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MIND MELD: Science Fiction Biographies We Would Like to See Published

[Today’s Mind Meld was suggested by an SF Signal reader, Gary Farber, who is here among our guests. Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

In the past couple of years, we have seen the appearance of at the least two important biographies of Science Fiction writers, the first volume of Robert Patterson’s work on Robert A. Heinlein (Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve) and Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, a sort of complement to Weller’s biography, published in 2006. But there are so many writers out there, living and dead, whose lives we would have loved to know a bit more so we maybe could feel the same feeling of closeness we use to feel when we are reading their stories.

So, we asked this week’s panelists…

Q: Which figure in the history of the creation of science fiction, living or dead, would you most like to see the next thorough biography of?

Here’s what they said…

John Joseph Adams
John Joseph Adams is the bestselling editor of many anthologies, such as Other Worlds Than These, Armored, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom, Brave New Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, The Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Way of the Wizard. John is a four-time finalist for the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award, and he has been called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble. John is also the editor of Lightspeed Magazine and the new horror magazine, Nightmare, which launches October 1. In addition to his editorial projects, John is the co-host of’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. His next anthology, Epic: Legends of Fantasy, comes out in November. Forthcoming in December is a revised and expanded second edition of his critically-acclaimed anthology, Brave New Worlds, and then, in February, Tor will publish his anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. For more information, visit his website at, and you can find him on Twitter @johnjosephadams.

I’d love to see a biography of Alfred Bester. I don’t know if his life was interesting enough to warrant one, but I do know that he left his literary estate to his bartender when he died, and anyone who does something like that had to have had SOME good real-life stories. (Apparently the bartender didn’t know what to do with the estate, and as a result Bester’s work was out of print for several years, until Byron Preiss rescued it and brought it back to light in the 90s.) Bester also wrote Green Lantern for a while, and created the oft-quoted Green Lantern oath, when he was writing the comic, though I don’t know if there would be any interesting stories surrounding that or his time writing comics. A few years ago, I went on a big Bester kick — I’d gone back to read though his ouvre more completely, and re-read The Stars My Destination (my favorite novel). Then, sometime later, I read the brilliant Tiptree biography by Julie Phillips, and that’s when I first conceived of this desire to read a Bester biography. Given there wasn’t one, I went on a bit of a scavenger hunt, tracking down all the information about Bester I could find, not just online, but in old magazines and the like–looking for interviews or anything that talked about the man himself, as opposed to just his fiction. I never did find much indication that there’d be enough good material to make a biography, but still I wish there was one (or perhaps that Bester had been as interesting in life as his fiction was).

Lou Anders
Lou Anders is the editor of many famous anthologies, such as Live Without a Net, Fast Forward, Sideways in Crime and Masked. Anders was nominated for a Hugo Award six years in a row, in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, winning in 2011. He is a 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee for his anthology Fast Forward 2, and a 2010 Locus Award, World Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award nominee for his anthology, Swords & Dark Magic, edited with Jonathan Strahan. He was nominated for a Chesley Award for Best Art Director in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, winning in 2009. He is a 2006 and a 2011 World Fantasy Special Award: Professional nominee for editing at Pyr Books.

I’d like a thorough biography of Michael Moorcock. I consider him to be one of the most important figures in 20th Century science fiction and fantasy, whose influence extended beyond the New Wave movement — itself colossally important to the growth and sophistication of both the genre and mainstream literature — into role playing games, rock and roll, and even quantum physics. Moorcock forever reshaped both fantasy and science fiction, wrote one of the earliest works of steampunk, and gave the world the term “multiverse.” At one time, every bookstore had a Tolkien section and a Moorcock section. We still have the Tolkien shelf. We need to work on getting the Moorcock shelf back!

Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois is an author and editor. He was editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine from 1984 to 2004. He has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, both as an editor and a writer of short fiction, and he’s is one of the field’s most celebrated anthologists, having published dozens by himself and also with great names of the genre such as George R. R. Martin and Jack Dann, not to mention his Year’s Best Science Fiction Series, now in its twenty-ninth year of publication. His latest short story collection, When the Great Days Came, was published in 2011.

