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Author: Darrell Schweitzer

Concerned by Moral Imperatives: An Interview with D.G. Compton

Concerned by Moral Imperatives: An Interview with D.G. Compton

D.G.-Compton-Ace-paperbacks-medium

D.G. Compton’s early Ace paperbacks. Covers by Leo and Diane Dillon.

David Guy Compton came to prominence in science fiction in 1968 with the publication of Synthajoy in the prestigious Ace Specials series edited by Terry Carr, although it was actually his second Ace book, preceded by The Silent Multitude (1966) This was quickly followed by The Quality of Mercy (1970), The Steel Crocodile (1970), Chronocules (1970), Farewell Earth’s Bliss (1971; published in England in 1966) The Missionaries (1972). DAW then brought out The Unsleeping Eye (1974), which was published in England as The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe and filmed as Death Watch. Windows (1979) and Ascendancies (1980) followed from Berkley, after which he tended to fade from the American publishing scene, although his work, notable for its unflinching intensity and mature treatments continues to command respect. His novels with the preoccupation with the impact of media on individual lives were in many ways well ahead of their time. The Unsleeping Eye, for instance, is about a report who has television cameras implanted in his eye, so that he can film the last days of a dying woman for a voyeuristic audience of what we would today call “reality TV” addicts.

This interview was recorded at the Nebula Awards weekend in New York, May 12, 2007, where Compton was present to receive SFWA’s Author Emeritus award. It originally appeared in The New York Review of Science Fiction, December 2007, and was reprinted in Speaking of the Fantastic III (2011).


You’ve mentioned that you have a new book coming out —

Oh, I did not say that. I have written a new book. Whether it is coming out or not is another matter. I already have a couple science fiction novels that haven’t been published over here anyway. And to make matters worse, this book isn’t even science fiction. So I have few hopes that it will actually be published. It was just something I had to do.

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John W. Campbell Jr. and the Knack for Being Wrong About Everything

John W. Campbell Jr. and the Knack for Being Wrong About Everything

Analog October 1965-smallI’ve been listing copies of Analog (from a lot I acquired over the summer) on eBay for some time, and looking through them as I have. What strikes me forcefully — though of course I had been aware of it for years, being old enough to remember when JWC was still editing — is how John Campbell had an eerie ability to be wrong about just about everything, from Dianetics to the Dean Drive to supporting George Wallace in the 1968 election to the statement that television would never catch on because you’d have to stop what you’re doing and WATCH it.

It goes on and on, rather relentlessly. Only in Analog would you find, as late as the 1960s, an article on the positive benefits of smoking.

The latest one I’ve come across is the editorial in the October 1965 issue, in which Campbell lambastes largely straw-men “Litteraeurs” on their inability to write, dismissing approved mainstream literature (about which I suspect he knew very little) as “sex in suburbia” and making the famous claim that he gets more printable manuscripts from Cal Tech or Harvard Law School than from the Harvard Literature department. “How come they keep turning out Literature graduates that can’t sell stories?”

Of course the fallacy here is that the purpose of Literature departments is to turn out writers, and that “sell stories” means sell stories to Analog. I am sure the editors of The New Yorker or the major literary magazines would have had a different view. But this was a very common Philistine cant at one time. From at least the New Wave period, all the way up to the Sad Puppies, we have heard the complaint that these damned Literature majors are ruining Science Fiction.

That John Campbell was unquestionably a great editor while being so wrong about so many things is hard to explain — thought it does explain why the field seemed to be leaving him behind by the last few years of his life.


Darrell Schweitzer’s last article for us was Donald Westlake’s Famous Complaint.

Donald Westlake’s Famous Complaint

Donald Westlake’s Famous Complaint

Xero 5 fanzine-smallThree-time Edgar Award winning mystery author Donald Westlake famously dissed virtually every editor in the field in an article in fan magazine Xero in 1960, saying in part:

Campbell is an egomaniac. Mills of F&SF is a journeyman incompetent. Cele Goldsmith is a third-grade teacher and I think she wonders what in the world she’s doing at Amazing. (Know I do.) As for Pohl, who can tell? Galaxy is still laden with Gold’s inventory, and when Pohl edited Star he had the advantage of no deadline and a better pay rate than anyone else in the field, so it’s difficult to say what Galaxy will be like next year, except Kingsley Amis will probably like it.

In the years since, many have asked how much of Westlake’s famous complaint was true. In retrospect, I think we know. Not a lot.

Campbell was indeed an egomaniac and a science crank fully as credulous as Ray Palmer had ever been. But he still had an eye for a story and when not forcing (or being tricked by) regurgitations of his own editorials, he could still develop new writers and inspire occasional greatness.

The 1960s was a dull period for Analog... but it did serialize Dune, which says quite a lot. I think Campbell was well past his prime by this point, but he still had occasional flashes of what made him so important in the ’40s.

