Locus Online


July 1998

Dear Locus Online:
    Thanks for saving me the bother of seeing either Deep Impact or Armageddon. As you say both films did a good job of overstating their scientific accuracy - and I was surprised when some colleagues who work in space science came back from seeing DI moaning about how atrocious the science was.
     For my money, whatever its faults, Contact did a very good job of capturing the feel of the day-to-day life of an astronomer. The scenes in the telescope control room were spot-on, and the jargon was more or less faultless, within the constraint that it had to be just about comprehensible to the audience.

--Alastair Reynolds

Dear Locus Online:
     I've been meaning to drop you a note for a while to say how much I enjoy the Locus website. I find myself checking it at least once per day to see that latest and most interesting stuff. I'm surprised at how quickly it's evolved into being one of my first stops on the web every time I log on. You've managed to give it a flavour of its own, that is both distinct from the print magazine, while remaining consistent with it. So, congratulations. It's terrific.

--Jonathan Strahan

Dear Locus Online:
     While I for the most part agree on your views about Deep Intact and Armageddon, you really neglected to put Armageddon over the burner like DI though :)
     About the asteroid/comet confusion... it was obvious DI was about a comet, but the Armageddon thing was just funky. I mean, what were the creators trying to do? Was it a comet or an asteroid? I could have sworn they said it was a comet in the movie, but it seemed to have a slight appearance of a comet. Oh well, it was just screwy.
     Plus, no one could actually see the thing? "We control 8 of the 10 telescopes that can see it" and the thing is only 17 days away? I don't think so.
     DI and the beginning scene with the students: theoretically this is what they should do but that doesn't mean it always happens. Way back when I was in the Boy Scouts we went to the Oklahoma border from Dallas and had a "sky party" to watch Halley's Comet, Saturn, and a few other celestrial bodies out in this pasture. Red lights to preserve night vision? Never even considered it back then. Nowadays of course I know better and have red filters for my flashlights but back then it was just pure amateur astronomy.

--Alan Dunkin

Dear Locus Online:
     Your site has been the most helpful and comprehensive so far in finding information I needed. Right now I'm trying to find information on the artist John Holmes, who created a series of memorable covers of agonized heads for some H.P. Lovecraft paperbacks in the early 1970s.
     Do you know if this artist is still around and working (I found the following listing of artists on yours site, is this the same J.H.?:
HOLMES, JOHN _ Forgotten Life by Brian W. Aldiss (Mandarin, Dec '89) The Bureau of Lost Souls by Christopher Fowler (Arrow, Jul '90) * Orgy of the Blood Parasites by Jack Yeovil (Pocket UK, Oct '94).
     Please help me to find out more about him, and if possible contact him to let him know how those covers have stayed with me over the years.
     I would appreciate any leads you could give me. Thank you in advance.     

--Russell Atwood

(Fri 24 Jul 98)

Dear Locus:
    I am very pleased that you are able to give publicity to Alison [Spedding]'s case. Thank you. Dr. Harris has set up a fund to aid Alison's legal expenses and can be reached at 56 Pyrland Road, London N.5 2JD. Tel: (0)171 354 0032.
    It transpires it was some other man and not Alison's landlord who informed on her. This man had been arrested that day as a dealer, and two girls were arrested with him who had bought from him. Alison's landlord is proving a true friend. He has refused to do as the police demanded of him: to empty Alison's flat and relet it, thereby releasing her US$6,000 "anticretico." They hoped to appropriate this sum. The landlord has let Alison know he has now barred the flat to the police, he regards himself as the guardian of her belongings, and should there be anything she requires in prison, then he will fetch it to her if allowed.
    Prisoners are moved all the time, so the latest share is with seven women and several babies. Alison's students continue to visit to have their theses supervised! She has been loaned an old portable typewriter on which she is translating an academic book by Peter Gose of Canada into Spanish.
    The English national media have now been contacted and The Independent will carry a feature in the coming week. The Foreign Office are giving what assistance they are able. The British Embassy in La Paz have been kind to Alison, visiting her and lending her books to read. Perhaps British politicians will attempt to do more when the national media get hold of the story.
    The campaign is to demand that the correct charges should be pressed (just possession for personal use), that after the initial hearing, the trial should be held as soon as possible and that Alison's lawyer should then be able to get her out on the basis of "time served." The legal profession in this country now call this "the Woodward principle."
    I hope to visit Alison, with her youngest sister Helen, a schoolteacher here, around 23 July.

--Maureen Raybould
(mother of Dr. Alison Spedding)

