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
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 http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html