Spinrad, Norman (Richard) 1940-
SPINRAD, Norman (Richard) 1940-
PERSONAL: Born September 15, 1940, in New York, NY; son of Morris and Ray (Greenhut) Spinrad. Education: City College of the City University of New York, B.S., 1961. Politics: "Independent Conservative Radical."
ADDRESSES: Agent—Russel Galen, Scoville Chichak Galen, 381 Park Aveue South, New York, NY 10016.
CAREER: Writer, 1963—. Worked as a sandalmaker, welfare investigator, and radio talk show host; Scott Meredith Literary Agency, New York, NY, literary agent, 1965-66. Performed as guest singer on albums inspired by his works with group Heldon.
MEMBER: Writers Guild of America, Science Fiction Writers of America (vice president, 1972-74; president, 1980-81, 2001; western regional director).
AWARDS, HONORS: Hugo Award nominations, World Science Fiction Society, 1968, for teleplay "The Doomsday Machine," 1970, for Bug Jack Barron, and 1975, for "Riding the Torch"; Nebula Award nominations, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1969, for "The Big Flash" and Bug Jack Barron, 1972, for The Iron Dream, and 1984, for The Void Captain's Tale; Association of American Publishers, National Book Award nomination, 1973, for The Iron Dream, and American Book Award nomination, 1980, for The StarSpangled Future; Prix Apollo, 1974, for The Iron Dream; Jupiter Award for best science fiction novella, 1975, for "Riding the Torch"; Career Achievement Award, Utopia Congress, 2003.
SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS
The Solarians, Paperback Library (New York, NY), 1966.
Agent of Chaos, Belmont Books (New York, NY), 1967, introduction by Barry Malzberg, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1988, e-book edition, Pulpless. com (Mill Valley, CA), 1999.
The Men in the Jungle, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
Bug Jack Barron, Walker Co. (New York, NY), 1969.
The Iron Dream, Avon (New York, NY), 1972, published with a new introduction by Theodore Sturgeon, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1977.
Riding the Torch (short novel), bound with Destiny Times Three, by Fritz Leiber, Dell (New York, NY), 1978, published separately, Bluejay (New York, NY), 1984.
A World Between, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1979.
Songs from the Stars, Simon Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
The Void Captain's Tale, Timescape Books (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Orb (New York, NY), 2001.
Child of Fortune, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Little Heroes, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Russian Spring, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
Deus (short novel; also see below), Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Vampire Junkies (short novel), Gryphon (Brooklyn, NY), 1994.
Pictures at Eleven, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Journals of the Plague Years (short novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.
Greenhouse Summer, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
He Walked among Us, Heyne Verlag (Germany), 2002, e-book version, eReads.com, 2003.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde (short stories), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.
No Direction Home: An Anthology of Science-Fiction Stories (includes "The Big Flash"), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1975.
The Star Spangled Future (short stories), Ace (New York, NY), 1979.
Other Americas (four novellas), Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
"The Doomsday Machine" (teleplay; episode of Star Trek series), National Broadcasting Co. (NBC-TV)/Paramount, 1967.
"Tag Team" (teleplay; episode of Land of the Lost), NBC-TV, 1974.
(With others) Vercingètorix (screenplay; also see below; released as Druids in Canada), [France], 2001.
(With others) La sirène rouge (screenplay; released as The Red Siren), [France] 2002.
Fragments of America (commentary), Now Library Press, 1970.
(Editor, author of introduction, and contributor) The New Tomorrows, Belmont Books (New York, NY), 1971.
(Editor, author of introduction, and contributor) Modern Science Fiction, Anchor Press, 1974.
Staying Alive: A Writer's Guide, Donning (Norfolk, VA), 1983.
Science Fiction in the Real World, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1990.
Passing through the Flame: The Last Hollywood Novel, Berkley (New York, NY), 1975.
The Mind Game, Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
The Children of Hamlin, Tafford, 1991.
Deus X and Other Stories, Fivestar (Waterville, ME), 2003.
The Druid King (loosely based on the screenplay for Vercingètorix), Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Mexica, Little, Brown (UK), 2005.
Author of weekly column on politics for Los Angeles Free Press, 1970-71; author of monthly column on writing and publishing for Locus, 1979-85. Author of review column for Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Contributor to numerous science fiction anthologies and books about science fiction, including SF: The Other Side of Realism, edited by Thomas D. Clareson, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1971; Threads of Time: Three Original Novellas of Science Fiction, edited by Robert Silverberg, Thomas Nelson, 1974; Experiment Perilous: Three Essays on Science Fiction, edited by Andrew Porter, Algol Press, 1976; and The Craft of Science Fiction, edited by Reginald Bretnor, Harper, 1976. Contributor of political and social essays to Knight magazine, of film criticism to Los Angeles Free Press, Cinema, and Staff, and of fiction to Playboy, New Worlds, Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, and other periodicals. Author of lyrics and performer, with others, of songs for Heldon album Only Chaos Is Real, 2000.
Spinrad's books have been translated into several languages, including French, Italian, and German.
ADAPTATIONS: The film rights to Bug Jack Barron were purchased by Universal.
SIDELIGHTS: As a member of the science fiction new wave of the 1960s and more recently as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, Norman Spinrad has campaigned for a new acceptance of the genre and its writers. He once suggested in a CA interview that the emergence of science fiction in pulp magazines and its subsequent categorization as popular culture has proven a barrier to its consideration as serious literature. Critics and innovators have emerged to broaden the scope of the genre, but as Spinrad explained to Robert Dahlin in a Publishers Weekly interview, categorization persists because it serves the interests of publishers. "These categories are a publisher's trip," he said. "What I'd like to do, but can't in this country, is just have my books published as books."
Added to the struggle for acceptance, Spinrad noted in his contribution to SF: The Other Side of Realism, the science fiction writer faces creative challenges. The science fiction novelist "must not only create characters, theme, forces of destiny and plot but (unlike the mainstream novelist) must create from scratch a universe entire in which character, plot and destiny interact with each other and with the postulated environment." This, in turn, presents technical obstacles, he points out. "While one is in the process of creating in detail the sf context, the characters and plot hang in limbo; while one is advancing plot and characterization, one's grip on one's created universe tends to loosen." Yet, as the author indicated in Modern Science Fiction, science fiction is "the only fiction that deals with modern reality in the only way that it can be comprehended—as the interface between a rapidly evolving and fissioning environment and the resultant continuously mutating human consciousness."
"Science fiction, for me, is relating the total external environment to the inner psyche, something I find missing in many contemporary books," he told Dahlin. "The media, technology, politics—all these are part of us, and what I care about is the way people are changed by external means." Spinrad's first three novels, The Solarians, Agent of Chaos, and The Men in the Jungle, as well as his short fiction of this period, show a progression away from traditional science-fiction forms and concerns toward the external/internal approach and an awareness of contemporary issues. According to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Ina Rae Hark, a recurring theme in much of this early fiction is one in which "a home world that seems a source of security and power must by willingly or unwillingly sacrificed in order to liberate human potential, thus enabling men to rise from its ashes and conquer the stars."
With his fourth novel, Bug Jack Barron, Spinrad separated himself from pulp science fiction forever. The host of a popular weekly phone-in television show set in the near future, Jack Barron has made his reputation by placing viewers, who call in their complaints on videophones, face to face with their alleged offender for a nationally televised debate of the issue. One phoned-in tip puts the television muckraker on the trail of a millionaire scheming to control cryogenic operations and research into immortality. In order to expose the hideous side of the millionaire's obsession, Barron must first free himself from the seduction of the immortality offered him as a bribe. In this book, Spinrad scrutinizes the powerful, noted a Times Literary Supplement contributor, especially those outside politics; he "writes about two of the most potentially dangerous elites: the super-television inquisitors and the men with the scientific power to control and extend human life for ever." Locating the book along the science-fiction spectrum, Hark wrote in her Dictionary of Literary Biography article that "besides its lack of traditional pulp accessories, Bug Jack Barron leans toward the New Wave by including elements traditionally foreign to the science-fiction genre: an experimental, stream-of-consciousness style . . . abundant obscenity, and explicitly detailed sexual encounters." In the larger framework of contemporary fiction, "Bug Jack Barron remains a novel of considerable strengths and considerable flaws," commented Hark. "Most of its faults stem from the 'wicked mad businessman' plot, most of the strengths from the sociological observations for whose expression the plot provides a framework." The Times Literary Supplement contributor concluded, "Spinrad writes with verve and has a lively ear for current idiom. His 'political science fiction' has a deadly plausibility."
Spinrad's The Iron Dream, an alternate history, presents itself as the second edition of the book, Lord of the Swastika, complete with an informative introduction and a scholarly afterword. This fictitious science-fiction classic from the 1950s was written by the illustrator and Hugo award-winning science-fiction writer Adolf Hitler, who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1919. "Spinrad's craft is sure and imaginative," observed Albert I. Berger in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review. "He makes astonishingly good and thoroughly logical and consistent use of an old science fiction device, the parallel time-track, to examine the individual and mass psychology of fascism." Hark commented, "Lord of the Swastika is a very badly written sword-and-sorcery opus, full of nauseating battles and grotesque and obsessive phallic and scatological imagery," She continued, "The book mythopoeticizes Hitler's actual rise to power, with the military victory he would have desired substituting for the actual course of World War II." Hall added that The Iron Dream "is, despite being a rather unpleasant reading experience, far and away Spinrad's best novel because its format emphasizes his virtues as an ironist and social moralist and minimizes—even uses to advantage—his weaknesses as a stylist and plot constructor."
H. Bruce Franklin, in his review for the Washington Post Book World, proclaimed that, "at the very least, The Iron Dream must be admired as a remarkable tour de force, a dazzling display of ingenuity and originality. . . . But it is much more than that, for it forces us to confront elements of fascism within our own culture, low and high." As Berger noted, "The forword . . . nicely ties Spinrad's examination of Nazism to contemporary popular culture." Franklin agreed, writing that "we recognize the similarities between [the protagonist's] brutal omnipotent maleness and the diseased fantasies of both fascism and the latest sword-and-sorcery epics." As Berger noted, "the afterword similarly skewers the easy academic acceptance of fundamentally barbaric principles if they can be made to fit preconceived notions or anti-communist cant," and concluded: "as a thoughtful, incisive satire on the roots of fascism and an example of the thoroughgoing fashion in which Spinrad maintains the internal logic of his parallel time-track to serve his ends, The Iron Dream belongs in any serious science fiction collection."
Two of Spinrad's novels from the 1980s, The Void Captain's Tale and Child of Fortune—both set in a far-future universe filled with exotic and distant worlds made closer by an erotic form of space travel—received considerable attention. "Spinrad's ingenious space-drive," explained Theodore Sturgeon in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "has the ship's machine create a field . . . which at peak and at captain's command melds with the pilot's psyche, causing the ship to cease to exist in one spatial locus and reappear in another." The captain of the first book tells the story of his forbidden relationship with his ship's Void Pilot, the woman whose special training facilitates the hyperspace jumps—jumps during which she experiences transcendent orgasm, unity with the cosmos. Drawn by her desire to remain in this higher state, the Void Pilot proposes to her captain that he commit her to the hyperspace jump forever. To do so, however, he must sacrifice himself, his crew, and passengers. As Sturgeon pointed out, the captain comes to a "slow realization, and ultimate conviction, that there may be a value in the release of a single human being into a higher consciousness far greater than the worth of any number of . . . people." The reviewer, himself a well-known science-fiction writer, wrote that "what makes this book important . . . is its demand that our most deeply conditioned ethics be examined as freely—as meticulously and courageously—as anything else." In The Void Captain's Tale, wrote Howard Waldrop in the Washington Post Book World, "Spinrad has written a . . . book, dark and somber in tone, subject matter and method." Waldrop continued, "he has come up with an idea, a style and a narrative that perfectly fits his talent." The book generated some controversy because of its eroticism and some criticism of Spinrad's future language. Yet, as Gerald Jonas concluded in the New York Times Book Review, "Spinrad, like his characters, takes great risks; the rewards for readers willing to meet him halfway are commensurate."
Child of Fortune is the story of a flower child of the future who sets out on a journey of self-discovery that takes her to many of the exotic worlds of Spinrad's future universe; one is a garden of pleasures from which no one has ever returned. "How the heroine regains her freedom—and discovers her true calling—by wielding the peculiarly human weapon of speech—is the core of the story," observed Jonas in another New York Times Book Review article. Though he faulted Spinrad's future language, Toronto Globe and Mail contributor H. J. Kirchhoff found this novel "complex, colorful, zesty and bawdy. The characters are drawn in such depth that it is hard not to empathize with them, and the settings are flamboyant, even sensational." Gary K. Wolfe in Fantasy Review wrote, "Despite echoes of Cordwainer Smith—as well as Henry Miller, Baudelaire, and perhaps even Octave Mirbeau—Child of Fortune is a highly original work and one of considerable merit. . . . I hope the book achieves the audience it deserves."
In the 1990s Spinrad continued to publish novels at an undiminished rate. Russian Spring, set in the twenty-first century, relates the story of two generations of a family over a thirty-year period. The book opens on a world in which the United States has remained a military power but has incurred a heavy national debt while becoming increasingly isolationist and hostile in its foreign policy. Would-be astronaut Jerry Reed must travel to Common Europe, the only place where space exploration is being planned, in an attempt to fulfill his ambitions. In Paris he meets and falls in love with Soviet career bureaucrat Sonya Gagarin.
Once the couple are married, Spinrad's narrative leaps twenty years into the future. While Jerry's plans for a career in space have been foiled by a pervasive anti-Americanism, Sonya's career has steadily progressed. The couple now have two children, daughter Franja, who has inherited her father's space wanderlust, and son Bob, who is enamored by a vision of America as it once existed in the twentieth century. After Franja enrolls in a Russian space academy and Bob takes off to discover the current state of the United States, the story takes another ten-year jump into the future.
Commenting on the resolution of the novel, a Publishers Weekly reviewer observed: "A series of odd, occasionally tragic events brings the family (and the world) together. . . . Spinrad gives us a wild, exhilarating ride into the next century."
In The Children of Hamlin, also published in 1991, Spinrad presents a loosely autobiographical novel set in the 1960s counterculture of New York City. The action revolves around Tom Hollander, ex-junkie and a reader for a literary agency. Tom's best friends, a couple named Ted and Doris, are obsessed with therapy and consciousness expansion. He is torn between two lovers, the free-spirited drug-dealer Robin, and Arlene, a woman who is as obsessed with therapy as are Tom's friends. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted: "If this . . . novel . . . had been published . . . during the era that it reflects, it would have achieved cult status by now." The reviewer added: "The stumbling block here is the determined use of slang; overindulgence in such words as 'bummers' and 'groovies' quickly becomes tiresome."
Spinrad's Pictures at Eleven presents a thriller revolving around ecoterrorism. Radical environmental activists seize a television station in Los Angeles and negotiate with their hostages about program changes, including a show for terrorists. Spinrad puts a Hollywood agent in charge of the team of outside negotiators who are trying to gain the hostages' freedom. D. A. Ball, writing in Entertainment Weekly, found the idea for the book to be "brilliant . . . unbelievably interesting," but also felt that Spinrad's execution fails to realize the promise in that idea. "Spinrad writes with an outsider's notion of police procedure, the news media, and hostage behavior," Ball stated. In direct contrast, Dennis Winters of Booklist found the novelist's plot "tired and hackneyed," but concluded: "Along the way, Spinrad gets beyond the cliched faces of his characters and even beyond the conventionally unconventional faces behind them. The characters turn into real people, able to carry the action where it's going. Spinrad has shown his mastery of this genre as well as his preferred haunts along its edges yet again."
