John Joseph Adams is the assistant editor at The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, in addition to being the editor for the post-apocalyptic anthology, Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse published by Night Shade Books, with two other anthologies, Seeds of Change (Prime Books, Summer of 2008) and The Living Dead (Night Shade Books, Fall of 2008) soon to appear in print.
He writes genre essays, book reviews, and interviews for a variety of magazines, including Kirkus, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Locus Magazine, Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, Publishers Weekly, and Science Fiction Weekly. He also reports for Sci Fi Wire.
Rumor has it he walks on water while juggling it all. Remember, you heard that here first.
Sean Melican: Why did you choose post-apocalyptic fiction as opposed to another sub-genre?
John Joseph Adams: I’ve been a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction for a long time, though curiously my fondness for the sub-genre was developed from video games, not literature, at least not initially. My first exposure to it was a computer role-playing game called… Wasteland. (If your next question was going to be “Where did the title come from?” well, then I guess that answers that.) Several years later, I got hooked on another RPG called Fallout (and then Fallout 2), which was one of the best games I’ve ever played.
So I’ve been a big fan of that sub-genre ever since, and I once wrote an article-an extensive bibliography of post-apocalyptic fiction—so I’d already done tons of research on the subject.
During my research, I noted that there was a distinct lack of anthologies of post-apocalyptic fiction. There was only one original—After the Fall edited by Robert Sheckley, which was a humorous look at the genre—and one major reprint anthology—Beyond Armageddon, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Walter M. Miller, Jr. Beyond Armageddon collected the best post-apocalyptic fiction published through 1984; I put Wastelands together as a spiritual sequel to Beyond Armageddon—I basically picked up where it left off. As I fine-tuned the table of contents, I added a few stories that came before 1984—things I felt may have been overlooked—but for the most part, Wastelands includes stories published after Beyond Armageddon was released. I also purposely refrained from reprinting anything in Wastelands that already had been reprinted in Beyond Armageddon; it was recently reissued by Bison Books, so it’s readily available, and I didn’t see the need to reprint “A Boy and His Dog” yet again, even if it is a great story. If I’d had a bigger book to work with, maybe I would have picked what I thought was the best of those older stories and included them too, but I was more interested in seeing what had come after, and how the sub-genre had evolved in the meantime.
SM: Of the authors on the front cover of Wastelands, Gene Wolfe stands out, as he is, as far as I know, not a household name within the genre. Or has that changed?
JJA: I would have thought he is a household name within the genre. He’s probably not quite as popular as the other authors on the cover, but he’s about as critically-acclaimed as you can get, and he’s won a slew of awards—both peer awards and fan awards. I don’t know if his name on the cover drives sales or not (I didn’t choose which names went on the cover). I assume that his name on the cover is a boon. It would be for me, as a reader. Michael Swanwick once said “Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today.” Whether you agree or not, anyone who gets praised like that obviously is something of a draw.
But if Gene Wolfe isn’t a household name, not even within the genre, there’s something seriously wrong with the world. I mean, my god—The Book of the New Sun alone is brilliant enough to make him a legend, but on top of that he’s got scads of other similarly brilliant works.
SM: Do you have other particular favorite sub-genres or styles?
JJA: Remember that bibliography of post-apocalyptic fiction I mentioned earlier? Well, I wrote two other ones as well: one on dinosaur SF, and one on Mars SF, so those are two favorite genres as well. I’d think about doing an anthology on one of those subjects, except each has several anthologies devoted to it already.
On my blog, I once posted a meme about the sort of tropes I like to see in stories, and I came up with the following: skyhooks/space elevators, dinosaurs, post-apocalyptic wastelands, super-smart animals (intelligence-boosted/evolved/uplifted chimps, gorillas, kangaroos, dogs, mice, etc.), and near future explorations of our solar system. So all of those topics are of particular interest, but I read widely and like lots of different sorts of things. Which comes in handy when it comes to thinking of anthology ideas—part of the fun of putting together a reprint anthology is hunting down all the stories on the theme, and discovering stories I hadn’t come across yet.
SM: How did you come to be a speculative fiction fan? What are your first memories of science fiction stories or films?
JJA: Growing up, I’d always been a reader. Not the hardcore reader you might expect, but I always was in the middle of something. The very first speculative fiction I can remember reading was probably A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid, unless you count those Beverly Cleary Ralph S. Mouse books.
