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Malcolm Edwards: Peopling the Void March 2005

Malcolm Edwards graduated from King's College, Cambridge, in 1971 with a degree in social anthropology. He became active in UK fandom while at Cambridge, and attended his first convention in 1970. He edited Vector from 1972-74, acted as UK agent for Locus, and helped launch Interzone.

He worked for Gollancz in various capacities for several years, meanwhile serving as administrator of the SF Foundation from 1978 to 1980, before joining Gollancz full time in 1983, first as editor, then editorial director, and finally publishing director. Edwards moved to Grafton in 1991 and then in 1998 became managing director of Orion Books, which subsequently acquired Gollancz, bringing Edwards back to his beginnings, in a sense. He launched the landmark 60-volume SF Masterworks series to bring important books back into print. Edwards is now deputy CEO and publisher at Orion, in charge of all fiction.

Edwards was a contributing editor to the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979), edited anthology Constellations (1980), and co-edited The Complete Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy Lists with Maxim Jakubowski (1983). A very occasional fiction writer, Edwards won a British SF Award for his only published story "After Images" in 1984. He lives in London with his wife and their two children.
Photo by Beth Gwinn

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Excerpts from the interview:

“Entering a new job, it's the only time in your working life when you actually have any time: your desk is empty, and there you are! That's when I decided to do the SF Masterworks list. I looked around and realized, far more than I had before, how much had gone out of print in the UK. The day I discovered both Bester's The Stars My Destination and Haldeman's The Forever War were out of print, I thought, 'There's a list here.' And when we bought Gollancz, we immediately put the SF lists (both fairly small at that time) together. In 2000 we closed down the general part of Gollancz and it became our dedicated SF and fantasy list.

“For the Masterworks reprints, one of the things I decided fairly early on was that in the SF part there should be no book originally published earlier than the 1950s (not counting Wells and Stapledon), aside from Earth Abides from the very end of the '40s. For most contemporary readers, books that are 50 years old are -- with rare exceptions -- dated to the point where they are antiquated and archaic. I wasn't trying to put together that kind of list. I wanted readers to think, 'These are the books that made science fiction.' I took soundings and recommendations from everyone I could think of. It was partly a selection exercise and partly a marketing exercise -- which ones would they give a quote for if I did republish?”


“Going back to basics, there are completely unliterary reasons at the bottom of science fiction's fascination for readers: frustration at how little you know about what's out there. Science fiction has always been, for me, that imaginative act of filling the vacuum. That's what attracted me to it in the first place and that's what carries you through your SF reading 'Firsts,' through Doc Smith or whatever (it's certainly not for the literary pleasure!). Everything after that is a kind of rationalization of why you read what you read; you know it has nothing to do with what's out there really, but there is some kind of imaginative population of that great void. Some people don't want to think about that. Those who don't read SF and have no interest in it -- including many of my friends -- just don't look at the world that they don't know; they have enough to think about down here.”


“There has always been an audience for big-idea SF in Britain -- there just hadn't been the books, or the short fiction. I was there at the beginnings of Interzone (I paid for the stories in the third issue myself!), and when we started out it was almost not an SF magazine. There was M. John Harrison, Angela Carter, and Michael Moorcock, but the rest of it was sort of literary fantasy, with a bit of SF where we could find it. (John Sladek had some stories in the early issues.) Later it had its manifesto of publishing radical hard SF, but it couldn't have that manifesto at the start because there wasn't any to publish. Gradually, the authors did come along.

“I honestly can't see a particular social phenomenon that has driven this process. I think it's a matter of the preconditions being there, and then luck really. Like every successful rock group depends on a singer meeting a guitarist and writing songs; if you don't have all those things, you don't get the group. We happened to get that. One part of it is Paul McAuley and Steve Baxter and Interzone -- you can't understate the influence of Interzone on the whole 'dialog' process by providing somewhere for those people to get published. Another part is Iain Banks having come out of left field and decided he wanted to be a science fiction writer (or a writer of baroque left-wing space opera). And then Al Reynolds comes along, who is a genuine, proper scientist. How many writers does it take to have a movement?

“It's the most unexpected thing that has happened during my entire time doing science fiction. The truism was, the Brits could write but they wrote sort of depressing small-scale novels about how things could only get worse. Having done all these reprint series, I've looked back at a lot of them, and most haven't really worn very well. J.G. Ballard was an exception, but he was not published as an SF writer. Even so, for a long time I was Jim's editor, and he regarded himself as the only real British SF writer around (I agreed). That made some kind of sense in the early '80s, but since then there's been this enormous resurgence. Suddenly British SF has stopped being miserable and effete. You have to enjoy the ironies in this. The Brits are known as the big, muscular space-opera guys and the Americans are the effete literary guys!”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the March 2005 issue of Locus Magazine.

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