Pictures at Eleven did not do as well in sales as Spinrad's publisher, Bantam, hoped, and they consequently dropped what was to have been Spinrad's next book from their publishing schedule. After a battle to win the rights back, Spinrad took the novel, He Walked among Us to a German publisher, but only after making news for an offer he put on his Web site: he proclaimed he would sell the U.S. rights to publish the book for only one dollar. "The offer is his way of saying that the publishing industry, dominated as it is by conglomorates, is doing bad business by putting the bottom-line value of books above their literary value," explained Brad Spurgeon in his article for the International Herald Tribune.
Spinrad received letters from many authors who felt their novels had been treated unfairly by their publishers, and he began to feel as though he had become their spokesperson. The book was eventually released in the U.S. as an e-book from eReads.com, and is also available as a print-on-demand title from the publisher.
Spinrad, who had written for television shows such as Star Trek and Land of the Lost, began working in the movie industry with his work on the screenplay for the French movie Vercingètorix, a tale of the Gaul rebellion against the Roman Empire. The movie did poorly at the box office, and Spinrad was unhappy with the final version of the script. Over the next few years he reworked the tale, this time in novel form. The result is The Druid King, a novel of ancient Rome and the heroic leader who united the Gauls in a nearly successful bid to keep their own nation. In the novel, Vercingetorix is only a boy when his father is murdered for trying to unite all of Gaul. Raised in secret by druids and taught weaponry by an Amazon warrior, Vercingetorix is determined to avenge his father's death. When he returns home, he attracts the attention of Julius Caesar, who becomes his teacher—until Vercingetorix realizes Caesar's Rome was responsible for the plot to murder his father. He turns against Rome and begins to unite the people of Gaul to make a final stand against the empire. "Spinrad knows his way round Caesar's histories and rightly positions them as brilliant spin doctoring," complimented Roz Kaveney, writing for London's Independent, though the reviewer also found that the novel lacked a passion that would have given the story more depth. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the novel to be "sweeping but unremarkable," acknowledging that "it's a solid, intelligent effort." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews, however, found it "intriguing to see the anti-Roman side of things," and Margaret Flanagan in Booklist proclaimed that "Spinrad breathes new life into a mythical figure."
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY: Norman Spinrad contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
Although it presents certain technical difficulties, maybe you shouldn't write an autobiography until you are dead.
The story of a life, even if your own, published for the benefit of readers, becomes, well, a story. And true or not a good story requires, if not necessarily a traditional beginning, middle, and end, then at least certainly some sort of structure leading to a sense of satisfying resolution at the end of the reading experience.
But since I'm fifty-three years old as I write this, not exactly on the brink of retirement, I can hardly be expected to bring this story to a successful thematic closure in any of the usual manners.
Then too, while "write what you know about" may be the hoariest of literary maxims and autobiography seemingly the ideal exemplar thereof, upon a moment's uncomfortable reflection, maybe not.
Sure, you know the sequence of events better than you know anything else, but it's no easy task to negotiate the treacherous literary waters between the Scylla of the extended brag and the Charybdis of a deadly dull recitation of the complete bibliography and nothing more.
So what I've opted for here is a rather experimental form, itself perhaps a bit of autobiographical characterization, since fairly early on in my career I came to the realization that form should be chosen by the requirements of content. And this particular content certainly seems to call for something rather schizoid—a montage of split points of view, persons that is, in more than the usual technical sense.
So this autobiography is divided into three clearly labeled tracks.
"Continuity" is, as Sergeant Friday would have it, just the facts, Ma'am, written in third person as if "Norman Spinrad" were someone other than the author thereof.
"Flashbacks" are little novelistic bits and pieces designed to illumine some of the events of "Continuity" with some more intimate visions of what the character in question was thinking and feeling at the time.
"Frame" is what you are reading now—the author and the subject, the novelist and the literary critic, speaking to you and maybe myself as directly as I can manage under the circumstances, and trying to extract some overall meaning from it all.
Norman Spinrad was born in New York City, on September 15, 1940, the son of Morris and Ray Spinrad. Except for a brief period in Kingston, New York, he spent his entire childhood and adolescence residing with his parents and his sister Helene in various locations in the Bronx, where he attended Public School 87, Junior High Schools 113 and 22, and the Bronx High School of Science.
In 1957, he entered the College of the City of New York, from which he graduated in 1961 with a bachelor of science degree as a pre-law major.
I was a subway commuter as a college student, living in the family apartment in the Bronx, hanging out in Greenwich Village on the weekends.
My father, eldest son of a family of five, had never finished high school, having left to earn family bread, and only after serving as a medical corpsman in the navy during World War II did he realize that medicine would have been his calling, and by then it was much too late. Like many such children of the Great Depression, he wanted nothing more or less for his son than a secure professional career, ideally the one he wished he had been able to have.
So I was always under pressure, not just to perform academically, but to follow a path toward the bankable sciences. I passed the stiff entrance test for the Bronx High School of Science, graduated in 1957 at the age of sixteen, and, at the behest of my father, seeing as how medicine obviously actively turned me off, entered City College as an engineering major.
This lasted about a term and a half, terminated by my confrontation with the horrors of preelectronic-calculator calculus. Okay, said my dad, what about chemistry? You don't need so much math for that. So I became a chemistry major long enough to convince me that I had no genius for the subject and less interest in it as a life's work.
Okay, said my dad, with less enthusiasm, what about, uh, psychology? He seemed to view the vector from medicine to hard engineering through stinky liquids into the murk of the social sciences as a kind of intellectual slippery slope.
What did I want to do with my life at this point?
Hey, come on, I was about nineteen years old! Although it's common enough for one's parents and guidance counselors to demand that one get serious and make a commitment, it's both cruel and naive to suppose that a nineteen-year-old kid is intellectually or emotionally equipped to decide what he's going to do with the rest of his life. What did I want at this point?
I didn't really want to be in college at all. I didn't want to be living en famille in the Bronx until I graduated. What I wanted was la vie boheme in the Village.
What is included here and what is left out: Unless you've lived an extraordinarily dull and uneventful life under a bell jar with your typewriter, and I haven't, you will have broken hearts, had your own broken, and engaged in any number of acts sexual and otherwise that were politically incorrect at the time or, in hindsight, illegal, or even the sort of thing your older and wiser self may now find immoral.
Then too, my life has intersected, in various degrees of intimacy, the lives of many people of more than passing literary interests—Philip K. Dick, Timothy Leary, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, J. G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Frank Herbert, Michael Moorcock, to name a random sample of a long, long list.
Some of these luminaries were or are real friends, others acquaintances of one degree or another. I've written about many of them extensively in various places already, and so you must take my word for it that it's length limitations rather than ego that limits mention of them in this compass to the effect they may have had on my life or career.
I have been commissioned to write a short literary autobiography, and as I interpret that commission, this is supposed to be the story of Norman Spinrad the writer, not a juicy exposé of my private life, nor of the private lives of people who may have been involved with it.
However. . . .
However, there are times when such matters do impinge on what gets written, and I am trying to tell the true story to the best of my ability, so when they do, I guess I'm going to have to try to bite the bullet. . . .
The Village, circa 1959, pre-Beatles, the Beat Era. Coffee houses. Craft shops. Folk music. I remember seeing a fat-faced kid from Minnesota performing for free at a Monday amateur night at Gerde's Folk City. Name of Bob Dylan. A hot act was the Holy Modal Rounders, a bluegrass group which later metamorphosed into the Fugs. One of its members was Peter Stampfel, who is now a science-fiction editor at Daw Books. Another was Ed Sanders, who was to cover the Manson family trial in Los Angeles for the Free Press while I was writing for the same paper.
But in 1959 I never knew Sanders, and Stampfel, whom I did party with upon occasion, would not remember the me of that era. They were culture heroes, and I was just another day-tripping college kid.
Another culture hero of sorts in this space-time was Bruce Britton, proprietor of the Britton Leather Shop. Bruce was a famous sandalmaker. Bruce Britton was a charismatic party animal, and the Britton Leather Shop was a major party scene. When work was done (and sometimes when it wasn't), it became an open house, and also a place where you found out where the other parties were.
The Britton Leather Shop became my central weekend hangout, and Bruce became my friend, an older role model of sorts, and later one of the earliest patrons of my writing career.
But I didn't aspire to a writing career at that point. Truth be told, and my father not, I didn't aspire to a career at all. From his point of view, what I aspired to was quite appalling, namely, to spend all my time the way I spent my weekends—as, well, a beatnik in Greenwich Village.
Beatniks, even teenage wannabee beatniks living with their parents in the Bronx, did drugs. Mostly pot, which was readily available, but I was introduced to consciousness-altering chemicals with rather stronger stuff, namely peyote, which I experienced before I so much as puffed on a joint.
Ah yes, we've all committed our youthful indiscretions. Why, even President Clinton has copped to tasting the Devil's Weed, though since he didn't inhale, he didn't enjoy it. I, however, did inhale, and therefore did get off. Often. And to my creative advantage. Nor do I regret it.
If there's one gaping void in the story of American literary history in the second half of the twentieth century as currently promulgated, it's the influence of grass and psychedelic drugs, not only on the lives of writers, but on the content of what's been written, and on the form and style too. It's hard to be critically or biographically courageous when so much creative work was done under the influences of jailable offenses.
In the Beat Era, however, the literary culture heroes of bohemia—William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and company—were not only entirely up front about it, but openly advocated the chemical enhancement of consciousness as a literary, spiritual, and cultural virtue. And wrote much stylistically mighty work under the influence to prove it.
Even a mainstream literary lion like Norman Mailer wrote a famous essay called "The White Negro" extolling the "Hip" world of sex, dope, and transcendence over the "Square" workaday world of the Lonely Crowd, though elsewhere he was to correctly opine that writing final draft stoned was maybe not such a terrific idea.
I raise this issue now because I would be lying shamelessly if I denied that I was a devotee of this tradition or renounced herein my belief that on the whole a bit of grass and a more significant trip now and again is beneficial to the creative juices. Nor could the story of the sort of writer I became make much sense in the absence of its consideration.
Most writers of science fiction, at least prior to the New Wave of the 1960s, emerged as writers from a formative adolescence immersed in the hermetic subculture of "science fiction fandom," reading science fiction obsessively, attending science fiction conventions, as well as writing letters and articles in science fiction fanzines. SF fans even have an acronym for it, FIAWOL—Fandom Is A Way Of Life.
Not my teenage planet, Monkey Boy. I didn't even know that this subculture existed until after I had published about a dozen stories and a novel. Yes, I read a lot of sf—Sturgeon, Bester, Dick, Bradbury being early obsessions—but I was just as deeply into Mailer, Kerouac, William Burroughs, and their precursor, Henry Miller.
And theirs was the subculture I wanted to grow up to live in before I even had any serious thoughts about a writing career; the hip world of free love, pot, psychedelics, literary and personal transcendence—all that which, with the addition and via the medium of rock and roll, was to call into being the Counterculture half a decade later.
This was something I could hardly admit to my parents, the guidance counselor, or even quite to myself at the time. And at least being a psych major was something I found far more congenial than my previous provisional career choices.
However, two unpleasant academic satoris were to convince me that this was not to be my planet either.
I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a section in motivational psychology taught by Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, who, among other things, had written part of the brief in Brown versus Board of Education. There were no tests. You discussed texts that had been assigned for consideration in class and you wrote three papers, and Clark marked you on that.
At the beginning of the term you were handed a list of the books and papers that would be discussed. In addition to the expected scientific treatises, there was a five-foot shelf of novels, plays, and assorted literary works. How could anyone be expected to read through all that in a term? They couldn't. Clark believed that any college upper classman who hadn't already read most of this stuff didn't belong in a class on this level in the first place.
I loved this class. It was worth the price of admission. Clark was brilliant and witty and brought out the best in his students. The class was educational, but it was also a kind of high intellectual entertainment.
All during the term Clark complained of the conventionality of the papers students were turning in. Can't you give me something original?
I admired Clark greatly and for my final paper I determined to write something that would pay him back intellectually and knock him out of his socks in the bargain.
I had read my way through all Kerouac, Ginsberg and on into Herman Hesse, Alan Watts, and D. T. Suzuki, a common intellectual vector in my Village extracurricular circles, and so I knew quite a bit about Buddhism.
So I wrote a paper comparing Buddhism and Freudian theory as systems of psychology.
This is brilliant, fascinating, Dr. Clark told me after he had read it. I glowed.
"But I can only give you an A-."
He shrugged. "Because I don't know enough about Buddhism to judge whether you really know what you're talking about," he admitted.
And had not been willing to make the intellectual effort to acquire the necessary background.
Another required course that I had to do a term paper for was abnormal psychology. I suggested to the professor that I do it on the mental states induced by consumption of peyote. He seemed quite interested.
"But as far as I know, there's not much source material in the literature," he added dubiously.
"Don't need it," I assured him. "Not only do I have plenty of primary experimental subjects to interview, I have firsthand experience myself."
Did he gape at me as if I was some kind of crazed dope fiend?
That wasn't what made him refuse to consider the subject appropriate for a term paper in his course. If I could have rehashed secondary sources and studded the paper with appropriate footnotes, no problem. But original research in the form of direct reportage of the mental states in question was not academically acceptable.
In his senior year at CCNY, he took two courses in short story writing and made his first submissions to magazines. Having secured entry to Fordham University law school, he spent the summer of 1961 traveling in Mexico with friends.
By my senior year, all I really wanted was out—out of college, out of my parents' apartment, out from under their pressures and influences, out of the square world and into the hip.
But I still had it in my head that I had to get a degree to please my parents. By this time, I had changed my major so many times that the only way to graduate was to lump together what I had already taken with a few more random courses, call it a "pre-law major," and bullshit it past the guidance counselors by being admitted to law school.
One course I took in short story writing was formative. It was taught by a writer named Irwin Stark who had sold fiction to magazines and had not lost the habit of submitting. Stark, like Clark, bitched about the conventionality of what the students were writing, and I took another shot at taking a teacher at his word.
I wrote a story called "Not with a Bang," in which a couple finds true love screwing in a bathtub full of chocolate syrup during a nuclear apocalypse, good enough to eventually sell to a low-grade men's magazine about a decade later.
The look that Stark gave me when he handed back that week's assignment was choice.
"I can't have you read a thing like that in class," he told me in his office later.
"Why don't you submit it to Playboy?"
"Playboy. . . . "
"Yeah, it's a long shot, but they're the top market, and if you start at the top and work down, you can take the first offer you get for a story and know it's the best you can do."
And he told me how to submit stories to magazines: stick them in an envelope with a cover letter and a self-addressed, stamped return envelope, and drop 'em in a mailbox. If you get a check, cash it before it bounces. If you get a rejection, submit it to the next best market.
I submitted "Not with a Bang" to Playboy. They didn't buy it, so I sent it elsewhere. And elsewhere. And wrote some more stories. And started submitting them.
And that's how I became a writer. Not yet a published writer, that was about three years in the future, but by the time I graduated from CCNY, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and how one went about doing it. You write 'em, you drop 'em in the mail, you wait.
Best advice I ever had. Best advice any would-be writer can ever get. It's ultimately all you need to know. The Big Secret is that there is no Big Secret. It drives me crazy how many wannabee writers just won't believe it.
Upon returning to New York, he decided not to attend law school but to pursue a writing career instead. He rented a cheap apartment in the East Village, secured part-time employment in a friend's leather shop, wrote a first novel which has never been published and about a dozen short stories, finally making his first sale to Analog in 1962. The story, "The Last of the Romany," was published in 1963.
Actually, the thought of entering law school in the fall of 1961 was filling me with nauseous dread before I even graduated. By this time I knew I wanted to be a writer, but what I lacked was any notion of how to support myself while doing it, plus the courage to make such a beatnik move sure to outrage my parents. The road trip to Mexico in a rotten old car (never buy a car from a relative!) with two college friends, Marty Mach and Bob Denberg, was part temporary escape from this dilemma, part personal vision quest, part hopeful emulation of Huck Finn and Kerouac.
When we finally managed to coax the wretched clunker back to New York after an exhaustive education in automotive Spanish, the Greenwich Village outdoor Arts and Craft Show was in full swing. One weekend afternoon, I took over the Britton Leather Shop's table as relief for an hour and moved two hundred dollars worth of goods, about what they had done all week.