I never truly identified as a SF reader until much later in life, though. The trouble was, I liked genre stuff, but I never went to bookstores and picked out my own books. I always had books given to me, mostly by my sister. At some point she started working at a B. Dalton bookstore, and so she continued to supply me with books. Because of her I read all the Piers Anthony Xanth books, Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide books, the Robert Aspirin Myth novels…. I read other stuff too, of course, but that’s the stuff that stands out in my memory.
It wasn’t until I was 18 or so that I seriously started reading SF, and discovered that that was the section in the bookstore where the stuff I really wanted to read was. Although I was a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, and lots of other media SF, for some reason I thought that print SF would be too hard for me to understand—I had the mistaken perception that it would be like reading a technical manual for technology that doesn’t exist (yet). So I kind of started off with Star Trek and Star Wars tie-ins, and after cutting my teeth on those, moved onto bigger and better things.
Around the same time, I’d been reading a lot of medical thrillers, for which my sister is also to blame—she’d given me a Robin Cook novel called Blindsight, and I became fascinated with that genre and read all I could. That led me to try Michael Crichton, and at the time I loved him, and he suddenly became my favorite author. I still remember several of his novels fondly, though I don’t know how well they’d hold up to my scrutiny now. (I’ve tried some of his newer novels and didn’t like them much at all.) But anyway, after I read through Crichton’s backlist my sister’s then-husband suggested I try some real SF, pointing out that if I could follow the science in Jurassic Park, I could follow anything in an SF novel, which was true enough. And Crichton is responsible for teaching me to read in marathon sessions and to read a paperback without creasing the spine. Well, not responsible exactly, but it was with his books that I learned to do those things. The first book I ever read in one marathon session was A Case of Need, a—you guessed it—medical thriller written by Crichton, originally under a pseudonym. (I would later make myself proud by once reading three books in one day, though I would point out that I didn’t get a lot else done, and one of the books was very short, 170 pages or so, with large type—the other two were legit, though, I’m sure.)
I’m pretty sure the first real SF novel I read in what I think of as my modern era of reading was Mars by Ben Bova, and the reason that was the first is an odd one, but makes sense in light of what I’ve just explained—I read that one because I was told that it was basically a medical mystery set on Mars (and it is). But while I enjoyed that aspect of it, it was the rest of it that blew the doors off my mind—that good ole sense of wonder.
After that, I binged on Bova, discovered Robert J. Sawyer (again, because of the medical thriller connection—his novel The Terminal Experiment has a medical thriller element to it), and started exploring a bit more. For most of this time during my modern era of reading, I was working at a Waldenbooks, so I was being exposed to hundreds of new books every day I went to work.
And it was because of my job there that I discovered what became my favorite novel, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. It had just come back into print at some point during my tenure there, and though we didn’t receive any copies in our regular stock, several customers placed special orders (this was before Amazon was big), and I became curious about it after seeing it arrive. So I checked it out for myself, and was forever changed—it completely redefined for me what SF was capable of, and I became more than a little obsessed with trying to find other works that would do for me what that book did.
SM: Three thoughts. One, what a curious idea, that a much older novel would “…completely redefine… for me what SF was capable of…” than more recent novels. Two, it does bring up the issue of the weight of genre fiction. Much of current speculative fiction relies, to a greater or lesser degree, on the reader’s familiarity with previous genre works that I have heard (rightly or not) that budding genre readers sometimes feel as if they are in a strange land without a map. (Apropos, I think, as many novels provide maps to orient the reader to imagined worlds.) Three, what stories or writers have done for you what The Stars My Destination did?
JJA: As to your first point, you have to remember that at that point I hadn’t read a huge amount of SF at that point, and also remember that classics are usually classics for a reason—there’s usually something really special about them that makes them stay with readers. As much as I liked some of the SF I’d read by that point, nothing had come close to the brilliance of The Stars My Destination. At that point, much of what I’d read wasn’t all that different than the medical thrillers or Crichton I’d been reading, so that’s part of the reason Stars was such a revelation. It’s like if the SF I’d been reading was a 5 on a scale of 10, then Stars would have been like cranking it up to 11. Nothing wrong with 5, but when you dial it up like that, it’s bound to make an impact.
I think accessibility is an important attribute in SF. I know what you’re saying about new readers feeling like they’re strangers in a strange land. The stuff I started off with was very newbie-friendly, so it was never much of an issue for me. But even now, with my extensive experience with the genre, I still stumble across books or stories sometimes that seem impenetrable to me—or if not impenetrable, at least difficult enough to access that I don’t feel like bothering. There are some authors—like Charles Stross for example—who are writing great stuff but tend to be right on that edge of accessibility and incomprehensibility (to new readers). On the one hand, core genre readers want to recommend such stuff because it’s New and Exciting, but to me it seems like there’s a lot of modern SF that’s not quite accessible enough (in general), that a new reader would need more context to really appreciate it. Every reader’s different, of course, though, so mileage will vary.
