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On the Net: A Field Guide to the Editors by James Patrick Kelly


I am writing this just a few days after Chicon <chicon.org>, the seventieth World Science Fiction Convention. Asimov’s, as has been its custom, garnered more than its share of Hugos, with a novella win for “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson <kijjohnson.com> and You-Know-Who taking the Best Editor, Short Form Hugo. Your faves from these pages were also well represented on the final ballot with five of the sixteen short fiction nominees—more than from any other publication. In addition to Kij, Mary Robinette Kowal <maryrobinettekowal.com> was nominated for novella with “Kiss Me Twice,” Paul Cornell <paulcornell.com> made the ballot for his novelette “The Copenhagen Interpretation,” while Mike Resnick <mikeresnick.com> and Nancy Fulda <nancyfulda.com> were worthy competitors in the short story category with “The Homecoming” and “Movement” respectively.

Asimov’s Hugo success is, of course, not a recent phenomenon. In 2004, Sheila succeeded Gardner Dozois <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/dozois_gardner> as your editor. These were huge shoes to fill, but then Gardner has been a central figure in SF for some time now. From 1998 through 2004, he won an unprecedented fifteen Hugos for Best Professional Editor. While in the first year of Sheila’s tenure, the tables of contents featured a mix of stories bought by her and Gardner, she alone is responsible for every story since the October/November 2005 double issue. Which means that, during her seven-year tenure she has bought thirty-eight of the one hundred and seven short fiction Hugo nominees (36 percent) and twelve of the twenty-one winners (57 percent).  Oh, and also copped two of the seven (28 percent) Best Editor-Short Form Hugos. 

Not a bad batting average.


We have been blessed with many great editors in science fiction and fantasy, although their achievements have not always been apparent to readers.  For example, just five editors known primarily for editing have been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame: John W. Campbell, Jr., Hugo Gernsback, Ian and Betty Ballantine, and Edward L. Ferman.  Of course I understand that writer/editors like Gardner, Frederik Pohl <thewaythefutureblogs.com>, Michael Moorcock <multiverse.org>, Harlan Ellison <harlanellison.com>, Robert Silverberg <majipoor.com>, and Damon Knight <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/knight_damon>—all of whom are in the Hall—have also had a huge impact on our genre.  But I’m saving an appreciation of their contributions for another column.  And while Ian and Betty Ballantine <locusmag.com/2002/Issue11/Ballantine.html> were among the first to publish original SF and fantasy novels (they introduced J.R.R. Tolkien to American readers) I would like to focus for now on editors who worked in the short form.

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) <magazineart.org/publishers/gernsback.html> has that award named after him. He was a controversial figure, sometimes referred to as the “Father of Magazine Science Fiction.” Certainly he founded the first SF magazine, Amazing, in 1923 and was at pains to insist the genre he called scientifiction, and later science fiction, concern itself with predictions about science and technology.  Never particularly popular with his writers—his payments typically were low and slow—he started a number of magazines after losing Amazing in a bankruptcy, all of which eventually failed.  Nevertheless he discovered writers like Jack Williamson <sfsite.com/03b/jw77.htm> and Stanley G Weinbaum <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/weinbaum_stanley_g>.

John W. Campbell, Jr. <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_W._Campbell> (1910-1971) has not one but two awards named after him: The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer <writertopia.com/awards/Campbell>and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award <sfcenter.ku.edu/campbell.htm> for the best science fiction novel of the year. If Gernsback fathered our magazine culture, Campbell is generally credited for ushering in the so-called “Golden Age of Science Fiction.”  While he was also a writer of note—The Thing From Another World <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_from_Another_World> and its two remakes derive from his classic story “Who Goes There?”—Campbell’s contributions as an editor far outstrip his literary reputation. During the thirty-four years he edited Astounding, and, for a time, its sister magazine Unknown, he stopped writing fiction. In those years, however, he discovered Isaac Asimov <asimovonline.com>, Lester del Rey <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/del_rey_lester>, Robert A Heinlein <heinleinsociety.org> among many, many others. By all accounts, he was an opinionated man full of story ideas that he would often assign to his stable of authors. Over time, however, his domineering nature drove many of them away. At the end of his life he became enamored with crackpot ideas and right wing ideology, turning his back on the trends that were remaking the genre.  Campbell was a prolific correspondent, and you can see his agile mind at work in this handful of his letters posted online <heinleinsociety.org/rah/history/campbellonheinlein.html>.

While Anthony Boucher <gadetection.pbworks.com/w/page/7930105/Boucher,%20Anthony> is more commonly associated with the mystery genre, where Bouchercon <bouchercon2013.com> is the equivalent of our WorldCon, he was nonetheless an major influence on science fiction as well. Boucher was actually the pseudonym of William Anthony Parker White (1911-1968).  Like Campbell, Boucher’s editorial career overshadowed his writing; perhaps his best known science fiction story is “The Quest for St. Aquin” <facstaff.uww.edu/carlberj/aquin.htm>. As a founding co-editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction <sfsite.com/fsf>, along with J. Francis McComas, he helped bring a more literary sophistication to the genre. He discovered Richard Matheson <wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Matheson> and Kit Reed <kitreed.net>, was a literary mentor to Philip K. Dick <philipkdickfans.com> and was the first English translator of Jorge Luis Borges <themodernword.com/borges/index.html>. 

