Gordon Van Gelder Likes the Hat

Gordon Van Gelder. Photo by Leslie Howle.

By Carl Slaughter: Gordon Van Gelder does themed anthologies.  A painstaking and time-consuming but rewarding task.

CARL SLAUGHTER:  Why did you give up the editor’s chair of FSF?

GORDON VAN GELDER:  I was wearing two hats — that of the publisher and that of the editor.

With the publisher’s hat on, I could see that the magazine was losing some of its edge –it was growing too predictable, falling short in some other ways.  So I tried bringing in a guest editor to liven things up, and that went well.  So I decided it was time to step down (wearing my editor’s hat) and I offered the editing job to C. C. Finlay (with my publisher’s hat on).

CS:  Why stay on as publisher?

GVG:  I like the hat.

But seriously, publishing a magazine isn’t a bad job.  And someone’s got to do it.

CS:  Looking at your list of anthologies, it seems you’re still doing some best of, but have been moving toward themed.  Is that an accurate interpretation?

GVG:  Fairly accurate.  The path we take is mostly a function of what the market wants and what book publishers want.  If we could publish a non-theme “Best of F&SF” anthology every year as we did in the 1950s, I’d be happy with that.  But the book market in 2017 is vastly different from what it was in 1954.

CS:  What’s the selection process for the themes?

GVG:  Again, it’s mostly a function of what the market will support and what interests book publishers.  There’s such a wealth of material in our back issues that we can produce good anthologies on a lot of themes.  (I have detailed notes for several.)  But how many of them will sell well?

CS:  What’s the selection process for the stories?

GVG:  It varies a bit from book to book, but mostly, it’s a matter of pinning down the prominent stories on the theme, and then doing research and filling in the book with lesser-known works.

My favorite one to assemble was the Mars anthology, Fourth Planet From The Sun.  That one had a real dynamic to it, from Bradbury to Zelazny to Varley to Alex Irvine.  The whole book seemed to assemble itself, much as writers will sometimes say that a book wrote itself.

CS:  Your latest anthology is on repopulation.  I confess, I am not familiar with that subgenre.  Give us the background on this project.

GVG:  The subgenre is like a relative of the old Adam and Eve stories — a lot of stories born from anxiety over the threat of nuclear bomb destruction and wondering what happens if humanity mostly manages to wipe itself out.  (In fact, there was a recent book on this exact subject, something called The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell on how to rebuild civilization.  I used a quotation from it as the epigraph for my book.)

I got interested in the subgenre when I happened to encounter two stories on the theme from the 1950s and I thought, “I read a lot of these stories as a kid, but I don’t think I’ve seen one in the last fifteen years.”

When I dug into it, I found a lot of interesting material.  Since the subgenre by definition basically calls for a scenario with a small number of people under fairly intense pressure, the stories tended to be dramatic and often extreme.  Some of them are deeply moving, others are disturbing.

Researching the book took a long time, but it was a lot of fun reading through anthologies and old magazine issues. It was also interesting to see a lot of the 1950s stories from the SF magazines that have never been reprinted.

One thing that frustrated me is that I heard about a couple of stories I was never able to locate.  If you don’t mind, I’ll mention one now in hopes that someone seeing this interview will be able to identify it:

As I heard it (and this may well be confused or mis-remembered, especially since I feel like I read it myself when I was a teen) the story concerns a p.r. or advertising guy who’s hired to convince men to go to Mars or another planet because they need men there.  And he’s so good at his job that he convinces all the men to leave, leaving him alone on the home planet with the responsibility of repopulating Earth. But the kicker at the end comes in the form of his confession to the reader: “I don’t have the heart to tell them I’m sterile.”

CS:  One of your anthologies is on climate change.  Do any of these stories provide solutions?

GVG: Not really.  If I’d thought any of the writers could actually make things better, I’d have sent them to a college friend of mine who’s working on these things for real.  I saw the anthology more as an opportunity for writers to dramatize different aspects of what we humans might experience as the planet changes.

 

CS:  Your next project is on dystopias.  Why do in this direction?  Isn’t this a well-worn trail?

GVG: Does it answer your question if I say that we came up with the idea for the book on January 20th and most of the stories are specifically focused on the next four years?

CS:  What else is on the horizon for Gordon Van Gelder?

GVG:  Well, aside from continuing to run F&SF, I’ve got a couple of smallish writing projects — an article and a book introduction — that I need to finish up.  I’m also helping a couple of writers get some of their older work back in print.  I don’t have any more books under contract right now, but I’ve got a few ideas simmering.  And who knows?  Maybe another odd, half-forgotten subgenre will come along and grab me and set me off on another four years of research to produce a book that’s liable to interest only a few oddballs like myself.

You just never know.

Pixel Scroll 10/31/16 The Scroll Has Already Started. It’s Too Late For The Pixels To Vote

(1) HARTWELL LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. Kathryn Cramer posted the speech she prepared for Gordon Van Gelder to deliver accepting David G. Hartwell’s posthumous World Fantasy Life Achievement Award.

First of all, to the board, we are sorry David missed the meeting this morning. Almost nothing could stop him from showing up bright and early on the Sunday morning of World Fantasy to preside over the board meeting.

Not late nights, high fevers, the birth of his children.

This convention—and these awards—were very important to David. For him they were about the conversations we have about our genre and what the genre can do for the world. It makes us proud to think of you all in this room thinking about and talking about the fantasy and horror genres and what excites you about them.

Take a moment, in his honor, and look around the room at the people you have connected with here.

This is what he wanted for you.

This Life Achievement award honors a life well-lived. Thank you all.

(2) ROBERTA POURNELLE SUFFERS STROKE. Jerry Pournelle announced some “Bad News at Chaos Manor”.

Sunday morning – this morning although it’s after midnight now so maybe I mean yesterday morning – I discovered that Roberta had suffered a stroke during the night. I called 911. The firemen responded almost instantly.

We spent the day first at the St. Joseph’s Emergency Room (where the firemen took me after my stroke), then at the Kaiser Emergency Room where she was taken by ambulance arranged by Kaiser, then finally in the Kaiser main hospital. Alex was with me for essentially the entire time. My second son, Frank, who lives in Palm Springs, drove up as soon as he could. Our youngest son, Richard, flew in from DC and just got here.

Roberta appears to be about where I was after my stroke. She can’t really talk yet, but she’s aware of what’s going on around her. We’re trying to arrange rehab at Holy Cross where I was retaught how to swallow, walk, and do all the other things people do.

I’m trying to be calm, but I’m scared stiff.

(3) MARATHON WOMAN. Pat Cadigan’s window isn’t closing this year but she remembers when that was the medical prediction — “Late 2016 Already – Where Does The Time Go”.

…This is not silly wish-fulfilment fantasy optimism on my part. At the worldcon in Kansas City, a few of us fellow-travellers in Cancerland did a panel about living with cancer. One beautiful lady has stage-four lung cancer. You’d never know it, though, because she’s doing great––clinical trials pay off. In fact, over thirty years ago, my Aunt Loretta (one of my mothers) agreed to be in a clinical trial for a breast cancer drug. That drug is Tamoxifen. On her behalf, you’re welcome.

Rational optimism notwithstanding, however, I still remember how the last months of 2016 were projected to be the last months of my life and…well, I can’t help gloating. Who am I gloating at? Cancer, of course. Who else?

These days, I’m thinking not so much in terms of a singing horse as I am the story about the two people in the forest being chased by a bear. One of them stops and puts on fancy running shoes. The other person says, ‘Do you really think you can outrun a bear?’ And the first person says, ‘No, I only have to outrun you.’

I picture me and cancer being chased by a bear called Annihilation. It’s going to get one of us first, and I’m hoping thanks to current clinical trials and the latest developments in immunotherapy, that will be cancer, not me. All I have to do is last long enough. All I have to do is outrun cancer.

(4) TOLKIEN GETS AWARD. The Tolkien Society reports Christopher Tolkien has been awarded the Bodley Medal, given by the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to literature, culture, science, and communication.

Tolkien Society chair Shaun Gunner said: “Christopher Tolkien is a very worthy recipient of the Bodley Medal not only for his own work but for the decades of tireless dedication he has shown in editing his father’s texts. From The Silmarillion to next year’s Beren and Lúthien, Christopher has opened up new vistas of Middle-earth that otherwise might never have seen the light of day. This award is a testament to Christopher’s quiet scholarship as an editor, and a symbol of the continuing significance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium.”

Christopher Tolkien said: “Although I have never looked for anything remotely of such a kind, I find it especially welcome to receive the Bodley Medal in that it affirms the unique significance of my father’s creation and accords a worthy place in the Republic of Letters to Tolkien scholarship. It gives me particular pleasure that the award comes from and is conceived by the Bodleian, where a great part of my father’s manuscripts lie and where I have happy memories of the great library itself.”