Bingo! I had a part-time job. Bruce Britton, and later his partner and successor at the leather shop, Ken Martin, supported my writing ambition and more or less let me make my own hours. And my own wage, since what they were paying me was a commission on sales.
I found a foul little apartment in the East Village that I could rent for $36 a month, meaning, what with food and utilities, I could survive on about $120 a month, and in a good week I could make $40 at the leathershop working twenty hours.
I could survive, more or less, as a would-be writer.
My naivete was total. I knew no other writers, I hadn't published a thing, and my brilliant notion was that I would support myself writing short stories while working on my first novel. I wrote an unpublishable novel, which, years later, I was to some extent cannibalize in the writing of Bug Jack Barron. I wrote stories and sent them off to magazines, mostly science-fiction magazines.
When I finished the novel, I knew nothing better to do with it than pay my thirty-five dollars to have it "evaluated for the market" by the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, who advertised this service in various magazines. They rejected it, as they did 99 percent of such fee submissions, as I was soon to learn in another incarnation, but the "agent" who wrote the rejection letter over Scott Meredith's signature met me in secret, praised my talent, and wised me up to the SMLA fee-reading scam, strongly suggesting that I not waste my money on it again.
Nor had I sold anything. And the final turn of the screw was that Analog had been sitting on "The Last of the Romany" for an unconscionable six months.
What I didn't know was that the reason for the delay was that John W. Campbell, Jr., the legendary editor thereof, had discovered the lion's share of the major science-fiction writers of the last quarter century or so by the tedious and time-consuming process of reading his entire slush pile himself.
Needless to say, when his acceptance letter arrived in the mail, all was forgiven.
He sold several more short stories during the next year or so, on the strength of which he secured a professional agent, the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.
I had been dead broke before I sold a novelette to Campbell for the princely sum of $450, so broke that I had taken a job as a welfare investigator in Bedford-Stuyvesant for a month to keep me going.
When I made my third magazine sale, I wrote a letter to Scott Meredith, the only agent I knew, and was accepted as a client on a professional basis.
Meanwhile, an ulcer I had developed under the pressure of adolescent angst, and no doubt exacerbated by eating all that cheap hot stuff in Mexico, landed me in a hospital for an operation. The operation was successful, but the patient should have died. They screwed up bad and infected me with something called toxic hepatitis, supposedly universally fatal. I ran a fever of about 106 degrees for days. I lost about twenty-five pounds. I survived. Still running a fever and looking like death warmed over but not by much, I took a cab directly to the draft board and got myself reclassified 4-F so it wouldn't be a total loss.
A prolonged ultra-high fever, aside from usually being fatal, makes a 1,000-mile acid trip seem like a warm glass of 3.2 beer. I was not only hallucinating, I had . . . Powers.
Laboring under the hallucinatory delusion that I was being tortured for secret rocket fuel information by spies, I had the hysterical strength to snap the bandages tying me to my deathbed, yank out the IV's, and hold off a squad of interns while I used another Power on the bedside telephone.
It was the wee hours of the morning. The hospital staff must've thought I was raving into a dead phone; understandable, considering what they were hearing on my end.
Somehow I had fixated on the name of what turned out to be a real air force general. I got an outside line. I got a long distance operator. I made a collect long distance call to said general at the Pentagon. He had long since gone home to bed. I did . . . a thing. I ordered the Pentagon switchboard to patch me through to his home phone, validating it with a blather of letters and numbers that was my top secret command override code. They did it. A bleary general's voice came on the line.
I started babbling about spies, rocket fuels, send a rescue squad to—"Huh—? What the—?"
At which point, the interns jumped me from behind and hung up the phone on the sucker.
By the next morning, my fever had broken.
And the hospital had some tall explaining to do when the Pentagon traced the call back.
Qué pasa? I've contemplated that question ever since, my best take being the story "Carcinoma Angeles," a literary breakthrough for me that I wrote about three years later, and which, long after that, seems to have been picked up by a doctor in Texas as a treatment for cancer.
As on an acid trip, only more so, I think the fever warped me into a metaphorical reality in which the disease ravaging my body was transmogrified into a paranoid image system overlaid on actual real-world events. By giving that story the ending I wanted, by actually waking up the general, I somehow was able to triumph over the infection for which the whole thing was metaphor.
Unless you've got a better explanation.
The facts are that I survived a fatal disease, that this experience, whatever it was, later was the impetus for the story that was the real take-off point for the writer that I was to become, and I don't think I was the same person afterward.
SMLA made no sales for him during the six months, and he was economically constrained to seek full-time employment.
He answered an ad in the New York Times offering an entry-level position as an editor. When he took the test for the job at the employment agency, he realized that the prospective employer was his own literary agent, Scott Meredith. Armed with this knowledge, he did very well on the test and was tentatively offered the position by the employment agency.
As a client, I had never even met Scott Meredith. When I showed up in the office as a job applicant, he was nonplussed. Many writers who later became clients had worked for him, but Scott had never hired one of his own writers through the employment agency cattle call and didn't want to do it.
"What do you mean, you won't hire me?" I demanded. "The only reason I need this damn job in the first place is because you haven't sold a thing for me in six months!"
Having never confronted this argument either, Scott relented. Voila, the twenty-four-year-old kid whose own stuff wasn't selling had a job anonymously representing a list of something like a hundred established writers, some of them, like Philip K. Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, Frank Herbert, John Brunner, and Jack Vance, among others, literary idols of mine at the time, and people who were later to become my friends.
The pro desk at SMLA was an excruciating experience. Scott Meredith was a genius at squeezing work out of his peons by force of paranoid pressure, and after a full day's work writing letters under his name to authors, sometimes typing them over and over again until he was satisfied, you had to read manuscripts on your own time at home. It was like being back in school. It was nearly impossible to get anything of my own written. And there I was, agenting stories and novels anonymously for the very writers whose illustrious company I longed to join myself!
On the other hand, it was a crash course in the realities of publishing from the inside out, and the bottom up. By the time I was twenty-five, I had more publishing street smarts than venerable greats twice my age, and before I was thirty found myself playing the strange role of career advisor, father-figure even, to my own literary idols, like Theodore Sturgeon and Philip K. Dick.
While working at SMLA in various capacities from 1964 to 1966, he continued to write stories, some of which sold, and completed The Solarians, his first published novel, which appeared in 1966.
I have always been a lousy typist, and, in the end, I simply couldn't keep up with the workload on an SMLA pro desk. Scott fired me. He then rehired me for a part-time job supervising the fee-reading operation, where piece-work editors wrote letters of criticism on submissions from amateurs for a fee.
Somewhat morally ambiguous maybe, but I had time and energy to write my own stuff again. Stories sold, including one to Playboy: "Deathwatch." I wrote a space opera, The Solarians, which SMLA sold to Paperback Library for $1,250.
After I left the Meredith agency for good, I never held another job and, for better or worse, sometimes much worse, have survived on my writing ever since.
And though I seriously suspect that years later Scott Meredith was responsible for the non-publication of The Children of Hamelin, I doubt whether I would be saying that now, if it wasn't for the education I got in his rough school of hard publishing knocks.
In 1966, he decided to move to San Francisco. He gave up his East Village apartment and his by-then part-time work at the Meredith agency, bought a $300 Rambler, loaded his worldly goods in it, and set out for California.
Bruce Britton and his wife, Marilyn, had moved to San Francisco in the train of their psychotherapy guru (a story that was to be an inspiration for a part of The Children of Hamelin), somehow bringing a curtain down on part of my life. But it also meant I now had friends in California.
And California, San Francisco in particular, for me like so many others, was the mythical Golden West toward which Young Men were supposed to go, the land with no winter, North Beach, the Sunset end of the Road, the object of a thousand and one vision quests, the Future itself, somehow, the glorious leap into the Great Unknown.
Appropriately enough, Frank Herbert and about three hundred milligrams of mescaline sent me on my way.
Walking west through the Village night on Fourth Street, peaking on mescaline after reading the final installment of the magazine serialization of Dune—a powerful meditation on space-time, precognition, and destiny soon to launch a hundred thousand trips—I had a flash-forward of my own.
I would be a famous science-fiction writer; I would publish many stories and novels, and many of the people who were my literary idols, inspirations, and role models, and former clients, people I had never met, would come to accept me as their equal, as their ally, as their friend.
And my life's mission would be to take this commercial science-fiction genre and turn it into something else somehow, write works that transcended its commercial parameters, works that could aspire to the literary company of Burroughs and Mailer and Kerouac, that would help to open a new Way. . . .
This is what you're here for. This is why you passed through the fever's fire and didn't die in that hospital bed. This is what you must do. You must go West to meet your future.
The mescaline talking? An overdose of twenty-five-year-old ego? A stoned-out ego-tripping wish-fulfillment fantasy?
Call it what you will.
Everything I saw in that timeless Einsteinian moment would come to pass.
On the way to San Francisco, he attended the Milford Science-Fiction Writers' Conference in Milford, Pennsylvania, to which he had been invited by the organizer, Damon Knight.
Damon Knight had invited me on the basis of "The Equalizer," a story I published in Analog. The only other science fiction writers I had met before had been Terry Carr and Barry Malzberg, fellow SMLA wage-slaves, and suddenly there I was in Damon's huge crumbling Victorian manse for ten days of workshopping and socializing with a couple dozen of them, a few whom I had actually agented anonymously, though considering what had habitually come down, I wasn't about to mention that.
Damon's motto was "No Chiefs, no Indians." This was a professional workshop and everyone invited was by definition a professional, hence an equal, whether they were Damon, Gordon Dickson, James Blish, Judith Merril, or one of the selected new guys like me.
What's more, I was indeed accepted as an equal colleague on a certain level, and the sense of awed isolation I felt when I first stepped into the house's big kitchen and met all these people who were names on book jackets lasted maybe an hour and a half.
You can say a lot of critical things about the community of science fiction writers, and down through the years I certainly have, but it really is a community that not only tends to protect and nurture its own but actually welcomes newcomers into the fold. Like all gatherings of writers, the sf community engages in bragging, backbiting, vicious gossip, and cruel games, but nowhere else in my experience are established writers so genuinely openhearted to the new kids on the block.
He became fast friends with Harlan Ellison, who was at Milford, and was strongly attracted to Dona Sadock, with whom he was to live many years later, who was there with Ellison.
Harlan arrived in Milford in a flash of Hollywood street punk ectoplasm with the tiny elfin Dona in tow. It was just one of those weird chemical things. He hadn't been in Damon's kitchen for twenty minutes before we were talking as if we were already old buddies picking up a conversation that had been going on for years.
Harlan at that time was about thirty, dressing and bullshitting like the Hollywood star writer. Dona was this tiny little twenty-year-old groupie, or so it seemed until she opened her mouth and out came this preternaturally powerful voice redolent of fifty-year-old sophistication and speaking for someone who seemed about a thousand years older than that.
Instant fascination. Unrequited love that would go on for years.
The beginning of the two longest friendships of my life.
Instead of driving directly to San Francisco after Milford, he passed through Los Angeles and looked up Ellison, who put him up at his house for a week or so, persuaded him to try Los Angeles instead, and found him an affordable studio apartment.
I hadn't intended to stay more than a few days in Los Angeles. I took a random exit on the Hollywood Freeway and called Harlan, the only person I knew in LA. He invited me to crash in his little house up in Beverly Glen. Before I quite knew what was happening, he was persuading me to give LA a try and finding me an apartment. All in a week.
It couldn't have been a week after that when he asked to borrow two thousand dollars, about half my net worth, this from a guy who was knocking down a thousand a week on contract to Paramount. Just for ten days, he assured me. How could I say no to a guy who had been so generous to me?
Thus began a weird pecuniary relationship that went on for years. Harlan would borrow large sums from me for a week or two, pay them back, then borrow the bread again a week later. The same few grand got recycled over and over. No matter how much money he made, Harlan had the creative need to ride the edge of insolvency. No matter how much he borrowed, he always paid it back.
He stayed in Los Angeles for about six months, where he wrote, among other stories, the now-much-reprinted "Carcinoma Angels," the very first story purchased for Harlan Ellison's landmark anthology Dangerous Visions. A previous attempt at a story for Dangerous Visions turned into an outline for the novel The Men in the Jungle. Doubleday gave him a contract and a modest advance, and he moved to San Francisco to write it.
Why did I leave Los Angeles after six months?
Why did I stay that long?
The Summer of Love, the Counterculture, might be two years in the future on a mass level, but the tension between the hip and the square from which it was to emerge was a very real identity crisis for a young writer from Bohemia.
I had made one lifelong friend in Los Angeles, I had made the stylistic breakthrough of "Carcinoma Angels" there, and the attempt to write The Men in the Jungle, my take on Vietnam and professional revolutionaries, as a novelette for Dangerous Visions had led to my first hardcover contract, so I can't say the atmosphere wasn't creative, but there didn't seem to be any there there. No street life. No scene like the Village.
San Francisco, on the other hand, the chosen object of my odyssey in the first place, was still mythical country, Kerouac's North Beach, the Village West, the California capital of hip. Harlan's and Los Angeles' distant disdain for the misty metropolis to the contrary, I had to at least check it out myself, now didn't I?
When I hit San Francisco, the first place I went to was Bruce Britton's apartment, since I knew no one else in town. Bruce being Bruce, and as luck would have it, he and his wife were going to what would be one of the historic parties of the decade that very night.
Yes, I spent my first night in San Francisco at Ken Kesey's very first Acid Test blowout in Seaman's Hall, an event often considered the birth of the Counterculture. Thousands of stoned people, loud music, acid in the punch, general frenzy, the whole tie-dyed ball of wax.
What a homecoming to the hipster community!
And yet. . . .
Fabulous North Beach proved to be an expensive bummer. The Beat scene having turned it into a primo tourist attraction, the authorities in their infinite wisdom figured all they had to do to make it perfect was to get rid of the dirty beatniks who had made it famous in the first place.
The result was a depressing mixture of high rent apartments, plastic coffeehouses and topless bars, and a hip scene that had followed the low rents elsewhere.
Namely to the Haight.
In San Francisco, Spinrad lived on a street close by Buena Vista park, bordering on the Haight-Ashbury. There he wrote both The Men in the Jungle and Agent of Chaos in the space of less than a year.
The bohemian communities of Greenwich Village and North Beach had had economic bases in the arts, the crafts, the tourist industry, but Haight-Ashbury in 1966, the year before the Summer of Love, had no such legitimate economic base at all. People like me, actually making a living in an artistic endeavor, were rare; people with straight nine-to-fivers even rarer.
The unfortunate result being that the economy of the hippie community there (so named by Time in 1967) could only be based on the drug trade. At street level, indigent connections collected money for nickel bags of grass or crystal meth or individual tabs of LSD from high school kids or day-trippers, and scored ounces or lids from the lowest true dealers, their cut amounting to ten dollars or so or a nickel for their own stash. The low-level dealers bought from wholesalers in maybe kilo quantities, and so on up the food chain, which in those days did not extend to drug lords, narco terrorists, or the Maf.
Not my planet either, not what On the Road had advertised as the hip scene in San Francisco at all, though there seemed to be no other. In the process of cleaning up North Beach, the powers that be had created Dope City in the Haight.
Call it street smarts, or call it luck, I found myself a nice little garden apartment on a hill just above this scene, where I could write The Men in the Jungle and later Agent of Chaos during the day, and boogie in the Haight at night and weekends.
No doubt some of the nastiness in The Men in the Jungle owed as much to the environment of the Haight as to the Vietnam War, which was beginning at the time. For sure, the three-sided conflict between Establishment, Revolution, and Forces of Chaos in Agent of Chaos owed even more to my identity crisis at the time.
I was a hipster, right? A Beat, a bohemian; these were my people, weren't they? Weren't they? The square world sucked, didn't it? Official reality was boring and oppressive, for sure, and, hey, it was the Establishment itself that created the Haight by driving the Beats out of North Beach. Surely I didn't want to be part of that.