I don’t know if there’s anything that’s done what Stars has done for me—partially because you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. There have certainly been other stories and books that have astonished me. “The Deathbird” by Harlan Ellison and “Flowers For Algernon” by Daniel Keyes always immediately come to mind.
And sometimes there are books that just immediately spring onto your all-time favorites list. Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan is one of those books for me. It might not go down in history as a classic of the genre, but it really pushed all my buttons as a reader.
SM: So you missed out on David Hartwell’s golden age: the notion that age at which science fiction is encountered and embedded is twelve… and yet here you are anyway. You’ve talked about specific writers. Would you expand (or expound) on what about genre fiction attracted you more strongly than, say, mystery (which you mention above), mainstream, or romance?
JJA: I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in my teenaged years, and that, perhaps more than anything, is responsible for my path, despite all the abovementioned reading. That had me thinking about the genre quite a lot, even if I wasn’t reading books in it at the time.
D&D is also what really fired in me a desire to create. At first, I tried running a campaign myself, but I found I didn’t enjoy the running of the game as much as I enjoyed planning out the adventure beforehand. So the natural thing to do seemed to be to write out adventures, but outside of the D&D setting—in other words, write fiction.
Curiously, given my impetus to write, the first thing I ever wrote was not an epic-style fantasy—it was a militaristic space opera sort of thing, probably influenced, more than anything, by John Steakley’s novel Armor and The Stars My Destination. This story, the first thing I wrote, turned into a novel. Yes, I actually wrote a whole novel. And man, is it terrible.
I sometimes still think about going back and revising it, and maybe I will someday. I think it’s got something going for it, even if overall it’s a mess; in college, I adapted the novel into a screenplay for a class I took, and later that screenplay got optioned. Though the fact that it got optioned might say more about how production companies will spend money on almost anything more than it does about the quality of the material.
But anyway, I guess what really attracted me to speculative fiction rather than the other genres was the sense of wonder. SF/fantasy is really the only place to get that. Also, to some degree, it was the escapist factor—I liked being able to immerse myself in a strange other world, and to forget about the real one for a while.
SM: There are some writers who would give their right lobe to have a screenplay optioned. One of the criticisms that sometimes surfaces, usually in a generic form (and often by an SF aficionado as an example of a hypothetical mainstream critic’s critical response to SF) is that SF is only escapist. While much is escapist (particularly in films), F&SF, among other magazines, also regularly publishes fiction confronting current issues—from the stark “Osama Phone Home” to the wild “Kiosk” to the Socratic dialogue “Pervert.” Is SF in a unique position? Elsewhere, in reviewing Wastelands for example, I’ve argued (as have others) that SF underutilizes its extrapolative capabilities. What are your thoughts on the disingenuous dichotomy between so-called serious literature and SF?
JJA: Well—for the readers who don’t know this—having a screenplay (or novel) optioned kind of means they rented the rights to it for a year, during which time they would be the only production company with the option to buy it. So I wouldn’t exactly say it was self-mutilation-worthy. Don’t get me wrong, I was elated. But we’re not talking major bucks here. And actually this company didn’t even pay me the full option fee—I only got half of it, and the half I got was only after I got the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America grievance committee to go after them. They still technically owe me the other half of the payment, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it. Needless to say, they didn’t exercise the option, so the rights reverted fully back to me.
I think you’re right that SF—or at least most SF—doesn’t do all that it can with its extrapolative capabilities. But it’s not always about that; sometimes it’s just about telling a good story, and trying to get too fancy will only bog the story down. It’s a case by case basis, but, like you, I’d love to see more SF that really explores the frontiers of science. I’m hopeful that more stuff like that will come about because of the mundane SF movement, though I really wish they’d come up with another name for it.
Is SF’s position unique? I don’t know. I expect you could do some of the same things in mainstream literature as SF does—and if I thought hard about it I could probably even come up with some examples, or things that come close—but most of it doesn’t. I guess this all really comes down to where the boundaries of SF and mainstream are. If you write a contemporary story with lots of cutting edge science in it, is that SF, or mainstream? SF’s position may be unique, at least in my eyes, because I’d label—at least in my mind—anything that does what SF does as science fiction.