Cordwainer Smith
R.A. Lafferty
Avram Davidson
Gene Wolfe
Ursula K. Le Guin
Damon Knight
Jack Vance
Joanna Russ

Gary Farber
Gary Farber started working in science fiction/fantasy in 1974 as a slush reader for Amazing Stories and Fantastic Stories. A freelance reader, proofreader, copyeditor, copywriter, editorial assistant, and dogsbody for most mass market NYC major sf publishers on and off through the early 2000s, he was inhouse editorial staff at Avon Books in the mid-Eighties.. Largely retired from publishing, Gary became active in fandom in 1971, age 12, doing fanzines and working on conventions, including as Director of Operations for two Worldcons and Vice-Chair of the 1978 Worldcon. Gary institutionalized Worldcon displays on sf fanhistory and created the Worldcon fan lounge in 1977. Highly active on Usenet from 1995-2001, he started blogging at Amygdala in 2001.

The lives of most writers aren’t very interesting.

Many are variants of traditional categories:

1) Author has ordinary job, starts family, writes on the side, becomes successful, quits job to write novels full time, writes many, dies.

2) Author goes into academia, writes fiction, commentary, reviews, has family, and some commercial success on the side, dies.

3) Author ping-pings through dozens of odd jobs, some colorful, writes a lot, has 8 spouses, does lots of drugs, drinking, goes through several rock bands, starts a minor literary movement or two, has major feuds with other writers, either fades out or matures, then dies.

Some writers have had fascinating lives of exotic travel, and background.

Most do not. (Roger Zelazny was one of our best writers, but his life was not, to my knowledge, extraordinary.)

Some “merely” have wonderful skills of observation, imagination, and use their writer’s toolbox to bring us fascinating worlds and characters whose experiences change our views of the world and each other.

Some writers’ writing so enchants and intrigues and stimulates us that we want to know more as to how such a person’s mind developed, of what sort of life could have led to such mind-bending insights and concepts, no matter how quotidian their external life seems to be.

The best contemporary example of a science fiction writer with a fascinating life, and a wonderful biography to match is Julie Phillipssuperb JAMES TIPTREE, JR: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE SHELDON.

A fantasy writer whose life largely holds one compelling episode — his experiences in World War I — but whose life of the mind and shared companionship, in combination with his tremendous influence in the field, would be John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. In such a case, even an examination of a crucial portion of a life can be fascinating to those sufficiently interested in the writer and the work, such as may be the case with John Garth’s TOLKIEN AND THE GREAT WAR.

A writer who will continue to generate analysis, including how his life and writing interacted, long after I’m dead, is Philip K. Dick; an unexamined life is not a problem Dick leaves us with.

Some sf writers have partially filled a biographical gap with autobiography, which while possessing different virtues than an insightful and well-researched biography, nonetheless may lessen the need for an outsider’s view. Such a view of, say, Isaac Asimov, could be useful and valuable, but for the most part, there are few mysteries seemingly left to be told of even a giant of the field such as Asimov.

Robert A. Heinlein, of course, has been well-covered by William H. Patterson’s detailed ROBERT A. HEINLEIN: IN DIALOGUE WITH HIS CENTURY.

Among other greats who have extensively written of themselves, and I’m thus putting aside as folks we most urgently desire to know more of, include Jack Williamson, Jack Vance, and Fred Pohl. Samuel R. Delany has written what I’d argue are the most brilliant of autobiographical works several times now, including HEAVEN’S BREAKFAST and THE MOTION OF LIGHT IN WATER.

Already much covered, of course, are classical forebears, such as Mary Shelly, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne.

Who are we left with? This is where subjectivity enters stage left, and we come to my own desires. You, dear reader, will enlighten us by putting forward your own suggestions and justifications in comments.

Me, I’m going to cheat and name several people.

The Most Important Silver Age skiffy writer with no great biography remains Arthur C. Clarke. We do have his semi-autobiographical novel GLIDE PATH, working off his experiences as a technician on early radar in World War II.

But the great factor steered around, or dealt with in awkward passing, by most who have written on Clarke’s life in short form so far, is, of course, his closeted homosexuality, which seems to have clearly been a major reason for his life as an emigre in Sri Lanka. We’re told that he has many journals sealed until thirty years after his death:

[…] ‘I used to keep a journal from, I guess, the Thirties,’ he admits. ‘There are volumes and volumes of it which are all in the Clarkives now. They are,’ he adds, oddly, ‘to be sealed up for 30 years after my death’.