But I saw things in the Haight. . . .
I saw people smoking coffee grounds because they had nothing better. I saw people smoking match heads to get off on the sulfur fumes. I saw needle freaks shooting up with hot water just for "the Surge." A guy said to me, "I'd eat shit if I thought it'd get me high," and he wasn't joking.
And there were people who regarded me as a square because I wouldn't get involved in dealing.
I spent a long time looking for a third way. So did the country. And maybe we're all searching for it still.
A certain deterioration in the cultural milieu in the Haight persuaded Spinrad to return to Los Angeles.
One day two Texan girls I knew pleaded with me to come over to their apartment and rescue them from a couple of dealers for whom their kid brother was a connection, and who were refusing to leave.
I put on my White Knight suit and drove over.
Given the level of paranoia in the Haight, ejecting them was easier than it might seem. All I had to do was glower at them enigmatically until they started giving me paranoid looks.
"Whatsa matter, you guys think I'm a narc or something?" I snarled defensively.
"Oh, no, man, nothing like—"
"Yeah, I think you do! Whatsa matter, I look like a cop to you?"
"Oh, no, man—"
"You think I'm a f——' narc, don't you?"
Sinister these schmucks were, but they were schmucks, and after about a half an hour of this, they slithered out the door. But not before telling a story that they found highly amusing.
They were big-time acid dealers, or so they claimed. Peace, Love, Higher Consciousness in hundred tab lots.
"An' two out of every hundred hits are cyanide, some people are in for a really heavy trip, haw! haw! haw!"
I left the Haight for LA the next week.
I spent about a month living in Harlan Ellison's large new house with Harlan and one of my main literary heroes, Theodore Sturgeon. Both Sturgeon and I were chasing unsuccessfully after Dona Sadock, who had arrived in LA, and it got kind of weird.
I was still trying to digest the results of what I had seen in the Haight. The Counterculture hadn't even been born yet, but I was already thinking twenty years ahead to what would emerge out the other side. Ted and Harlan were both working on TV scripts, and I was thinking about what immortality would mean as an item of commerce too. Bug Jack Barron was somehow coming together in my mind.
Spinrad drove to New York, where he secured a contract from Doubleday to write Bug Jack Barron, and then to Cleveland, where he attended his first science fiction convention.
The elusive Dona had fled from Sturgeon and myself back to New York, and I did another transcontinental run, in pursuit of her and a book contract from Doubleday. Didn't catch her, but I did cadge the contract for Bug Jack Barron, at a rather wet lunch with Larry Ashmead, who had been my editor on The Men in the Jungle, then about to be published.
Ashmead grandly assured me that there were no taboos, that I was free to follow my literary star in writing this novel of immortality, television, and American Presidential politics.
Harlan was also in New York, on his way to be Guest of Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention in Cleveland. "You gotta go to the Worldcon," he told me.
"Worldcon? What's that?"
"Two thousand fans of writers like us, half of them women. Need I say more?"
I had failed to connect up with Dona once more, so enough said, he didn't.
I pictured a thousand literary groupies of the sort one might in one's dreams encounter in a Village coffeehouse, avid for intellectual discourse and fornication with science fiction writers.
Instead, I had my first encounter with the subculture of science fiction fandom—dominantly male, adolescent, overweight, and literarily jejune to say the least. An unsettling experience for writers who come to science fiction from elsewhere for strictly literary reasons. J. G. Ballard didn't write for a year after his first and last convention. When I encountered Keith Laumer after his first convention, he was in a state of gibbering shock.
Not my planet either, but being the venue of much publishing wheeling and dealing—as well as places to meet your friends and colleagues—sf conventions, I was to find, are rather seductive to science fiction writers; bad for the head, but hard to avoid.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Spinrad rented an apartment in Laurel Canyon, where, in 1967–68, he wrote Bug Jack Barron, as well as short stories, journalism, and two television scripts for Star Trek, one of which was produced as "The Doomsday Machine."
Los Angeles seemed a lot more like home the second time around, or rather Laurel Canyon did—wild overgrown hills five minutes off the Sunset Strip, inhabited by wild overgrown people—and I've never lived anywhere else in LA ever since.
Harlan introduced me to Jared Rutter, editor of Knight magazine, and I wrote a piece about science fiction fandom for him which led to a monthly column chronicling the times as we passed through them, collected in 1970 in Fragments of America.
This was to be published by something called Now Library Press, another line of a large porn publisher, who at this time was doing the Essex House line of literary porn novels under the aegis of Brian Kirby. The writers who wrote the novels—and there were some formidable ones like Theodore Sturgeon, Philip Jose Farmer, David Meltzer, Michael Perkins—got $1,500. I got $300 to read them and write six pages afterwards justifying their redeeming social significance.
Thanks to another Harlan Ellison connection, I wrote a piece for Cinema magazine, and thanks to a favorable mention of his pilot for the show therein, I was invited to write a script for Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry, and then a second.
Thanks to all of the above, I managed to survive economically for the eight months or so it took me to write Bug Jack Barron on the first half of a $1,500 advance from Doubleday.
This was, in retrospect, the apogee of the countercultural revolution, when everything seemed possible, when the world was being made anew, when even Time could do a naively positive cover story on the Summer of Love.
I was writing commentary on it all every month. I had been invited to write for Star Trek. My first hardcover had come out. I was riding as high as the times.
So I took Ashmead at his word, sat down with my copy of Understanding Media, a lid or two of grass, and the blithe assumption that science fiction could also be made anew, that is, that all the commercial, political, stylistic, and linguistic strictures no longer applied, and I let the muse, the evolutionary imperative of the time, take me where it would.
Where it took me was into a highly political tale of love, sex, immortality, suicide, drugs, idealism lost and ultimately regained, informed by a sexual explicitness the science fiction genre had never seen before, though, in 1990s retrospect, relentlessly heterosexual, and almost naively free of anything that would today be called "perverse."
The style that seemed to move through me in a great Kerouacian gush was curiously similar in spirit to that of Norman Mailer's Why Are We in Vietnam?, Brian Aldiss's Barefoot in the Head, and even Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, all of which had to have been written at roughly the same time, and none of which could have influenced any of the others. None of the four of us had written anything like that sort of thing before, and none of us really ever did again.
It may sound arch in 1993 to suggest that the spirit of the times must have been speaking through us. But not in Psychedelic Sixty-seven.
Doubleday rejected the finished manuscript of Bug Jack Barron. Spinrad spent the next year or so trying to sell it to major hardcover houses without success.
On the other hand, the years 1968–1969 were, as I called them in the title of one of my Knight pieces, "Year of Lightning, Year of Dread."
Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, Russian tanks crushed the Prague Spring, Richard Nixon emerged as president after Lyndon Johnson was driven from office, and Doubleday bounced Bug Jack Barron.
Not to suggest that these were events of similar magnitude, but the nature of the clashing forces were the same in the microcosm as in the macrocosm.
"Take out all the sex, drugs, and politics, and we'll publish the book," Doubleday told me.
"All that would be left would be a novelette," I pointed out.
Multiply this by ten million such incidents, small and large, and you have the transformation of the cultural awakening of 1967 into the cultural war of 1968–72. Hip versus square. Counterculture versus Power Structure. Revolution versus Establishment. Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll versus the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Me versus You. Us versus Them.
Bug Jack Barron bounced around New York from publisher to publisher, rejection to rejection. The mainstream publishers rejected it because it was too much like science fiction. And I resisted the easy out of publishing it as a genre book.
As in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm.
During this period, he took the manuscript with him to Milford, where he met Michael Moorcock, British fiction writer, literary theoretician, and editor of the experimental magazine New Worlds.
In the microcosm of science fiction, the countercultural literary trend was called the "New Wave."
So dubbed by critic Judith Merril to describe a recondite stylistic revolution within the genre taking place primarily in Britain under the theoretical aegis of Mike Moorcock. But by 1968, the term had come to include anything that its proponents considered taboo-breaking or that conservatives believed polluted the vital bodily fluids of the science fiction genre, as exemplified by the stories in Harlan Ellison's landmark Dangerous Visions anthology.
And of course by Bug Jack Barron, "New Wave" by all three definitions and a novel that had become notorious before it even found a publisher.
It was already notorious in part because I had already gone public on the subject in articles in science fiction fanzines, in appearances at science fiction conventions, even on the radio. I definitely did not want Bug Jack Barron published as just another genre sf paperback, but things being what they were, I used my voice wherever I could make it heard.
And took the manuscript with me to the Milford Conference.
Moorcock was very enthusiastic about Bug Jack Barron, and serialized it in New Worlds in six monthly installments. The magazine had a grant from the British Arts Council, and when the W. H. Smith bookstore chain refused to stock it because of their objections to Bug Jack Barron and the Arts Council successfully pressured them to rescind the ban, questions were raised in Parliament, where Spinrad was called a "degenerate."
Meanwhile, Spinrad was finally persuaded to sell the American book rights to Bug Jack Barron to Avon Books as a science fiction paperback original.
Mike Moorcock was not the only one at Milford who was enthusiastic about the notorious Bug Jack Barron when they got to read a piece of it. The encouraging reception it got from writers on both sides of the so-called New Wave controversy pulled me out of a personal pit and dropped me in the middle of a paradox with which I have wrestled ever since.
Ever since Bug Jack Barron, it has always seemed to me that what I was writing, like much else that got published as "sf," did not belong in the sf marketing category, genre sf being commercially targeted at an audience of literarily and politically unsophisticated male adolescents, while what I wrote, judging from reader response, was appealing to a demographic slice that was older, more female, more interested in literary and political matters than in the "action adventure" formula dominant in the sf genre.
A more general audience, conditioned by decades of sf genre packaging not to seek out such fiction within such covers, where in fact, paradoxically, much of the best of it is in fact to be found, precisely because the writers thereof have been ghettoized therein by the mainstream publishing apparatus, itself conditioned by the very prejudices its own sf lines have done so much to promulgate.
Like other science fiction writers of my generation and our older soul mates of similar literary ambition—Ellison, Moorcock, Thomas M. Disch, Barry Malzberg, Robert Silverberg, Samuel R. Delaney, Philip K. Dick, Brian Aldiss, Fritz Leiber, Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, to name a few—I have fought to break my work out of this literary ghetto.
The paradox being that there has always been more comprehension for this desire to break the bounds of the genre, more emotional and intellectual support for literarily adventurous speculative fiction, within the walls of the very ghetto from which it seeks to escape than from without.
This being the short form of the long analyses in my teaching anthology Modern Science Fiction and my critical overview of the literature and its place in society, Science Fiction in the Real World, both published quite later.
A year or so of trying to sell Bug Jack Barron as a major mainstream novel finally convinced me that I was banging my brains out against a stone wall. And indeed, as soon as I gave up and unhappily agreed to let Scott Meredith try the sf publishers, the book was involved in a kind of half-assed auction. And after I reluctantly sold the novel to Avon as a paperback original, I managed to secure a simultaneous hardcover edition from Walker Books.
Still, I wanted out. Or rather, in. To larger literary realms. And the only way to do it seemed to be to write a novel that was not science fiction, and to do it without a contract.
This, after having had a contracted novel rejected and bounce around for a year without selling, was scary. Though, upon reflection, maybe not. After all, the three thousand dollars I had finally gotten for Bug Jack Barron via competitive bidding was still less than what I had made in two weeks writing a Star Trek script. And my Knight column covered the rent.
And I had a story to tell, or rather several of them that fit together thematically. I would write The Children of Hamelin, relating the karmic connections between the roots of the Counterculture in the old Village bohemia, drug dealing, psychotherapy cults, and the fee-reading operation at a literary agency not entirely unlike Scott Meredith's.
About this time, he met Terry Champagne, with whom he was to live for the next year or so.
After he finished The Children of Hamelin and persuaded Meredith to agent it, he and Terry Champagne moved to London in 1969.
Yes, Theresa Louisa Champagne was her real name, and in retrospect it was a relationship that was not so much doomed as destined to be a limited run for a certain season.
Terry was still married to a friend of mine while she was chasing after me, and I was too square to let her catch me until she had resolved her situation. Terry was not into monogamy except perhaps of the short-term serial variety. Terry was not looking for a permanent relationship, and I was.
Or was I?
For by the time she moved into my Laurel Canyon apartment, I was committed to moving out. All the way to London.
The American publication of Bug Jack Barron was set, and I was in the process of finishing The Children of Hamelin. I had become something of a minor countercultural hero in "swinging" London in absentia. Who could resist? Why should I?
Hooking up with Terry didn't change my plans. Terry was an archetypal child of the sixties, a stone willing to roll wherever. An artist, a topless dancer, a jeweler, a dealer, and when, through me, she got to take a shot at writing stories and doing journalism, she succeeded at that too, albeit, on her usual terms. "It's all the same shit," she used to say to me, to my consternation.
If I had ever thought of myself as a hippie, living with Terry Champagne disabused me of any such notion.
Still, for a time, it worked. I finished The Children of Hamelin, somehow managed to bullshit the Scott Meredith Literary Agency into marketing it despite, uh, certain aspects, and off we went, in March of 1969, via a flood in LA, a blizzard in New York, and a five-day, barfing seasick crossing on the SS United States to London, to a Europe that neither of us had ever seen.
Neither Terry nor I had been outside of North America before, and now here we were in London. At first it was all an adventure: the scene around New Worlds, the fringes of the countercultural underground, Midsummer's Eve at Stonehenge. It was all new, even the smell of everything was subtly different.
But after we had sublet an apartment in Bayswater and started actually living in London, it all settled into a sort of normal routine, something like living in New York for me, but more alien for a California girl like Terry.
Which is to say that London in the end was more interesting to me than to her. She was writing about as much as I was, and good stuff too, but she was never as serious about the literary scene as I was, or for that matter, about much of anything else.
Nor was I getting much writing done, waiting for Bug Jack Barron to be published, waiting for The Children of Hamelin to sell as it bounced from publisher to publisher, talking literary theory with Mike Moorcock and colleagues, playing the minor underground literary celebrity. . . .
After J. G. Ballard and Mike Moorcock backed out, Christopher Priest and I were invited as the token science-fiction writers to the Harrogate Festival of Literature and Science by the noted publisher and literary figure John Calder. Off we went by train, Chris and his wife, Terry and I; Chris nervous about mingling with all the awesome literary luminaries.
Calder, quite frantic, met the train with his humongous Jaguar saloon, the four of us and two Indian professors stuffed ourselves into it, and Calder started to drive out of the parking lot. . . .
"Oh no, man!" I shouted. "You're gonna—"
Too late. Calder had already driven the Jag halfway down a flight of stone steps, where it hung quivering on its belly-pan.
Calder, freaking, had no idea what to do next. Somehow, this grand entrance into the literary high life ended any trepidation I might have felt about being a twenty-eight-year-old sf punk amidst my intellectual betters.
"You stay behind the wheel and gun the engine when I tell you to," I told him, "and the rest of us get out and lift the rear end."
And that's how we did it, bouncing the car down the steps in stages. It managed to get us to the hotel before all the oil leaked out, but the repair bill was enormous. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. So it went.
The theme of the conference was the interface between science and technology and literature, but they had one microphone to be passed among twenty panelists, like an exaggeration of a typical science fiction convention. My experience therewith served me well, and I sort of began to ooze front and center.
Then, Erich Fried, a German Marxist writer, and his attendant groupies decided to organize a revolution. This was 1969, I was the author of the notorious Bug Jack Barron, and thought my heart was surely in the right revolutionary place, so I attended his evening strategy session in the auditorium as invited.
Fried's thesis was that the relationship between the speakers up on the platform and the audience down here in rows of seats facing them was hierarchical, therefore fascist. He would demand that the seats be rearranged in a circle with the audience surrounding the speakers on the same equal level. Much more democratic.
Okay. . . .
