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Guest Editorial

A Major Milestone and Places We've Been

by Stanley Schmidt

This issue marks a major milestone for Analog Science Fiction and Fact: its ninetieth (yes, 90th!) anniversary. One of the ways Trevor Quachri (only its sixth editor, in all that time) wants to celebrate that accomplishment is by reprinting, over the course of the anniversary year, a selection of stories representing what the magazine was doing in most of its decades of existence.

Don’t worry; he knows you read Analog primarily for new, forward-looking, thought-provoking stories and articles. That’s not going to change; these reprints will be only for the duration of the anniversary, and there will only be one per issue.

And they will be rewarding reading in their own right. The plan is this: for each decade represented, Trevor is asking one person with a close relationship with the magazine, and an intimate familiarity with that decade of its history, to pick one story to bring back. Roughly speaking, that’s one story out of 600 to 1000—so we’re going to be very selective. Each of us is going to pick something that made a powerful impression on us and/or the readers. Depending on how long you’ve been reading the magazine, you may be rediscovering a treasure from your distant past, or discovering something eye-opening for the very first time.

If you’ve been doing the math, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that we have nine decades to cover but only six issues, and we’ve promised one “classic” per issue. What has to give? Trevor astutely observed that for many readers, stories since 2000 are likely to be too fresh in memory to warrant reprinting, and most of those from the 1930s don’t really reflect the character of the magazine for most of its history. So his plan is to cover the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

He kindly asked me to start things off with something from the ’90s. My first reaction was, “How can I pick a single story to represent a whole decade?” Even though what I could buy was only a small fraction of our submissions, I found so many really good stories that it seemed daunting to have to pick just one.

But it’s not quite as hard as it sounds. Once in a great while I came across a story that stood way out from the crowd, a story that hit me so hard that the moment of discovery etched itself deeply into my memory. I knew I could come up with at least one story like that from each of the three-plus decades when I edited Analog.

“The Astronaut from Wyoming” grabbed me as soon as I started reading it, and I knew I’d found something very special. I remember telling myself, and later my wife and colleagues at Analog, “You’ll be seeing this one on the award ballots.” I said it not as a speculation, but as a mere statement of fact—and I was right, even more right than I realized at the time.

For starters, as you well know, Analog has its own awards: the annual readers’ poll called The Analytical Laboratory (or AnLab). “Astronaut” not only placed first in the novella category for 1999, but did so with the highest score, and the biggest lead over its competition, of any story I can remember during my tenure.

Later it was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards, given respectively by the World Science Fiction Convention and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Still later it won the Seiun Award, presented at the 2007 World SF Convention in Yokohama, for Best Translated Short Fiction—not just best in a specific length range or a specific language, but the best shorter-than-novel-length fiction translated into Japanese from any other language. That’s quite a broad field.

Impressive stuff—but while it’s always gratifying, and an admirable accomplishment, to win (or even be nominated for) an award, awards aren’t the main reason most of us are in this business. We’re more likely to feel driven to write by an inner need to respond to things we see going on around us, and—for science fiction writers in particular—to things that strike us as likely to happen in the future. We want to entertain and move readers, and simultaneously to goad them into thinking about themselves and their universe and their possible futures in ways they might not have done before—whether to see a looming danger they might not have anticipated, or to hint at a way to build a better future.

Jerry and Adam did all those things here, and in the long run, for those who read their work that will be more important than what awards they did or didn’t win. Which leads us to another reason “Astronaut” is a particularly appropriate story to represent the ’90s, because it’s haunted from beginning to end by a subtly sinister danger that was starting to become all too prevalent then. Both Jerry and Adam recognized that and were deeply concerned about it even though they’re quite different people from quite different backgrounds.

Adam once claimed, in the introduction to another reprinting of this story, that he and Jerry have almost nothing in common, even though they’re very good friends. Jerry (like Alexander Drier) grew up in Wyoming and knows the place intimately. He loves wilderness, hiking, camping, fishing, and has acquired (and professionally practiced) a wide range of skills using both mind and hands: writing, gardening, editing, masonry, publishing, forestry, the care and feeding of computers, carpentry, printing, and most recently astronomy and telescope-making. (He writes a column for a major astronomy magazine and is the inventor of the trackball telescope, a very clever design that he deliberately released into public domain so that anybody could use it without the hassle of patents.) He has also been an oilfield worker, radio deejay, and garbage truck driver. He thinks like both a scientist and an engineer, is a humanist and all-around nice guy, and his characters tend to be as likable as he is.

Adam, in contrast, is much more likable than many of his characters, some of whom he frankly and cheerfully describes as “monsters.” Some of his stories are very dark indeed—but others are just plain silly, strange, playful, and a lot of fun. Whereas Jerry thrives in wilderness, Adam favors big cities and the attractions and conveniences they offer. Wherever he is, Jerry can and often does fix just about anything; Adam would rather hire a pro to do it.

Different as their mindsets and backgrounds are, they were both seriously bothered by the subtly sinister danger I mentioned a while back—enough so to converge on a story in which it figures prominently. What is that danger? I’m not going to tell you; when you read their story, you’ll know. But perhaps I should first hasten to reassure you that the story is a story, not a stuffy polemic about somebody’s pet belief.

You might be interested in some curiosities about how that story came to be. Jerry, you may recall, was born, grew up, and spent much of his life in rural Wyoming. Adam has spent a large part of his, including the most recent part, in urban Florida. So obviously, you might think, Jerry must have written the parts of “Astronaut” set in Wyoming, and Adam the parts set in Florida. Right?

Wrong. The truth, to the extent that any part of the story can be attributed solely to either author, is exactly the opposite: Adam wrote the Wyoming parts and Jerry the Florida parts. The reason, as they tell it, is that Jerry had more familiarity with space travel in general and the U.S. space program in particular, and more experience in writing about it. And it was appropriate that Adam take the lead on the parts about Alexander Drier’s formative years, for it was he who “conceived” Alexander, bouncing the “What if?” off Jerry at the 1997 World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas.

None of this is to say, of course, that the story is a structure of building blocks where Adam wrote this one, Jerry wrote that one, and then they stuck them together. It’s true that they initially divided up sections, with Jerry writing some of the first drafts and Adam writing others. But then they both went over every bit of it, separately and together, tweaking their own work and each other’s, sanding the seams and polishing the whole, till nobody else could see the seams at all.

The result is what you see before you. Collaborations come in all shapes and sizes; some come easily to the authors, and others involve considerable gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. All that matters to the reader is the end result, and I think you’ll find “The Astronaut from Wyoming” is one of the smoothest and most satisfying you’ll ever see. Many readers consider Alex Drier one of the most unforgettable people they’ve ever met, either in fiction or in reality, and I suspect you will too, if you’re meeting him for the first time. If you’ve already made his acquaintance before, I think you’ll welcome the chance to renew it now.

As for that subtly sinister danger I’ve mentioned a couple of times . . .

It made this story all too timely when it first appeared. I’m sorry to say that it’s even more so now, but the story just may do its part to help us get past the hazards.

 

Copyright © 2019 Stanley Schmidt

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