As for the dichotomy between capital-L Literature and SF, well, that dichotomy really only exists in the minds of those who disdain SF without really knowing anything about it. SF is capable of producing great works of Literature, such as some of the examples I’ve discussed above.
SM: Okay. Everyone knows you’re a metal fan. How ’bout first memories of heavy metal?
JJA: Again, I didn’t really identify as a metal fan until much later in life, though I actually remember really liking Billy Idol as young as 6 or 7. Sure, Idol isn’t so much metal as he is hard rock, but it’s pretty close. The first band I remember liking that was definitely classified as metal was Quiet Riot. I definitely had one of their albums—Metal Health—which had this great (to a 7 year old) cover of a guy in a sort of cool-looking straight-jacket and a metal mask. Another early metal or metal-like favorite was Whitesnake.
But the modern era of metal for me began with Metallica. A friend of mine—my ex-step-uncle, actually, though at the time he was my step-uncle—was really, really into music, so much so that he went to the Full Sail school for a music production degree, and when he would come to visit and we’d drive around, he’d always play an assortment of music. He was really into Genesis and stuff like that, but he liked some harder stuff, and it was in his car I first heard Metallica. I became a huge Metallica fan, starting with …And Justice For All, which I played relentlessly. It took a while for me to seek out other metal, as I didn’t know much about it, and wasn’t sure how to find it—they didn’t exactly play it on the radio. Eventually, probably through my step-uncle, I got into Pantera and White Zombie, and on my own discovered Biohazard-strangely enough, because of a rap song: I really dug the instrumentals they provided on the Onyx song, “Slam.”
Speaking of Biohazard and Onyx—they have this great post—apocalyptic, dystopic song called “New World Disorder.” The rappers from Onyx provide some guest vocals. So there’s several different guys singing the different verses, and they’re all describing this fucked-up world. One’s talking about how he’s suffocating because he can’t pay his oxygen bill, and another’s talking about the ruin of Earth and an escape mission to Saturn.
But these days I listen to mostly melodic death metal (a/k/a Gothenberg metal) and metalcore, and lately I’ve been digging some folk metal bands I discovered, which isn’t as odd a pairing of terms as it might sound. It was really only in the past 8 years or so that I really started developing a real knowledge of metal and doing a lot of exploring.
SM: All right. You must explain folk metal. Killswitch covers the Kingston Trio? Metallica meets Joni Mitchell?
JJA: Folk Metal is, according to Wikipedia, a fusion of folk music and metal. I don’t really know much about folk music, so that doesn’t help me much, but I do like the results. The bands I’ve been listening to—Enisferum, Korpiklaani, Turisas, and Wintersun—are all from Finland. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure why these particular bands are labeled folk metal, as most of it doesn’t seem that dissimilar from a lot of the other metal I listen to, but exploring bands in that sub-genre has worked out for me so far, so I’m going to continue to do so. They sing about Vikings a lot, and swords and battle, that kind of thing. If the “folk” referred to “folklore,” that would make sense, but typically in folk music I don’t think it does necessarily.
One of the bands—Korpiklaani—definitely uses some instruments typical of folk music, like the violin and accordion. Bet you didn’t know you could play an accordion in a metal band. Korpiklaani to me seems to be the most “folk” of all the bands I’ve mentioned. Their music, the tempo of it, the beats, it feels like folk to me, whereas the other bands that’s not as true. Turisas has some very epic sort of songs, like “Miklagard Overture”; it makes me think of like, Wagner or something. I could see their album “The Varangian Way” being put on as an opera—it probably jumps to mind not only because of the operatic quality of the music, but also because it’s a concept album: a story is told via the lyrics of all the songs.
SM: Returning to fiction… outside of the genre (including science fiction, fantasy, and horror), do you have favorite authors or story types?
JJA: Outside of SF/fantasy/horror, my favorite genre is mystery, and I’ve read extensively there as well. As I mentioned above, I’ve read tons of medical thrillers, and while that eventually led me to SF, it also led me to mystery. That started with Patricia Cornwell’s medical examiner mysteries, and from there I started reading other non-medical mysteries.
Either Lawrence Block or George Pelecanos is probably my favorite mystery writer, and so by default, probably my favorite out-of-the-genre writer. I’d have to give the edge to Block, as I’ve read a lot more of his stuff (and, well, he’s written a lot more stuff). Some of his Matthew Scudder novels are among my favorites.
