New Times, Old Times
I am a science fiction editor and have devoted my life to maintaining the principle that sf is a worthy endeavor and a worthwhile literature, especially in opposition to the fashionable literature of the day. I have a doctorate in comparative literature, am widely read, and am capable of arguing these points. As a footnote to my career, I helped Marilyn Holt and J. T. Stewart found Clarion West in Seattle nearly three decades back as a workshop devoted to sf as a worthy endeavor for writers and to the improvement of writing skills, particularly directed at publishing written work. It was founded, as was the original Clarion, by people who knew just how irrelevant most university writing programs are to the practical life of writing, and by people who knew that most of those university programs generally despise and often forbid sf writing.
So it is with particular pleasure that I read the latest issue of the Clarion West newsletter, in which one of the faculty members for next summer said, “our biggest barrier is people who think they are too good for sf.” And also: “Writing is not a performance art, though—it’s a results-oriented art. The only people who truly care how you wrote your book are certain types of fans, and writers seeking to learn from your methods.” I can see that the students will be in good hands once again. Support your local Clarion.
At the SFWA annual Author-Editor Reception in November (see pictures on page 3) I had the good fortune to run into Margot Adler, still with NPR, a friend from the late 1960s whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years or so. Back in 1970 Margot, Tom Disch, and I were called up for jury duty in New York City at the same time and we spent more than a week sitting and reading and talking together in the jurors’ waiting room, and going out to lunch in the court-house area. My jury experience was memorable (I was the foreman on a rape trial), but that week with Tom and Margot was fun and full of good memory moments.
Changing topics once again, I wish to celebrate Fred Pohl’s blog <www.thewaythefutureblogs.com>, where Fred is writing autobiographical essays of immense interest on his life in sf. His memoir The Way the Future Was (1979) was notable for its tact and discretion, and 30 years later he now feels that he can be more candid, a situation I applaud. I was privileged to have Fred as a mentor early in my editorial career, and his candor then was extremely valuable to me in learning the ropes. There is, in fact, a secret history of sf, but for the most part the secrets have been kept to avoid hurt and embarrassment, not for power trips. I think that it is time to release the secrets of the 1930s, ’40s, and’50s, so that everyone can have the opportunity to understandwho the people who bestrode the sf community like colossi were.They were passionate, creative, generally very smart people who muddled through complex lives in a very small community of passionate compatriots who liked to disagree with each other, feud, marry, live together in groups. And publish.
Stan Schmidt and Paul Levinson and I formed a panel at the World Technology Summit in NYC recently <www.wtn.net>, moderated by Moira Gunn from San Francisco NPR. We got to attend the whole conference, which I quite enjoyed. I think all technology and future-oriented conferences should include sf.
Kathryn and I are about to disappear into the final stages of doing our Year’s Best anthologies before Christmas, and so 2010 ends and 2011 begins. It’s going to be an interesting year. Please keep reading.—David G. Hartwel l& the editors