jueves, 3 de mayo de 2012

Interview with Marty Halpern, editor of Alien Contact

Marty Halpern is a two-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award-Professional for his work with Golden Gryphon Press, where he edited 23 ½ hardcovers, 4 limited edition chapbooks, and 4 reprint trade paperbacks in eight years. The “½” hardcover is original anthology The Silver Gryphon, which he co-edited with publisher Gary Turner. Marty Halpern has also co-edited (with Claude Lalumière) an anthology of sardonic fiction entitled Witpunk, and with co-editor Nick Gevers, he has edited the original theme anthology Is Anybody Out There? which deals with the Fermi Paradox. His solo anthology, Alien Contact, was published by Night Shade Books in November 2011 and it is one of the best anthologies I've read recently. Thus, I'm very happy that he agreed to answer a few questions about Alien Contact and his work in general.

Odo: You have edited Alien Contact and also, together with Nick Gevers, Is Anybody Out There?, an anthology of science fiction stories related to the Fermi Paradox. Why do you think the topic of alien races is so fascinating for science fiction readers and writers? 

Marty Halpern: What immediately came to mind when I read this question was a scene toward the end of the movie Contact, when Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, was speaking with a group of schoolchildren. In response to a young girl’s question, she said: “The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us...seems like an awful waste of space. Right?

I could easily answer this question with just two words: “Possibilities” and “Imagination.” Since we have no proof of “the Other” (yet), then the story possibilities are endless, only limited by the writer’s imagination—and skill, I might add. And as an editor—and reader, myself—I’m intrigued by a good alien contact story.

Odo: You worked on Alien Contact for about three years and considered more than 150 stories. Is there any particular story that you would have liked to include in the anthology but had to leave out for some reason?

MH: I wanted to include a Philip K. Dick story, “Rautavaara’s Case” (OMNI, October 1980), but permission to use the story arrived too late. However, a larger issue for me was having to choose between two (or more) stories by the same author. In a couple instances I had to read stories multiple times in order to make a decision as to which story to select, because all of them were excellent and of the same relative length. I included stories in the anthology by Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow, Jeffrey Ford, Nancy Kress, and Michael Swanwick, for example—but I could easily have selected a different story by each of them and still maintained the same overall quality of the book. Though I will admit that the stories I did select were often my own personal favorites. (Maybe readers will see these other stories should there be a volume two....)

Odo: Before Alien Contact was published you blogged about each and every story of the anthology and, in some cases, even provided the full text. I think this a very original way of promoting a book and provides an invaluable source of information. How was this experience for you?

MH: After about the sixth or seventh week I realized the true enormity of this project that I had volunteered for, so to speak: twenty-six weeks—one-half of a year of weekly blog posts. And those weeks in which I was serializing the complete text of a story, then two to four blog posts were required, depending on the length of the story. That’s a lot of blogging, while still trying to complete other projects that actually pay the bills. At that point of realization, I just hoped that I could maintain the same enthusiasm and energy level throughout the entire time.

I think I only missed two weeks—my mother’s illness had worsened in August, and then she passed away in mid-October. But I always made up for the missed blog entries the very next week, so that I still completed all twenty-six story blogs on schedule.

But focusing on one story each week gave me the opportunity to reread and reexamine each one, to gain a new—or better—appreciation of each author’s skill in crafting a memorable, unique story. I hope readers who do obtain a copy of Alien Contact will consider reading my related blog post before reading each story.

Odo: I love themed anthologies but, unfortunately, we don't see many published nowadays. Why do you think it is so?

MH: Actually, you will be surprised by the number of themed anthologies being published these days. Charles Tan, on his Bibliophile Stalker blog, has compiled a listing of anthologies, by year, beginning in 2009. However, I just checked the blog to get numbers for 2012 and it appears he has ceased doing this project. So, using last year’s numbers, his database included sixty-nine original and reprint anthologies—which averages out to four anthologies being published every three weeks. Not too shabby! If you check the database, you’ll discover that, at least for last year, the overwhelming majority of these were themed anthologies.

Authors have stories to write that they then wish to sell, and editors, like myself, enjoy working on anthology projects—but, because there is little money to be made on such anthologies (with the exception, say, of the George R. R. Martin-edited and Ellen Datlow-edited original anthologies), they tend to be published by indie and micro presses. In fact, I see more and more micro press anthologies in which authors are only paid a couple contributor copies of the published book and, occasionally, a share of any royalties. I have no idea how successful any of these anthologies are.
Odo: What are you working on right now? Can you give us a sneak peek of your future projects?

MH: A lot of my recent, and current, projects involve proof reading and copy editing others’ anthologies—so my name typically doesn’t appear anywhere unless the editor chooses to recognize me in the acknowledgments. Some of the recent anthologies I’ve worked on: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Six, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books, March 2012); The Sword & Sorcery Anthology, edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman (Tachyon Publications, June 2012); and Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (Tachyon Publications, August 2012). And as soon as I complete these interview questions, I need to finish working on the anthology Other Worlds Than These, edited by John Joseph Adams, forthcoming from Night Shade Books in July: my copy edited page proofs are due back to the publisher the first week of May!

Note that all four of these anthologies are comprised of reprint stories, and only one, the “best of” volume, is non-themed.

