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June 2003
 
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Editorial - June 2003
by Gordon Van Gelder

FOR FORTY years now, our single-author issues have followed the basic structure of featuring a short novel or two stories by the writer in question, accompanied by a biographical essay and a bibliography of the author's work. You might say this issue is backwards.

You see, it originated when Daniel Dern's story landed on my desk. That's funny, I thought; it's the second story I've read now featuring Barry Malzberg as a character. (The first was Tony Daniel's story "Barry Malzberg Drives a Black Cadillac," which was in the Winter 2001 issue of Talebones magazine.) Then John Kessel's story showed up and I figured something was afoot.

So I contacted Barry about writing that essay he'd been promising to write, his memoir of working for the Scott Meredith Agency as one of the fee readers. He came up with the terrific piece you'll soon see, a wonderful look into one of science fiction's shadowy corners, and a compelling look at the life of the writer as well.

And thus we have a "backwards" issue in which the celebrated author contributes the nonfiction while the fiction celebrates the author. Hey, it works for me—I hope you'll say the same.

After our last single-author issue (the Kate Wilhelm issue, Sept. 2001), several readers commented that it's no longer necessary to provide a bibliography for the author in question—there are plenty of references available nowadays for anyone who wants that information. I agreed with them, especially after I punched "Barry N. Malzberg" into the Google search engine and found half a dozen bibliographies online, including a list of Barry Malzberg stories published in Swedish. (All five of them turn out to be translations that appeared in our Swedish counterpart, Jules Verne-Magasinet, published by Sam J. Lundwall.)

Barry Malzberg's bibliography needs several Web pages just to capture the breadth of his writing. His work ranges across genres (men's adventure, mystery, suspense), through several pen names (Mike Barry, Mel Johnson, K. M. O'Donnell), and often in collaborations (with Kathe Koja, Carter Scholz, and many others), but wherever it goes, it's always marked by a distinctively sharp-edged waterfall of prose that hurtles you along, often to leave you dashed upon the rocks below, wiser and better for the experience.

Indeed, it's the fact that Mr. Malzberg's fiction isn't afraid to crash against those rocks that puts off some readers. A reader quickly figures out that the saccharine, Disney-esque sweetness that characterizes so much American art has no place in his work. (Nor does it do much for me, as you've probably noticed from reading the magazine; I almost used "contaminates" instead of "characterizes" in the previous sentence.) One colleague commented to me on hearing of the special Malzberg issue, "Well, if I were you, I'd fill the rest of the issue with happy upbeat stories."

But don't let this talk of gloom and downers turn you away from reading the fiction—to miss the fiction would be to miss out on much irony, wit, and insight. One of the aforementioned Malzberg Web sites reprints this comment Theodore Sturgeon made in a review of Malzberg's work: "Dammit, how can a man be so much fun and have so little joy?"

A partial answer to Mr. Sturgeon's rhetorical question is to note that Barry Malzberg's fiction follows in the tradition of Jewish literature such as that of Sholom Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Joy is not an issue. Some laughter, some tears, but turning joy into the objective is like asking a rabbi if there's a heaven. The words are in the vocabulary, but it's not the right question to ask.

For this issue I elected to reprint two short-shorts that struck me as being pure hits of Malzberg: humor and pain rolled together in a dough of speculation and cooked at high heat. Neither of them, however, includes a common Malzberg ingredient, the recursive element. I think no other writer has written so much or so well about the life of the science fiction writer and the sf community. That community and those writers have not always enjoyed these portraits, but the writer's obligation is to be true to the material, and Barry Malzberg is that.

My favorite anecdote about Barry comes from his 1991 Guest of Honor appearance at Readercon, a small science fiction convention in Massachussetts. The convention holds a bad prose contest named after Kirk Poland, the pseudonym employed by the protagonist of Barry's 1973 novel Herovit's World for writing sci-fi novels. In his Guest of Honor speech Barry was beaming, simply beaming, as he said, "I cannot tell you what an honor it is to be here where bad prose is being read and not being given the Hugo Award or the Nebula."

I grow to appreciate Barry Malzberg's work more each year and I'm very happy to celebrate it with this issue. I hope you'll appreciate it too.

—GVG

Current Cover Who's Who

In case you're puzzling over the cover illustration, here's the guide to who's who:

1.Barry Malzberg
2.Isaac Asimov
3.Robert Silverberg
4.Robert A. Heinlein
5.Judith Merril
6.Aldous Huxley
7.William Faulkner
8.Kurt Vonnegut
9.Damon Runyon
10.Damon Knight
11.Poul Anderson
12.Walt Whitman
13.Ernest Hemingway
14.John Updike
15.George Orwell

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