Why on earth are they sealed up?

‘Well,’ he says, ‘there might be all sorts of embarrassing things in them’.

What kind of things?

He doesn’t answer.

A biography of the man who conceptualized communications satellites and did so much to popularize space travel, and the wonders it might hold, cries out to be written. Surely no one other than perhaps Ray Bradbury — whose life, like many writers, largely consisted of sitting at home, writing — has been more prominent in the field and yet left without a major biography?

That said, we need biographies of figures perhaps less famous, and more recent, though hardly new, with stories less told, to tell us what the life of more modern science fiction writers have been like.

We could start with the great Octavia Butler, MacArthur Genius grant winner. Was her life full of adventure? Perhaps not, but I have little idea; all I know of her own story is that which is on Wikipedia, and scattered in a few articles. Whatever the external details, how Octavia Butler became the writer she made herself is something I’d like to read about.

Ursula Le Guin is a still living, still writing, still powerful, great, who has always stayed as private as she can reasonably manage, and we have a fascinating account by her mother, Theodora Kroeber, of her father, Alfred Kroeber, but a searching biography is called for.

A life with many stories already told, both by others and himself, still needs a cool, detailed, thorough, and insightful and fair, look, no matter how out or in of favor he may be in a given era, is the inevitable Harlan Ellison. Hate him or love him, there’s no lack of color to come in a thoughtful examination of his life and work.

While we’re talking cranky, controversial, argumentative, much-argued about, figures in the field, few have been more important or less infuriating than John W. Campbell, Jr., the figure who, like it or not, changed the field with his editorship of Astouding in the Golden Age of 1938 through the mid-Forties, and continuing in decreasingly influential ways as editor of Analog until his death in 1972. An infuriating racist crank, the original popularizer of Dianetics, the Dean Drive, and psi powers, Campbell left scars and traces on science fiction still present today.

In general I’d love to read more biographies of a few of the great editors of the field. A truly compelling work on the man we mostly laugh at these days, Hugo Gernsback, is still necessary. Literary biographies, at least, of H. L. Gold and “Anthony Boucher” would be very useful.

Lastly, my personal desire, much though I do know of his work and life myself, would be to see a good biography of the great editor, anthologist, fan, and occasional sf writer, Terry Carr. Few have had a more rounded life in science fiction and yet he’s quickly being forgotten as all his books, edited or of his own fiction, have long fallen out of print. No life could better explore the milieu of the science fiction subculture in the Fifties through Eighties than a look through the prism of Terry’s life in our world, reflecting as it did so many aspects of skiffy in those decades. A look at Terry Carr’s life in science fiction would be time-binding in the best sense of the word.

(Trivial note: did you know Tim O’Reilly wrote a book on Frank Herbert? Now you do!)

But whose life story has yet to be fully explored, and who I most want to know more about?

Paul Linebarger.


[…] After graduating from Johns Hopkins, Linebarger taught at Duke University from 1937 to 1946, but he also served actively in the Army during World War II as a second lieutenant. Pierce writes that “As a Far East specialist he was involved in the formation of the Office of War Information and of the Operation Planning and Intelligence Board. He also helped organize the Army’s first psychological warfare section.” [2] He was sent to China and put in charge of psychological warfare and of coordinating Anglo- American and Chinese military activities. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of major.

In 1947, he became professor of Asiatic Politics at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Pierce writes, Dr. Linebarger turned his wartime experiences into Psychological Warfare, still regarded as the most authoritative text in the field. As a colonel, he was advisor to the British forces in Malaya, and to the U. S. Eighth Army in Korea. But this self- styled “visitor to small wars” passed up Vietnam, feeling American involvement there was a mistake.

You may know him as Cordwainer Smith, and if you don’t, as a reader of science fiction, you should. Here are some hints from his granddaughter as to what sort of intrigue may lurk within the yet fully told story of Linebarger’s life.

Runners-up: I wouldn’t mind knowing more detail than the moderate amount I do about Leigh Brackett (co-author of the screenplay of The Big Sleep, with William Faulker, among other experiences), Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester.