But when I looked down, I observed that the chair I was sitting on, like every other seat in the auditorium, was quite thoroughly nailed to the floor. It would take a team of carpenters days to move them all.
When I pointed this out to Fried, he scowled at me with bemused contempt. "Hardly the point!" he sniffed.
The next day, Fried stood up in the audience and made his demand, backed up by many shouts of "Right On!" from his supporters. There then ensued half an hour of tedious argument about seating arrangements to the discomfort of the paying customers and the total befuddlement of the chairman, science writer Nigel Calder (no relation to John), who had completely lost control.
After a half hour of listening to this totally pointless argument, I had finally had enough. I snatched the one free microphone and gave Fried what he wanted.
I observed none too gently that, the seats being nailed to the floor, the argument was moot, the audience was bored with it, and it was time to get on with the program.
"You, sir," Fried shouted righteously on cue, "are a fascist swine and a bastard!" And stormed out of the audience at the head of his troops, as he had obviously planned to do all along.
It was the major media event of the conference. It made all the papers. That's how I got called a fascist swine and a bastard in every major newspaper in Britain.
Well, not precisely. Because John Calder had spelled my name wrong in the press kit, the fascist bastard was "Norman Spinard."
Bug Jack Barron had been published, The Children of Hamelin hadn't sold, I was still writing my monthly column for Knight but had no other significant source of income, Terry was getting homesick for California, the sublet on the London apartment was up, so, somewhat reluctantly on my part, perhaps, after a month staggering about the continent after the car we had borrowed from Mike Moorcock expired in Germany, we returned to Richard Nixon's America in the fall of 1969 and rented a house in Laurel Canyon.
Coda to Harrogate:
We took the train back to London in the company of, among others, William Burroughs. We had to change at York. Burroughs went to a newsstand after reading matter for the trip and returned with a handful of sleazy British tabloids.
"Look at this stuff!" he chortled. "Juicy!"
They were all full of this lurid Hollywood murder story. Pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski, famous hair stylist to the stars Jay Sebring and several others had been gorily murdered by a tribe of drug-crazed hippies in thrall to some weirdo named Charles Manson.
I never paid attention to crap like that and marveled at how someone like Burroughs could.
Little did I know how close I was to get to the Manson Family.
Too close for comfort. And soon.
There Spinrad, in 1970–71, wrote The Iron Dream, his satire of science fiction, Nazism, and Adolf Hitler, which had emerged as a concept from a conversation in London with Moorcock, during the writing of which his relationship with Terry Champagne ended.
During this period, he was also writing political journalism, film criticism, and the occasional book review for the Los Angeles Free Press, America's best-selling weekly underground newspaper.
A crazy time.
My relationship with Terry was breaking up. I was writing a novel that amounted to channeling the consciousness of Hitler in order to exorcise the demon of Nazism. And I had become a main man of the Underground Press on the side.
Arthur Kunkin, founder of the Free Press, had hired Brian Kirby as managing editor, and I was one of the writers he brought in. The money was next to nothing, but as a film critic I was on all the freebie review lists, as a political columnist I developed a certain following, and I loved the instant feedback of weekly journalism, a welcome relief from getting inside the head of Hitler while my relationship was falling apart.
But what I, and everyone else at the paper, could have done without was the Mansonoids.
Kirby had brought in Ed Sanders, poet and former Fug, from New York to cover the murder trial of Charlie Manson. As soon as he hit the tarmac at LAX, Ed was writing stuff about how the Establishment was railroading this innocent hippie tribe in order to crush the Counterculture.
Charlie and his Family loved the coverage. They loved the paper. They loved Ed. There were more of them on the loose than anybody not at the Freep realized. And as the trial progressed, every stoned-out nut in California seemed to want to join the Manson Family too. . . .
The Mansonoids trusted Ed. They trusted him so much that they told him about all these other neat snuffs they had done that only their good buddies at the Free Press now knew about, hee, hee, hee. . . .
So early on we all knew that Manson and company were indeed the crazed killers the wicked Establishment claimed they were, but Kirby had to keep on their good side, such as it was; the Freep had to hew to the Mansonoid line, print Charlie's poems and manifestos, or the murderous creeps hanging around the paper might not like us any more. . . . .
Years later, I met Ed Sanders in New York.
He told me that even there, even then, he still slept with the lights on.
One good thing did come of it, though: one of the best front page headlines ever.
Remember when Richard Nixon butted into the trial? "MANSON GUILTY, NIXON DECLARES," screamed the headlines in the Establishment papers.
The next issue of the Free Press carried a piece by Charlie himself about the then-unfolding Watergate scandal.
"NIXON GUILTY, MANSON DECLARES," said Brian Kirby's headline.
How right they both were!
The Children of Hamelin still hadn't found a book publisher, and Brian Kirby, editor of the Free Press, began an unprecedented weekly serialization of the novel in the paper.
Speaking of Watergate and the Underground Press, if George McGovern hadn't won the Wisconsin Democratic primary in 1972, I would probably have made him president.
A couple of weeks before the primary, I got a call from a guy who was an admirer of the political analysis I'd been publishing in the Free Press and who'd been offered the job of press secretary for the McGovern campaign in California.
He wanted my advice. Should he take the job? McGovern seemed like such a loser, but what other instrument of change was there? We kicked it around a bit.
"Look," he said, "McGovern's probably gonna lose in Wisconsin, and then he's gonna be receptive to some changes in his campaign. Would you be willing to fly there with me to talk to him?"
"Well, sure." How could I resist?
"Well, what would you tell him? What would be the winning campaign issue?"
"Watergate," said I.
This was before the real story broke, before the hearings, before the tapes, back when the whole thing seemed to be just a bunch of isolated dirty tricks and a bungled amateur burglary and was being covered as such in the Establishment papers. McGovern had hardly mentioned it.
The paranoiacs of the Underground Press, though, were convinced that Nixon had planned a coup against the Constitution. Concentration camps set up for dissidents. Enemies lists and use of the IRS against those on them. Illegal bugging. Financing of Nixon's campaign by the Mafia through the Teamster Pension Fund and Bebe Rebozo's bank.
Crazy, right? Only drug-crazed hippies would believe such stuff. Only those Underground rags would print it.
Art Kunkin, however, had his mitts on something hot enough to blow the whole lid off if someone like McGovern chose to push it. . . .
An airliner had crashed killing all aboard, including the wife of one of the then-key Watergate figures, upon whose person was found a large bag of cash. That much had been covered in the Establishment papers.
The FAA report had found cyanide in the lungs of the victims.
The White House had suppressed it.
Kunkin had somehow gotten hold of a copy and printed it in the Freep. But the Free Press was only an Underground paper. . . .
"Watergate is a complex conspiracy by the Nixon administration against the Constitution, is what I would tell George McGovern," I declared. "Half the dirty tricks are the Nixonoids' efforts to keep the lid on till after the election. But if you make it the centerpiece of your campaign, George, I'd say, hit it hard, hit it often; you can make the story break early enough to count. Yeah, this sounds like science fiction, but I kid you not; there's enough dirt under this rug not only to defeat Tricky Dick in an election, but, who knows, even get him impeached. . . .
George McGovern, alas, won the Wisconsin primary.
The rest, alas, was not history.
About two-thirds of the way through its serialization of The Children of Hamelin, the Free Press was taken over by a pornographer to whom Arthur Kunkin had become indebted, and the staff and writers of the paper left en masse to found the Staff, which published the rest of what was to be twenty-eight installments.
A crazy time.
I had been in the same room with Philip K. Dick only once, and I had been too much in awe of this literary idol of mine to actually talk to him.
Then, late one night in 1972, I got a phone call from Vancouver. It was Phil Dick, and the conversation started like this: "My girlfriend just left me, and I think I'm going to kill myself, but I read your story "Carcinoma Angels" in Dangerous Visions, and I thought I should talk to you first."
And that was how my friendship with Phil began, in midstream, as if it were a pre-existing condition. All at once it seemed natural to be deep in a long intimate conversation with this old friend who had been a total stranger before my phone rang.
"On the other hand," Phil finally said, "I've got this offer from Willis McNelly at Cal State Fullerton to come down there to Orange County to live. What's your honest opinion? Now don't bullshit me. Would I be better off moving to Orange County, or killing myself?"
"Well, Phil, personally, I can't stand Orange County," I found myself saying, "but you might as well give it a try. If you don't like it, you can always kill yourself later."
"Yeah, that makes sense," Phil said reasonably, and moved to southern California.
Even though The Children of Hamelin appeared every week for six months in papers with a circulation of about 100,000, the Scott Meredith Literary Agency still didn't find a book publisher for it, and in 1973, Spinrad finally fired them and secured the services of Lurton Blassingame.
Was the Meredith Agency actually trying to keep The Children of Hamelin from being published in the guise of ineptly agenting it? Were they submitting it to publishers out of one side of their mouths while making it known that its publication would vex Scott out of the other?
What I did find out for sure was that it was no longer being submitted. Months previously, they had talked me out of my carbon copy on some pretext, and on a trip to New York, I discovered that the top copy had been either lost or destroyed, and they were paying peon wages to a professional book editor to (badly) retype a new one from my carbon very slowly.
Without ever telling me what was happening.
In 1973, Spinrad secured a contract from Putnam Berkley to write Passing through the Flame, a long novel about, among other things, filmmaking in Hollywood, the rock music industry, the death of the Counterculture, and the takeover of an underground paper by the porn mafia.
Stone-broke, the IRS having cleaned out my bank account, I flew to New York on a credit card to try to sell a novel version of what was later to become my oft-printed novella, Riding the Torch, maybe my own choice as my best piece of short fiction.
George Ernsberger, who had been my editor at Avon on Bug Jack Barron and The Iron Dream, was now editor-in-chief at Berkley Books, a position of much more power.
Blassingame and I had lunch with him at a Moroccan restaurant to pitch the science fiction novel proposal.
"Naw," said George, "I think you should write me some kind of big mainstream novel instead. . . . "
"Well, George, I dunno. . . . "
"Give me an eight-page outline I like, and I'll give you an advance of ten thousand dollars."
I think I played it cool. I think I managed to avoid choking on my couscous.
Ten thousand dollars seemed a princely sum at the time, more than twice what I'd gotten for anything before.
"Well . . . I'll think it over, George. . . . "
I went straight back to the friend's apartment where I was staying and banged out the outline in five days on my portable typewriter.
Around this same time, one person I met and one I failed to meet were to have serious career consequences. The person I met before I got the contract to write Passing through the Flame was Larry Schiller, later to collaborate successfully with Norman Mailer on The Executioner's Song, but then as broke as I was and my unsuccessful collaborator in any number of Scams of the Week.
The person I failed to meet was L. Ron Hubbard, once and future science fiction writer and founder of the Church of Scientology. Hubbard had never granted a major interview. I knew A. E. Van Vogt, who had been quite close to him in the old days, and through Van I got in touch with the upper levels of the Scientology hierarchy in Los Angeles.
This was one Scam of the Week that went on for months, as I pursued the journalistic coup of the Hubbard interview while they strung me along, playing with my head, suggesting that if I played my cards right, I might get to write the authorized biography, and so forth. I found out much more about Scientology than I wanted to, maybe more than it was entirely healthy to know.
Of course, I never got the interview with Hubbard.
But several years later the experience was to be the inspiration for the novel I was to write after Passing through the Flame: The Mind Game.
When I finished writing Passing through the Flame, I flew back to New York to deliver it and to do some final work on Modern Science Fiction, the teaching anthology I was doing for Anchor Books.
There I chanced to meet Dona Sadock, whom I had pursued futilely for so long way back when, at the tag end of a bad marriage. Now, somehow, the time was right for us. She came back with me to Laurel Canyon, the beginning of a series of transcoastal staggers which were finally to end with us moving back to New York about the time of the first publication of Passing through the Flame.
Before that, though, we were visited in Los Angeles by Richard Pinhas and his significant other, Agnetta Nielsen.
Richard had been described to me as a French rock musician so deep into The Iron Dream that he had named his group after the mythical country in the book, Heldon, and we nervously awaited the arrival of Nazi skinheads in jackboots.
Instead, Richard proved to be the most intellectual of musicians, a pioneer synthesist who was also to write a thesis in philosophy, and Agnetta a Swedish model rather than Eva Braun in black leather. Both of them were about as right wing as the Paris student movement of 1968, of which they were veterans. We hit it off right away, and today they are two of my oldest friends.
More to the point here, their visit was the beginning of my relationship with France, and Little Heroes is dedicated to Richard, who was to be instrumental in its conception years later.
After Passing through the Flame was accepted by George Ernsberger, Walter Minton, owner of Putnam at the time, arbitrarily decided to publish it as a paperback original, despite Ernsberger's previous assurances to the contrary.
Spinrad got on a plane to New York to object strenuously, and after much argument, Minton agreed to do the book in hardcover.
I had George's assurance that Passing through the Flame would be a hardcover, but nothing in the contract. I was quite cross when he told me Minton's plans. I called my agent, Lurton Blassingame. Minton, it turned out, had discussed the matter with him, and it was Lurton's considered opinion that, Walter Minton being one of the most powerful executives in publishing, it would not be wise for either of us to take him on.
We'd see about that.
I called George back and told him to tell Minton that I would be in his office next Monday, and that if things were not settled to my satisfaction, I would "pull him across the desk and beat the living shit out of him, or worse. Maybe much worse."
I then called Larry Schiller, who just happened to be in New York at the time, trying to sell some scam with Mario Puzo to none other than Minton himself. I asked him to impress Mr. Minton with the idea that I was a dangerous hothead with unsavory connections who just might be pissed off enough to have him offed.
Minton was ever so polite when I arrived in his office. Not a harsh word was spoken between us. Passing through the Flame was done as a hardcover.
With, however, no support.
Ernsberger was later fired by Minton, and when the paperback of Passing through the Flame was published, the dedication to Ernsberger, which had appeared in the hardcover, was removed. During this period, MCA bought Putnam and eased out Walter Minton, and Spinrad changed agents again, signing on with the Jane Rotrosen Agency.
By the time the paperback came out, Dona and I had moved back to New York, and I saw the first copy in the Putnam office. In the absence of Minton, I raved on about how I was going to talk to certain people in Hollywood who would see to it that he would be gone ere the year was out.
It was admittedly a cheap thrill. Putnam had already been bought by MCA, and from the experience of my friends Betty and Ian Ballantine, I knew all too well what happened to owners who sold their companies to such conglomerates believing they could cash the fat check and still retain effective control.
Then too, Minton was not exactly a hero to his troops. He once fired a couple dozen people at the office Christmas party, to give you an idea.
I was at a big publishing party when it came down. A whole bunch of people from the Putnam office arrived, drunk as skunks, and lugging champagne, which they proceeded to pour for me.
MCA just axed Walter Minton, they told me. How did you do it?
I just smiled enigmatically over the rim of my glass and toasted his demise.
In another attempt to secure major mainstream hardcover publication, Spinrad wrote The Mind Game without a contract. Though the completed book seemed on the verge of being accepted by major hardcover houses several times, something always seemed to happen between the editorial and legal ends.
Was Scientology or the fear thereof responsible? They had certainly complained when their street-solicitor minions appeared in my comic short story in Playboy, "Holy War on 34th Street," and had tried unsuccessfully to get Anchor Books to edit my comments on Hubbard out of Modern Science Fiction.
And while The Mind Game was bouncing around, we did have this rather peculiar burglary. The apartment was ransacked, but nothing was taken. Not the stereo, not the TV, not Dona's mink coat which was hanging in plain view, not even cash.
A search for a manuscript?
A not-so-friendly warning?
The cops said it was probably crazed dopers.
I could hardly tell them that the burglars hadn't taken my grass either.
Whatever the cause, The Mind Game wasn't selling, so I decided it was time to write another science fiction novel, and wrote an outline for A World Between, my meditation on sex roles, feminism, media, and electronic democracy.
My friend David Hartwell wanted to buy it, and I had been instrumental in securing him his position, but unfortunately that position was sf editor at Putnam Berkley. I had recommended him to Ernsberger, but at this time George was already gone and Walter Minton was still in power.