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When the Cover Blurb is the Kiss of Death

When the Cover Blurb is the Kiss of Death

downtotheboneDown to the Bone by Justina Robson (Pyr, 2011) is book five of the Quantum Gravity series, so it must represent some sort of success. The first blurb on the back cover tells all, or maybe more than all:

“This isn’t SF for SF readers. This is SF for a generation raised on anime, manga, and MMORPGs.” — Ain’t It Cool News.

Presumably MMORPGs are some sort of role-playing game.

But seriously, have you ever seen a blurb which so explicitly told a large section of the potential buying public to go get stuffed? This (not to judge the actual book, which I have not read) is clearly marketed as post-literate SF for people who do not much read books.

I have never seen a blurb before which so firmly told me, “No, do not buy this one. You won’t like it.” Maybe I should appreciate the publisher’s honesty.

Is this suicide or a canny marketing strategy? Is the author cringing, or laughing all the way to the bank?

I don’t doubt that Justina Robson books sell admirably. There’s a kick-ass heroine with a pointy thing on the cover. It’s part of a generic series. Just what the market wants. It is very likely that the post-literate audience is in the majority now, and will rule mainstream publishing.

What I am remarking on is how explicitly the blurb tells me (and, I suspect, most long-term genre readers) to go away. Most blurb copy attempts to convince everyone that this is a great book they must have. This one comes right out and says that it is not SF for people who read SF or who are part of any literary culture.

Such breathtaking honesty.


Darrell Schweitzer’s last article for us was Selling SF & Fantasy: 1969 Was Another World.

Selling SF & Fantasy: 1969 Was Another World

Selling SF & Fantasy: 1969 Was Another World

seas-with-oystersI think what many aspiring writers today fail to grasp — very much as a result of not having been there — is that 1969 was another world.

Books were sold and distributed very differently. Big chain bookstores barely existed. There were many times more distributors than there are today. Science fiction mass-market paperbacks could be found in drugstores or bus stations, as could the digest magazines.

It was the time of the much maligned “science fiction ghetto” but really a time of innocence, in which we tended to assume that if you made it into the pro ranks, you were there for life. (How else could a writer as unimportant as, say, Robert Moore Williams have continued to publish over 40 years?)

There were no post-novelist writers, i.e. good, respected writers still writing but unable to sell novels anymore.

As somebody commented in one of those very early SFWA Forums I have been reading (I have them back to issue #3), “It’s a seller’s market. We’ve never had it so good.” This from about 1968.

It was a time in which a writer did not have to worry about selling his fourth novel because of the sales record of the previous three.

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The Collecting Game: Urban Legends and What Entropy Means to Me

The Collecting Game: Urban Legends and What Entropy Means to Me

entropy2There are indeed urban legends at work in the Collector’s market. For example, the entire print order of George Alec Effinger’s first novel, What Entropy Means to Me (Doubleday, 1972) was supposedly pulped before publication (almost certainly untrue).

We associate Doubleday with very short print-runs, quickie pulpings, and fabulously high collector’s prices. Many of the most expensive books in our field are Doubledays. (Specifically, early Heinlein, early Zelazny, early King.)

What Entropy Means to Me is not a rare book, even in non-ex-library copies. I have one. It may be that the price is still low because the demand is low, but this is not a hard book to obtain.

What I have always heard is that it was Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness which was mistakenly pulped prematurely. Apparently they planned to pulp something else, most likely Nine Princes in Amber, and pulped the wrong one, which resulted in Creatures only being in print a few months.

Meanwhile, most copies of Nine Princes were sold to libraries and were either defaced or destroyed. In retrospect this became a very sought-after title, and thus one of the great collector’s items of SF. There is one on Abebooks right now for $8,500.

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The Collecting Game: The Windup Girl for $950?

The Collecting Game: The Windup Girl for $950?

damnation-game1Collector prices are not always rational, as I think most collectors know. They can be fueled by hysteria. As many collectors have noticed, Clive Barker futures are very soft these days. Only the first British hardcovers of the Books of Blood and the British first of The Damnation Game have retained their value. There was a time, within a year or so of publication, when the advance galley of the American edition of Weaveworld could easily bring a hundred dollars. The last time I sold one, I bought it for $1.00 and got $10.00; but that was years ago. Nowadays you would be lucky to get five dollars for a copy. American firsts of Barker, or even galleys of same, are virtually worthless.

I will also mention with some trepidation that Harlan Ellison futures are weakening significantly, and I that have just concluded, on the basis of some research, that the bottom has fallen out of the Pogo market in the past few years. (I sold some Pogo first edition paperbacks for George Scithers maybe 5 years ago for $50-100.00. Now you can find the same ones on eBay for $5, and even the original comic books for $10 or so.)

Paolo Bacigalupi is clearly the hot writer of the hour, the hottest since William Gibson circa 1985. That means that investors are already latching onto him. Sorting the current Abebooks listings from the highest price on down, I find that the highest price for a first edition of The Windup Girl is $950.00, which is, I daresay, not bad for a book only published last year, even if it is a signed copy.

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