For the most part, we here at SF Signal focus on the stories in SF and Fantasy. But what about the people behind the stories? Surely there are some interesting biographies and memoirs worth reading? To find out, we asked our panelists this question:
Here’s what they said…
I’d recommend starting with Fred Pohl’s history of the Futurians. It demonstrates that the Golden Age of SF started with a horde of geeky awkward fanboys. I’d also recommend Heinlein’s memoir as well, because of his insights about Alice Dalgliesh and John W. Campbell. After that, I’m afraid that most of us are pretty boring people.
I worked on Julie Phillips’s Tiptree bio and on Brian Aldiss’s Twinkling of an Eye and of course I consider them well worth reading. Ted Sturgeon’s short memoir Argyll is unforgettable. Jack Williamson’s Wonder’s Child is another good one. Mark Finn’s Blood & Thunder about Robert E. Howard is good. Mark Rich’s recent bio of Kornbluth is worth reading. And one publication that probably slipped by a lot of people this year is the Spring 2011 issue of Fantasy Commentator, which collects John W. Campbell’s personal correspondence (edited by Sam Moskowitz) and practically forms a memoir. It’s available online here.
I would recommend Stephen King’s book On Writing which contains a lot of biographical material as well as notes on his experience of writing and knowledge of the craft, and also Philip K Dick’s What If Our World Is Their Heaven? both of which I have read and enjoyed several times.
My favorite autobiography of a science fiction author would far and away be Isaac Asimov’s In Memory Yet Green, the first part of his massive, and massively fascinating and informative, self portrait.
It’s easy to see why I would love this book. Asimov is my favorite science fiction writer. His Foundation trilogy remains to this day my favorite science fiction reading (I’ve read it three times in my life, and will likely do so again). And because he’s such a gifted writer, Asimov’s autobiography is similarly a delight.
What a pleasure it was to read how Asimov sold his stories to John Campbell, editor of Astounding (later Analog) Magazine. Campbell was at times more than Asimov’s editor. He was almost a collaborator in the greatness of the first Foundation stories, encouraging Isaac to create The Mule, who beat the First Foundation, and then the Second Foundation, which beat the Mule (if you haven’t read these wonderful stories, I’m sorry for the spoilers – but unless you’re five years old or younger, you should have.)
Why do I choose only the first half of Isaac Asimov’s autobiography? It took me years to get a copy of the second half – In Joy Still Felt – and when I did, it just wasn’t as magical for me. Maybe because the Foundation series, not to mention the robot series, are just the best science fiction ever written, and this includes Isaac’s later, excellent works.