So Jane Rotrosen auctioned the outline, and the winner was Jove Books, the hot new paperback line just started by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. And they made a deal to do new editions of The Iron Dream and Bug Jack Barron. And bought The Mind Game too.
For the first time in my career, I had some significant capital.
Jove published The Iron Dream, but before any of Spinrad's other books there could be published, corporate upheavals at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich intervened. The Jove science fiction program expired, and Jove itself was sold to Putnam Berkley, under which corporate aegis it finally published The Mind Game in 1980.
Spinrad, meanwhile, had moved A World Between to Simon and Schuster/Pocketbooks, where David Hartwell had started a new line of books, Timescape. Hartwell published A World Between as a paperback original, but published Spinrad's next two novels, Songs from the Stars and The Void Captain's Tale, in hardcover.
Songs from the Stars was a post-apocalypse alien-contact story, among other things, and I wanted the "narration" of the alien data-packets to be, well, songs . . . poetry, that is. Could I pull this off? Fortunately, David Hartwell was an experienced poetry editor whom I could count on to tell me if I was making a fool of myself.
David thought the verse worked, with some tinkering, but felt that the forty pages or so of description around it should be in metric prose.
"Metric prose? What's that?"
David proceeded to teach me, as we went over forty pages of manuscript, syllable by syllable, phoneme by phoneme.
Somehow, this learning experience, combined with a scene that had been kicking around in my head for years without leading anywhere, synergized into The Void Captain's Tale, a (non-)love story of the far future written in a kind of "world-speak" called Lingo, my first piece of book-length fiction in experimental prose since Bug Jack Barron, although in a style light-years apart.
I had written three novels since the publication of Passing through the Flame in 1975, but owing to all these publishing upheavals, none of them were published until 1979–1980, when all three of them were published in a space of eighteen months. First it looked as if I had had a four-year writing block, then as if I had. written three major novels in less than two years!
In 1976, soon after the writing of A World Between, Spinrad's relationship with Dona Sadock ended, though the two remained good friends. Between 1980 and 1982, Spinrad was twice elected president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. During this period he also began a quarterly column of criticism for Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which, at this writing, still continues. In 1982, Universal Pictures, which had previously had the book Bug Jack Barron under option, bought the film rights for $75,000, the film to be written by Harlan Ellison and directed by Costa-Gavras.
Universal was trying to get me to sell them another cheap option. I knew that I could force them to pay me the pick-up money only because Costa-Gavras wanted Harlan to write it. It was a high-stakes game of chicken.
Finally, I got my long awaited $75,000 phone call. I had about two hours to enjoy it. Then I got another phone call telling me that Phil Dick had had a massive stroke and had lapsed into a terminal coma.
Universal still owns the film rights to Bug Jack Barron. To this date, they have pissed away maybe $2 million on the project, and the film has not been made.
During this period, he began visiting France, the first time as guest of honor at the Metz Science Fiction Festival. On this trip, in Paris, he recorded two tracks on Richard Pinhas's album East-West as a cyborged vocalist.
"Me sing on a record album, Richard? Are you nuts? I can't even carry a tune with a forklift!"
"Not to worry," he told me, "just write some words to this music, chant them into the microphone, and I, the vocoder, and the computer will do the rest."
So we went into the studio, and I put on the earphones, and started just chanting these simple lyrics. We did some takes like this, and then. . . .
And then Richard tried something. He let me hear my own voice being processed through the vocoder circuitry in real time and something happened. . . .
I was supplying analog input to the electronic augmentation circuitry, in a positive feedback loop with the vocoder, collaborating with it, with whatever Richard was doing, manipulating it as it was augmenting me; and out the other end something was singing
. . . me, maybe, but not quite not me either, and then. . . .
And then, unbeknownst to me, Richard cut the vocoder out of the circuit like Daddy surreptitiously removing the training wheels from a kid's bicycle.
And played the result back to me.
"That's you," he told me, "au nature!" And so it was. And so it is. For better or worse, you can hear it on the album, re-released on CD in 1992.
I wrote a piece on the experience for a magazine. And started playing with the first little electronic keyboards. And got to thinking. . . .
Electronic circuitry can replace human drummers, even do whole rhythm tracks untouched by human hands.
And if electronic circuitry can make a singer out of me, it can make a rock star out of anyone. . . .
And if out of anyone, why not out of no one, why not virtual rock stars who aren't there to not show up for concerts, or get busted for drugs, or command all that money . . . ?
If the music industry could do this, they sure would, now wouldn't they?
And that was to be the genesis of Little Heroes.
But Little Heroes was one book in the future. I had never done a sequel to anything before, or since, but I wanted to do a sequel to The Void Captain's Tale. Sort of.
The Void Captain's Tale, narrated in his own "sprach of Lingo," that is, his private melange of human languages, by the Captain in question, takes place entirely on a single spaceship, and is written in a rather hermetic Germanic sprach.
I didn't want to keep the characters, or the setting, or even the style. I wanted to write a wider-screen, more up-beat, joyous bildungsroman from a female point of view, and in a more Latinate, baroque, wise-cracking sprach of Lingo. . . .
After the hardcover publication of The Void Captain's Tale by Timescape in 1983, David Hartwell made a deal for a new thematically and stylistically related novel, Child of Fortune, and Spinrad once more returned to Los Angeles and rented yet another house in Laurel Canyon in which to write it.
The breakup with Dona left me emotionally devastated. New York was filled with memories, bad karma, high rents; I was getting homesick for California, and Child of Fortune, with its long sequence in an alien forest of flowers, seemed like a California book. . . .
But I had friends in New York, I had plenty of money from various books and the movie deal. So I decided to give New York one more try. I'd make a fresh start, I'd move into a nice new apartment. After all, I could now afford twice the rent I was presently paying for my crappy little three-room railroad flat on Perry Street.
I looked, and looked, and was finally about to give up when I saw an ad for an apartment that seemed perfect. Double my current rent, but I was prepared to pay it.
"Large beautiful four room apt. on tree-lined Village street, eat-in kitchen, sunny garden view. . . . "
Only wasn't there something familiar about the phone number . . . ?
Indeed there was, as it turned out when I called it.
It was the number of my current landlord.
The wonderful apartment I could move into for twice the rent I was paying was a clone of my own in the same building two floors down.
Before contracts for Child of Fortune could be drawn up, the Timescape line got caught up in a power struggle between Richard Snyder, head of Simon and Schuster, and Ron Busch, head of its Pocket Books subsidiary. Snyder canceled the Timescape line and caused Busch to fire Hartwell, simultaneously making a deal with Scott Meredith for his literary agency to package a new line of science fiction for the company.
David Hartwell used to throw Friday afternoon parties in his office. Dick Snyder's office had a private dining room and attached kitchen. One Friday, after Snyder had left, Dave snuck up to his office to cop some ice from the machine in his private kitchen.
He returned with a bucket of ice cubes and a dazed expression.
Snyder's ice machine had embossed the cubes with his monogram.
Which will give you some idea of the egos involved. But it was corporate hardball too. Busch, not Snyder, had hired Hartwell to start the Timescape line, and now Timescape was doing Pocket Books hardcovers, which Snyder chose to see as infringement by Busch on his turf. So canceling Busch's sf line, and making a deal with his good buddy and my ex-agent Scott Meredith to package a replacement, was a ploy in a larger power struggle.
Making Busch take the public heat for a move that was directed against himself was pure Dick Snyder.
The Science Fiction Writers of America, under President Marta Randall, strenuously objected to this obvious conflict of interest. Randall had been Spinrad's vice president and his choice to succeed him, a task she had accepted only on condition that Spinrad make himself available if called upon by her in an emergency. During the period when this crisis broke, Marta Randall found herself teaching a writers' workshop on an isolated island with only a pay phone as her contact to the outside world.
So I found myself representing the SFWA in a loud, national, four-cornered media battle against my former agent and employer, and two competing powers within the publisher of my own last three novels!
They never had a chance.
For an agency to package a line of books featuring work by its own writers was a blatant conflict of interest that stank like a codfish in the media moonlight. And to make my job even easier, when Busch canceled Timescape and fired Hartwell, he had told the press that he had done it because the literary quality of Hartwell's product was too high. Meredith would do a much better job of providing cynical schlock.
Guess whose side Publishers Weekly was on? Guess how it looked in the New York Times and the Washington Post? Guess how happy Gulf and Western, who owned Simon and Schuster, was with Snyder and Busch as they devoured their own feet in public print?
For about ten days, I found myself dribbling Busch, Snyder, and Meredith in the press like a basketball, not that you had to be a media Magic Johnson to do it.
When they finally capitulated, Busch actually complained to the New York Times that the SFWA had thrown its weight around unfairly, that we had bullied poor Pocket Books, Simon and Schuster, and Gulf and Western, that I was guilty of practicing "gunboat diplomacy."
The winners, paradoxically enough, were the SFWA and Dick Snyder. For the first time in American publishing history, a writers' organization used the public press to overturn a high-level corporate decision at a major publisher. On the other hand, while Snyder was unable to consummate his deal with Scott Meredith, he won the power struggle with Busch, eventually forcing him out of the company.
Timescape, however, was still canceled, Hartwell was still fired, and Spinrad was understandably less than confident in his future at Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books.
He moved Child of Fortune to Bantam, which published it in 1985.
From 1984 to 1986, while writing Little Heroes, under contract to Bantam, Spinrad taught the novel at the Clarion West Science Fiction Writer's Workshop in Seattle, where, in 1985, he met Nancy Lee Wood, who writes under the name N. Lee Wood and was there as a student. In 1986, she moved into his house in Laurel Canyon.
Science fiction writing workshops had proliferated, and I had often expressed my dubious opinion thereof, much preferring Damon Knight's old "No Chiefs, No Indians" formula to the hierarchical structure of teachers and students, established writers and wannabes.
"Don't knock it till you try it," I was told, particularly by Harlan Ellison. So finally, when I was invited to teach a week at the six-week Clarion West Conference, I accepted on condition that I teach the novel, which no one else had tried to do, the idea being to teach novelistic structure by having the students turn an idea into an outline.
Somewhat to my own surprise, it worked well enough to persuade me to teach it three years in a row, which had never been my intention.
Lee, a resident of Portland at the time, was one of my students in the middle year and showed up in Los Angeles a few months later.
We met at various events and venues in between Portland and Los Angeles. During the next year, I went to visit her in Portland, and she finally moved into my house in Los Angeles.
Terry Champagne had written and published while living with me, but this was the first time I had lived with someone who had been a writer before I had met her, and who was as serious about it as I was.
And we've actually been able to work consistently while living together. I've written two long major novels, 100,000 or so words of short fiction, and much else as of 1993. And Lee has written two complete novels and parts of three others and quite a bit of short fiction during the same period.
If you don't think this is rare, you don't know that many writing couples. Which is exactly the point—a writer has a hard enough time living with anyone and working at the same time. For two of them to do it sharing the same space-time ain't smooth and easy!
In 1987, Spinrad and Wood traveled together to Europe for the first time, to England, and then to Paris. The conjunction of their mutual love for the city and the political changes occurring in Europe caused Spinrad to conceive Russian Spring in New York on the way back to Los Angeles, and secure a contract to write it from Bantam.
By this time, I had been to Paris by myself several times; most of my books had been published there, I was popular in France, I had a circle of friends in Paris. I had always fantasized living there at some time, but had never gotten up the nerve to do it alone.
What I had done, years earlier, while still living in New York, was write the beginning of something I called "La vie continue" in which my future self was living as a political refugee in Paris, in which the Soviet Union had undergone a "Russian Spring" analogous to the "Prague Spring" of 1968. . . . About twelve pages into it, I realized I had the beginning of a much longer work than I had bargained for, and set it aside.
Now, years later, in Los Angeles, I owed Bantam a long novella for Other Americas, a collection they were going to publish, which seemed just the right length for "La vie continue," so I sat down and wrote the first draft in L.A.
That's right, I wrote "La vie continue" before I moved to Paris. Call it prescience. Call it a flash-forward. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One anglophone writer living alone in a francophone culture had always been a scary creative prospect to me, but Lee fell in love with Paris on this first visit, and together I felt we could live in France successfully for a protracted period, even though she spoke no French at the time and my French was what I had learned on my previous visits.
Then too, I was between drafts on "La vie continue," scouting locations for the rewrite, going around Paris contemplating the life of this American exile who was myself, living in the very same city, while at the same time, thanks to Gorbachev, the future I had envisioned for Europe years earlier in New York was beginning to unfold here in real time. . . .
The setting of Russian Spring, the characters, the context, all began to come together, and so too the adventure of writing it. This would be a novel dealing with the future of Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States, and would be primarily set in Paris, so we had an excellent excuse to live there for a year or so while I wrote it.
In the summer of 1988, Spinrad and Wood moved to Paris, and soon thereafter Spinrad was elected president of World SF at a meeting in Budapest, an international organization of which N. Lee Wood was later to be elected general secretary.
Shortly thereafter, Spinrad began writing Russian Spring, and after finishing the first draft, he and N. Lee Wood traveled to Moscow in the winter of 1989 as guests of the Soviet Writer's Union to do further research for the book, which was not finally finished until about three months before the August 1991 coup attempt, and which was published in the United States the month afterward.
At the World SF meeting in Budapest in 1988, we had met Vitaly Babenko, then a depressed Russian writer having a hard time getting anything published. When we visited Moscow in 1989, he felt he had to sneak into the Peking Hotel where we were staying courtesy of the Writer's Union, and I felt I had to be circumspect about seeing him.
By 1992, he was the president of TexT, the second biggest private publisher in Russia, and he had brought us there for the publication of the Russian edition of Russian Spring. Mad, mad Moscow!
He paid me my advance in the form of a huge bag of rubles. "Spend it all before it disappears!" we were told by one and all.
It wasn't easy, but we did. Like everyone else in Moscow, we became obsessive shoppers. It was a crash course in the psychology of inflation, believe me!
And how right they were. When I was handed the money, the ruble was 135 to the dollar. Less than a year later it was to be about 1,000 to the dollar.
Moscow is a tough, crazy town, but one of the most exciting places I've ever been at this mad moment in history, and as we stood atop the Lenin Hills with some Russian friends the day of our departure, one of them gave me a strange look.
"You like it here, don't you?" she said in some bemusement. "You could live here. . . . "
Maybe she was right. Maybe I could.
Spinrad and Wood decided not to return to the United States as residents, though they returned for visits, and were married on one of them in Florida in 1990.
Norman Spinrad's latest novel, Pictures at 11, though set in Los Angeles, was written in Paris where he still resides, and deals partially with the strains of German reunification. Completed in the middle of 1993 under contract to Bantam, it will be published in the fall of 1994.
This close to the real time of me sitting in my Paris apartment writing this attempt at the closure of a story that is not yet finished, they all finally merge.
The story of how two American writers came to Paris for a year or so and ended up staying is certainly material for a whole novel, several of which have probably already been written.
The historical context in which it took place is a novel I have already written, namely Russian Spring, conceived on a one-month visit to Paris, developed in New York, treatment written in Los Angeles, first draft written in Paris before Wall came down, before our first trip to Moscow at the time of the death of Sakharov, and finally published in Russia itself in 1992, in a society not that much unlike what is described in the book, but which didn't exist before it was written.
So why is Norman Spinrad still living in Paris?
The answer is not to be found in "La vie continue." The Norman Spinrad in that novella is ten years older than the present writer, and the present writer does not consider himself an American exile, political or otherwise.
I'm not living in Paris because I can't bear to live in the United States.
I'm living in Paris because I want to live in Europe.
We've been here five years now. We've braved the Russian winter. We've walked through the Berlin Wall in the very process of its demolition. We've both been officers in an international writer's organization. We've made friends in France, Russia, the (former) two Germanies, (former) Yugoslavia, (former) Czechoslovakia, Italy, Holland, points between. We've been part of our friends' lives and they've been part of ours, at a time of rapid-fire evolution that is transforming this supposedly tired old continent into the cutting edge of the twenty-first century.
