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Geeks With Books
by Rick Klaw

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Life-Long Love Affair

I've had a life long love affair with the anthology. It all began as a child with one of my first great loves: baseball. I discovered that if I got a book with a lot of different player's bios, I would learn much more, and therefore enjoy it more. Why just read a book about Babe Ruth when you could also read about Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, and Jackie Robinson -- with the chance of finding out about previously unheard of people like Zack Wheat and Mordeci "Three Finger" Brown? The same principle applies to science fiction, but even more so.

The Fantasy Hall of Fame< By my early teens, I had read a smattering of works by "classic" writers. Enough to realize that the Clarkes and Asimovs of the world weren't for this kid. I had been reading Bradbury, and by this time had devoured The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451, and a bunch of his short stories. I may have gone an entirely different direction if not for this particular remaindered book. My tastes had been moving toward mysteries. (mainly thanks to an anthology, the truly amazing two volume A Treasury of Great Mysteries edited by Howard Haycraft and John Beecroft. That was my first exposure to Raymond Chandler, William Irish, Edgar Wallace, Eric Ambler and several other mind-blowing crime writers.) My mother is an avid mystery fan and exposed me to Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes at an early age. Like all my friends, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons, was an avid comic book fan, and loved SF and fantasy, but I was clueless as to who to read. (Even then Tolkien held little interest.) A few friends tried to get me interested in Asimov, but the prose left me flat. Then someone suggested Michael Moorcock. That summer, I devoured all the Elric books in about two weeks. (Bear with me, this is related to the remaindered book.) Winter came and I was at the mall with my mother. She loves books almost as much as I do and, bless her heart, no matter how broke we were, she always managed to find the money to buy me a book. (Especially since I really hate malls. I'm sure it was easier to buy me a book then to listen to me bitch the entire time we were shopping.) I found this book on the bargain book stacks: The Fantasy Hall of Fame compiled by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg. Of course, neither of these names meant anything to me. All I could see was an Elric story on page 341 that I had never read. Turned out that the Elric story was part of one of the novels, but it didn't matter. This book introduced me to a whole new batch of writers. Within those pages, I first encountered Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, Anthony Boucher, Jack Vance, Manly Wade Wellman, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. Le Guin, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, AND Robert E. Howard. What a mind altering experience that book turned out to be! Within the next year, I would read short story collections by Poe, Bierce, Ellison, Sturgeon, and Bloch, all the Robert E. Howard Conan stories, The Compleat Werewolf by Anthony Boucher, and The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. I was soon hunting for the Del Rey Best Of... series. And even more anthologies.

Mirrorshades The next anthology I remember reading is Twilight Zone: The Original Stories edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Richard Matheson, and Charles G. Waugh. I loved the TV show and had even read all of Rod Serling's original tales. The book contained a Bradbury and Bierce tale. How bad could it be? Like The Fantasy Hall of Fame, the person (or people in this case) that I bought the book for were not what got me excited. Richard Matheson (and to a lesser extent Charles Beaumont) changed the course of my future literary life forever. In the coming years, I read almost everything that Matheson ever wrote. He prepared me for a life of horror fiction. To me, he is the bar against which all horror fiction is measured.

In the late 80s I moved to Austin, Texas. For many reasons, this has been among the most important decisions of my life. It was here that I first read the seminal SF anthology of the 1980s: Mirrorshades. Edited by Bruce Sterling, this book is THE cyberpunk primer. All that was good about the early cyberpunks is in that book: the diversity, the quality, the style. The book even starts with Sterling's legendary "Cyberpunk Manifesto." I read somewhere that Mirrorshades is the best selling anthology of all time. It certainly deserves it.

Semiotext(e) SF The other important 80s anthology is Semiotext(e) SF edited by Rudy Rucker, Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Robert Anton Wilson. This book showed me that boundaries should be of your own creation. The anthology helped me to define cutting edge. (I think so highly of this anthology that in July, RevolutionSF will reprint a third story that originally appeared in Semiotext(e) SF.)

Dark Forces Other influential anthologies I read in the 80s include The World Treasury of Science Fiction edited by David Hartwell, Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley, and Worlds of If edited by Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander. Perhaps my most significant discovery was Moorcock's New Worlds anthologies. They became the road maps for my future editing career. I already respected Moorcock the writer, but the more I read, the more I even respected the editor. He has an amazing eye for talent.

As we entered the 90s and opportunities for me to edit arose, I naturally wanted to produce an anthology. My first book was this dreadful comic book anthology Omnibus: Modern Perversity. The most redeeming quality was a wonderful graphic adaptation of Lewis Shiner's "Scales", which first appeared as a prose story in Ellen Datlow's excellent anthology Alien Sex. As amateur as my first anthology attempt seemed, it did get a special mention in that Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and even got me invited to a few conventions. I would go on to edit several more anthologies, reaching a peak with the critically successful and massive Weird Business (co-edited that one with Joe R. Lansdale). 420 pages; 52 creators; 26 stories. At the time, it was the largest volume of original comic material ever published. The contributors are quite literally a who's who of horror/dark fantasy fiction (including Moorcock., Bloch, Bierce, and Poe). It's now out of print, but it isn't that hard to find.

Weird Business

Love of the anthology extends to Rick the bookseller as well. I can't count how many copies of Mirrorshades I have sold. Or of the various "Year's Best" that exist.

The anthology is the single best tool to expose fans to new writers. I try and make sure that what happened to me when I first read The Fantasy Hall of Fame happens to someone else. As much as I dislike the fiction in Legends edited by Silverberg, it is an easy sell to any Robert Jordan fan. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Know what happens next? They read the Jordan, then they read everything else. And then they return to the bookstore to buy a George R.R. Martin or an Anne McCaffrey or an Orson Scott Card or a Terry Pratchett or often a combination of any of the writers in Legends.

Three weeks ago, a customer came into Half Price curious about the cyberpunk writers. He had read the science fiction of Ballard and Moorcock. Loved the crime fiction of Chandler. Someone wisely recommended he check out the cyberpunks. Luckily for him, he met me. I convinced him to read Mirrorshades. I told him that if he didn't like that book then cyberpunk wasn't for him. One week later, he came in with the anthology in hand and bought a Lewis Shiner novel. The next week, two William Gibsons. The third, several Sterlings. He has since thanked me profusely for introducing him to Mirrorshades. I expect to see him next week. I have several Rudy Ruckers waiting for him.

Leviathan 3 Since the science fiction magazine appears to be in its final death throws, the anthology has become an important place to showcase newer writers. While the internet is a proving ground for new and young talent, many people still read only the printed page. Fresh voices need a chance to be heard, and established ones remembered. Most of all, new readers must be cultivated. The anthology is the nexus for all of this to happen.

I don't plan on ever ending this life long love affair. (Just don't tell my wife. She might not understand.)

Copyright © 2002 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw is also the fiction editor for RevolutionSF. A former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experienced most aspects of the book business. He is currently reading the incredible anthology Leviathan 3 edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Forrest Aguirre. To talk more about anthologies, come by RevolutionSF on June 13, 2002 at 7:00 Eastern / 6:00 Central and chat with Jeff VanderMeer. I'm sure he'd love to discuss it.


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