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Beth Meacham: The Kid on the Bicycle April 2005

Beth Meacham was born in Newark, Ohio, and attended Antioch College, where she studied Communications. After graduation she moved to New York, where she worked as a travel coordinator until the late 1970s, worked at SF bookstore Science Fiction Shop for two years beginning in 1978, then joined Ace in 1981 as an editorial assistant. In 1984 she became an editor for Tom Doherty at Tor, eventually rising to editor-in-chief, a position she held until 1989, when she moved out west and worked long-distance as an executive editor for Tor. She has edited many major books, including Blood Music by Greg Bear, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy, and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. Other authors she has edited include William Gibson, Damon Knight, R.A. Lafferty, Jack Vance, and Jane Yolen, among many others. She co-wrote novel Nightshade with Tappan King (1976) and A Reader's Guide to Science Fiction (1979) with Baird Searles, Martin Last, & Michael Franklin; wrote the text for Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials by Wayne Barlowe (1979) and DiFate's Catalog of Science Fiction Hardware by Vincent DiFate (1980); edited Terry's Universe (1988), an original anthology of stories in memorial of Terry Carr (1988); and is currently co-editing an R.A. Lafferty collection with Neil Gaiman. She lives near Tucson, Arizona with husband Tappan King.    
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Beth Meacham's Web Page

Excerpts from the interview:

“Born and raised in Ohio, I was an unhappy child who spent way too much time in books and the library. One day in the middle of the winter when I was about seven years old, I had ridden my bicycle through the snow, downtown to the library, and I picked up The Martian Chronicles. I had just been allowed into the adult section -- I had to get special permission for that, but I had read everything in the kids' section. As I look back, I realize that the science fiction section was small but extraordinarily choice. It was on low shelves which I could reach easily, and I picked up The Martian Chronicles because it had an interesting title. It opens in Ohio in the winter with the story 'Rocket Summer', which blew my little brain! I proceeded to read through every book on those shelves, between the ages of seven and ten. I read every science fiction book in the library and every science fiction book that was published in those years, and I was absolutely, totally, madly in love with the future, with change and with science fiction! It was hard not to be. I've read it, not exclusively but continuously, all through my life.”


“The problem with science fiction today is that it has become two extremes. There's the extreme of the mimetic novel (a real-life mainstream book) which has a little bit of a science-fictional element thrown into it -- a disease, a device, a something -- and becomes a successful mainstream-accessible book. They sell very well, but I don't think they really feed the science fiction junkie. At the other extreme there is the rarified, almost decadent science fiction that nearly everything being written these days seems to be. (Is Locus decadent? Of course! What's more decadent than writing about a literary field?) The writer is building on decades and decades of shared experience, and everything has to be strange and wonderful and extrapolative. You have strange and extrapolative characters in a strange and extrapolative world, doing strangely extrapolated things. You can't envision yourself there because there's no one you can identify with, and at every point of the story you have to worry, 'What does this mean? How does it relate?' There's nothing relaxing and comfortable.

“It seems to me that in order to create that wonderful science fiction book that you can't put down, there should be real characters that are like the reader, like the writer, like the kid on the bike, who then goes into the wonderful and strange and new and extrapolated world. Without that place to stand (that's my shorthand for it), I don't think you can have the total immersion in science fiction I had when I was reading it as a kid. You can't escape into it because you're not going from anywhere to anywhere. You should be going from someplace familiar into the strange. I listen to myself say that and think, 'Someone could think I actually mean it has to be somebody from here and now getting in a rocket ship.' That's not what I mean. I like rocket ships and alien planets and alien species! If I'm going to explore what an alien species is like, though, I want to be coming from something very familiar so I don't have to worry about two alien races encountering each other. That can be really hard to read, and it becomes work.

“While for me reading is often work because I'm analyzing and taking it apart and putting it back together, testing all the strands and threads of it, it should not be work for the ultimate reader. Reading should be fun, not something you do because it's good for you (she said, emphatically). We need the page-turner. It's all very well to have both ends of the genre but you've got to have a middle -- and I'm not seeing the middle being published. It's there in fantasy and YA, but not so much in science fiction. We need it. Neil Gaiman is doing it. I don't think everybody should be doing exactly the same thing, but we need books that can have that kind of depth and characters and storytelling values. He's proving you can have it all.”

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

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


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