And I'm doing another cut on one of Richard's albums via the very instrumentalities I predicted in Little Heroes.
Why would an American writer of speculative fiction choose to live in Europe?
Or, as I usually say when asked this question, hey, to an American science fiction writer, Europe isn't merely another planet, it's a whole other solar system!
Planet France, Planet Germany, Planet Russia, Planet Italy, and other major bodies, plus untold scores of ethnic asteroids! And each of them a world entire!
I'm fifty-three now, improbable as it seems to me. I've lived by my words for thirty years. I've witnessed three decades of history in many places, and been part of some of it. I've been rich and poor. I've been flush and broke. I've fought the good fights, and I've won and lost. I've achieved a certain amount of literary recognition, but not, of course, what I consider my just share. I've had my ups and downs. I have my good moments and my bad.
And when I'm really feeling down, I remember a twenty-five-year-old kid stoned on mescaline, walking across Fourth Street to the Village, high on Dune, and dreaming those crazy prescient dreams. . . .
He was going to be a famous science fiction writer, he would publish many stories and novels, and many of the people who were his literary idols, inspirations, and role models would accept him as their equal, would become his allies, his friends.
And his life's mission would be to take this commercial science fiction genre and turn it into something else somehow, write works that transcended its commercial parameters, works that could aspire to the literary company of Burroughs and Mailer and Kerouac, that would open a new Way. . . .
This is what you're here for.
And so I was. And so I am.
When I look into the mirror and am appalled to see this middle-aged guy looking back, when my latest novel fails to make the best-seller lists, when the bills start coming in faster than the checks, and I bemoan all that I haven't done, all the just desserts that haven't been piled up on my plate, all I long to be and haven't achieved. . . .
Then that twenty-five-year-old kid grins back at me and gives my fifty-three-year-old self a swift kick in the psychic ass. At my age now, maybe I know much too much to feel the same, but he's certainly got cause to feel entirely satisfied with the story so far.
Everything he saw in that timeless Einsteinian moment has come to pass.
Everything he wanted to be, I have become.
I look out my window onto my Paris garden. And when I finish this, I will walk out into the summer streets of Paris, a minor princeling of the City of Light.
Beyond the wild dreams of that twenty-five-year-old kid!
I've become what he wanted to grow up to be and so much more.
I should be satisfied, right?
I've spent my whole life looking forward, not back. Sure, this fifty-three-year-old has got what that twenty-five-year-old wanted.
But I'm not him, and it's not enough, and I'm old and wise enough now to know that it never will be.
If I live to be a hundred with a Nobel on the mantelpiece, I'll probably say the same thing.
I'll probably even believe it.
This story doesn't end here.
It begins tomorrow.
Norman Spinrad contributed the following update to CA in 2005:
Russian Spring was first published in the Soviet Union, and in the United States the same month as the failed coup that was to turn it into an alternate history novel. For days, there was fear that the reactionary junta would take over, but it took me only hours of watching it on television in Paris to know it would fail. Why?
Because I was watching it on CNN! These fools hadn't even captured the TV broadcast facilities in Moscow! And I knew it was all over when they themselves were on television dead drunk!
By the time Russian Spring had been published in the United States, Spinrad had signed a two-book contract with its American publisher, Bantam Books.
I had never agreed to a multi-book contract before because I never thought more than one novel ahead, but Lou Aronica, who had been my editor there on three novels, offered a deal for my ecoterrorism novel Pictures at 11, which I wanted to write next, and a second novel which he convinced me I wanted to do after that.
I had written a proposal for a nonfiction book called The Transformation Crisis about a concept that had informed much of my fiction for years.
Any intelligent species must confront a transformational crisis when it develops atomic weapons, genetic engineering, a greenhouse warming technology. It will either evolve into a transformational civilization capable of enduring for millions of years, or destroy itself. Our planet had entered this crisis with Hiroshima and the outcome hung very much in the balance.
Lou had turned it down as a nonfiction proposal, but now he wanted me to write it as the second novel!
"Only if I can do it as a comedy," I blurted.
A future Earth that has failed its transformation crisis sends back a time traveler to change history. Not a politician or a scientists who no one would believe, but a comedian who no one would believe either, but who would get to spiel his story on television.
Voila, the genesis of He Walked among Us.
Spinrad's contract called for Pictures at 11 to be published as a hardcover, but Aronica wanted to publish it as a major trade paperback, verbally guaranteeing a much large printing and a major marketing effort, and Spinrad agreed. U.S. publishing rhythms being slow, he had already written He Walked among Us by the time Bantam published Pictures at 11, and Bantam had already accepted it for publication.
Before Bantam could publish Pictures at 11, Lou was gone. I hadn't signed any amendment to the existing contract, but more verbal promises of a massive print run and a major promotion effort if I went along gulled me into agreeing to it again.
But Bantam published Pictures at 11 with a schlocko cover, no advertising, and a minimal printing. The reviews ranged from excellent to rave and a film option was taken, but by the time the novel made the New York Times Book Review's Recommended Summer Reading list, it was out of print.
While this publishing monkey business was going on, writing He Walked among Us was an intense, passionate, writing experience, which produced what I believe is still probably my best novel. A novel about science fiction as a literature, as a calling, as a cultural necessity, as a subculture; a novel about the so-called New Age; show business; the life of the street.
A novel which, dealing as it did with the critical cultural question, had transliterary importance, and a novel I therefore believed was in that sense more important than its literary value or my career.
I knew that if I allowed Bantam to publish He Walked among Us, they would trash the publication the way they had Pictures at 11. To test the waters, I submitted a treatment for a new novel, Greenhouse Summer, dealing with some of the same matters, to Bantam, as the option clause of my two-book contract required.
As I expected, they rejected it.
By the 1990s, the major bookstore chains, not the book publishers, ruled the publishing roost. Their computer programs tracked how many copies they had sold of the author's previous book, which determined how many they ordered of the next one, which determined the print run, which determined the level of promotion, which determined the fate of the book.
The way Bantam had published Pictures at 11 had so devalued my recent track record that only a major publicity campaign of the sort that they hadn't delivered on that novel could break He Walked among Us out of the commercial trap they had put it in. And when they turned down the option book, I knew they would not spend the money to do it.
I had allowed Bantam to breach the contract on Pictures at 11 by publishing it in trade paperback, but I had never signed anything, so I did have the legal means to take He Walked among Us away from Bantam, where, as an "orphan novel," it would sink without a trace.
I could do it. But should I?
What had happened to Pictures at 11 had damaged the commercial viability of whatever my next novel would to be. But I felt I would be betraying something larger than myself if I didn't fight to have He Walked among Us read by an audience of significant size.
So I did it. I convinced myself that literary and cultural worth would trump the numbers, allowing such a novel to find major publication elsewhere.
I believed it, Lee believed it, my agent believed it.
He Walked among Us bounced from publisher to publisher with none willing to publish it; the list of possible major houses became exhausted and even the science fiction editors turned it down, while Spinrad's marriage to N. Lee Wood devolved into a separation that left him in Paris and her in England.
Had Pictures at 11 been a best seller, some major "mainstream" publisher would have gobbled up He Walked among Us for top dollar, "sci-fi" or not, but coming after a numbers flop, they wouldn't touch the novel because they regarded it as "science fiction" and the "science fiction" publishers were terrified to publish it because it dealt with the subculture of science fiction in a manner they feared would alienate their "fan base." David Hartwell turned it down as "too ambitious" for his publisher, even though he would later buy my next novel, Greenhouse Summer, for the same publisher. It appeared my career, at least as a major mainstream writer, like my marriage, was over.
But at least I was still in show business.
Spinrad's friend, sound designer Richard Shorr, had worked with French producer-director Jacques Dorfmann on a previous film, and now Dorfmann wanted to make a film about Vercingetorix, the Gallic hero who had opposed Julius Caesar's conquest of Gaul, and he was looking for a screenwriter. Shorr and Dorfmann called Spinrad to ask his advice.
Of course I wanted the assignment for myself, but I wasn't in the running because I had no feature film credits, and why Richie and Jacques thought I would have a better idea than they did I never quite understood, but I did have one. My friend Rospo Pallenberg, whose feature credits included The Emerald Forest, had written the historical-mythical screenplay for Excalibur, which led me to recommend him for Vercingètorix, or, as the film was to be titled outside of France, Druids, and I put together the deal between Rospo and Dorfmann.
Perhaps as a thank you, I was hired to do a back-up treatment.
While Pallenberg was writing three drafts of his script, Dorfmann was putting together his project. He had the financing, he had a shoot date, he had an internationally recognizable name in Gerard Depardieu to play Vercingetorix's father, and Gerard's son, Guillaime, a bankable name in France, to play the lead.
But what he didn't have was a script that satisfied him.
As president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, I was once asked by Dentsu, the Japanese PR giant, to get them Isaac Asimov for a plush junket to speak at a major space conference in Tokyo. When Isaac turned them down, as I knew he would because he refused to fly, they asked me get them Ray Bradbury, who wouldn't fly either. When Ray turned them down, they asked for Robert Heinlein, who I knew was ill at the time, and after he turned them down, they finally asked me if I would do it. Three strikes and I was in.
Likewise I had gotten Jacques Rospo Pallenberg, knowing it would have been futile to put myself forward, and now my knowledge of Japanese protocol stood me in good stead again, as Jacques called me in a tizzy to ask me to please rewrite Rospo's script to his order.
The catch was that while Rospo had had many months to bomb, the shooting date was fixed, and I had only five weeks to fix it.
Spinrad finished his rewrite of the screenplay on time, but Guillaime Depardieu broke his leg in a motorcycle accident, and the shooting date for Druids was postponed.
Then cancelled. Revived. Postponed. Cancelled. This went on for years, during which I learned that for a film to start shooting, the script, the casting, and the financing must all come together at the same time, and that the magic moment is narrow and fleeting.
But Jacques persisted, as the Druids project fell apart through the lack of one element or another and then was put back together, only to have it happen again and again. This gave him far too much time to drive me crazy with far too many rewrites for the film's eventual good.
Long enough for me to be put through the same process on another film at the same time, La Sirene Rouge, which I adapted from a French novel. By the time Jacques had replaced Guillaime Depardieu with Christophe Lambert and was about to shoot Druids in Bulgaria, I was on about on draft seven of La Sirene Rouge, another film project that would also fall apart and be put together any number of times, and wouldn't be shot until Druids had been finished, had been released, and had bombed.
About ten days before the first day's shoot of Druids, Jacques invited me to spend a long weekend at his "villa" outside Sophia to "thank me" for all the work I had done. Uh, there were two or three little scenes that he had rewritten in French (the film would be shot in both French and English versions) that he'd like me to put into proper English. . . .
He talked me into it. I didn't see the script until I was on the plane to Bulgaria, when a horrible mess was literally dumped in my lap, half in French and half in English (the film was to be shot in French and English versions), the whole thing heavily rewritten by Jacques. I had four days to produce a coherent English version, which would then be translated back into French.
To make matters worse, all Jacques wanted me to do was translate his bad French dialog into bad English dialog, while the overqualified Bulgarian thespians he had hired for secondary roles were rightly and professionally imploring me to fix it.
Jacques refused to even discuss this with me, so in the end I went ahead and did it on my own, and Jacques didn't see what I had done until the night before my escape flight on the heels of what was going to be a total eclipse of the sun. He was pissed off at my lèsemajesté. I was pissed off at him for being pissed off at me. I suggested that the assistant director read it and give a neutral opinion.
"I don't care what anyone else thinks!" Jacques shouted. "It's my movie!"
When the producer and director who also fancies himself a writer tells you that, it's over, right?
Well not quite. On the way to the airport the next day, I was handed one last scene that he'd rewritten to please, pretty please, put into English, and found myself in the production office in Sophia actually doing it as the eclipse started, after which I was rushed to the airport, experienced the totality outside the terminal, and escaped with what was left of my sanity.
Druids was a French national epic, so when it tanked in France, it tanked big time, though it mercifully disappeared in the rest of the world without a stenchful trace. La sirene rouge bombed too, but it simply disappeared.
From these writing experiences, I learned that there is a point beyond which any further rewriting of anything is only going to make it worse. The director of La sirene rouge never got this, but a few years later, Jacques 'fessed up, which is why we are still friends, and why I've even worked with him after the Druids fiasco. He had a powerful vision, but he screwed up, and he and his film paid dearly for it.
I also learned that no one person should be producer, director, and co-writer on the same film. If Jacques as the director had had a producer to rein in Jacques the writer, or Jacques the producer had not had total power over what was shot, Jacques Dorfmann the film-maker would have ended up much happier.
By utter coincidence, La sirene Rouge was based on a novel by my musical collaborator, Maurice Dantec. While my career as a novelist was reeling, not only was I up to my ears in the movie end of show biz, I was dabbling in what might loosely be called rock and roll. I had done this with Richard Pinhas before in a studio, but this time around I would end up as a live performer.
Richard had revived his old group, Heldon, and in the middle of all this film work, I was writing about half the lyrics for the album Only Chaos Is Real with Maurice writing most of the rest, then spending time in the studio with the recording and mixing. I also did one cut as a vocalist, which ended up on a different album under a different band name, and so. . . .
Only Chaos Is Real was finished and Maurice was gone to Montreal when Richard was asked to play at a major club called Elysée Montmartre. A popular journalist had died and left money in his will for a farewell bash for about a thousand people at the club directly after his burial.
Richard hates performing alone, there was no one else to do it, and so he persuaded me to go on with him. We were the opening act as the audience filed in directly from the cemetery.
It sounds like a joke or a musician's worst nightmare.
My debut as a live vocalist was as opening act at a wake.
Not as bad as it sounds. We went down as well as could be expected.
And after that, I feared nothing as a live performer.
Spinrad went on to perform with Richard Pinhas, and various configurations of the group variously called Heldon, Schizotrope, or Psychtrope around France in Nevers, Bordeaux, Paris, and the Transmusical Festival in Rennes, among other venues.
Schizotrope indeed! With a film shot and another in the works, high ego high times as a performer, but He Walked among Us still without a publisher, and my main career as a novelist still thwarted, I went to the World Fantasy Convention in London.
This was a gathering of SF editors, fans, and writers, and yes, I was one of the luminaries, but none of my books were available in the book dealers' room. I hadn't written a novel since He Walked among Us, hadn't had one published in an even longer span, had nothing in the works, and didn't have a publisher.
I was reading a newspaper piece about how the greenhouse warming was going to be a world-wide disaster on a cold gray winter day in Paris. I looked out the window at the gray sky.
"Can't happen too soon enough here! Bring on Tropical Paris!"
There were going to be winners as well as losers.
That was the genesis of Greenhouse Summer.
When Bantam had rejected a treatment for this novel, I had submitted it to my old friend and editor David Hartwell at Tor, who sheepishly came up with an insulting low-ball offer he knew would not be acceptable.
After which I got involved in writing two feature films at once, and songs and journalism on the side, and performing on the side of that.
But now. . . .
Walking around the convention hotel like a ghost of myself, I decided that I had to write Greenhouse Summer and see it published. Show biz success or not, I had to get back to writing novels, even if it meant swallowing my pride and taking a low-ball offer, however little economic sense it might make when I could pursue a more lucrative career writing movies—even without the belief that the novel would be published in anything other than a minimalist manner.
David Hartwell was there in London. Over a few drinks I accepted more or less the same offer for Greenhouse Summer that I had previously rejected. Now it really had become an offer I could not refuse.
Tor published Greenhouse Summer in the expected unexceptional manner. Vercingètorix opened in France to terrible reviews that hardly mentioned Spinrad, flopped at the box office, and went straight to DVD as Druids in the United States.
Richie Shorr had read my third-draft screenplay, and when he saw the film, told me that whereas what had been shot was drek, it was a masterpiece and should not be lost. "You've got to turn it into a novel!" he insisted.
