Charles Platt was born in London and relocated to the United States in 1970. He has had a varied career as a writer, journalist and computer programmer. The subject of this particular article is his Hugo-nominated Dream Makers, published by Berkley in 1980. For this collection, Platt has interviewed some heavy-weight science fiction authors, taken the transcripts and added a narrative to them, creating an easy to read, insightful and descriptive image of the authors and their lives. Originally my intention was to add portions of these interviews to the "notes" sections on the respective author pages, but upon reading the work, I realized the narrative style does not lend itself to this application. Instead, I have decided to create this article entry with excerpts from the work so that it can be more completely understood in context of what Platt was trying to achieve.
In his introduction, Platt states :
"Purists may question to what extent the interviews in this book have been edited. It is true that some editing was done, to make the prose readable and coherent."
"In each interview I taped between sixty and ninety minutes of conversation (about 5000 spoken words). All of this was then transcribed from the recording, typed out verbatim. I preferred not to employ outside help to do the transcription, because I would have no way of checking that the person who helped me was entirely accurate, and I regard accuracy as the first obligation of any writer of nonfiction. So I did the transcripts myself - about 150,000 words in all."
"Next I surveyed and reshuffled this raw material in a cut-and-paste operation, to improve the flow of each interview without degrading its content of interfering with the characteristic speech patterns of the interview. For example, if someone referred to a particular subject, and came back to that topic later on, I would shift the two statements close together. Unnecessary hesitations and repetitions were excised, and I removed some passages which were simply dull. Occasionally I eliminated sentences which were mere preamble of lacking in real content. To a very minor extent I imposed grammatical structure (say, if a verb were missing from a sentence) but in no case did I add words that were not there, and in no case did I censor anything that seemed opinionated or controversial. Lastly, the authors themselves were given the chance of editing or amending their own profiles, but none of them made substantial changes."
Platt goes on to say choosing these authors for this book was like creating a guest list to a party. He states he approached those writers whose work he admired and stayed away from those whose work he really hated. He thanks Harlan Ellison (and others) for assisting him in obtaining interviews he may not have otherwise been able to arrange. The collection contains 28 interviews and obviously I will not include excerpts from all of them. For this article, I have chosen those interviews which contain information I found particularly interesting, revealing or otherwise provocative. Typically, as with the piece on Speaking of Science Fiction, I would format this article as question/answer, but Platt's decision to create the narrative presentation does not lend itself to this. Therefore, I will simply add chosen passages as they appear in the work.
Camp Concentration, one of the novels Thomas Disch is best known for was originally serialized in New Worlds in 1967, and picked up by Doubleday in the United States in 1969. The novel is presented as a collection of journal entries from a conscientious objector to a Vietnam-like war which was taking place at the time. Prisoners in an underground, secret government facility are injected with a modified syphilis virus. This virus causes them to become hyper-intelligent, achieving savant levels very quickly. They become true renaissance men, able to present stage plays, debate ethics and write poetry as easily as you and I watch a television program or read a newspaper.
Disch himself was very much like these enhanced characters. Despite being pigeon-holed into the science fiction genre, he was an accomplished poet, computer-game programmer and is remembered for his work in theater.
Camp Concentration - First edition published in the UK in 1968
From the interview with Thomas M. Disch:
"I ask if Disch's best known novel, Camp Concentration, was an attempt to achieve recognition outside of the science-fiction field."
"Camp Concentration was a science-fiction novel, and I think it was probably not strong enough to stand on its own outside the genre. Not as a work of literature. It might have been marketed as a middle-brow suspense novel - some science fiction is smuggled out to the real world in that disguise - but I think the audience outside of science fiction is even more resentful of intellectual showing-off, while within science fiction there's been a kind of tradition of it. Witness something like Bester's The Demolished Man, which was in its day proclaimed to be pyrotechnical. Pyrotechnics are a part of the science-fiction aesthetic, and that's what Camp Concentration was aiming at."