My love for mysteries extends to film and television as well. I’m a huge fan of The Wire (which Pelecanos writes for) and, as I’ve said on my blog recently, I think Showtime’s Dexter is the best show on TV right now.
SM: On to Wastelands… I’m curious as to how Jerry Oltion’s story came to be the only one original to the collection.
JJA: Several years ago, I tried shopping around an original post-apocalyptic anthology, but got no takers. While the project was active, Jerry heard about it and asked if he could send me something for consideration—it was something he’d already written but hadn’t sold.
Well, that original anthology didn’t sell, but when I sold Wastelands, it occurred to me that maybe I could include an original story, and I thought about Jerry’s story, which I liked quite a lot, especially for the way it merged the science fictional apocalypse with the biblical apocalypse—something which I thought made it unique among post-apocalyptic fiction. Night Shade was fine with me including an original story, and Jerry was game, so there you have it.
SM: Do you plan to do more?
JJA: I certainly plan to do more anthologies—I’ve got a project I’m working on for Prime Books called Seeds of Change, which should be out sometime this summer, and I’m currently reading zombie stories for another reprint anthology for Night Shade, which is probably going to be called The Living Dead.
If you’re asking do I plan to do more with post-apocalyptic fiction—well, sure, I’d love to do an original volume of post-apocalyptic SF. It seems to be popular right now with both readers and writers. It’s been so popular with the writers, in fact, that I’ve joked that if we published all of the post-apocalyptic stories we’ve been receiving lately at F&SF, we’d have to change the name of the magazine to Mutants & Marauders Monthly.
SM: Really? Do you have any theories as to why its popularity waxes and wanes?
John Joseph Adams: Well, as I say in the introduction, I think it tends to wax and wane with the state of the world. It first came to prominence during the Cold War, when the threat of annihilation was a very real possibility. Now, the world is in a similar political climate, with the terrorist threat hanging over us. Between 1989 (when the Cold War ended) and 2001 (when 9/11 happened), there wasn’t a whole lot of post-apocalyptic fiction being published. Prior to that, there was, and now again, there is. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
SM: You’ve recently guest-edited a pirate-themed issue of Shimmer. How did that come about, and why pirates?
JJA: The folks at Shimmer decided they wanted to do a guest-edited issue of the magazine, at least in part as a way to publicize it, as a way to branch out to a new readership. (I’m guessing they were inspired by John Scalzi’s guest-editing of an issue of Subterranean Magazine.)
I’d had some reviews published in Shimmer; the first was something they’d asked if they could reprint from my blog, and then I had at least one other review run with them because they seemed like good people and I liked what I’d seen of the zine. So when they came up with the idea to do a guest-editor sort of thing, they’d emailed me asking me some questions about that process—how such a thing would work, etc. I don’t know if asking those questions was a way of sending out feelers, but as I answered them, I made a point of saying, “I don’t know who you were planning to get for this, but I might be interested…”
So anyway, they offered me the guest-editing gig, which I happily accepted. When we began discussing the theme, it didn’t go much farther beyond pirates. They had had the idea already that they might like to do a pirate-themed issue, and when they mentioned that I seized upon it—I love pirates myself, so if we all love pirates, why look any further? The idea was to publish the issue to coincide with Talk Like a Pirate Day. It ended up coming out a bit later than that due to production snafus, but I think it turned out rather well, and I enjoyed the process.
As it happens, I’d tried to sell an original anthology of pirate fantasies a couple years ago. After seeing the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and having witnessed the surge of people looking for pirate books at the bookstore after the movie let out, I thought for sure the time would be right. And at that point they were already talking sequel, so I thought it would be perfect: Do the pirate book now, have it ready to publish when the second film comes out. Alas, no one was interested. I was really baffled by that one. And I’m really kind of surprised there still hasn’t been a pirate anthology published. Jeff and Ann VanderMeer have one coming out from Night Shade Books next year, but still—I’m really surprised no one did one years ago.
My love for pirates goes back to video games as well, strangely enough. There was this fabulous video game—Sid Meier’s Pirates—that I played incessantly as a kid. Sid would later go on to make the greatest video game ever, Civilization (which I also played incessantly), but Pirates was my first love.
Also, The Princess Bride is my favorite movie, and has been for years, so there’s another pirate connection.
SM: You’ve said you’re a fan of the Oakland Raiders. Do you dress up like hard-core Raider Nation?
