Interview Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
A Conversation With Stanley Schmidt
An interview with Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Stanley Schmidt
Stanley Schmidt
Stanley Schmidt began selling stories while a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, where he completed his Ph.D. in physics in 1969. Since then he has written many stories and articles, along with four novels -- Newton and the Quasi-Apple (1970), The Sins of the Fathers (1976), Lifeboat Earth (1978) and Tweedlioop (1986). He has been the editor of Analog since 1978 and he has been nominated 17 consecutive times for the Hugo for Best Professional Editor without yet winning.

ISFDB Bibliography
Analog Website

Unknown Worlds
Roads Not Taken
Islands in the Sky
ALiens and Alien Societies

Very few people could ever claim to follow in the footsteps of the late, legendary John W. Campbell, but that's exactly what Stanley Schmidt did when he took over editorial duties of Analog in September 1978, thanks largely to a recommendation from his immediate predecessor, Ben Bova. Already an established name in the field due to his short fiction, Schmidt brought impressive credentials to his new editorial post, having been an Assistant Professor of Physics at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, while also doing courses in astronomy and science fiction. With a B.S. in physics from the University of Cincinnati and a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Schmidt was uniquely qualified to keep the science in Analog's science fiction.

How does editing Analog differ from editing other magazines in the field?

In editing Analog, I have to try to please a very vocal audience that insists on careful attention to both words in "science fiction." That is, they want consistently entertaining, though-provoking stories about believable characters, but an integral part of those stories (that is, an element that can't be removed without making the story collapse) should be some speculation that is made as plausible as possible in the light of known science. This means I must pay close attention to the writing, but equally so to the scientific background -- which sometimes means doing fairly involved calculations.

That's none too surprising, considering that Analog's reputation has been built upon a foundation of hard science fiction.
Lately I've been saying I'd like the term "Hard SF" to go away. Too many people use it to mean something much narrower than what I mean by it, and it seems to me that anything that doesn't meet my test for "Hard SF" shouldn't be called SF at all. I'm proud of our efforts to keep Analog the one magazine that really cares about making its scientific speculations both as imaginative and as plausible as possible, but it does get wearisome when people assume that that means we're more interested in machines than in people.

So, if you dislike the term "Hard SF," what is your definition of science fiction?
My definition of science fiction is simply fiction in which some element of speculation plays such an essential and integral role that it can't be removed without making the story collapse, and in which the author has made a reasonable effort to make the speculative element as plausible as possible. Anything that doesn't meet those requirements is not science fiction at all, as far as I'm concerned, so there's no need for a separate term like "Hard SF" to distinguish it from "other" kinds of SF.

If that's so, then why do we still hear about "Hard SF" all the time?
Unfortunately, the term science fiction has lately been allowed to blur so that people are casually using it to describe things that have nothing to do with science, either in terms of essential speculation or an attempt at plausibility -- things that I would be more likely to call mainstream or fantasy. To counteract that, some practitioners of what I call simply "science fiction" have tried to set what they do apart by calling it hard science fiction. But too often both people writing it and people who are put off by the term (does it mean "difficult science fiction?") take that to mean science fiction in which the science is the primary interest, or the story spends a great deal of its wordage talking about the scientific details, or the speculation is closely and rigorously based upon present scientific knowledge and nothing more.

Wouldn't most people would say that's what science fiction is all about?
I don't see any of those qualities as essential or intrinsically desirable. Daniel Keyes' Flowers For Algernon is a perfectly splendid example of a science fiction story in which the primary interest is what happens to a human being, but what happens to him couldn't possibly happen without the postulated operation, and very little is said about the details of the operation. As for sticking strictly to presently known science, I will simply point out that we have already experienced at least two major revolutions in science in this century alone. It's most presumptuous to believe we already know all the answers and will never get any more big surprises. My working rules, for myself as a writer and as an editor for any writer whose work I'm considering, is that anything that can't be proved impossible is fair game for SF, though if it appears to be impossible, the writer has some obligation to indicate to the reader why it might not be.

What would a perfect issue of Analog consist of?
Ideally, I'd like every issue to include a diverse group of stories that meet the qualifications sketched above, but covering a wide range of specific matter and flavour. Also, ideally, I'd like every issue to include at least one genuinely funny story. I think humour is one of the most important, difficult, and underappreciated areas of any art, and I'd like to have some in every issue. I don't think there is such a thing as a "perfect" issue; I suppose you could define it as one in which every reader thinks everything is terrific, but that's never going to happen, and I'm not sure it would be a good idea if it did. Usually if nobody hates a piece, nobody loves it, either; and a magazine which sets itself the goal of provoking thought is not doing its job if everybody agrees with what it does.