"In America the novel didn't receive very much attention and it became the focus of resentment for some of the fuddy-duddy elements in science fiction to carp about. I never had enough success with the book to make me seem a threat and I'm not much of a self-promoter, so the book just vanished in the way that some books do. And that's not entirely a bad thing. The kind of success that generates a lot of attention can be unsettling to the ego, and the people who have that kind of success are often encouraged to repeat it. It would have been a very bad thing if I had bowed to pressure to write another book like Camp Concentration, which was the exception, to a degree, even in myself. For a while I wanted to write things that were even more full of anguish and even more serious."
"Camp Concentration is, as Disch says, very serious and full of anguish. It is the diary of a character who is locked up and given a drug to heighten his intelligence; an unfortunate side-effect of the drug is that it induces death within a matter of months. The book thus presented a double challenge to Disch: he had to write the diary of a man who knows he is going to die, and he had to write the diary of a man whose intelligence is steadily increasing to superhuman levels. In a way it was a self-indulgence - a conscious piece of self-analysis - in that Disch himself is aware of his intelligence to the extent that it is something of a fetish."
"While he was working on Camp Concentration, he confided to Michael Moorcock (as Moorcock tells it), 'I'm writing a book about what everyone wants the most.'"
"To which Moorcock replied: 'Really? Is it about elephants?'"
"'Elephants? No, it's about becoming more intelligent."
"'Oh,' said Moorcock. 'What I've always wanted most is to be an elephant.'"
"Talking to Tom Disch, I recount this anecdote, if only to check on its accuracy. Disch laughs and comments, 'Well, I guess Mike Moorcock and I have both realized our secret dreams.'"
Robert Sheckley joined the science fiction community in the 1950s, primarily as a short-story author for the "slick" magazines (like Playboy). He was best known for his quick-wit and unpredictable plot-lines. His prime period of writing extended from the early 1950s through the late 1970s, though he did experience a period of resurgence beginning in 1990, publishing some 50 stories before his death in 2005.
From the interview with Robert Sheckley:
"Sheckley accepted the job of fiction editor for Omni magazine in early 1980. 'I wanted to use some of my skills in a social context. I was getting very sick of being a solitary, isolated writer. I've been doing that for twenty-eight years, from age twenty-two onward. I had an interest for some while in teaching or something like that. When the Omni job came along I had a 100-percent 'yes' response.'"
"I was very interested to find out what people are writing now. One tends every year to read less and less; it's the encroachment of professionalism, which can have a very bad effect on you. When we started in science fiction we read for pleasure, and then when we started to sell out work we read in order to see what the other boys are up to you find that you don't want to read anything at all except an occasional newspaper or your favorite hobby magazine."
Sheckley's Dimensionof Miracles, published in 1968 - This novel is considered very similar to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide
"One thing which I have realized is that it is now harder to write science fiction than it used to be. There's a critique on science fiction by Stanislaw Lem, who raises several good points. One of them is that science fiction has no common, shared background now as it did in the 1930s, 1940s, and even the early 1950s. There were certain background assumptions, then, that you could work with. I think writers starting having background trouble once you could no longer put your characters on our solar system's planets. Once you could no longer explore the 'green hell of Venus' something went out, because you had to go out to a new star system altogether, and invent a new planet, and waste a certain amount of head space on what the planet was like, its special characteristics, how you get there, and all that. People hate wasting that much imagination on a short story. When your background takes that much creative energy, and it's that unknown to the reader, another thing that happens is that your foreground suffers from lack of attention. A lot of my early stories were foreground actions with lightly sketched, borrowed backgrounds - future Earths, for instance, that other people had already written about. But things were much simpler then; you could have a future Earth projected simply on the basis of a population increase. These days, setting up a future Earth is a much more major undertaking; you must add in fuel, energy, greenhouse effect, radioactive stuff, all that. Today, I wouldn't even know where to borrow a background from. Whereas I once used other writers' assumptions about things, now everybody rolls his own - usually rather sparsely. And when somebody actually uses all of his brain power and invents a new world , he's in no hurry to let go of it. He's going to write novel after novel exploring the aspects of his thing, and he won't bother with short stories. And I don't blame him, but for me this does not add up to a good fictional situation. Fiction about what? What's science fiction about, now?'"
