Jim Baen - A Tribute
by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu.com OBIT ISBN/ITEM#: JBAEN2006
Date: July 2006 /
I only knew Jim Baen slightly, largely thanks to his appearances at cons. As a reader, my tastes range all over the map, but some of my favorite stories come out of Baen country. Sure, I like a spot of post-human angst as well as anyone, but if Jim Baen published it, you could be pretty sure that even if the outside was dinochrome steel the inside was human to the core. I think of Jim as a publisher that made us stop and remember where we came from, and why that should shape where we're going. Thanks for all that. We've asked a few folks that knew Jim to give us some thoughts on him, and we've just started getting replies. We'll add more in as the arrive. Thanks to everyone for their help. (image source: Baen Books) - Ernest Lilley, SFRevu Orson Scott Card / Nancy Hanger / Larry Niven / John Ringo / Fred Saberhagen
Orson Scott Card: Jim was an editor who knew there was an audience for a kind of science fiction that was not considered "hip" among the hipsters: Intelligent, exciting stories clearly told. With Tom Doherty's enthusiastic backing, Jim found the authors who wrote that kind of fiction, and then found the audience that was hungry for it. Thus what began as a niche publisher became a major player - and a repository for a kind of storytelling that keeps threatening to be disappear, not because people don't want to read it, but because it defies dogmas. In one breath, one can call Baen a traditionalist and a revolutionary, for when the old revolt becomes the establishment, a return-to-the-roots is the real revolution. Baen's new online magazine is an attempt to revive, online, the sci-fi magazine - the place where new writers can test their wings and find an audience. I hope all his works survive him and thrive. The measure of an editor's success is not that his work can't go one without him, but rather the opposite. (more: see website)
Nancy Hanger: I worked for and with Jim Baen for over 16 years, the last seven as his production manager for the entire book line. I'm sure I knew sides of Jim Baen few get to see, and didn't see sides others saw; he was indeed a complicated man. Some of that complication was read wrongly by some, rightly by others; his shyness was paramount in getting to know Jim.
Until the 1990s, he only went to conventions when forced; once he realized he loved actually meeting the fans, it was hard to keep him in the office when he could be at a convention, instead, meeting with many of the online Baen fans that are known as Barflies (from the online boards, Baen's Bar).
The man I started to work for in 1989 was not the man he was in the last few years, that's for sure: his health was not the best, and he knew damn well he wasn't taking care of himself, yet was too stubborn to do anything more about it; he despised doctors and hospitals. Yet a non-stubborn Jim Baen would not have been the brilliant publisher he was; stubbornness was a keystone to his character, both for good and ill. He stuck to his guns, fiercely protected and stood by those he considered his extended family and friends, and (at least, for most of the time I knew him) had a memory like the mythological elephant (for good or ill). He was loyal almost to a fault; he had a dry, wicked, twisted sense of humor, which in a boss took some a few times to get used to (me, I thrived on it). He was a brilliant publisher who could see a niche or need from a mile off and knew how to fill that niche--it was an almost savant sense of where the market was heading, such as his move to military and conservative SF authors long before the larger publishing houses even realized there was a growing market in that segment. There's no doubt that his legacy is still ahead of the rest of the publishing pack as far as ebooks go; he was the first "standard" book publisher to embrace open-sourcing for books, realizing early on (at many of our urgings) that giving away material would actually boost sales of paper books for other titles.
I didn't always adore every title we published, but for the years I oversaw all production (and for the titles I handled before then), I tried to elevate the production quality of the line to its highest possibilities. I only hope I made a difference. My best times with Jim were when he'd call me just to make me laugh or to take the time, rare that those times were, to thank me for "being a professional." From such a man as Jim Baen, that was one of the highest compliments I have ever received in this industry.
I miss him and probably will for some time to come. I'll certainly never have another boss like Jim Baen again, and that's a shame. I think Jim would be amazed that I'd write any of the above for the public to read, and scoff at the compliments or praise; he'd probably make a very twisted, funny joke out of it all, in fact, trying to brush it off. But he'd be wrong to do so; I miss you Jim, you stubborn man, you. You were the hardest, most visionary, generous, stubborn, and best boss I will ever have. (more: see website)
Larry Niven: My first contact with Jim Baen was a phone call from New York to our home in Bel Aire, California. I can't recall it perfectly. Something like this--
"Hello, you don't know me, but my name is Jim Baen."
He bought me and Marilyn a lot of dinners too. It's surprisingly easy to get used to the notion: editor pays. Once we were outside a hotel waiting for a taxi, getting restless. Got into an Indian wrestling contest. I didn't win through greater strength; my arms and legs were longer. He had strong arms. Wendy All once tried to psych him out before an arm wrestling bout. Came the moment, he just folded her over.
This is how the Man-Kzin Wars series came about-- Three of us drove from Tarzana to a Nebula Awards event in Long Beach: Marilyn driving, me in shotgun, Jim in the back. Jim asked, "Why don't we open up the known space series to other writers?" As we'd done with the Magic Goes Away stories when he was still with ACE. I said, "No. That playground is mine, and it's closed." Jim: "Oh." I thought for awhile, then said, "We could open the Man-Kzin War period. I don't write good war stories. I was never a soldier."
The Man-Kzin Wars now occupies twelve volumes and some wonderfully innovative stories. A few of those are mine. Other authors kicked my storytelling gene back into high gear, as I'd hoped they would. Jim once told me, "If I'd known how successful this series would be, I wouldn't have given you such good terms." Kidding. Jim was an immensely generous man.
I hadn't seen him in two or three years. I knew he was living a stressful life. The people you know and don't see often enough, you tend to think they'll always be there. I'm going to miss him terribly. (more: see website)
John Ringo: Jim Baen was my mentor, my replacement father and my friend, a man who not only changed my life but the way that I approached the world. On a professional level, he is /perhaps/ exceeded by John Campbell in his influence on the science fiction community. Perhaps. The contest would be tough. I miss him every day. He is the only person I have ever enjoyed being called 'Johnny' by. I never met anyone else I felt worthy of the honor. (more: see website
Fred Saberhagen: Jim was indeed a vital person and one of the best content editors I have ever known. (more: see website)