With a magazine like Analog, where so many of the stories are fundamentally rooted in real science, do you ever run across writers who have a great idea, but fall short with their writing?
It does occasionally happen that a story has a good idea but reads more like a scientific treatise than a story. All I can do with those is try to help the writer develop the storytelling skills he or she needs to go with the ideas. Sometimes it works, and I buy the story. Sometimes it doesn't, and I don't.

What can SF do, as a literary form, that nothing else can?
What SF (what I call "Real SF" and some call "Hard SF") can do better than anything else is show us the range of our possible futures, and what we can do to realize the good ones and avoid the nasty ones. Its limitations are those of the physical universe: it won't let you play with some really wild ideas that aren't possible, but are fun to speculate about. I like to do that, too, so I enjoy both science fiction and fantasy -- but I always keep in mind which one I'm doing, and they are not the same. Sure, there's some fuzziness at the border; but as Mike Flynn put it, "Just because there's a twilight doesn't mean you can't tell the difference between night and day."

For a long time, "Hard SF" -- forgive the term -- and far-futures were out of fashion. Now they seem to be making something of a comeback. What do you think the driving force behind that is?
I think the rising and falling popularity of areas like hard SF and far-future SF is, to a considerable extent, the same as any other fashion. If people have been seeing a lot of something, they go looking for novelty elsewhere. When something hasn't been around much for a while, and one example of it turns up and catches people's eyes, they go looking for more like it -- until they get tired of it again.

There may be something to the suggestion about the pace of technological change intimidating writers, though -- it's been awfully hard to keep ahead of real developments. I remember when I was starting to write and we were getting the closest looks at other planets we'd ever had. For a while, writers seemed to be shying away from setting stories on other planets of our solar system. Whatever they wrote was too likely to become instantly obsolete. Of course, once we had quite a bit of new information, they couldn't resist the opportunity to start using it in new stories!

Science fiction, perhaps more than any other genre, cuts across international and cultural boundaries. The largest-circulation SF magazine in the world is published in China, after all. What's the appeal?
I think the international appeal of SF is quite understandable since the kinds of people who like to read it, are, by the nature of the beast, interested in other cultures, of which other nations on Earth are the closest available example. Also, much science fiction is not actually set in any existing place or culture, so it's more or less equally foreign to everybody.

That said, is science fiction guilty of Anglo- or Euro-centrism? Do minorities get a fair shake in the future?
I don't think the question of whether science fiction is "Anglo-centric" or "Euro-centric" can properly be applied to a lot of science fiction, since it's set in pasts or presents where those terms have no meaning. Of course, the way writers think about those things is almost certain to be affected by their own cultural background, and it would be hard to deny that, for whatever reasons, a lot of SF writers come from Anglo or European backgrounds. And, of course, some SF is set close enough to here and now that Anglo and European do apply. Since many of the writers come from those backgrounds, so does much of the fiction. I'd like to see more using other cultural backgrounds, but it's hard for a writer to even conceive, much less pull off, a story using a different culture unless he or she has lived in it (like Somtow Sucharitkul in "Fiddling for Waterbuffaloes") or travelled extensively in it (like Mike Resnick in his Africa-based stories).

How about homo sapiens-centric? Many books and short stories seem to portray humans as inherently superior to the alien races they meet. Is this a reversion to the old cultural imperialism of the past?
It's certainly legitimate for an SF story to assume any plausible set of circumstances, including humans being superior (or inferior) to aliens they meet. So no one story would bother me for this sort of reason. However, it does sometimes seem to me that we're seeing a disturbing trend when too many stories show very similar circumstances. In fact, I complained about something very much like "Homo-sapiens-centrism" in my May 1997 editorial, "A Bad Time for Aliens," in which I observed that the current crop of SF, at least in movies and television, seemed to be leaning too heavily toward showing aliens as monsters rather than exploring the whole range of possibilities. Rather than repeating everything I said there, I'd like to encourage your readers to look it up.

Do you think the small press is essential to a healthy genre?
In the current state of publishing, I suspect the small press is important to a healthy genre, partly to provide an outlet for a wider range of things than the small number of larger publishers can accommodate, and partly as a training ground for writers who will eventually become better known through larger publications.

(A shorter version of this interview first appeared in the magazine Eidolon.)

Copyright © 2000 by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy short fiction and has several in-progress novels lying around in various stages of decay. His non-fiction articles and interviews have seen publication in the U.S., Britain and Australia. His website can be found at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide