Posts tagged ‘Robert Silverberg’

Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, 2009. (Photo by Cat Sparx.)

Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, 2009. (Photo by Cat Sparx.)

From time to time, Robert Silverberg has told the world that he had written himself out and was retiring from the field. Fortunately for the rest of us, these periods of abstinence from the computer were so depressing to his irrepressibly auctorial psyche that he fled back to the keyboard before long each time. Now he maintains a delicate balance between time spent in putting words on paper, as it seems God has intended for him to do, and time spent traveling the world to view art treasures in the greatest museums and the tiniest of ancient churches.

Betty Anne and I were lucky enough to join him once or twice when we found ourselves inhabiting the same land mass at a convenient time. One such episode that sticks in my mind took place in Italy in 1989. Bob with his wife, Karen Haber, and I with my own, Elizabeth Anne Hull — the wives both had elected to keep their maiden names, which tells you something about them, but at least they didn’t make us take theirs — had been attending a World SF annual meeting in a little town, up in the mountains, called Fanano.

The meeting had been good. World SF had been started by a few of us in order to give sf writers in every country that possessed any examples of any such native creatures a chance to interact with the major writers and editors of the world, and it had come to function very effectively, especially in helping writers from travel-restricting countries get permission to join us. The Fanano meeting had people from all over Europe, including a couple of groups from the USSR, as well as people from several countries in Asia and, of course, a large contingent from North America.

When it was over, Bob wanted to visit a bunch of old churches along the Adriatic on the way north to Venice, and Betty and I volunteered to go along with him.

I can’t say that I have a compelling interest in old churches. I do like to wander around new places, though, so Betty and the Silverbergs parked near a church and I went off to explore. I did peer into one or two churches that might have been where Princess Mathaswentha was saved from a loveless marriage by Martin Padway (at least, she was in L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, though in the real world she was less fortunate). But really, after a week of concentrated good fellowship with friends from all over the world I was content with peace and quiet.

Venice, of course, was something else. None of the four of us had been there before, though I had barely missed it once when driving from Trieste down along the (then Yugoslavian, now multinational) coast to the Ancona ferry. And Venice itself was a constant delight.

We had pretty much lost any detailed contact with the world we usually lived in, not having any English-language newspaper or TV handy, but more language-gifted friends in Fanano had told us about big trouble in China. Something was going on in Tianenmen Square, the big open space in Beijing usually given over to crowds of young people anxious to try their imperfect English — or their teacher’s — on us so we could help improve their accents. No crowds of happy youngsters were there now, and no tourists. What young people there were were staring down the barrels of Chinese tanks, and the tank captains — we heard when we found an English paper — were said to have their fingers on the triggers.

It was at that point that we ran across a couple of old friends who, like us, had been at the World SF meeting in Fanano and decided to add on a little Adriatic exploration.

Takumi and Sashiko Shibano, from Tokyo, had been doing the Worldcon for years, and once or twice had stayed with us for a day or two before the con. Yang Xiao, from Chengdu in China, was the editor of the very successful Science Fiction World, by far China’s most prestigious sf magazine. Not one of them spoke a single word of Italian, so they had banded together to do their exploration, in spite of the fact that Yang didn’t speak either Japanese or English, either, and the Shibanos had no Chinese. At home in Chengdu, Yang Xiao didn’t need to know languages, having a staff of translators to keep her informed of what was in all those articles, stories and letters, but they were all still in Chengdu, while she was a world away. A clearly courageous human being, Yang had done all sorts of world traveling, with no more English than you can get out of a Chinese-Engish “useful words” booklet.

I admired her pluck, but immediately discovered she had heard nothing about the drama being played out in Tiananmen Square. I began to worry about how to inform her of the problem that looked like it was convulsing her home country.. We all put our minds to it. We succceded, too. Our American team went over the principal stories about Tiananmen Square in the English and Italian papers to clarify any parts that the Shibanos were unsure of. Then either Takumi or Sashiko wrote each story out in Japanese characters. It is a fortunate quality of the two languages that, although the spoken tongues are mutually incomprehensible, the written ones are enough alike that, with some effort, a Chinese reader can make sense of a Japanese story. And Yang Xiao got the news of the dismal encounter that was shaking her homeland up while she was a world away.

Which just goes to show you what a bunch of science-fiction types can do when they put their minds to it.

Robert Silverberg, me and Betty Anne at ConJose in 2002. (Photo by Laurie  D.T. Mann.)

Robert Silverberg, me and Betty Anne at ConJose in 2002. (Photo by Laurie D.T. Mann.)

Robert Silverberg has been a good friend for a pile of years, but “good friend” doesn’t quite describe some of the more disconcerting parts of our friendship.

Along about the early 1960s, while I was just getting comfortable as the new editor of Galaxy and its companions, Bob Silverberg was sending me almost a story a month according to our agreement, and Earth was fair beneath our feet. Agberg, as he had taken to calling himself (Ag being the scientific abbreviation for “silver,” and if you don’t already know why that is, there’s no particular reason for me to burden you with it) seemed happy with our contract, as I knew I was, and it never seemed particularly spooky to me until I got another of those letters.

“Dear Fred,” it said, “have you noticed how your life and mine are playing a fugue across the calendar?”

They were, too. I bought a big house in Red Bank, New Jersey; Bob bought a bigger one in Riverdale, New York. My then wife, Carol, and I suffered one of the worst blows any couple has to live through when our first-born son died in infancy. Not long after Bob and Barbara Silverberg lost a newborn baby of their own.

Our home in Red Bank caught fire when a neglected electric blanket malfunctioned, and missed total destruction only because the local volunteer fire department happened to be holding its monthly membership meeting just then in their firehouse a couple of blocks away. And then the Silverberg house in Riverdale caught itself on fire and barely missed its own total destruction.

So Bob wrote me, “It’s obvious that every disaster in your lives is going to be copied by a facsimile in ours. So, Fred, here’s the thing. Will you be good enough to give us a little warning before the next catastrophe so we can get a head start in preparing for ours?”

As it happened, Carol and I weren’t intending — or experiencing — any significant life-style changes around then. Not true for Bob and Barbara, though. No sooner did they see the repair work completed on their house — and there was nothing “sooner” about it: you have no idea how drearily long it takes to put a partly burnt-out house back into the immaculate shape it had when you bought it; you couldn’t imagine how long unless you were unlucky enough to live through a rebuilding of your own. Anyway, no sooner did they get it done than they put the house on the market, found a buyer, and immediately changed their whole lifestyle. No more New York grandee. Now they were California sun worshippers, putting down new roots up in the hilly countryside across the Bay from San Francisco.

You understand that I’m not criticizing them, exactly. Indeed, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t pack up and move to California myself — or to Florida, or Hawaii, or maybe Tahiti. I mean, I’m a writer. I don’t have to go to an office. I can live anywhere, and I truly, bitterly, unforgivingly HATE cold weather. (Heat doesn’t bother me at all. I attribute this to having spent the first year of my life in the Panama Canal Zone, where heat is all you ever get, so you get used to it. But whatever the reason, come every Thanksgiving I begin berating myself for not moving to where you spend the holidays at 80 degrees instead of 8.)

I did, however, wonder what Bob and Bobby had traded in that fine Riverdale mansion in for. (Riverdale, remember. That’s actually a part of the Bronx, but you must never remind any Riverdalean that that is true. They may cry.)

I can’t say I really envied the Silverbobs their semi-palace. Any more rooms than the thirteen I already owned would have simply been showing off, and I had a full acre of land, with a pretty little river flowing along two sides of it, compared to their approximately two and a half square feet of grounds, bounded by city streets all over. But, ah, that library! Their house had been owned before them by a couple of New York celebrities, and although I’ve forgotten their names, they must have been great readers. The house’s library room was nearly the square footage of my living room and dining room combined, and it was two stories high! With bookshelves going floor to ceiling on every wall! And those roll-away stepladders everywhere, too, so if you wanted to read selections from half a dozen volumes you were probably going to be getting in your day’s exercise at the same time, too!

