Monday, October 03, 2011

The Planet Stories line -Robert Silverberg & others

If you grew up reading science fiction in 1950s the name Robert Silverberg (and his many pen-names) was familiar to you in both the more serious magazines (Astounding, Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)) as well as those aimed at younger readers, Amazing/Fantastic, Imagination/Imaginative Tales and a few others. Now Silverberg is heralded world wide as one of the great stylists and innovators in science fiction history. Awhile back I realized I've been reading him for fifty-some years. I own thirty-seven of his books if that tells you anything.

I believe I have all of his Ace Doubles, skillful adventures on distant worlds filled with wonders and treachery. What always set Silverberg's adventure stories about was how they reflected and commented on our own times. A shrewd political mind was operating behind all the derring-do. Most of his Doubles came from the adventure magazines of the Fifties, notably Larry Shaw's Science Fiction Adventures.

Now Planet Stories is bringing back many of Silverberg's finest tales in handsome and inexpensive trade paperbacks. The entire Planet Stories list includes writers such as Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and Joe Lansdale. And many many more Here's the link to the web page.,

I love these books and I think a lot of you will, too. That's why I asked publisher Erik Mona to talk about himself and his books.

1. Let's start by talking about Planet Stories. How did it come into existence and what do you see as its mission and its audience?

I've always been a huge fan of pulp magazines and the authors who wrote the fiction that inspired my favorite hobby, tabletop roleplaying games. When Gary Gygax wrote the Dungeon Master's Guide for the first version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons back in the late 70s, he included a neat little appendix listing the authors that had inspired his creation, people like Robert E. Howard, A. Merritt, Leigh Brackett, L. Sprague de Camp, and their peers. I tried to track down and read as many of these authors as possible (as well as notable related authors not on Gygax's list, like Henry Kuttner and Clark Ashton Smith), but over the years I ended up frustrated more often than satisfied. Not with the stories. Most of those were great or at least entertaining, with plenty of creepy monsters and fun magic. What was frustrating was actually trying to find some of these stories in print. The big publishing houses were focusing on big epic fantasies from people like Robert Jordan, and weren't focusing on quality reprints. I decided that if I ever got into a position to publish books, I'd bring some of this classic fantasy back into print for readers interested in un-bloated sword and sorcery.

I originally thought that the Planet Stories audience would consist largely of gamers interested in exploring the roots of their hobby. Paizo Publishing got its start producing Dragon and Dungeon magazines, the official magazines for D&D, and our existing audience is made up primarily of gamers. A lot of them have checked out what we've done in the line (though most of them seem to prefer their bloated modern epics, frankly), but I think a lot of the Planet Stories audience consists of well read science fiction and fantasy fans who have at least heard about some of the authors we publish, and who want to read the material for themselves. I guess my mission for the line is "bring back awesome science fiction and fantasy adventure tales from the past and present them to a new audience for as long as possible, losing as little money as possible."

2. Judging by your really interesting personal blog you obviously know a great deal about pulp fiction of all decades. So I guess you were aware of Bob Silverberg's early work in sf action adventure?

Yes, although I wasn't an expert on Silverberg himself or his material. I'd read a few of his more modern works, but I wasn't really aware of his pulpier early material. I met Bob at World Con in Denver a few years ago, and he was very complimentary toward the first year or so of our Planet Stories releases. I remember him saying nice things in particular about Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, and following the convention we struck up a long email conversation about Kuttner's work. Bob has been a life-long fan of Kuttner's, and we exchanged notes about our favorite stories with an eye toward having Bob write an introduction for a Kuttner collection I was considering. That collection never happened, but in the meantime Bob suggested I check out some of his earlier material, as it was explicitly written in the style of the old Planet Stories magazine. Bob just barely missed a chance to be published in that epic classic pulp (it died just as his career was getting started), so I think the idea of some of that material seeing print in a revival of the title excited him. The more I read of Silverberg's original adventures, the more I realized they fit our line perfectly. I'd already been looking to shift away a bit from sword and sorcery and offer some more space opera and outer space adventure tales, and everything came together as if fate had intended it that way in the first place.