I had never novelized a screenplay, mine or anyone else's, and never wanted any part of any such thing.
"Read it and tell me that!" Richie demanded.
Richie was right. I was proud of what I had written, whereas I had been grateful for the mercy of the French press in keeping my name out of their slaughter of the film.
But novelize a screenplay, even if it was my own. . . ?
Shrugging, I sent it to my book agent in New York, Russell Galen, who effused to the point where he compared it to Shakespeare, but said, how am I supposed to market a novel on the basis of a screenplay for an already-released flop? And asked me if there was anyone high enough up in publishing who might know my work well enough to make this possible.
Well, I said in all innocence, there's a guy who was editor at Pan, a secondary science fiction paperback line back in London in the 1960s when my novel Bug Jack Barron was getting me denounced in Parliament, a fringie of the New Wave scene, who I think now has some kind of job in New York, and would know who I was and be familiar with my work. Sonny Mehta.
Russ did a take.
You really don't know that Sonny Mehta is the honcho of Knopf and probably the most powerful and highly regarded publishing executive in New York?
But it was nice to see that Sonny had found a job in New York. Mike Moorcock admitted that Sonny was an okay guy back in his Pan days, "but of course not to be trusted."
As agent for the estate of Philip K. Dick, Russ had a relationship with Vintage, a subsidiary of Knopf, and its publisher Marty Asher, and so the submission went through him and he did the negotiating.
I was in New York doing a gig at a venue called the Knitting Factory with Richard and Maurice when Knopf decided to buy The Druid King, the negotiations started while we were rehearsing, and I was staying at the apartment of Dona Sadock, still my close friend, when the deal was concluded.
Spinrad returned to Paris to write the first draft of The Druid King and Time Warner UK made a major deal to publish the unwritten novel in Britain on the basis of the screenplay and some conversations with the editor, Tim Holman.
Ah yes, the literary high life! Or so I thought.
But Asher had insisted on a contract clause paying out a portion of the advance upon my showing him 200 pages, like a Hollywood producer cracking the whip over a screenwriter, and an even bigger insult to an author of twenty published novels.
Worse, I had always felt that going back to rewrite before completing a draft was a creative mistake, and showing raw partial first draft was both dangerous and unprofessional.
But Asher was a lord of the New York Literary Literary Jungle, in which ecology I was a lowly "sci-fi guy," a species of literary snobbery with which I was all too familiar. I had no choice, but I would put the novel itself first. Thanks to my British publisher, I could afford to write a complete first draft before showing anything to Asher, who would be pleased at seeing something much more than the contract called for, something that could then benefit from meaningful editorial input.
But while arrogance was something I expected at this level, I was not prepared for professional incompetence. Asher was not pleased with the first draft I had turned in. He thought it was sloppy. It was not easy getting through to him that what he had read was first draft. He never seemed to even quite get the concept, for when I asked for his editorial input, I was told that he didn't want to comment until he had seen a rewrite.
Like a Hollywood producer, he had just wanted pages to prove I wasn't goofing off.
In like West Coastal manner, it was made clear that Knopf/Vintage would cut me off and reject the book on the basis of what I really hadn't wanted to show them in the first place, unless I convinced Edward Kastenmeier, Asher's right-hand man, that I would and could take his direction.
I was back in show biz pitching a rewrite to another species of producer/director who fancied himself a writer. At least this was a game in which I was well-schooled, and I had little trouble convincing Kastenmeier to pick up the option or convincing myself that while he wasn't working on a level that would be very useful in making the transition to my first historical novel, at least he wasn't any mogul's nephew.
We had our story conferences and I took the rewrite notes and I went to work.
Meanwhile my friend, French director Diane Kurys, had met the French ambassador to Mexico, Bruno Delaye, who was an admirer of my work. I had done events for cultural programs of the French government in France and New Caledonia. Bruno wanted to meet me, and so he arranged for me to do likewise for his embassy in Mexico.
One of these events was a press conference, and when a writer does a press conference, he's asked what he's working on now, and what he's planning to do next. . . .
Three decades previously, after I had finished writing The Iron Dream, I'd gotten to wondering if there had been any other instances of civilizations falling prey to a national psychosis in the manner of Nazi Germany. The closest thing I'd found was the Aztecs, with their massive rites of human sacrifice.
It had started as idle intellectual curiosity, but I was living with Dona Sadock then, who had an avid interest in mystical and psychological theology. We'd delved deeper, and what had emerged was the fascinating story of how Hernando Cortez had really conquered Mexico by a sixteenth-century version of theological media manipulation.
This had progressed to the notion of writing a stage play called The Feathered Serpent, a small-scale confrontation between Cortez and Montezuma that would tell the story compressed into surreal haiku terms. But I had never written a play, wouldn't have known what to do with one, and nothing had ever come of it. . . .
Now, in a press conference in Mexico City, this popped into my mind and out of my mouth as a notion for a novel, and I was surprised to see it all over the newspapers the next day.
Well, why not?
It ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The idea for a little surreal play became a full-scale historical novel and the title became Mexica because The Feathered Serpent had been used on two previous novels.
Spinrad finished the second draft of The Druid King and sent it to Edward Kastenmeier two months before a planned trip to New York in connection with the World Science Fiction Convention being held in Philadelphia on Labor Day weekend, 2001.
Spinrad arrived in New York a week before the convention, staying with Dona Sadock in her apartment on Ninth Street in Manhattan. They went to Philadelphia together, then returned to New York, where Spinrad made an appointment to go over the rewritten manuscript with Kastenmeier on September 12, 2001.
He then flew to Florida to see his mother, returning to Dona Sadock's apartment late at night on September 10, 2001.
I awoke about 9:30 A.M. on September 11, and looked out the window of Dona's apartment on the corner of Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue. From that angle the Twin Towers would not have been visible, but what was visible was a crowd on Sixth Avenue looking south. I showed this to Dona, expressing my curiosity at what they could all be looking at.
"Oh," she said diffidently, "they shoot movies here all the time."
I called my agent but I was told by his receptionist that he wouldn't be coming into work today because of what had happened.
And she told me.
And I dashed down in the street, into the buzzing, milling crowd, looked south, and saw—nothing.
The familiar giant monoliths simply were not there. There was an immense roiling rising cloud of dense black smoke where they had been. And from these few miles away, I could smell it, that and the pheremonal odor of the shock and anger of the dazed onlookers.
Dona and I were in the process of rekindling our old relationship before September 11, but being thrust together into the Ground Zero of history added the sheer charge of love during wartime, life at the center of destiny, at the heart of the whirlwind.
No non-emergency vehicles were permitted south of 14th Street, but the subway was running, and crazy as it sounds, on September 12, I took it uptown out of the blockaded zone to my editorial meeting with Edward Kastenmeier.
Midtown was functioning as if everything were normal. Nothing could have seen crazier than that. Or so I thought.
But Kastenmeier had marked up the manuscript sentence by sentence as if he were a college teacher and I were a student. He had run paragraphs together, rewritten sentences attempting to bend the prose of an historical novel closer to his style-deaf concept of standard modern English. Yet despite the amazing arrogance on display, he had so little confidence in his own editorial judgment that he had had his assistant reading ahead of him and marking up this mess in a different handwriting.
It was an editorial process that made rewriting a bilingual script in Bulgaria for Jacques Dorfmann during an eclipse seem like a session with Maxwell Perkins in the Algonquin. I was constrained to debate virtually every sentence with Kastenmeier. Buildings on either side us were evacuated because of bomb threats and then reoccupied. It went on all day and into the evening, for I could not let Kastenmeier leave until the nightmare task he had inflicted on me was done and I could escape with what was left of my sanity.
I returned to Paris and put together a clean final draft of The Druid King. But I was put through literally endless picayune rewrites that accomplished nothing but the loss of almost a year of my life in agonizing wheel-spinning.
Dona had come to Paris to live with me, but still had her apartment in New York, and we began ping-ponging back and forth. On one of these sojourns in New York, I had given Kastenmeier six weeks advance notice that I would be there for a month, and would therefore be available to go over the final manuscript with him in person. But he couldn't even get his reading of it done before we returned to Paris.
Time Warner UK, long satisfied with the novel, scheduled it for February 2003, while Knopf was wasting my time, while I and my agent, thoroughly exasperated, were on the verge of pulling the book and taking it elsewhere. But I prevailed on Sonny to bring the process to an end, and The Druid King was finally scheduled for May 2003.
But when I got the catalog, I discovered that The Druid King had been dumped into August, a dead month for sales, promotion, and reviews. And a cheaper British edition would be out a half year before the Knopf edition. I knew in my gut that the novel had been torpedoed. I called to vent my ire at Kastenmeier, only to learn that he too learned of the change only when he saw the catalog.
Further inquiry revealed that Sonny Mehta had done it unilaterally.
What act of lèse-majesté had I committed against Sonny Mehta? Why would he torpedo a novel he himself had rescued from purgatory?
This is the "SF writer" speculating now, entirely appropriate, for I can only surmise that this had everything to do with it.
When the New Wave had made science fiction a Fave Wave with the trendie set in London, Sonny had been a paperback science fiction editor. Now he was a New York literary lion, in which circles he would not want such a past clinging to his Gucci bootheels. Especially when he had been looked down on as nikulturni by the snob element at Knopf when he had taken over from the sainted Robert Gottlieb.
Please don't let on that you knew me when.
Time Warner had already published The Druid King in Britain, and bought the treatment for Mexica, and I was well into writing the novel. The plan had been to submit the Mexica treatment to Knopf as the option novel when the catalog came out, but when The Druid King was moved to August, I decided to wait for a complete first draft to be in the strongest possible position.
When the finished first draft of Mexica was submitted to Knopf, they had sixty days to exercise their option. The option period expired without a word, but we decided not to press them, since by then The Druid King was going to be published in a month or two.
I had allowed myself to be put through an amateurish and demeaning editorial experience chasing the marketing might of Knopf as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Now I knew it would not be used to my novel's benefit—no book tour, no ad money, nada.
But I went to New York in August for the publication on my own nickel, for I was experienced on radio and TV and had an 800-pound gorilla of a demo tape, what has generally been regarded as the best interview with Woody Allen ever by those who have heard it. I sent it to the Knopf publicity department well in advance—use this to get me the bookings!
The end result: one local New York radio show that I booked myself.
In October, months after the option period on Mexica had expired, Spinrad's agent pressed Knopf for a decision and was told "we are not prepared to make an offer at this time." There was no formal rejection nor was the manuscript returned.
Phone calls and e-mails to Sonny by my agent were never even answered. Meanwhile I found out that Mexica had not even been read by anyone but Kastenmeier's lowly assistant.
So I sent an e-mail to Sonny apprising him of the situation.
The only reply was the return of the manuscript.
At the time, I took it all personally, and maybe some of it did involve personal factors, but now I understand that what happened to me was not all that atypical of what has happened to many writers as a result of what has happened to American publishing.
American publishing is now dominated by a very few conglomerates that have gobbled up the hallowed imprints of yore and turned them into little more than brands. Knopf is owned by Random House, along with a bouquet of other brands like Doubleday, Bantam, Dell, among many others, and Random House is owned by the German giant Bertelsmann AG. And that one combine is about 40 percent of U.S. book publishing.
Even so, two bookstore chains control the market to the point where they even dictate the cover prices of books to the publishers. If they don't order a sufficient number of copies or don't order at all, a book is not commercially viable. And the publishers know when this will happen before they even read a manuscript because the chains base most of their distribution on "order to net."
If the chains ordered 10,000 copies of your last book and sold 8,000, they order 8,000 of the next one, and if they sell 6,000, they order 6,000 of the one after that, and if that sells 4,000. . . .
Where the math leads is of course to the tar pits for writers without previous best-seller numbers, which I didn't have when Knopf published The Druid King. Only by telling the chains in advance of their buy that there would be an author tour and a significant promotion budget could Knopf or anyone else break any writer out of this trap. When they didn't, that novel, like thousands of others, was chewed up by the gears of the machine.
When it was, Knopf rejected Mexica unread since the iron diktat of the numbers now renders literary judgement of such a submission redundant. And threatens to render my career as a novelist, along with those of many other, redundant with it.
The end of the line for me as a novelist?
Or not. I have been here before.
And Mexica is shortly to be published in a serious manner in Britain. And when I arrived in New York to confront the terminal phase of the Knopf mess, I had just received a Lifetime Achievement award at a major literary event in Nantes from the hands of the mayor.
So let's just call it the end of this chapter of my autobiography.
And rather than leave it and myself with an unresolved cliff-hanger, I'll expiate the necessary egotism of this experiment in autobiography by closing it with a summary version of a little story written not by me, but by Ray Bradbury.
The United States has been nuked and gringo tourists are pouring north past a roadside gas station as two Mexican attendants watch in bemusement. When one stops to gas up, one of the Mexicans asks the American tourist what's happened.
"Haven't you heard?" says the American. "It's the end of the world!"
And dashes frantically back up the road.
One Mexican looks at the other and shrugs.
"What do they mean by the world?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bretnor, Reginald, editor, The Craft of Science Fiction, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.
Clareson, Thomas D., editor, SF: The Other Side of Realism, Bowling Green University, 1971.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume VIII: Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Platt, Charles, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1980.
Spinrad, Norman, editor, The New Tomorrows, Belmont Books, 1971.
Spinrad, Norman, editor, Modern Science Fiction, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1974.
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, April, 1983.
Best Sellers, March, 1983.
Booklist, November 1, 1994, Dennis Winters, review of Pictures at Eleven, p. 482; November 1, 1999, John Mort, review of Greenhouse Summer, p. 513; June 1, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Druid King, p. 1746.
Entertainment Weekly, December 2, 1994, D. A. Ball, review of Pictures at Eleven, p. 66.
Extrapolation, winter, 1995, Wendy E. Erisman, "Inverting the Ideal World: Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Contemporary Utopian Science Fiction," pp. 333-344; spring, 1995, Jennifer Lynn Browning, "Science Fiction in the Real World," pp. 70-74.
Fantasy Review, July, 1985; August, 1985, Gary K. Wolfe, review of Child of Fortune.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 24, 1985, H. J. Kirchhoff, review of Child of Fortune.
History Today, May, 2003, Richard Cavendish, review of The Druid King, p. 88.
Independent (London, England), February 1, 2003, Roz Kaveney, "No More Neros," p. 23.
International Herald Tribune, November 12, 1997, Brad Spurgeon, "Author's Protest: U.S. Book Rights Go on Sale for One Dollar," p. 13.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2003, review of The Druid King, p. 712.
Kliatt, January, 2005, Donna Scanlon, review of The Druid King, p. 22.
Library Journal, November 15, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of Greenhouse Summer, p. 101; June 1, 2003, Harold Augenbraum, review of The Druid King, p. 170.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 3, 1983, Theodore Sturgeon, review of The Void Captain's Tale; October 27, 1985.
New York Times Book Review, May 22, 1983, Gerald Jonas, review of The Void Captain's Tale; September 8, 1985, Gerard Jonas, review of Child of Fortune.
Publishers Weekly, January 2, 1981; August 16, 1991, review of Russian Spring, p. 46; September 13, 1991, p. 62; October 18, 1999, review of Greenhouse Summer, p. 75; June 16, 2003, review of The Druid King, p. 48.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, October, 1982.
Science Fiction Chronicle, December, 1985.
Science Fiction Studies, spring, 1973.
Times Literary Supplement, March 26, 1970, review of Bug Jack Barron.
Variety, January 29, 2001, Lisa Nesselson, review of Vercingètorix, p. 44.
Washington Post Book World, July 27, 1980, H. Bruce Franklin, review of The Iron Dream; July 25, 1982; February 27, 1983, Howard Waldrop, review of The Void Captain's Tale.
Norman Spinrad's Home Page,http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/normanspinrad (April 11, 2004).
Templeton Gate Web site,http://members.tripod.com/templetongate/ (April 11, 2004), "Norman Spinrad."