Frederik Pohl speaking at Midamericon in 2004
Frederik Pohl is really one of the great science fiction legends, having his hand in all aspects of the genre's ascendency to mainstream popularity. Starting out as a short-story writer, he almost always used pseudonyms. He moved into editing Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories quite early (1939-1943) and eventually started his own literary agency (which failed). Co-founder of the infamous Hydra Club (with soon-to-be wife Judith Merril), Pohl organized science fiction authors and fans in a social setting. He took over editing Galaxy Science Fiction and World's of If when H. L. Gold became too ill to continue and eventually moved on to Bantam, where he published many "Frederik Pohl Selections." Throughout all of this, Pohl continued to publish his own work, managing to produce over 60 novels and a plethora of short stories.
Man Plus winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1976
From the interview with Frederik Pohl:
"Pohl is more positive about the role of an editor in influencing the development of a writer. Like many science-fiction authors, he admires the late John W. Campbell, Jr., who edited Astounding Science Fiction (later retitled Analog) and strongly imposed his ideas on the writers who sold stories to the magazine. However, times have changed:"
"'There could not be a John W. Campbell today. He would find some new writer, as he did with Heinlein or van Vogt or L. Sprague de Camp. He would hang on to him for two stories, and then Bantam Books or Pocket Books would be bidding for that author's novel and he'd be gone, which would be very satisfactory for him, but would make it impossible for someone like John to change the whole field around as he did. In fact it would make it impossible for him to help writers learn their craft."
"There is no editor in the science-fiction field now who has any real control over what happens. Not even David Hartwell at Pocket Books, in spite of the fact that he can spend six-figure advances. There is just not a place or publisher who defines the field or even defines his part in it. It has become big business where books are merchandised and promoted and distributed and placed on sale like slabs of bacon or cans of soup."
"One of the reasons I left Bantam [where he had been there science-fiction editor] was that the joys of editing, for me, involve finding something that no one else has seen the wisdom of publishing, and making it go. That is not the skill that's in great demand in major paperback publishing houses. They don't forbid it - I had complete freedom at Bantam and they encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. But I was playing the wrong game for their field."
"What I really like is editing a science fiction magazine. The big advantage of a magazine is that it should reflect the insanity of one individual, so it has personality. I would have liked to take over Analog [following the departure of Ben Bova, who inherited the job after John. W. Campbell's death]. But I think probably they were reluctant to see any changes to the magazine, and I would surely have changed it."
"I remark that in the time Pohl worked for Bantam Books, he brought some remarkably experimental and innovative material, which seems surprising in that during the late 1960s some 'new wave' science-fiction people had condemned him for being conservative."
"'But back then I was editing for Galaxy magazine, and I published the majority of the 'new wave' writers,' he points out. 'Aldiss, Ballard, Ellison..it wasn't the stories I objected to, it was the snottiness of the proponents. I don't think the 'new wave' has actually died; it still survives in everything that is being written today, just as James Joyce survives. The thing that the 'new wave' did that I treasure was to shake up old dinosaurs, like Isaac [Asimov], and for that matter me, and Bob Heinlein, and show then that you do not really have to construct a story according to the 1930s pulp or Hollywood standards. This is a valuable thing to learn. I don't think I could ever have written Gateway if the 'new wave' hadn't happened. And I'm more pleased with that than any other book I've ever written.'"
Alfred Bester at Midamericon 1976
While Alfred Bester did not spend the majority of his career publishing science fiction, he did contribute works which nearly single-handedly transitioned the genre from the "Golden Age" into the "New Wave." His The Demolished Man won the first Hugo Award for Best Novel, and later The Stars My Destination won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award.
As part of the Hydra Club, Bester hobnobbed with writers who would become the central authors of the genre. He maintained his connections with the science fiction community throughout his years as a writer for Holiday magazine, where he published for twenty-five years. He was a gregarious, boisterous man who was full of brilliant ideas.
The Stars My Destination was first published in Galaxy beginning in October 1956
From the interview with Alfred Bester:
"I ask who the writers are who he particularly admires."
"'Harlan Ellison is just the greatest. Even when Harlan goofs, I just love everything he does, because, by god, he goes for hell and high water, to do something different, startle you. It's like Heinlein, once I said, come on, how do you write, kid? And Robert said, I'll tell you what I do. He said, it's like a man in the street is passing by; I reach out, I grab him by the lapels, and I pull him into a doorway, and shake him until his teeth rattle. And that's what Harlan does, and I admire him tremendously.'"