H.L. Gold <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._L._Gold> (1914-1996)  was yet another sometime writer who is now best known for his editorial acumen.  He founded Galaxy Science Fiction in 1950 and in a little more than a decade, changed the direction of science fiction by emphasizing “soft sciences” like psychology and sociology and by encouraging SF humor and satire. Among the enduring classics that first appeared in Galaxy are Ray Bradbury’s <raybradbury.com> “The Fireman” which was to become Fahrenheit 451, Damon Knight’s <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/knight_damon> “To Serve Man” and the novels The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/bester_alfred> and The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth <strangehorizons.com/2005/20050103/kornbluth-a.shtml>

Cele Goldsmith <socialistjazz.blogspot.com/2012/07/cele-goldsmithlalli-interviewed-by.html> (1933-2002) was the editor of Amazing Stories from 1958-1965. Although the magazine was in financial decline and trailed other markets in payments to writers, its literary quality soared under her guidance. In an interview with Barry Malzberg she said, “And all through that time we were paying a penny, a penny and a half a word, that was all. It was remarkable though what we got. I think one of the reasons for this was because I simply wanted good stories. I had no taboos, I just wanted the writers to do the best they could, to capture the imagination of the reader. When I got gooseflesh, I knew they had succeeded.” Among the new writers who first published in Goldsmith’s Amazing were Thomas M. Disch <salon.com/2008/07/11/disch>, Roger Zelazny <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/zelazny_roger>, and Ursula K. Le Guin <ursulakleguin.com>.

Edward Ferman <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/ferman_edward_l> was editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1966-1991.  F&SF won the Hugo for Best Magazine five years in succession (1969-1972) under Ferman and, after the category was dropped, Ferman himself then won Hugos for Best Editor from 1981-83. When I first discovered SF magazines, I found Ferman’s F&SF to be the most consistent in quality with stories like “Ill Met in Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber <sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/leiber_fritz> and “Born with the Dead” by Robert Silverberg <majipoor.com>. Among the many beginning writers whom he pulled out of the slush pile were Gregory Benford <gregorybenford.com>, Michael Bishop <michaelbishop-writer.com> and . . . umm . . . me <jimkelly.net>.


Since then I’ve had the privilege of knowing many of our short fiction editors and while I never met Campbell or Gold or Boucher, I believe that this generation is at least as astute as those who brought us the Golden Age. Certainly Ellen Datlow <datlow.com> a celebrated veteran of print ‘zines like Omni, digital ‘zines like Event Horizon and SciFiction, and editor or co-editor of over seventy anthologies has had an undeniable impact on the current scene, winning five Hugos and nine World Fantasy awards for her editorial work.  Another editorial luminary is Gordon Van Gelder <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Van_Gelder>, who after a distinguished career as a book editor at St. Martin’s Press, became editor of F&SF in 1997, and bought the magazine from Ed Ferman in 2000.  Throughout these turbulent times for print magazines, he has maintained the high standards set by his predecessors. For his efforts he has won two Hugos and two World Fantasy Awards. I would also argue for the importance of Shawna McCarthy <shawnam.livejournal.com>, Gardner’s predecessor, who in her brief time at Asimov’s changed the magazine’s direction, won a Hugo as Best Editor and put her stamp on science fiction in the eighties. After a stint in book publishing, she returned to short fiction as editor of Realms of Fantasy from 1994-2011.

Among those nominated for the Hugo this year along with Sheila were two of the most media saavy editors around: John Joseph Adams <johnjosephadams.com> and Neil Clarke <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Clarke_(editor)>, who are prospering in the changing landscape of fantastic short fiction. The entrepreneurial Clarke has, in just six short years elevated Clarkesworld <clarkesworldmagazine.com> into a top tier market with a mixed strategy of print, digital, and audio publication.  John Joseph Adams <johnjosephadams.com>, a former assistant to Gordon Van Gelder at F&SF, struck out on his own in 2010 to edit Lightspeed <lightspeedmagazine.com> and the brand new Nightmare <nightmare-magazine.com> along with a number of best selling anthologies. He is an editor to watch. Jonathan Strahan <jonathanstrahan.com.au> comes to us from Australia, where he co-founded Eidolon. In 1997 he started working for Locus <locusmag.com> and began his career as an anthologist. He is best known for his Eclipse anthologies of new fiction and his Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year volumes, as well as his influential Coode Street Podcast <jonathanstrahan.com.au/wp/the-coode-street-podcast>. Recently Strahan announced that the Eclipse series would end its print incarnation and make the jump to the net, becoming Eclipse magazine <nightshadebooks.com/category/eclipse>. One bittersweet news item to come out of Chicon was the announcement that Best Editor nominee Stanley Schmidt <sfwa.org/members/stanleyschmidt/bio.html> was retiring from our sister magazine, Analog. Stan has kept the hard science flagship on course for some thirty-four years and had earned a Hugo nomination for his editing every year since 1980—implausibly without a single win. He will be missed. Longtime Managing Editor of both Analog and Asimov’s Trevor Quachri will become just the fourth editor ever at Analog;he is ready for his shot at editorial immortality.

No doubt one of Trevor’s least favorite parts of his old job was asking a certain Asimov’s columnist to pay attention to his deadlines. So congratulations on being relieved of JPK duty, my friend, and best of luck in your new position. You’re in great company!

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"On the Net: A Field Guide to the Editors" by James Patrick Kelly Copyright © 2013 with permission of the author.

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