Dear Locus:
    Normally I exhibit restraint and hold my impulses in check and hit you with a mind-numbing treatise along about February, with my Poll and Survey. But something came together and about six to eight weeks of mental pressure-cooking coalesced, and if I don't write it down, my brain will explode. Here goes.
    I read the interview with Tanith Lee with interest because she is one of those writers whose work seems to have vanished in the US, at least at novel length, save for reprint or reissue. ... And I read the Peter Hamilton interview with much of Tanith Lee's interview in the background, and things began to bounce off each other like a pinball machine gone berserk. What caused me to set pen to paper was the S.P. Somtow interview, wherein he raised some of the points raised by Tanith Lee. So my brain pinged some more, and you get to read the results.
    I have to say upfront that I haven't read very much by Hamilton, just a joint short piece with Graham Joyce in New Worlds. So I don't comment on his work's quality in any way when I say that thousand-page novels make blood run out my ears, thousand-page novels by writers I have not read previously tend to increase the blood flow, and thousand-page novels in a trilogy force blood from every pore! Obviously, I don't read them, save for Tolkien's.
    The first thing I noted about the trio is that the only one of the three who has a major publisher in the US is (apparently) Hamilton, and his interview is a counterpoint to the Lee and Somtow interviews and additionally serves as a partial explanation as to why Lee and Somtow (and others) are where they are, while other writers have been fortunate to avoid their fate, more or less.
    Publishing seems to be turning more towards the Hollywood mentality, and has been for some time. Publishing seems to be focusing on the blockbuster. I am certain Warner Aspect expects the Hamilton to do well and to have "legs," as it were. To carry the film analogy a bit further, Tanith Lee would be a small studio or independent film, and Somtow would be an art film. Huge, sweeping epics are popular, as are series, trilogies, etc. None of which is news. Both Tanith Lee and S.P. Somtow have made choices in their careers, and the result of at least some of the choices is the semi-dormancy their writing careers are presently mired in, as regards US publication.
    In Tanith Lee's case, I think it should be pointed out that her situation is, in large part, of her own manufacture. When she left DAW because "they couldn't pay me any more money, and I was beeing offered three times as much by others ... I had to take the offers." She is being somewhat disingenuous when she says this, for she didn't have to "take the offers," she chose to take them. One has only to look at C.J. Cherryh as a case where a writer made the perhaps better choice. She started with DAW in 1976, continued with DAW while simultaneously developing a track record elsewhere, had, if I recall correctly, one of the first, if not the first, hardcover publications from DAW, and still sells work to DAW on occasion. There is no guarantee that things would have gone better for Ms. Lee had she stayed with DAW, but DAW would probably still schedule Tanith Lee's work, and Tanith Lee would have probably been supported by DAW as C.J. Cherryh was -- as Baen has supported Lois McMaster Bujold.
    You see, the other side of the coin to three times the money is a consequent rise in the level of expectation. And if the sales figures aren't there to support the outlay, well, publishing is a business. You see, just as publishing is cutting its own throat with the slashing of mid-list and the disease of "bestselleritis," so too must authors bear in mind that the pursuit of the large or larger advance is not necessarily in an author's long-term best interests.
    As a case in point, I submit Tanith Lee, whose career might well resemble C.J. Cherryh's today, had she maintained ties with DAW and not grabbed contracts solely based on money, as she seems to be saying. For isn't that a constant mantra of writers, particularly midlist writers who are watching careers vanish -- that publishers shouldn't solely focus on "the bottom line"? I happen to agree with that, for reasons that would take much too long, and you probably have blood running from your ears by now, so I will stop flensing Tanith Lee by finishing with the following: You take your choice and you pay the fiddler's bill, eventually.
    Which is a somewhat demented segue into S.P. Somtow. Okay, very demented. S.P. Somtow suffers from a very bad case of Howard Waldrop Syndrome, or at least a mutated form of it all his own. Very skilled, idiosyncratic author who tries not to get stuck in the trough (or if he does, it's his own trough). Doesn't keep reworking the same book in different guises with different titles. Actually, this is more accurately referred to as the Theodore Sturgeon Syndrome which, owing to the nature of those it strikes, mutates to conform (strange word, that, in this context) to the tendencies of the individual it strikes. Further case studies include Philip K. Dick and Alfred Bester. S.P. Somtow is a perfect example.
    Writers can be successful at this -- Joe R. Lansdale, for example -- but you have to have a hardcore fan base of sufficient numbers in order to sustain it, and a distinctive enough voice to sustain interest and drag that base willingly along as you jump from peak to peak. Howard Waldrop has a hardcore fan base that apparently isn't large enough. I am one of them. It should be 50 times larger than it is presently. But I am hardly unbiased, and I digress. So, before blood starts leaking from your eyes, I'll get on with this.
    S.P. Somtow has written so widely and has so spread his work that it's been to his possible detriment, in that one literally has no idea what you will find, yet, at least in his novels, there doesn't seem to be the captivating, almost siren-like voice that carries readers along from book to book. Taken as a whole, he probably has a sizable audience. But the Mallworld audience probably doesn't greatly overlap with Aquila, and even less so with the S.P. Somtow works. And probably in reverse as well.
    I find it interesting that, at least for my ear, Somtow's short fiction has that unifying voice for the most part. And Somtow and Lee both still do short fiction. It is ironic that the form that allows for the greatest amount of artistic freedom, and allows for greater self-expression by a writer, is also a form that allows precious few to earn a living at that alone -- short fiction. The trick is to find a balance for both artistic preference and commercial realities. Because, like it or not, if one wishes writing as a vocation, commercial realities immediately stand up and weigh in to be heard. That truth must be acknowledged. For, if you wish to be paid to write, the commercial realities dictate that returns must be sufficient to support outlays. And if they don't, either that changes or the plug will be pulled, eventually. One does not have to like the truth to grasp it fully.
    The small press has emerged as the stopgap for writers like Lee and Somtow. Because the choices are 1) continuing the present course, 2) becoming more commercial, or 3) another means of support while trying to become the next Joe Lansdale or Jack Vance. In other words, a day job. My advice would be either a day job and write what you want until you develop enough of an audience, or write short fiction for your creative needs and more commercial fare at novel lengths, as infrequently as you can manage while still writing more idiosyncratic work of novel length -- and be willing to accept the consequences of the choice you make. If you can't do the second, then remember this: Nowhere is it carved on rock in mystic runes that one must make a living solely from one's art.
    I thank you for your time.

--Robert Reynolds,
Tucson AZ

(Thu 23 Jul 98)
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