"There's a marvelous writer named Ballard - what is it, A. G. , E. G. Ballard? Jesus Christ, that son of a bitch could write. Christ, he's written some stories I wish I had written. There's one called 'The Voices of Time'; whew! What a piece of work. It makes no sense to me at all, but I am absolutely enchanted by it, it's great. And of course The Crystal World is a hell of a novel."
"'Brian Aldiss - brilliant - too brilliant. I've had this argument with Brian for ages. I say, look, Brian, if I can't understand you half the time - and I can't - how the hell do you expect your readers to understand you? But Brian's off on this brilliance kick, I don't know why. I think his greatest novel was Hothouse [also titled The Long Afternoon of Earth]. You know, Bob Mills, when he was editing Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, received the manuscript and was terribly worried, and sent it up to me and said, Alfie, should I print it or not? I read it and said, if you don't print it you're a damn fool, it's one of the greatest things that's ever been done. He said, but, it's so different. I said, that's exactly why. Some of my contemporaries who started with me, I think - I don't want to mention any names - have either been repeating themselves over and over again, which I think is criminal, or else have lost their energy, lost their drive. And some of them fortunately have quit writing altogether. And I'm sorry about that.' He looks embarrassed at where his conversation has taken him. 'Crikey, I don't know what to say.'"
Brilliant, contentious and uncompromising, Harlan Ellison is a force to be reckoned with. Throughout his career he has put forth a massive lexicon of ideas and concepts that demonstrate his unequaled imaginative power. He has won every science fiction award possible, always deserved.
From the interview with Harlan Ellison:
."The question is, when does Harlan Ellison, the writer, find time to do any writing?"
"Sometimes, he does it in bookstore windows; for Ellison is more than a writer, he is an entertainer. It is as important for him to reach people in person as it is via print. He is aggressive, even hostile - he insults his audience, ridicules their simple ideas and tastes, complains about their intrusiveness. But his life seems intentionally structured so that he is seldom along, and his hostility is an act of courtship: the more he badmouths his audience, the more they love him for it. I have seen him tell 5,000 science fiction fans that they are stupid and illiterate; they give him a standing ovation and gather round for autographs. He has been known to treat his house guests as though they are raw recruits and he the drill-sergeant; they shyly ask to stay on for an extra week of basic training. (He knows he has 37,000 books because he once detailed an idle guest to count them for him). By setting up his typewriter and producing stories in bookstore windows, or in a plastic pyramid at a world science-fiction convention, he has converted even the most solitary act of creativity into a social event - and an exercise in one-upmanship (I'm on this side of the typewriter, and you're not). Onlookers gather, muttering 'Who does he think he is?', but they gather, nonetheless, as he knows they will."
Dangerous Visions first published by Doubleday in 1967
"The stories themselves cry out for audience response. They are often melodramatic, angry, and controversial in their advocacy of extremism. The writing style is direct, reaching out to accost the reader, and its rhythms are controversial, so that each piece is like a stand-up monologue (indeed, Ellison often reads his work in public). And the stories are frequently prefaced with introductions; after all, any entertainer likes to have the audience warmed up before he starts his act."
"Ellison is frank about his need, as a writer, to reach people. 'It is very necessary for my work to have an impact. The most senseless cavil that's ever been leveled against me is, 'Oh, you only wrote that to shock.' I say of course, you idiot, of course that's the reason I wrote it. What do you expect me to do, lull you into a false sense of security? I want people's hair to stand on end when they read my work, whether it's a love story, or a gentle childhood story, or a story of drama and violence.'"
"He is sitting behind his desk, on its dias, overlooking the grand panorama of the upper level of his library. I'm on the collapsible wooden chair, to one side of the desk. It's an inferior, slightly uncomfortable position, but it's the closest I could get to spatial equality with my interviewee. The alternative would have been to sit on a contemporary modular couch, fifteen feet distant and one foot lower in altitude."
"I ask if it bothers him when people are amused by his acts of writing in public, or when they say, in effect, 'Who does he think he is?'"