So you understand that I wanted to see what the Silverbobs had traded in that sort of high-tech bibliotechnology wonders for. That was easy enough to arrange. Next time I was on the West Coast on my publisher’s expense-account dollar I gave Bob a call. “Sure. Come on up and see us,” he said. “Don’t come in the main entrance, though. We’ll be in the pool. Go left about a hundred feet and there’s another entrance. We’ll let you in there.”

So I did as directed, and Bob did as promised, and there they were, Bobby and Bob and their very nice pool, about the same size as my own, but surrounded by much nicer plantings and in a much nicer climate and, when you came down to it, missing only one thing. Clothing, that was. The Silverbobs weren’t bothering with bathing suits that year. Didn’t need them, either. The two of them had those diet-watched, exercise-unskipped bodies that I — well, that I didn’t.

They invited me to join them for a dip, but I declined. It wasn’t modesty that made me say no. It was mostly that I just wanted to get back on the bars and the rowing machines for a while first.

A while later my wife Carol and I agreed to disagree and she left the big old house on Front Street for diggings of her own. When I mentioned this to Bob in a letter he replied, “Huh. You starting up that fugue thing again? Bobby moved into her own place a week ago.”

It’s all right, though. I promised Bob I wouldn’t do anything like dying, going bankrupt or contracting a loathsome disease with first warning him, And so far I haven’t.

Related posts:
Robert Silverberg

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

Judith Merril

   Judith Merril

For the first couple of years after World War II, I was living in Greenwich Village, as a civilian, along with my second wife, Dorothy Louise LesTina (about whom see The Way the Future Was.). We had a pretty busy life, the two of us, and although I had heard that there was a whole new science-fiction fandom in the city I was overfull of self-affairs (as the Bard put it) and myself did lose it.

Anyway, then Tina, visiting her parents in California filed for divorce. (There, too, check my writing about Tina for details.) In any case, I suddenly wasn’t married any more, and so I had time to get around to seeing if I and this new NYC fan community had any reason to get together.

It turned out that we did. I began making friends with young Robert Silverberg and young Charles Brown (yes, the Locus man, although all that was still very far away) and a bunch of other people who became close, long-time friends. And there was one really interesting thing, unprecedented in pre-war fannish history, and that was that quite a few of these new New York fans were female.

That was an unexpected but very, very welcome development. I soon became friendly with some of this new breed of femmefans, as they were (briefly) termed, and with one in particular. That one’s name was Judy Zissman. She was divorced and with an enchanting little girl whom she had named Merril. Judy wanted to be a writer and the two of us got along just fine.

Before I tell you some of the things that happened next, there is one thing you need to know about Judy right now, and that is the nature of her beliefs about sexual conduct. One of them was that females had as much right to sleep around as males do, and that that right was considerable..

That was one of the things I didn’t really want to discuss when I was writing The Way the Future Was. The good news is that now I don’t have to discuss it at all. In the last years of her life, Judy was writing her own memoir, and in it she was quite open about her views and her experiences.

Judy died before she could finish the memoir, but the two of us had begun having some of our children’s children growing up and taking over some things. One of them was our well-beloved granddaughter Emily Pohl-Weary, who, having herself become a writer, finished the book for her. (It was published as Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril. And listen, our kids and grandkids don’t fool around. It won a Hugo Award.)

So by all means, read all you like about Judy’s private business. Only read about it from her.

Before long, Judy and I had settled down to cohabitating in her gigantic New York apartment on East 4th Street.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. The place certainly was gigantic, at least four big bedrooms, but it was also on the basement level of the apartment building To get to it, you took the elevator down one flight. It had been designed, and built, with the expectation that it would be occupied by the building’s janitor and his family. In America’s postwar boom, though, your average janitor didn’t care to be treated like an inferior. The present incumbent and family lived in modest prosperity, rent-free, in a perfectly rentable apartment above-ground. Judy had discovered the situation and grabbed the underground space for a pitiful rent, which I think may have been less than $25 a month.