Gordon Van Gelder
Gordon Van Gelder is, since 2008, both editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, for which he has twice won the Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form. He was also a managing editor of The New York Review of Science Fiction from 1988 to 1993, for which he was nominated for the Hugo Award a number of times.

Among dead writers, I’m looking forward to a biography of Paul Linebarger (Cordwainer Smith). Alan Elms has been working on one for years

As to living writers, what I’d really like to see is a new book along the lines of Charles Platt’s DREAM MAKERS profiling a dozen or two of today’s leading lights.

I should add also that I’m delighted Harry Harrison finished his memoirs. I’m very much looking forward to reading them. I only wish they weren’t posthumous.

Farah Mendlesohn
Farah Mendlesohn used to edit Foundation, and is now Immediate Past President of the IAFA. She won the Hugo for The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, and nominations for Rhetorics of Fantasy, The Inter-Galactic Playground, and On Joanna Russ. The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature is her most recent book.

I’m a historian and I find affinity groups intriguing, so rather than see biographies of individuals, I’d love to see biographies of collectives: the group of writers we know as the Futurians; the group who became the New Wave; the group of people who set up Wiscon. All of these *as groups* could be the subject of fascinating collective biographies which traced the personal and intellectual interactions. One of the advantages of this approach, is that writers who often contributed “only” one novel, or one story to a movement frequently emerge front and centre.

About Fabio Fernandes (21 Articles)
Fabio Fernandes is an SFF writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. He has several stories published in online venues in the US, the UK, New Zealand, Portugal, Romenia, and Brazil. He also contributed to Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Steampunk II:Steampunk Reloaded, Southern Weirdo: Reconstruction, and The Apex Book of World SF Vol. 2.
Contact: Website

19 Comments on MIND MELD: Science Fiction Biographies We Would Like to See Published

  1. I agree with Farah Mendlesohn on the group approach to which I would add the histories of such movements as sword & sorcery and new space opera.

  2. David Howarth // September 26, 2012 at 7:27 am //

    The major difficulty with taking the group approach is the contentious process of defining the group and then deciding who belongs in it and who doesn’t, and what it means to be inside or outside of it. Pursued to the nth degree, I suspect a literary biographer would ultimately come to the conclusion that “movements” like the New Wave, cyberpunk, etc., are always basically marketing and/or political constructs more or less consciously created by two or three writers to further their own agendas.

    For instance, the New Wave was basically Moorcock, Ballard, and a handful of others out to redefine scifi. Questions immediately proliferate about whether such-and-such an author whose work largely predates the movement prefigures or spiritually belongs in it (is Zelazny a New Wave author? PKD? Does Bester or Tiptree get credit for writing “proto-cyberpunk” stories?).

    With the more “clubbish” groups like the Inklings (for which we of course already have coverage), the Futurians, or the Hydra Club, the task would be somewhat easier, I suppose.

    I agree with the observation made above that most authors lead fairly uninteresting lives that make for poor biography. Fritz Leiber is perhaps my favorite SF author, yet his autobiography (in The Ghost Light, “Not Too Much Disorder and Not Too Early Sex”) is so deadly dull I have never been able to finish it. For some authors, many of the greats, even, “S/he was born, lived, wrote, and died,” is about all that can be or need be said. Other authors’ lives just begged to be covered in more detail, such as HPL, PKD, Tiptree, JRRT, and some others. Most of them have already been written, I’d say.

    I suspect Moorcock’s bio would be fascinating, and I can’t wait to dive into Paul Linebarger’s, if it’s ever finished, but I can’t think of too many others that would be worth the price of admission. We don’t need a Harlan Ellison bio, as what is left to know that he hasn’t already told us more entertainingly than a biographer ever could (not to mention the quagmire of trying to disentangle the knot of more-or-less intentional obfuscation and exaggeration?)

  3. I’m with Lou. I think, and its ghoulish to say, after Michael has long since departed to another part of the Multiverse, his importance to the field will truly be recognized and he will be talked about in the same breath as Tolkien.

  4. This is one of the better mind melds. It’s difficult to answer. What I sort of ask myself, which author’s interviews to I scour the internet for? Gene Wolfe would receive the most searches for me, but I am not so sure that his non-writing life is extraordinary. I liked the picks of Bester and Moorcock, who both seemed to write outside of the mold in their generations.perhas there is a midlist author whose writing is somewhat mainstream, but leads a scandalous or adventurous life.

