Interview: Stanley Schmidt - Analog Editor (Part 1)
by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
Analog ISBN/ITEM#: 0708StanleySchm
Date: 1 July 2007
Links: SFWA Entry / Analog Science Fiction /
SFRevu: I think you've influenced me more than I realized until I started putting together questions for you. For example, I do an editorial essay on some aspect of SF, relevant technology, or sociology every month...and though I hadn't thought of them as such. Reading Which Way To The Future I realized that I've been trying to be you all along...but you've got a considerable head start. How do you come up with topics, and how do you write them? Do you have any favorite themes you keep coming back to? Which is more interesting, technology, or what people do with it?
Stanley Schmidt: One reason Analog and I are such a good fit, I think, is that we're both strongly interested in both the technology itself and in what people do with it. There are indeed broad themes that I keep coming back to (which made it easy to group the contents of Which Way Into the Future? into sections). Things like the popular delusion of human uniqueness and supremacy, the difficulty of prediction, education, how technology changes arts, security and privacy, and the need to go beyond Earth—to name just a few.
SFRevu: In the piece you wrote as GoH for the Buccaneer Worldcon you revealed that your first reaction to science fiction, when you were a child and hadn't read any, was, "You mean that crazy stuff with the rockets and robots?" Of course, you were hooked as soon as you started reading Astounding. Do you ever think about that reaction when you're talking about SF to people who haven't read it (yet)? And is it as fair critique from the outside now as it was then?
Stan: Yes, I think that many people do have the same sort of reaction I did back then, even though they're living in a world that at that time would have seemed thoroughly science fictional. A man sitting next to me on a plane recently asked me, when he found out I wrote science fiction, "Have you done any literary writing?" as if the two were mutually exclusive. Of course, I suspect he, like many people who don't respect science fiction, was judging it by its less distinguished movie and TV examples, of which there are still plenty. Most people outside the field have no inkling of the difference between printed and media SF (and before I offend somebody by appearing to tar all the media with one brush, let me acknowledge that there have been some admirable exceptions).
SFRevu: How old were you then? The other bit of information I picked up from that anecdote is that you're a third generation fan, considering it was your father's uncle's bound copy of Astounding your were reading. Did you know your great-uncle at all? Do you know how he got into SF?
Stan: At the time of my "initiation," I believe I was nine. I don't really know how Great-uncle Otto (and at least one of his brothers, my grandfather) got into SF, but I did know him, in an odd pair of ways. I saw him probably three or four times when I was very small and he was (or so it seemed at the time) very old: I think he died when he was 75 and I was 3, or thereabouts, and I don't remember feeling that I had anything in common with him. In later years, Dad often said Otto was his favorite uncle, but I never really understood why until the last of his immediate family died, while I was in college, and I got my hands on a lot of things he had written, including record books, an extensive correspondence with my grandfather, and a couple of unpublished novels (one of which had some very funny sections). Dad was right: he was a very interesting guy, and I now have the weird feeling that I know him much better as a young man than as an old one--copper miner in Mexico, chicken farmer, systematic winner of contests, serious amateur writer, and voraciously omnivorous reader.
SFRevu: Your determination on the way to becoming a published SF writer was pretty impressive. What made you stick to it, and what made the difference between getting rejected and getting accepted?
Stan: Being too dumb to know when to quit? Seriously, I knew I enjoyed telling stories, and if somebody might want to pay me to publish them, that would be gravy. So I sent them out. Got a bunch of printed rejections in high school, then didn't have time to write fiction the first three years of college. But the next summer I got back to it and produced a long novelette that got an actual letter from John Campbell saying he liked my style and suggesting I try him again. The first year of grad school I set myself the goal of sending out a short story or novelette a month. They all got real letters, with the famous gruff Campbellian criticism and lots of good ideas. I learned enough from those letters to get over the hump, and sold him three stories (one with a Kelly Freas cover) my first year.
SFRevu: Back when Analog was Astounding editor F. Orlin Tremaine championed the "thought variant" story, where an original idea was at the core. Would you say that Analog has kept the faith over the years?
Stan: I'm not sure how well my understanding of "thought variant" corresponds to Tremaine's, but I do think all of the editors since—John W. Campbell, Ben Bova, and I—have liked to have a good, thought-provoking, original idea at the core of a story whenever possible. Of course, it's been a long time since many stories could get away with just an idea. John started trying to put equal emphasis on the science and the fiction, and Ben and I have tried to continue that.
SFRevu: How long should a story be? Ok that's probably a silly question that deserves a silly answer, (Lincoln's retort on a mans legs comes to mind) but what has your preference been as a reader? Short stories, novels, or something in between? Do you have any ideas why?
Stan: I like the entire range of lengths in different ways, because they have different kinds of strength when well executed. One of my all-time favorite stories was Robert J. Sawyer's recent Neanderthal Parallax trilogy (Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids), which, despite being published as three novels, is really one grand story. But I'm also a great admirer of Fredric Brown's page-and-a-half short-shorts which, despite many beginners' mistaken impression, is one of the hardest things to write, but unforgettable when it works.
SFRevu: Part 2 will be coming next month...