"'I think I'm the guy who can write a story that's as good as 'Count the Clock that Tells the Time' while sitting in a goddamn pyramid while thousands of people are trying to break my bones,' he snaps. 'I think that's who I am, you bet your ass I am. I love pulling off the trick no one else can pull off, I love it, man. I mean, my favorite fantasies are not of - of sleeping with the entire Rockette line from Radio City Music Hall, they are - suddenly, while the jazz band is playing, I get up and say to the ax player, can I borrow your ax for a minute? And I begin blowing better than Charlie Parker. Or: there stretches the rope across Niagara Falls, and I say, oh, excuse me for a moment, and walk across it. My fantasies are pulling off the stunt that everyone said couldn't be pulled off. I love it, and I know it pisses people off, because people hate an overachiever, because when they see someone is capable of doing the grand thing, they realize how little they have demanded of themselves. I take great pleasure in that, in saying to them, you poor fucking turkey, you could have done it too, all you had to do was do it, but you didn't. And the stories that I write in those windows are good stories, man, they're not shit, they're good stories. I wrote 'The Diagnosis of Dr. D'arque Angel,' which is one of my best stories, sitting in the window of Words and Music, in London. 'Hitler Painted Roses,' for Christ's sake, which is a dynamite story, I did that over the radio, two two-hour sessions, sitting in a radio booth. The story that was in Heavy Metal magazine a couple of months ago, 'Flop Sweat,' I wrote that in one afternoon to read on a radio program that night. If people want to laugh, that's fine, let them try it and see how easy it is.'"
Ray and Maggie Bradbury, 1970
Ray Bradbury broke the science fiction mold early and reached a more "lofty" literary level. His prose were beautiful and carried a dream-like quality while fully reflecting his mid-western upbringing. His most famous science fiction work is, of course, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, but he also contributed many of his short stories to adaptation for television in The Ray Bradbury Theatre. Bradbury wrote for himself first and foremost and that dedication is reflected in his work. Many science fiction authors made us "see" science fiction as part of our reality - something that could be achieved - Bradbury's work evoked emotion that made us love it.
From the interview with Ray Bradbury:
Fahrenheit 451 - Awarded the 1954 "Retro" Hugo Award for Best Novel, given in 2004
"Is Ray Bradbury happy with the growth of science fiction? Does he like modern commercial exploitation of the genre - as in movies like Star Wars?"
"'Star Wars - idiotic but beautiful, a gorgeously dumb movie. Like being in love with a really stupid woman.' He gives a shout of laugher, delighted by the metaphor. 'But you can't keep your hands off her, that's what Star Wars is. And then Close Encounters comes along, and it's got a brain, so you get to go to bed with a beautiful film. And something like Alien comes along, and it's a horror film in outer space, and it has a gorgeous look to it, but the dream remains the same: survival in space and moving on out, and caring about the whole history of the human race, with all out stupidities, all the dumb things we are, the idiotic creatures, fragile, broken creatures. I try to accept that; I saw, okay, we are also the ghosts of Shakespeare, Plato, Euripedes and Aristotle, Machiavelli and Da Vinci, and a lot of amazing people give me hope in the midst of stupidity. So what are we going to try and do is more on and out to the moon, get on out to Mars, move on out to Alpha Centauri, and we'll do it in the next 500 years, which is a very short period of time; maybe even sooner, in 200 years. And then, survive forever, that is the great thing. Oh, God, I would love to comeback every 100 years and watch us.'"
"So there it is, there's the essence of optimism - that I believe we'll make it, and we'll be proud, and we'll still be stupid and make all the dumb mistakes, and part of the time we'll hate ourselves; but the rest of the time we'll celebrate."
E. C. Tubb, 2002
E. C. Tubb was extremely prolific, producing more than 140 novels and 200 short stories under nearly 60 pen names. He wrote fast paced, adventure fiction. He won the Nebula Science Fiction magazine literary award five times but never achieved the levels of writing required to win the Hugo Award. While his work was not as impactful as many of the well known names of SF, he made a name for himself as a solid plot developer and a respected work-a-day author.