For us it was perfect. Plenty of room for us each to have space to live and write, and space for little Merril and for the child’s pet dog, Taxi Driver, and even for Judy to rent out one of the extra rooms to the occasional single woman who needed a cheap place to stay. One was Gerry Schuster, rehearsal pianist for the New York Ballet. Another, at a different time, described herself as “the white New York girlfriend” of a famous musician — and proved it by getting us all comped seats to his Carnegie Hall appearance, and a visit to his dressing room after.

And, in particular, the one thing that the place was perfect for was parties. We had a lot of them.

We were quite prosperous at that time, you see. I was book editor and advertising copywriter for the rich Popular Science Publishing Company at a steadily increasing salary. While Judy had got herself an editorial job with Bantam Books, working for Ian Ballantine, who at that time ran it.. Between us we earned quite a lot, we didn’t really spend all that much, and God was good. Not only that. Bantam gave Judy the chance to edit her first very own science-fiction anthology (but entitled Shot in the Dark to disguise the fact that it was sf as much as possible).

And even that wasn’t the very best of it. There was the fact that Judy had, without warning and all by herself, had unexpectedly written a story of her own that just knocked the socks off everyone who read it.

Continue reading ‘Judith Merril, Part 1: ‘That Only a Mother’’ »

Elizabeth Anne Hull, me, the Hugo and Steven Silver. (Photo by Cathy Pizarro.)

Elizabeth Anne Hull, me, the Hugo and Steven Silver. (Photo by Cathy Pizarro.)

I didn’t get over to the Worldcon in Australia, so when I won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer, my friend Bob Silverberg accepted it for me. Here is what he said at the ceremony:

“A couple of weeks before I left for Australia I received an e-mail from Fred Pohl asking whether I would accept the Best Fan Writer Hugo for him if he won. This is what I replied:

“‘Of all the goddamn crazy things. Here we are in 2010, you are 90 years old, I’m no kid myself, the worldcon is in Australia, and you are sending me some kind of newfangled electronic message about the possibility that you might win the Best Fan Writer Hugo. What would Sam Moskowitz say about all this? Don Wollheim? Hugo Himself? Are we both trapped in the future, swept off into this nonsense by some inexorable force? Of course I will accept that Hugo for you. It will be one of the great moments of my life.’

“And it gives me immense pleasure now to accept the Best Fan Writer Hugo for my friend of more than fifty years, Fred Pohl.”

After Silverbob accepted the Hugo Award, the trophy was ferried back to Chicago by Helen Montgomery, who passed it along to Steven Silver, who brought it over last week. Thanks to everyone concerned!

Thanks, also, to everyone for all the congratulatory messages, of which this one from Encyclopedia Britannica might be the most extraordinary. I wrote their entry on Tiberius in the 1960s!

From the blog team:

Fred wins!

Robert Silverberg accepts the 2010 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award on behalf of Frederik Pohl at Aussiecon 4. (Photo by Laurie D.T. Mann.)

Robert Silverberg accepts the 2010 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award on behalf of Frederik Pohl at Aussiecon 4. (Photo by Laurie D.T. Mann.)

2010 Hugo Award Winners

Best Fan Artist
Brad W. Foster

Best Fanzine
StarShipSofa, edited by Tony C. Smith

Best Fan Writer
Frederik Pohl

Best Semiprozine
Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace and Cheryl Morgan

Best Professional Artist
Shaun Tan

Best Editor, Short Form
Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Who: “The Waters of Mars,”
written by Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford, directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Moon, screenplay by Nathan Parker; story by Duncan Jones, directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)

Best Graphic Story
Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm,
written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; art by Phil Foglio,
colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Best Related Book
This Is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”)
by Jack Vance (Subterranean Press)

Best Short Story
“Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s Jan. 2009)

Best Novelette
“The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2, Eos)

Best Novella
“Palimpsest” by Charles Stross (Wireless, Ace, Orbit)

Best Novel (tie)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
The City & The City by China Mieville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Seanan McGuire

Congratulations to all the winners!