Conversations with Dead Science Fiction Writers
While writing this installment, I learned of the passing of Martin H. Greenberg, science fiction’s most prolific anthologist. I never met Greenberg, but like many people I’ve never met in science fiction, I felt like I knew him, both through his own work, as well as through the voices of those who had worked with him, or who had been friends with him. It made me think about all of the science fiction writers I never got to meet, and what we might have discussed had a meeting been possible.Here is a list of six science fiction people that I wish I could have met. They are listed alphabetically by last name.
- Isaac Asimov. Asimov is one of my favorite writers. I enjoy his fiction and nonfiction equally, although I will admit to a preference to his nonfiction. His Foundation series is one of my all-time favorites. If I’d had the opportunity to meet with him late in his life, I think I might have asked him how he might have concluded that series. After Foundation and Earth, he didn’t know where the series was going and so he went ahead and wrote two prequels. I wonder if he ever figured out what came after Foundation and Earth?
- John W. Campbell. I picture Campbell as an ageless editor, but in fact, I am now nearly a decade older than he was at the dawn of the Golden Age of science fiction. Prior to becoming editor of Astounding, Campbell was a fabulous writer in his own right. Writing under the pseudonym, Don A. Stuart, he wrote “Who Goes There?” which is one of the most famous science fiction stories of all-time. Fans loved his writing and clamored for more Stuart stories in the letter columns of Astounding (not knowing that Campbell was Stuart). But Campbell wrote that Stuart was retired. Why? If I could have met Campbell late in his life, I’d ask him why he gave up writing to become an editor. Clearly he was talented at both. As a writer myself, it is hard to imagine ever giving it up. So why did Campbell decide to do it?
- Judy-Lynn del Rey (Benjamin). Most of my descriptions of Judy-Lynn come from what others wrote of her. She was an editor at Galaxy and eventually went on to become the science fiction editor at Del Rey books. I’ve heard her described as being one of the most well-read, knowledgeable people in all of science fiction. If I could have met her, she seems like the kind of person you could just sit down with an talk about science fiction: the stories, the writers, the art form, all of it. Imagine what kind of behind-the-scenes-history could be uncovered in a conversation like that!
- Lester del Rey. Like Campbell, del Rey is another writer who ultimately gave up writing to become an editor–and eventually a leading fantasy editor. With his wife, Judy-Lynn, they became the team that made up the Del Rey imprint, which from the start in the 1970s was phenomenally successful. I liked most of del Rey’s earlier stories, but one of his stories in particularly–“The Day Is Done” (Astounding, May 1939) is one of my all-time favorites. If I could, I would love to sit down with del Rey and talk about that story.
- L. Ron Hubbard. These days many people both in and out of science fiction associate Hubbard with Dianetics and Scientology. But he was a pretty darn good pulp writer and his serial, Final Blackout in the April-June 1940 Astounding was the finest story printed in the magazine that year. But I must admit, if I could meet Hubbard, it would be to ask about the invention of Dianetics. There is a famous story (possibly apocryphal) that talks about the invention of Dianetics at a Hydra Club meeting (or some such place). Many science fiction writers were alleged to be at the meeting. Hubbard complained that no matter how much you wrote, you simply couldn’t make a living at a penny a word. Someone in the room (in the version I heard, it was attributed to Lester del Rey) suggested that the best way to make a buck was to start a religion. Was this how it really went down, I would want to ask Hubbard?
- C. L. Moore. Moore was the collaborator and wife of Henry Kuttner. From the first story I read of hers, “Greater Than Gods”, which appeared in the July 1939 Astounding, I found her to be a phenomenal writer. She went on to write other stunning stories, by herself and in collaboration with Kuttner. When she started, she was writing at a time when women barely appeared in the pulp science fiction magazines, and yet her stories were often more powerful than the other stories that appeared. (In that July 1939 Astounding were stories by two other soon-to-be famous writers: Asimov and van Vogt; and yet Moore’s story was far better than both of their stories.) If I could talk to her, I’d wonder about what struggles she had (if any) breaking into the field as a woman. Did she see the science fiction world as a boys club?
My list is clearly a list of older writers from back in the day. This isn’t because I think their writing is particularly better than writers today, but mostly because it is what I grew up with. And these questions have lingered in my mind over the years.
If you could have met some dearly departed science fiction or fantasy writers–no matter where or when they lived–who would you choose? What would you want to ask them, if you could share a beer with them in some quiet corner of a convention bar, late at night when the rest of the fans and writers have finally succumbed to sleep?
Filed under: The Wayward Time-Traveler
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