Newsletter #63

NEWSLETTER 63: July 4, 2011

Dear People,

I have written a(nother) novel! The Road of Danger, the latest RCN (Leary/Mundy) space opera went off to Baen Books at 124,889 words. For the moment it feels good, but I’ll shortly start to be antsy that I’m not accomplishing anything, I’m sure.

I don’t think I’m exactly a workaholic–I don’t think that everything hangs on me or anything like that. But I’m most content when I’m working and the project is going well. Work structures my existence and keeps me from thinking too much about the meaning of life. (I figure I know the meaning already, and it’s not something that makes me happier to dwell on.) 

I did the third (and probably last for this batch) essay for The Galaxy Project which Barry Malzberg is putting together for Rosetta Books. These are classic novelettes from Galaxy magazine in the ’50s, republished on Kindle with introductions by Barry, me, and I think Robert Silverberg. Barry’s intros are very informative; that is, they teach me a great deal about a subject on which I’m pretty knowledgeable to begin with. Barry has been very positive about my intros as well. I’ve taught myself a lot by doing the research to write them.

The ’50s are really the time that magazine SF–which is what brought me into the field, though through anthologies rather than the magazines directly–reached its peak. The three top magazines had distinct personalities:

Astounding under John Campbell probably had the highest proportion of the really top stories, though they appeared as a continuation of the past. (Astounding‘s past defined the Golden Age of Science Fiction, of course).

F&SF (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) under Anthony Boucher and J Francis McComas (later Boucher alone) had the highest literary standards and was the most eclectic, often reprinting off-trail material as well as new material. F&SF is the magazine which is closest to my personal taste (which might be a surprise to some people).

Galaxy under HL Gold was the cutting edge of SF at the time. While Astounding and F&SF in their different ways looked to the past, Galaxy saw itself as the future. Galaxy brought an excitement which the field hadn’t known since the early days of Amazing; and which, sadly, has been missing more recently as well. Writing my essays and reading Barry’s have made me a part of that excitement; and I think that reading our essays and the stories themselves can excite you too.

When The Galaxy Project goes live (I think toward the end of this month), browse the offerings and maybe spend a few bucks to try a story or two. And open already for any of you who are interested is a contest to write the best Galaxy-style novelette.

The paperback edition  of The Legions of Fire, the first novel in my four-volume fantasy series for Tor (The Books of the Elements) is out and is beautiful. Donato, the (wonderful) artist, provided a full-bleed image as well as the banner image that Tor put on the hardcover. The pb uses the upper portion of the complete version. (The very detailed frame at the bottom remains.) Both treatments are quite lovely. I find it interesting that they’re continuing to play with design on the paperback.

What Distant Deeps, the most recent RCN space opera, is also out in paperback with its fine Steve Hickman cover–which hasn’t changed from the hc (except that it doesn’t have the swatch of holographic foil). Steve is doing the cover for The Road of Danger; I haven’t seen anything, but I’m told that he’s submitted roughs. I will (Karen will) put something up on the website when we have it.

Loose Cannon, the omnibus of the two Tom Kelly technothrillers (Skyripper and Fortress) is out as a Baen omnitrade with a very good Dave Seeley cover. These are harsh, angry books; they’re not stupid, though, and there’s a lot of stuff in them that isn’t fiction.

They probably give a better view of where my head was for a long while after I got back to the World (that is, returned from Viet Nam) than most of my fiction does. That isn’t an altogether good thing, but it’s a fact.

I mentioned that Steve is working on the cover of the next RCN. The Donato cover of Out of the Waters, the second of The Books of the Elements, is just as wonderful as the cover for Legions. The book is supposed to be out on July 19. I haven’t seen a copy yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Tor did send me a couple dust jackets, though. Unless they’ve changed the caption–and I don’t think there was time to do so–it says under my picture that I’m an NYT Bestselling Author. That’s a mistake. Not mine: I asked folks at Tor (including Tom Doherty) as soon as I saw that statement, since I thought it must be wrong. My sales at both Tor and Baen are quite good, but they aren’t that good.

I was glad to learn that the caption got there through honest error (which can happen to anybody) rather than being a deliberate lie by somebody in marketing. This is a business in which an awful lot of people lie about advances and about sales. I’ve made it a point over the years not to be one of those people. One of the reasons I’ve never publically announced my new contracts: my honest figures would be compared with the bloated claims of others.

My next real project is to plot Into the Maelstrom,the second novel of The Citizen series (the first is Into the Hinterlands, which will be out in September from Baen). These are space operas (sorta) which use the life of George Washington as a template. John Lambshead developed my outline into Hinterlands and will dothe same with the remaining two, god willing.

This is a neat idea (which Jim Baen originally came up with) and John handled it extremely well; I’m pleased to be doing the remainder of the series. That said, it’s been more than a decade since I plotted the first book in that idiosyncratic universe. I’m going to be earning my money on these outlines.

I’m writing this over the July 4 weekend, which is as good a time as any to think about… I won’t say patriotism; that means things to some people which it doesn’t mean to me. Say rather, the rights and duties of citizenship.

I was drafted in 1968. I didn’t want to go (and I didn’t believe any good was coming from US involvement in Viet Nam), but I believed that it was my duty as a citizen to serve when I was called. Then I came home and started writing about war.

I don’t think people who weren’t at least teenagers in the ’70s can imagine how much scorn and hatred were directed at Nam vets. Jane Fonda spoke for a large and very vocal portion of the population when she attacked American servicemen.

Personally, my own worst experience with this came in Boston in 1990 when Tom Easton, moderating a panel, called me a pornographer of violence. He then read from his upcoming Analog review which amplified his personal attack.

The review duly appeared. To Mr Easton and his editor, Stanley Schmidt, it was morally reprehensible to try to describe war from where I had seen it: the loader’s hatch of an M48 tank in Cambodia.

But things have changed; in my opinion for the better. The Guardian is a British paper which serves the segment of the UK electorate which most nearly resembles that of the California Democratic Party. A Guardian blogger, discussing Military SF, paired me with Joe Haldeman as Nam vets writing from personal experience–instead of calling me a pornographer, as Analog had.

And in the June, 2011, issue of Analog itself, the new reviewer, Don Sakers, intelligently reviewed several Military SF books and referred to me as the father of the modern MSF category. Joe Haldeman, Jerry Pournelle and I all started writing about combat from personal experience at about the same time in the early ’70s, so I think that gives me too much credit; but it’s a nice change. (Mind, I don’t think that Mr Sakers is the sort of person who would descend to personal attacks even if he didn’t like a book.)

I hope that it will never again be socially acceptable to vilify other people simply for trying to be good citizens, even if you don’t like the direction their citizenship leads them. That’s a wish for every American on this Independence Day.

–Dave Drake

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