3. This first volume is packed with some of my favorite stories from Science Fiction Adventures, a favorite magazine of mine for two reasons-because of Bob's constant presence in it and because it was edited by Larry Shaw a man, I always felt, who never got his due. Infinity, as Bob points out in his introduction to Space Witch, was another Shaw magazine that was important in its era and holds up well even today. Who chose the stories for Hunt The Space Witch?

Bob talks a lot about his admiration for Larry Shaw in the introductions of all three books we'll be publishing of his, and while I wasn't alive when those magazines first appeared, I'm sure I would have been all over them at the time. I've subsequently picked up several issues now that I know which of Bob's many pseudonyms to look for, so I'm amassing quite a collection beyond the stories we've already contracted to reprint.

I think Bob suggested most of the stories, and we worked together to determine which ones fit best in which volumes, or which ones maybe didn't fit at all. We worked around most of his material from the era that's been reprinted in the recent past, so many of the stories in our three Silverberg books have not seen print for decades, and in some cases they have never been reprinted since their original appearance!

4. As I reread the stories in Space Witch, I realize why Bob's sf adventure stories were almost always the best in any magazine. Even though he was generally using standard tropes, his characters had more depth than most pulp folks and the feel of the world building felt fresh and modern. He incorporated some of the political issues of his time and that gave the stories a real substance. Do you have a similar take on his early work?

Yes. I've spent most of the last several years reading science fiction and fantasy from the 1930s and 1940s. Most of these stories were published in the late 50s, and you can sense a little bit of the Cold War creeping into them. They've all got shrinking rays or rockets or blaster guns, sure, but many of them also deal with espionage, clashing cultures, and paranoia. Even though these stories all come from the early years of a career that would move on to significantly more sophisticated material, they're definitely more "modern" in presentation than their immediate predecessors, and it's easy to see that Robert Silverberg was on the vanguard of the next wave of science fiction authors, even as he dealt with many of the tropes of the pulp era. That makes the stories just about perfect for me, so I'm honored to get a chance to publish them for a new generation of readers.

5. I know this is only the first of a series of Silverberg projects for Planet Stories. Will you describe what follows this volume?

After Hunt the Space-Witch we have two additional Silverberg collections. The Planet Killers, which is on the way to store shelves as I write this, contains three early Silverberg novellas from the old Ace Doubles series. None of them have been reprinted in any form, which makes this volume triple-exciting for me. The stories are "The Planet Killers," "The Plot Against Earth," and "One of our Asteroids is Missing." All three are really fun, and I think the last is among my favorites of all of our upcoming Silverberg material. After The Planet Killers we have another collection of Silverberg novellas entitled The Chalice of Death. This book will collect "The Chalice of Death," "Starhaven," and "Shadow on the Stars," all of which also appeared in the old Ace Doubles series in the late 1950s.

I'm not exactly sure what's next for the line beyond our Silverberg collections. Paizo's Pathfinder RPG business is exploding like a supernova, and our game books sell an order of magnitude higher than the pulp science fiction, which is more a labor of love than a mega-money maker. As such, Pathfinder has sucked a lot of oxygen out of the room, and Planet Stories is kind of standing in the corner, choking a bit, waiting for a little more love and attention. I have some thoughts and some audacious ideas about what happens next, but we're taking it slowly and, at the moment, focusing on more pressing matters with our other product lines.

That's pretty much it. I hope those answers are useful to you, and I'm happy to provide follow-up answers to other questions, should you have them. I apologize again about the delay in getting back to you. It's entirely my fault, and not a result of any offense or anything like that.


1 comment:

Alberto Oyarbide said...

Hard Case Crime will publish a novel by Silverberg next year.