(5) HARASSMENT AT WFC. Jason Sanford revealed the committee was called upon to handle a harassment issue at this weekend’s World Fantasy Con.

Lucy A. Snyder also wrote a public Facebook post.

So I just returned from WFC, where some women experienced harassment: street harassment from rando men that convention organizers had no control over, and at-con harassment courtesy of a local fan who has a documented history of bad behavior (the convention organizers appeared to take the harassment report seriously and appeared to handle it as per their policy, but I question why they’d sell a membership to someone who is known to be a problem.)…

Snyder added in a comment:

I know he harassed at least one woman, because she told me and I escorted her to con ops so she could make the report. In the instance I know about, he did it in front of a male witness (who filed a corroborating report), so I strongly suspect there were other instances that I don’t know about and/or didn’t get reported.

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY FANDOM

  • Born October 31 1930 – British fandom. That is fanhistorian Rob Hansen’s pick for the date it all began. Click to see the newspaper report of the meeting from the Ilford Recorder.

On Monday October 27th, 1930, the Ilford Science Literary Circle held its inaugural meeting at 32 Thorold Road (which a check of contemporary electoral rolls shows to have been the home of George & Mary Dew), the first ever meeting of our first ever SF fan group. If British fandom has a birthday, this is it. Here is Gillings’ report on the outcome of the event. More details of how many were present and the like would have been useful, but Gillings’ primary intent is to proselytise:…

(7) ESFS AWARDS NOMINEES. At Europa SF, Nina Horvath has listed the 2016 nominees for 14 annual awards presented by the European Science Fiction Society.

I’m not excerpting any of the information here because a lot of the names include special characters that just turn into question marks on WordPress.  Boo!

(8) SERIES OF INTEREST. Ed Zitron profiles the late, lamented show beloved by many fans: “Person Of Interest Was Anti-Prestige TV And Too Smart For Primetime”.

First, let me tell you what Person of Interest is. Person of Interest is the inverse of Game of Thrones. For every shock death from the HBO’s version of George R.R. Martin’s book series, it had Kevin Chapman getting maced by a model and beaten up with a handbag. For every Game of Thrones setpiece that sent 49 bloggers into an ejaculatory frenzy over the ambiguous motives and bloodlines of royals, Person of Interest had a scene where Jim Caviezel kicks seven shades of shit out of the cardboard archetype of a bad person. It’s weird watching Jesus throttle people, but you know what, we’re all going to Hell anyway.

[Warning, reading this may spoil the show. But really, you could read an entire synopsis and the show would still be fantastic.]

Caviezel’s John Reese is a former CIA agent that you’re introduced to as a piss-stained, beardy hooch-swigging hobo sitting on a subway train. In one of the most satisfying scenes in TV history, a group of rich dickheads yell at him on the train and attempt to take his booze, which he clings to with an iron grip. He then proceeds to beat them up with his somehow-not-atrophied CIA skills before grabbing one around the throat and giving him the deep, angry stare of a man who uses his pants as a toilet and just wanted to enjoy his train booze in peace.

It’s a great introduction to the show in its purest sense. Peel back the layers of intrigue, spywork and social commentary, and you’ll still find a TV show that brings back the pure joy of seeing people you don’t like getting beaten up. There are no pretenses to prestige here.

(9) HE SCORES, HE WINS! James Davis Nicoll has the numbers to prove a point.

The following review sources managed to review as many works by persons of colour in 2015 as I did in Oct 2016.

Interzone 7
LARB 7

The following review sources failed to review as many works by persons of colour in 2015 as I did in Oct 2016. Note that the Big Three are listed.

NYRSF 6
F&SF 5
Analog 3
Asimov’s 3
SFS 2
Foundation 1
Rising Shadows 1

(10) SAY CHEESE! NPR reports “NASA’S New ‘Intruder Alert’ System Spots An Incoming Asteroid”.

NASA pays for several telescopes around the planet to scan the skies on a nightly basis, looking for these objects. “The NASA surveys are finding something like at least five asteroids every night,” says astronomer Paul Chodas of JPL.

But then the trick is to figure out which new objects might hit Earth.

“When a telescope first finds a moving object, all you know is it’s just a dot, moving on the sky,” says Chodas. “You have no information about how far away it is. “The more telescopes you get pointed at an object, the more data you get, and the more you’re sure you are how big it is and which way it’s headed. But sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to make those observations.