    A biography, though, could also talk a lot about inspiration for particular works, which brings me back to Wolfe. I would love a part-biography/part-literary inspiration and analysis of his works collected in a nice, well-written book.

  5. Jack Vance gave us a autobiography, somewhat meh, and I’m a very big fan of his stuff.

    Rumors floated that there was a Linebarger biography in the works several years ago. His daughter might know more on the current status.

  6. In 1984, Pablo Capanna, an Italian philosopher who writes in Spanish and lives in Argentina, published “El Señor de la Tarde” (Lord of Evening), a book-length biography-cum-critical analysis of Cordwainer Smith. It even includes analyses of Smith’s non sf works like the novel “Atomsk”.

    Capanna’s is a truly major work which is virtually unknown in the English speaking world.

  7. Matthew Davis // September 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm //

    Gary Farber:

    It may not be quite the full battle-dress, but drawing upon a wide amount of materials I managed to compile a 30,000 word biography and study of Theodore Sturgeon’s work in the last issue of Bruce Gillespie’s fanzine “Steam Engine Time” ( If nothing else I hope it provides a decent framework of his life and recurring themes, and how his career proves examplary in defining the increasing expansion of sf via TV, the universities, and ‘respectable’ national print media. For the more salaciously-minded there’s anecdotes about Dianetics, LSD, and even a very brief homosexual interlude too.

    • That’s what I get for not keeping up with all of Bruce’s output! Thanks for the pointer! (Anyone interested in sf would be immensely well-served by reading any or all issues of either Bruce Gillespie’s SCIENCE FICTION COMMENTARY, one of the finest fanzines of serious sf discussion ever done, as well as one of the longest-running, or STEAM ENGINE TIME, of which the most recent issues may be found here. Good luck, though, finding copies of the first 75 issues, though doing so would be worth the time and money of any reader interested in thoughtful criticism. Bruce *may* have issues available.

  8. Manglar, the Cappana book on Cordwainer Smith is currently available both in Spanish and in English on Amazon Kindle! Thank you very much for the tip!!

    The link:

  9. Ryan Viergutz // September 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm //

    I know more about Phil Dick’s life than I probably should but he was just so deranged that I couldn’t help but snoop into it.

    I’m also very interested in group biographies or another version of Charles Platt’s ‘Dream Makers’ with recent writers. That book just completely pulled me in.

  10. Before today, I had not heard of EL SENOR DE LA TARDE. Thanks for the info, manglar and Fabio.

    —Gordon V.G.

  11. There are two books which cover a lot of the history of the Futurians:

    The Way The Future Was: A Memoir by Fred Pohl – which is a memoir of his life, but does have much on the group and early fandom.

    The Futurins: The Story of the Science Fiction “Family” of the 30’s That Produced Today’s Top SF Writers and Editors by Damon Knight, which is pretty much what the title says.

    As for Cordwainer Smith/Paul Linebarger, Alan Elms has been working on a bio for some time. In the interim, here’s a list of his writings on Smith/Linebarger: .

  12. A Bester bio would be perfect. I love the Bartender story.

    I’d also like to read more about Cyril Kornbluth. Apparently he never brushed his teeth!?

  13. A note for Gary: Clarke’s part autobiography part history of the field – Astounding Days – offers some more insight but includes absolutely nothing about his personal life.

  14. I have to agree with Gary Farber on everything! I’m particularly glad he brought up Tolkien and the Great War, one of the best works of biography and criticism I’ve ever read.

  15. Steve Walker // September 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm //

    Henry Kuttner is my choice. He was associated with Lovecraft and Weird Tales, and later Campbell and Astounding and Unknown; mentored Ray Bradbury; had a writing partnership and marriage with C. L. Moore; did television writing; was prolific and versatile in several genres. He wrote several classics, not least being “The Graveyard Rats”. He could also write such charming fantasies as “Housing Problem.” (In 2005 Readercon had the intelligent taste to make him and his wife memorial guests of honor.)

    “Biography is one of the new terrors of death”–John Arbuthnot

  16. Me, I’d really like to see one on Poul Anderson, someone who was an acknowledged great (and SFWA Grandmaster), but who you don’t hear much about any more. His range and output were voluminous.

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