Author and former Analog editor Ben Bova passed away on November 29, 2020, of COVID-related pneumonia and a stroke.
I only met Ben once or twice, but he had an impact on me far beyond those few in-person meetings would suggest. Ben’s “Orion” books were some of the first “proper” science fiction I read as a boy, and I worked backward, reading back-issues of OMNI before I eventually found Analog, where Ben had been a trailblazer. He quickly made the magazine his own, with bold fiction choices and erudite editorials. Even today, my own editorial style flows directly from his (passing through Stan Schmidt along the way).
He will be missed, but his influence is still plain to see in every issue of Analog.
BEN AND ME
Ben Bova was a man whose existence came as a great personal relief to me, and whose passing was an occasion for great sadness.
When John W. Campbell, his predecessor as editor of Analog, died after buying a few stories from me, I wondered what would happen to the only SF magazine I had liked consistently enough to subscribe to—and to my own barely launched career. When I heard that Ben had been hired to replace him, I recognized his name from a few bylines in Analog, but didn’t really know what to expect. I needn’t have worried. Not only did he preserve the magazine’s strengths and special character, but he kept it growing in new directions.
And he kept buying my stories, and encouraged me to try new things. Having already learned the value of face-to-face interaction between author and editor, I made it a point to meet him at the first opportunity. Much younger than John, he also liked kicking ideas back and forth, though in a more relaxed way, and he liked cultivating new writers. I saw him as often as possible, in the Analog office and at conventions, and always enjoyed our conversations. He provided big boosts with few words, like encouraging me to write my first novel, for serialization, at a time when I assumed nobody would be interested in such a big project from me.
He had little use for heavy-handed editing. “We buy stories we like,” he said, “and we publish them.” If he didn’t like a story well enough to publish it, he’d tell the author why and encourage him or her to find a way to fix the problem. But he wouldn’t rewrite extensively. “Editors,” he also liked to say, “edit in inverse proportion to their ability to write.”
That wasn’t a problem for Ben. He edited with a light but disproportionately effective touch, and he could write with the best of them. He produced a cornucopia of works both long and short, fiction and nonfiction, much of it highly successful with both readers and critics. He did this even during his relatively few years at the helm of Analog, and when he moved on to write full-time, we traded roles. Unlike some outgoing leaders, he made the transition as easy as possible. And after those years of my writing for him, he sold me quite a few stories for Analog. He was a kind of writer that every editor likes to work with. His prose was always so smooth and clean that it required very little effort on my part. And he had big, prescient ideas. His novel The Precipice was the first place I encountered the idea of the “greenhouse cliff” that now fills our daily news.
It’s hard to believe he’s gone. I’ll miss him.