“Objects can come close to the Earth shortly after discovery, sometimes one day, two days, even hours in some cases,” says JPL’s Davide Farnocchia. “The main goal of Scout is to speed up the confirmation process.”

(11) WHEN GENIUSES PLAY WITH SHARP OBJECTS. Here what NASA’s JPL brings to jack o’lantern design:

Carving pumpkins may not be rocket science – but that hasn’t stopped Nasa engineers.

Scientists at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab held their annual contest to create the best pumpkin this week.

Entries included a gourd inspired by Star Wars villain Darth Vader, and two pumpkins dressed as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton being hit by a meteor.

Motors, robotics and lights all featured heavily.

(12) COSTUMES FOR WHEELCHAIRS. About half a dozen photos here illustrating how wheelchairs are converted to vehicles of kids’ dreams.

Halloween is big business and when you use a wheelchair you want your outfit to pack a punch when you go trick-or-treating.

In America, Ryan Weimer and his wife Lana, have tapped into that market by providing children with the 3D costumes of their imaginations.

Costing between $2,000 and $4,000 each, a team of volunteers spend about 120 hours building the costumes which range from aeroplanes to dragons.

wheelchair-tie-fighter

(13) HALLOWEEN TREE. Ray Bradbury tells how the “Halloween Tree” novel and animated film came about.

(14) RAY’S FAVORITE HOLIDAY. John King Tarpinian visited Ray Bradbury’s grave today, bringing some gifts and decorations.

Every Halloween I pay a visit to the Westwood Cemetery where Ray Bradbury is at rest.  I had the custom trick or treat bag made and filled it with Clark Bars, Ray’s favorite.  The little pumpkin shaped stone I luckily found yesterday from a bead shop I was dragged to by a visiting out of town friend.  The pumpkins were brought by one of Ray’s theatrical actors, Robert Kerr.

bradbury-halloween-2-min

bradbury-haloween-headstone-min

(15) BOO PLATE SPECIAL. Someone’s Cthulhu license plate attracted a crowd at World Fantasy Con.

(16) SILLY SYMPHONY. And here’s your musical accompaniment of the day:

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, James Davis Nicoll, and Chip Hitchcock for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]

2016 Endeavour Award Shortlist

Five novels written by writers from the Pacific Northwest are finalists for the 18th annual Endeavour Award.

  • Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper of Kirkland, WA (Pyr Books)
  • Irona 700 by Dave Duncan of Victoria, BC (Open Road Integrated Media)
  • The Price of Valor by Django Wexler of Bothell, WA (Roc Books)
  • Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman of Seattle, WA (Saga Press)
  • Tracker by C.J. Cherryh of Spokane, WA (Daw Books)

The finalists were announced at Westercon over the Independence Day weekend.

The Award comes with an honorarium of $1,000. The winner will be announced November 18, 2016, at OryCon, Oregon’s primary science fiction convention.

The Endeavour Award honors a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book, either a novel or a single-author collection, created by a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. All entries are read and scored by seven readers randomly selected from a panel of preliminary readers. The five highest scoring books then go to three final judges, who are all professional writers or editors from outside of the Pacific Northwest. The Endeavour Award is sponsored by Oregon Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. (OSFCI), a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

The judges for the 2016 Award are Jack McDevitt, Michaela Roessner, and Gordon Van Gelder.

Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is the author of twenty-one novels, eleven of which have been Nebula Award finalists. Seeker won the award in 2007. In 2003, Omega received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel. He has also won the Robert A. Heinlein award, and a recognition from the Georgia Writers’ Association, both for lifetime achievement. McDevitt resides in Brunswick, Georgia.

Michaela Roessner

Michaela Roessner has had four novels and shorter works published in a number of publications. Her first novel Walkabout Woman won the Crawford and John W. Campbell awards. Roessner teaches creative writing at Western State Colorado University’s low-residency MFA program and online classes for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

Gordon Van Gelder

Gordon Van Gelder worked as an editor for St. Martin’s Press for twelve years. He was the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for sixteen years, during which time he won the Hugo Award twice and the World Fantasy Award twice. He is currently the publisher of F&SF. He lives in New Jersey.

[Thanks to Jim Fiscus for the story.]

F&SF at 60

Paul Di Filippo, Carol Emshwiller and Ron Goulart will help editor Gordon Van Gelder celebrate 60 years of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction during the New York Review of SF Reading on October 6.

It all goes down at the South Street Seaport Museum at 12 Fulton Street in New York from 6:30-9:00 p.m. Admission is by a $5 donation.

[Thanks to Jim Freund for the story.]