Sunday, February 10, 2008

Interview With A Scif-Fi Editor

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lou Anders over at PYR, a Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint. Check out the edited version that appeared on the British Science Fiction Association's website, below. I tagged my questions "Me" because "Lon" and "Lou" just starts looking the same in a Q&A like this.

Lou Anders is a pirate in the sense that not only does he look like one, but he displays his buccaneering ways by looting the English speaking world’s best Science Fiction and Fantasy authors for his booty at Pyr, the imprint that he currently helms as editorial director. Fortunately, pirate Lou Anders is a formidable and likeable hero, champion of expert writing, great cover art and highly crafted anthologies.

In our interview, Lou Anders was accommodating and loquacious. When Lou talks people should listen, because he has a lot of good stuff to say about the industry from books to movies to television to art, he’s got it all covered.

Me: What is your earliest memory of this genre be it a movie, book, game, etc. and can you tell me when you realized that you were a lifer?

Lou: I'd say that my involvement with SF involves a three-stage connection/initiation.

First, one of my earliest memories period is standing in front of the big, black & white television at my grandfather's house and my mother saying, "Yes, that's a man walking on the moon." That's pretty close to the first thing I remember.

Then, when I was an adolescent, I was captivated by Sid & Marty Krofft's original Land of the Lost. I was raised fundamentalist Christian in the Deep South, so the presence of missing link Philip Paley as Cha-Ka the ape boy did NOT go over well with my parents. As a result, Land of the Lost was something I had to sneak glimpses of, and you know what they say about forbidden fruit. It wasn't until years later that I discovered how many SF writers had been associated with it.

Finally, when I was 12 or 13 my father pushed a copy of Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars into my hands and said, "Here, you need to read this."

And I did, followed by the rest of the Mars series, the Venusian series, the Pellucidar series, the Tarzan series, and everything else by Burroughs that was in print. That lead to Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber, and from there to the Science Fiction Writers of America Hall of Fame series, and from there—well, you know the rest.

Me: What was the book that sucked you into the potential and possibilities of this genre in terms of literature?

Lou: That's a difficult question. I largely stopped reading SF&F in high school, and in college, I read things like John Irving or Tim Robbins when I read for pleasure at all. In the 90s, I was very involved professionally with SF television (Star Trek, Babylon 5)—I was the liaison between Los Angeles and London for several Titan Publishing magazines—and so my return to SF was to its media aspect. This in turn lead to involvement with a dot com online publishing start up, which reintroduced literary SF to my life.

So around the time Star Trek was beginning its slow degeneration and Babylon 5 was ending, these shows being replaced by Hercules & Xena and the various god-awful offerings of the SciFi Channel, I was reading Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age and Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter and Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time and Geoff Ryman's The Child Garden and William Gibson's Idoru and Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga and Philip K Dick's Valis and becoming increasingly disgusted and infuriated with the dichotomy between filmic and literary SF&F. So there was no one book.

Me: In the interview with China Miéville for The Believer magazine he mentioned an “embattlement mentality” in genre literature. With the success of the SF&F genre in movies (see multi-BILLION dollar success of the LOTR trilogy) and genre bending authors like both Vonnegut, Clarke and others, (that Miéville mentioned) don’t your think this conversation is moot?

Lou: Yes, it is moot, but it wasn't at the time of that interview. We are right now living through a very rapid swing of the pendulum of mainstream perception. I would date its inception from the moment Stephen King was chosen as recipient of the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters—which seems far less absurd now than it did to many in the mainstream at the time (remember the outcry?)—but that was the crack in the damn that is just bursting now.

You mention Lord of the Rings, but equally important to its box office (because when do critics care for box office?) is the moment when Return of the King took all eleven Oscar awards for which it was nominated. When Michael Chabon wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay he was still clothing his generic elements via a narrative-within-a-narrative, but in the wake of his Pulitzer, he has moved further and further into unabashedly genre territory, first with a YA fantasy, then with a Sherlock Holmes narrative, then with an alternate history and now, with Gentlemen of the Road, an outright sword & sorcery adventure, dedicated to Michael Moorcock no less, and following its New York Times serialization with a novel from an outright genre publisher (Del Rey). Throw in Susanna Clarke's novel being chosen as the #1 book of the year by Time magazine, Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide both proclaiming Battlestar Galactica as the number one drama series on TV, and the profusion of quality science fiction series and films being celebrated in the mainstream, and yes, it begins to look like we have overcome. Not to mention Bradbury's recent Pulitzer.

Me: How much of this “embattlement mentality” is self-perception and self-conciousness in our field and how much is true?

Lou: There are still stigmas attached. I tried to hand a guy at my (martial arts) dojo one of our Pyr catalogs and he recoiled like I was handing him a Four Spiritual Laws tract. But again - SF doesn't need to attempt 100% world domination. We're not a religion, simple an extremely relevant branch of literature with a lot to say about 21st Century life.

Me: Also, in your Q&A with Miéville you spoke about golems. What do you thing the golem/cyborg character says about human nature/society/etc. in the works you have come across?

Lou: Science fiction is the literature of estrangement. It is a literature of subversion. It is a literature of the open mind. That's what the alien is - it's literalizing the ability to see from other eyes than the ones you were born with. And the cyborg - well, that's the stage at which you're halfway there, one part your old self, and one part something other. That can be a terrifying position to occupy - ask anyone who ever kicked off the religion of their parents. But it's also the place where enlightenment occurs.


These are select excerpts from our interview. We went on and on. Anyone interested in reading the full interview go to The BSFA - Matrix website or download the PDF here.


kenyonsf said...

Lou Ander's summation of mainstream recognition for sf/f/h authors in recent years was great! It gives me renewed hope that we've, if not reversed, at least turned the corner from oblivion.

--Kay Kenyon

ObilonKenobi said...

Yeah. He's a champion of the SF&F author but he had some great stuff to say about book covers as well. One day soon I hope to get an American magazine to publish the full article because we had a great conversation.

As I said, Lou Anders is a pirate champion of the modern SF&F author. Perhaps we have turned a corner. Who knows?