MIND MELD: SF/F Biographies and Memoirs Worth Reading

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:

Q: Which SF/F biographies and/or memoirs do you feel are worth a read?

Here’s what they said…

David Gerrold
David Gerrold is in training to be a curmudgeon. Approach at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

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.

Gordon Van Gelder
Gordon Van Gelder has been a professional editor since 1988. Currently he edits and publishes The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He recently edited an anthology of climate change stories called Welcome to the Greenhouse.

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.

Justina Robson
Justina Robson is the author of Silver Screen, Mappa Mundi, Natural History, Living Next-Door to the God of Love, and the Quantum Gravity series (Keeping It Real, Selling Out, Going Under, and Chasing the Dragon – all from Pyr).

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.

Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC. His nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009), have been translated into ten languages. His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (1999), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), and The Plot To Save Socrates (2006). He appears on The O’Reilly Factor and numerous TV and radio programs. His 1972 LP, Twice Upon a Rhyme, was re-issued in 2010. He reviews television in his InfiniteRegress.tv blog, and was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s “Top 10 Academic Twitterers” in 2009.

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.

7 thoughts on “MIND MELD: SF/F Biographies and Memoirs Worth Reading”

  1. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin. Dick is a case where understanding the events of his life adds to the appreciation of his work…

  2. Charles Platt’s Dreammakers is pretty good.   On P.K.Dick I thought “I am alive and you are dead” was interesting.  If you can get your hands on it, DiLeo’s “The Happening Worlds of John Brunner” is very good.  

  3. I’m with Gary, The Motion of Light in Water is an incredible book.

     

    Like Paul, I love Asimov’s In Memory Yet Green. I never managed to get hold of the second volume though! So it’s interesting to hear it might not be as good.

     

    Pohl’s The Way The Future Was in great, but even better now is reading his blog, which expands on the book and he seems to feel a lot more free to talk about some of the people mentioned.

  4. Until last year I’d have said the most interesting were Knight’s THE FUTURIANS and Pohl’s THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS. Then I came across a copy of E. Hoffman Price’s THE BOOK OF THE DEAD. This is a guy who visited with H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner, Ralph Milne Farley, Seabury Quinn, Otis Adelbert Kline, a bunch of others. Their stories aren’t as fascinating as the Futurians, but Price was the only guy telling them from first-hand knowledge, and he’s a hell of a raconteur. Kudos to Arkham House for finally publishing it some 13 years after his death. 

  5. Until last year I’d have said the most interesting were Knight’s THE FUTURIANS and Pohl’s THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS. Then I came across a copy of E. Hoffman Price’s THE BOOK OF THE DEAD. This is a guy who visited with H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner, Ralph Milne Farley, Seabury Quinn, Otis Adelbert Kline, a bunch of others. Their stories aren’t as fascinating as the Futurians, but Price was the only guy telling them from first-hand knowledge, and he’s a hell of a raconteur. Kudos to Arkham House for finally publishing it some 13 years after his death. 

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