From the interview with E. C. Tubb:
"He began by telling me that he thought the interview was a misguided idea, because it couldn't possibly be relevant for readers to know the details of an author's life:"
"'I've always sent back forms from these people who want to know the date of your birth, grandparents' marital status, everything about you. I think it's a lot of nonsense. Who the hell cares? If an author ran a brothel in Instanbul when he was fourteen, does that improve his writing? It doesn't, does it. There's a curiosity about how old the man is; does it help you, when you read a real good sword-and-sorcery novel, to know he's a doddering old octogenarian, sniffing at little girls? But to be serious - I started writing science fiction just previous to the ear, sold the first story in 1950, and went on from there. I started writing, as most authors do, first through love, and then through money; and I'm afraid, like the majority of authors, the love starts vanishing and the money stays'"
"I interrupt to ask him if he's sure he means the majority of authors."
"'The way they talk, it must do. You can get any bunch of authors together and what are they talking about? They're not talking about improving their work, they're talking about how high an advance they can screw out of the publisher. They're working, fair enough; the only trouble is, like politicians, they tend to inflate their own value, and then start saying, 'I wouldn't write a word unless I got X income for it." Why the hell publishers ride along with this is a mystery to me. How can one man get, say, $1000, and some one else get $100,000? His book is not 100 times better. It can't be. In fact some of your bestsellers are a damned sight worse. So when authors start believing they are wonderful, because they're paid so much, they're living in a fool's paradise. In the science-fiction field, reputations are easy to come by. Someone writes a book and there seems to be a conspiracy to say how good this book is. No one ever stops to read what the man's written. I mean read it. They're looking at the name. Heinlein's a perfect example. I mention that man because I think he's done himself a tremendous disservice. This may sound sour-grapes but I liked Heinlein - liked him. I will remember reading Stranger in a Strange land and telling myself all the way through, Heinlein wrote this, it has to be good, there's going to be a great reward for wading through this Christ-legend crap..and unfortunately, there wasn't. I don't think Heinlein is to blame for this. I think there's too many plaudits - and the trouble is, he might believe them - that Stranger in a Strange Land, or the ones that came after it, are good. They're not good. He's lost all critical faculties if he thinks they're good. I suppose another case is Samuel Delany, with his Dhalgren, which is a monument of unreadability. It does seem that whenever you read the books that have been chosen for the Nebula awards, you can only explain this choice by knowing how the choice was made, which is by twelve people in a smoke-filled room saying, "Ad, to hell with Sam, he's no good, but nobody hates Harry, so we'll give it to Harry.'"
Alien Dust published in 1955 - one of Tubb's notable stand alone novels
"Does Tubb really feel the award system is as corrupt as that?"
"'Corrupt in the sense that it's not honest. It cannot be honest. No one can read everything that's going, and to make an unbiased vote on it. I well remember when I was a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America [the organization which votes the awards], I was getting voting forms through the post at a time which was later than the date when I was supposed to return them. They'd taken six weeks on a boat, getting to me. So I couldn't even vote, which was a convenient way of making sure that I didn't. Now, I'm not saying that this was deliberate. But there was such a thing as air mail, and still is, I believe."
"I feel that Nebulas have been tremendously inflated as regards importance, and they are important in that every publisher plasters 'Nebula Award Winner' on the cover. I think it's detrimental, because we're all writing in a small field, and we were all at one time honest enough to admit that half of what we turned out was sheer crap for the market. That was the money aspect, though you could even like doing that. In the early days the pay was so low it was ludicrous, but this is where you cut your teeth. A lot of young authors, now, never knew this. They've come into a market that's paid higher from the beginning. And whether this is good or bad, I don't know, but if you start by getting a wad of cash for your first book, you're very slow in taking less for the next one. And this makes the advance a status symbol. How good is he? Well, what money did he get?"
"In case this diatribe might make it seem like E. C. Tubb is embittered or envious, I must say I don't think that's so. His complaints are delivered in a wry, offhand style, with a shrug and a grin. When he mentions the success of some well-known author, he usually adds 'and good luck to him!' on the principle that there's nothing wrong with getting what you can. Tubb himself seems to live comfortably off his writing and his other work; there's an air of middle-class prosperity about his home, with its new décor and furnishings, a video recorder sitting beneath the color TV, wall-to-wall carpets throughout."