As to my own projects, some issues still need to be resolved, but I would like to pursue a second volume of “alien contact” stories. I’ve also been working on a couple other anthology ideas, each with another co-editor, and although we’ve been toying with these ideas since last year, nothing is concrete as yet and thus I’m not able to provide any further details here. This is typical of publishing projects: nothing can really be announced until contracts are signed.

Odo: Where can our readers learn more about you and your work?

MH: If readers want to keep up with my day-to-day activities, they can follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook. A lot of my tweets and FB postings link to news articles, blog posts, and such on writing, editing, and publishing. Then, at the beginning of each month I publish a lengthy blog post in which I recap all of these “Links & Things” from the previous month.
Readers can also “Like” my Alien Contact Anthology page on Facebook for news and reviews updates.

As mentioned above, I maintain a blog titled More Red Ink. I don’t blog on such a regular basis as I did for Alien Contact, but I do so as my time permits, as I work through my other projects and responsibilities.

I also have an entry in the SF Editors wiki in which readers can view a complete list of all the books I’ve edited over the years (I worked for Golden Gryphon Press from 1999 through 2007). If readers prefer a graphic representation rather than text, I’ve set up a Flickr set —and slideshow—which features the cover art of all the books I’ve edited. I’ve copy edited dozens and dozens of additional titles, probably in the hundreds, actually, which are too numerous to list.

Odo: Is there any other thing you would like to add?

MH: I hope readers will consider adding my Alien Contact anthology to their bookshelf (if they haven’t already done so), especially after reading your splendid review of the book. As you stated, a great deal of time went into the making of this book and the personal satisfaction comes in knowing others have enjoyed reading it as much as I did compiling it.

And I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to answer a few questions and spend some time, so to speak, with your readers. If you have an area for Comments following this interview, readers can post any additional questions that they may have, and I’ll check back regularly and do my best to answer them.

Odo: Thank you very much for answering my questions! I look forward to continue the conversation on the comments to this interview. 

(You can also read this interview in Spanish/También puedes leer esta entrevista en español)

7 comentarios:

  1. Really, a very interesting interview.

    Thanks Odo, for me your blog has become one of the cornerstones of science fiction current status in our country. And thank you, of course, to Mr. Alpern for giving such interesting answers.

    I haven't read the anthology yet, though it is in my to-be-read list (thanks to Odo's review, I must say) and I hope to get to it soon. I wasn't aware of your blogging experience regarding this book, so I'll make sure to follow your advice and read each post before the corresponding story. Also, this is the first time I hear of Witpunk. That sounds funny, I'll try to find a copy :-)

    I'm not really good reading short fiction on a current basis (that is, following their publication in magazines), though I love the format. Anthologies (be it reprints or original publications), on the other hand, are really convenient for me. I think that editors devoted to the compilation and edition of anthologies do a really important job.

    So, congratulations to the both of you :-)

    1. Codony,

      Thank you for your kind words. And I'm pleased to hear that Odo's review of Alien Contact was the motivation behind your wanting to read the book.

      Witpunk was published in 2003 by Four Walls Eight Windows, an independent press that is now defunct, but I have seen copies of the book available online. My co-editor and I hassled with the publisher over a subtitle for the book for at least three or more days until we finally came to an agreement. Then, when the book was published, Claude and I discovered that the publisher decided not to include the subtitle after all, on the suggestion of one of his marketing people. The subtitle should have read: "Stories with Attitude."

      On your last point, I used to subscribe to nearly every major science fiction and fantasy magazine, and would read them cover to cover each month -- but it became too overwhelming. I would spend all of my reading time on magazines and never had time for novels. Now, of course, with my editing responsibility, I rarely have time to read stories or novels for pleasure: everything is work, work, work! Reprint anthologies, like Alien Contact, have become popular simply because readers can't afford all the magazines, or don't have time to read all the magazines, etc. -- and the editors do a lot of the upfront work for you by selecting some of the best stories.

      Marty Halpern

    2. I subscribe to a lot of magazines (Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Asimov's, F&SF, Fireside, Bullspec...) and I find it increasingly difficult to read them all... Thus, I also find reprint anthologies extremely useful (especially when the selection of stories is as good as in Alien Contact)

  2. Great interview and one of the best that I have read lately. I would like to ask Mr. Alpern what were the criteria to include a story in the anthology? Thanks for all the hard work in favor os sci-fi!

    1. Hi, Cristina,

      I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. It's always difficult to know what to say in response to a question: I want to provide an intelligent answer without boring the readers!

      As to my criteria for selecting a story, I don't have any kind of a list, if that's what you mean. As a fan of "alien contact" stories, I've had my favorites throughout the years, and when the Night Shade Books agreed to publish this anthology, I immediately went after those favorite stories. And a number of those fave stories were also by my favorite authors, as well (e.g. Pat Cadigan, Jeffrey Ford, and George Alec Effinger, to name only three). I had also requested suggestions for stories from readers of my blog, from the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.written, and from a number of authors whom I know personally. And then I just read stories, and read more stories, and reread a lot of those. I considered the type of alien contact in each story, the tone of each story, the point of view, the length, etc. You might like to read a guest blog post I did for The Mad Hatter's Book Review blog on how I put together the story order.

      All best,
      Marty Halpern

    2. The post on story order is extremely interesting. I think that beginning the anthology with "The Tought War" and ending it with "Last Contact" was, indeed, an excellent choice.

  3. Thanks! Glad you liked the interview!