JJA: Sorry to disappoint, but no. I’ve got a Raiders wool cap, but that’s about the only Raiders gear I ever wear. I’ve got an old jersey around somewhere too—a Rich Gannon, #12—but I never wear it anymore. Or I should say I theoretically have a Raiders wool cap. I misplaced it around the time of the World Fantasy Convention and I haven’t been able to find it since. It may be in Saratoga Springs somewhere.
My love of the Raiders is the extent of my Oakland fandom. I’ve never been there, and I don’t follow any of the other sports teams from the area, though when I first got into basketball, I was rather fond of the Golden State Warriors, mainly because they had a cool name, but also because at the time Chris Mullin was one of their star players, and I’ve always been fond of three-point specialists.
SM: With F&SF, do you and editor Gordon Van Gelder ever strongly disagree?
JJA: Sure—there have been stories that I thought were brilliant that Gordon turned down, and he’s bought stuff that I didn’t much like. But I think that’s a good thing. If our tastes were exactly the same, my feedback wouldn’t be very useful to him; on the other hand, it’s important that my taste is similar to his, so that I can find the stuff in the slush that he’d be interested in looking at. I think we have a good balance.
Also, we can’t seem to agree on office temperature. At the office, in the winter I’m always cold and in the summer I’m always hot. There have been days when I’m all bundled up with longjohns and a big winter coat, I come into the office and find he’s got the window open. He’s like invulnerable to the cold!
SM: Do you ever experience slush exhaustion?
JJA: Nah. I mean, sure, sometimes I get a bit frustrated, but I wouldn’t call it exhaustion. I’m more annoyed by the stupid procedural errors people make; with the fiction, I know everyone’s trying their best with the stories they submit, so I cut them some slack—it’s not like they’re sending me bad stories on purpose.
I think one of the keys to surviving being a slush reader is to keep a healthy dose of good fiction in your diet. If all you read is the mostly bad stories in the slush pile all day, I think you’d go mad, or at least get completely fed up with it.
There’s a certain amount of good fiction I have to read—for F&SF, in preparation for interviews, etc.—but when it comes to reading for pure pleasure, that can be tough sometimes. Because I’m reading so much at work, when I’m at home, lots of times I don’t feel like doing more reading, even if it’s something I’ve been eager to dive into. I tend to watch a lot of TV to decompress.
SM: Between F&SF, SCI-FI Wire, and various reviews and interviews, you are in a rare position to have both a fan’s and an insider’s view of speculative fiction. How would you characterize the current state of the genre, both in print and visual media?
JJA: It seems to me like print SF is experiencing a kind of golden age—there’s just a wealth of great stuff being published, so much so that it sometimes pains me that I don’t have time to read all of this great stuff that’s coming out. Both in short fiction and in novels. It’s frustrating that some the stuff that I think is more deserving doesn’t get the attention that a bestseller does, but as far as I can tell, that’s how it’s always been. I do find myself in a position in which I can actually help the authors I like though—whether it’s by publishing their stories in anthologies or getting them coverage in SCI FI Wire or other places.
As for visual media, well, I’m always happy to see a new SF or fantasy film do really well at the box office, but I can’t say that I’m very impressed with most of what comes out on film. There’s almost always something good about them, but overall they’re just not good movies. For instance, the new Will Smith version of I Am Legend. Great visuals depicting a post-apocalypse New York, great performances by Smith and his German Shepherd companion, and the first 2/3rds of the movie are really quite good. And then it all abruptly falls apart. I don’t want to get into any spoilers, but suffice to say something really, really dumb happens and then a bunch of action movie clichés are inserted for the big climax. So disappointing. Also? Those CGI vampire-mutants were totally lame.
But anyway—it’s very rare for me to find a good SF or fantasy film or television show. I even seem to rarely like stuff that critics and other genre fans embrace. So to me, visual SF seems to be a bit of a wasteland. But I guess I’m in the minority on that; a lot of those movies are raking in millions of dollars, so more power to them. I only wish those popular SF films would convert more SF viewers to SF readers.
SM: Any truth to those rumors of an interoffice romance (and their love child) between F&SF’s publisher Gordon Van Gelder and assistant publisher Barbara Norton?
JJA: I don’t know anything about any interoffice romances, but when I showed up at the office one day, Gordon did have a baby with him. I don’t know where he got it, or what the story is there—I don’t like to pry.
For a while there, whenever he had her in the office, she’d just stare at me. I took this as a compliment, as I’d read somewhere that babies tend to fixate and stare at beautiful people. I liked that better than Gordon’s theory anyway—that because I’m bald, she thought she was looking at a giant baby.
SM: Bald is beautiful, baby!