John Joseph Adams is the bestselling editor of many other anthologies, such as Wastelands, Brave New Worlds, and The Living Dead. Recent and forthcoming books include Operation Arcana, Press Start to Play, Loosed Upon the World, and The Apocalypse Triptych (consisting of The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End Has Come). Called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes & Noble, John is a two-time winner of the Hugo Award (for which he has been nominated nine times) and is a seven-time World Fantasy Award finalist. John is also the editor and publisher of the digital magazines Lightspeed and Nightmare, and is a producer for WIRED’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
His latest book, the first volume of Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, which he co-edited with bestselling author Joe Hill), was just released October 6.
Good things to read.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. During the time when I was first seriously exploring science fiction, I was working at a Waldenbooks and reading books at a rate that I look back upon and envy. But during my time working there–this was back in the mid-90s, before Amazon was really big, and people still actually often ordered books at the bookstore–a bunch of customers started ordering this book called The Stars My Destination. I hadn’t heard of it, or its author, Alfred Bester. The sudden popularity of it confused me; it was being ordered as if it were something that had just been featured on TV. So I asked the next person who had ordered it if she knew why it was suddenly being ordered so often, and she explained that it had been out of print for a long time and had just come back into print. (I would later learn that it was out of print for a long time, despite being a science fiction classic, because when Alfred Bester died, he left his literary estate to his bartender, who didn’t know how to manage it.) The cover of that edition–the Vintage trade paperback edition from about 1996, with the hand holding the ball of PyrE–doesn’t necessarily scream science fiction, but the vaguely fantastical imagery on the cover and the word “stars” in the title prompted my curiosity to see what the book was all about. And when I read the cover copy and saw that it praised it as a classic and labeled Bester as a master of science fiction, I figured I’d give it a shot.
It BLEW MY MIND. After reading that book, my reading life became all about finding other books like that one. Up to that point, I’d read a number of sf novels that I liked a great deal, and still to this day remember fondly, but it wasn’t until The Stars My Destination that I realized the heights that science fiction was capable of attaining, and it wasn’t until then that I narrowed my reading focus almost exclusively to sf in my efforts to find more books that effected me in that same way.
There’s a paragraph in the book from the early part of chapter one that describes “common man” protagonist Gully Foyle’s state of mind. He’s been stuck, as the lone survivor, on a spaceship for 170 days, and watches as another ship approaches his, ignores his distress call, and leaves him to die:
He had reached a dead end. He had been content to drift from moment to moment of existence for thirty years like some heavily armored creature […] but now he was adrift in space for one hundred and seventy days, and the key to his awakening was in the lock. Presently it would turn and open the door to holocaust.
So that’s the key to Gully’s awakening. I think of The Stars My Destination as mine.
This might seem like a bit of a cheat since I’m the publisher of these magazines, but since I didn’t edit any of these issues — we had a guest editor at the helm for each of them — I figure it’s fair game.
You’d think that in the 21st century people would have stopped saying silly things like “women are destroying science fiction” but that ridiculous sentiment still crops up from time to time, even in professional book reviews. As a response to that, Lightspeed decided to publish an all-women issue and challenged them to destroy science fiction…so that it can be rebuilt better, stronger, more diverse than it was before. A Kickstarter campaign for Women Destroy Science Fiction! seemed to strike a chord, raising more than $53,000 (more than 1000% of the original goal), and the end result was an amazing collection of fiction and essays–NPR even named it one of the best books of the year.
The project was so successful, it also spawned Women Destroy Fantasy! and Women Destroy Horror!, and then this year, it was Queers’ turn to destroy things. That campaign had similar success, resulting in three Queers Destroy special issues as well. In 2016, we’ll publish People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! and do a related Kickstarter, which will determine if we’ll unlock Fantasy and Horror volumes of that one as well.
The National Book Awards for Young People’s Literature Longlist. I served as a judge for the National Book Awards for Young People’s Literature this year, alongside four other judges (Teri Lesesne, Laura McNeal, G. Neri, and Eliot Schrefer). We read a ton of books and whittled our favorites down to the top ten, which includes lots of amazing works. There are books on this list that I honestly feel are classics-in-the-making, books that I will remember and treasure forever. I can’t be more specific than that because I’m not allowed to discuss my specific feelings about any of the various books, but suffice to say you can’t go wrong with any of those ten. (The top five will be announced Oct. 14, and then the winner will be presented on Nov. 18.)
Good things to watch.
The Wire. Far and away my favorite television show of all time, and perhaps my favorite piece of entertainment ever as well. (And now that HBO has remastered the entire series, presenting it now in widescreen instead of 4:3, it looks better than ever.) If you haven’t seen it yet, I envy you being able to experience it for the first time. Full of gritty realism and social commentary, it puts every other cop/crime drama to shame. It was also hugely progressive on a number of levels; there are things in The Wire you still don’t see anywhere else on television, even more than a decade later. A true masterpiece that blazed the way for the serious television dramas that followed it.
Black Mirror. This is maybe old hat to people in the UK, but US residents are just getting a chance to see this more recently thanks to Netflix. Being a short story editor, obviously I love the idea of an anthology show, but unfortunately there hasn’t been one that’s been consistently good in…quite a long time. There were some recent ones like Masters of Science Fiction and Masters of Horror that had moments of brilliance but overall weren’t cohesively great. Enter Black Mirror, a technology-based Twilight Zone for the 21st century, with high production values, wonderful acting, and whip-smart writing. I nominate Charlie Brooker for president (prime minister?) of science fiction television, and maybe film too while we’re at it. Somebody give the guy a movie contract is what I’m saying…so long as he can do something original and not helm some fucking franchise.
Big Hero 6. It didn’t get the most attention of all of the science fiction/fantasy movies that came out in 2014, but it was far and away my favorite. It’s like the movie is made of joy. I mean, there’s tragedy in it and whatnot, but the overall thing is just so fun and joyful–I love it to pieces. Since it came out on home video, I’ve been watching it over and over like a little kid.
Good things to use.
Boomerang for Gmail. Subscription service that lets you banish emails from your inbox temporarily, with a pre-set time for it to “boomerang” back into your inbox. Nothing’s going to help you get your inbox under control better. If you want more tips, look for my article “Conquering Your Inbox” that ran in the SFWA Bulletin recently.
Nexusmods. Mod community for video games like Skyrim and Fallout. I’ve only used it for Skyrim thus far, but I can already foresee myself replaying Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and then delving into the other games that have a mod community. Don’t like the way something works in Skyrim? There’s probably a mod for that! Run out of quests? There’s like 1000 mods for that! Want the dragons to have the face of Randy “Macho Man” Savage? There is, strangely enough, a mod for that. And hey, it’s all free, and you don’t even really need to know anything about computers to make the mods work.
TurboScan app (iOS/Android). Why bother with a scanner when your phone can do just as well? I actually have a scanner that I use for bigger projects (like when I’m scanning a text to digitize it via OCR when I’m reprinting an old story), but the scanner’s so slow to boot up if I just need to scan a contract or something one or two pages, it’s much more convenient to just take a picture of it with my iPhone. But just taking a picture of the document may result in some blur or other issues you don’t want if you’re using it in a professional setting, which is where TurboScan comes in. When you take the picture it works some magic, including straightening the document image, and results in a scan that’s just as good as anything you’d get out of a scanner. When you’re done scanning, you can set up the app so that it can email it to yourself (and it will remember your email address so you don’t have to put it in every time). It costs a couple of dollars, but it’s worth every penny!
Connect with John on Twitter, @johnjosephadams.