American disease, which is that success is the be-all and end-all of life and no matter what you do, if you end up rich and successful, it is worth any risk. This was the point that Fred made in the novel, and which is most pertinent — if anyone knows the career of Richard Nixon, for example.

But as for that tessellated quality of putting it together, this is the way I do it all the time. I put together these various pieces into a giant mosaic and I constantly have pieces of paper saying, “Now this doesn’t go before that, it goes after that.”

“Hey, lady,” I’ll say to my Redhead, “which do you think should go first?” I need to have outside opinions and stuff like that. As you say, it isn’t linear; but I think it develops as we become more mature as writers. We no longer work in the linear style because life is no longer linear.

Pohl: As you said before, we both grew up through the pulps. I don’t know exactly when I became a professional writer, because my first sale was a poem. I wrote it when I was 15, and it was accepted when I was 16 and published when I was 17 and paid for when I was 18. Somewhere in there I became a professional writer, and I’ve been pounding away at the same typewriter keys ever since.

When I first began writing seriously, I carefully schooled myself to put a sheet of white paper, a carbon sheet and a second sheet into the typewriter, type my name and address, begin writing, and when I’d finished I took it all out, put it in an envelope and mailed it to someone, and sometimes they bought it and sometimes not — but enough to keep me going. And I did that for about 10 years, and at the end of those 10 years I realized that I had published 40 or 50 stories and had managed to eat fairly well, at least part of the time. But I had not yet published anything that I was proud of.

I had schooled myself to write linearly and rapidly from the beginning to the end, making it up as I went along, never looking back and never changing. It’s like instant lightning sketches at a beach resort, you can do them fast, you can do them sure, but you can’t do them good. So I decided to trick myself, and ever since then, which is now 30 years of writing, I’ve always done my first drafts on the back of old correspondence and circulars — so there is no way I could submit them that way. So I’ve got to retype them and therefore I make myself rewrite every word before I send them out. And the disease is getting pretty terminal, because now I rewrite four times, five times, six times before it goes out.

Bester: I do that all the time, Fred. I start in longhand — I work in legal pads in longhand.

But I’ve got a story to back you up on what you just said. After five or 10 years of scriptwriting — and I was carrying two or three shows a week at the time — it seemed to me that I was getting very old and very slow. I couldn’t write as many scripts as I had before.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 2: Gateway and the Art of Writing’ »

From the blog team:

Fred’s been a little busy lately starting another book, so we’re taking it on ourselves to give you some of his publishing news. St. Joseph’s Day seems an appropriate day to tell you about Fred’s new novel, set in Italy. All the Lives He Led is due out April 12 from Tor. From the press release:

All the Lives He LedThe year is 2079. In the shadow of Mount Vesuvius a virtual reality theme park has been erected for Il Giubelo — the celebration honoring the 2000th anniversary of the volcano’s great eruption. Tens of thousands of tourists from around the world have converged on the site for the occasion. But trouble is brewing in Pompei. . . .

Brad Sheridan, an indentured servant from a post-disaster United States, has been hired to work as an “authentic” ancient Pompeian wine seller for the event. Brad already has his hands full — with the woman of his dreams, and with troubling events that threaten to cost him his job. But as the fateful day draws near, he uncovers a much bigger nightmare: A terrorist cell is devising a plot to draw attention to their cause by creating a disaster — one so massive it could wipe out humanity.

With his trademark eye for humanity, Frederik Pohl has created a multi-layered story about a group of people caught in the shifting current of political unrest. All the Lives He Led is gripping science fiction — a new masterwork from the Grand Master.

Also in April, Orb Books will bring back into print Fred’s classic novel Man Plus. A gripping story of cybernetics, political intrigue and the creation of a superman, Man Plus won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1976 and was nominated for the Hugo and several other awards.