Interview with Brian Stableford

The following is a transcription of the interview with Brian Stableford at ConFuse 91. The transcription was done by Tommy Persson. The text has been edited by Tommy Persson and Hans Persson to make it more readable.

Andreas Björklind: Welcome to ConFuse. Let me introduce our guest of honour Brian Stableford and his wife Jane Stableford for the first time in Sweden on this our first sf-con in Linköping. I will try to conduct this confused inquisition in a rather confused way. I will ask you some general questions about your career, your writing, your inspiration and everything, and I expect you in the audience to interrupt and ask a question if you think I missed something as an interviewer or if you think Mr. Stableford should say something more about a subject you are interested in. Please raise your hand and tell us what you want. If you don't feel like asking the question in English yourself you can always ask it in Swedish and I will translate it for Stableford. Let's begin. When did you start writing science fiction?

Brian Stableford: I started writing it when I was about nine which is many more years ago than I care to remember. I sold my first short story in 1965 when I was sixteen. I have been at it slightly longer than twenty-five years.

Andreas Björklind: The question to follow that: Why?

Brian Stableford: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Andreas Björklind: You don't have to answer if you feel it's too prying or something.

Brian Stableford: Well. The reason I was writing science fiction fairly heavily was that I was reading science fiction all the time in my teens. I began reading it intensively at about thirteen or fourteen and for the next five or six years I read nothing but science fiction. I was a very boring person at the time. I did absolutely nothing else. I was reading ten, twelve books a week without effort and I found time to write things as well, I am not quite sure how. As you can tell the rest of my life was very boring.

Andreas Björklind: How did you develop as a new science fiction writer?

Brian Stableford: I was very fortunate to sell a story so young. It was a terrible story. I don't know why the editor in question bought it but he must have seen some shred of promise there. When you are in your mid-teens, if someone pays, you even the miserable amounts that science fiction magazines pay you, it looks like very easy money indeed. I was never able to shake this idea that there was money there to be made if I could do it right. I must have written about fifty short stories in the first five years and I only sold four so it wasn't really easy money at all. If you add up the time invested and the actual return it was very difficult money indeed. But nevertheless there was that spur there. And simply the fact that I was reading so much of it, I was very interested in it, made me want to try writing stories for myself. I had very little idea in those days how to construct stories which was probably why I only sold four of the first fifty. But there was a certain fascination in developing these images of other worlds which I still find fascinating I guess, otherwise I wouldn't still be doing it after twenty-five years.

Andreas Björklind: So, in the beginning it was the thrill of imagining and actually getting money for the stories. What happened after that? Did you evolve in some ways that you yourself think are essential?

Brian Stableford: There was a big hurdle involved in writing my first novel. Even before I sold my first short story I had in collaboration with a friend at school produced a work that was novel length, it was abysmal, but it had the right number of words in it. I did found it difficult to work alone to produce something on that scale. It took some time to discipline myself to be able to produce that number of words. But once I had managed to cultivate the skill of producing something on that sort of scale I think I then had an awful lot of development to do in terms of knowing what to actually put in the plots and things like that. I did find it rather difficult at first to produce anything which wasn't a kind of straightforward copy or distillation of things I had read. I didn't really have much to write about apart from imitating other things. But over the course of time I gradually did manage to develop interests of my own. I studied biology at the university and then went on to do research on sociology and that kind of inputs of ideas gradually gave me a basis from which to work. Over time you can see my very naïve and violent space operas that I wrote when I was in my late teens and early twenties gradually becoming more thoughtful and I think more interesting. They didn't sell any better but I thought they were better. Over the years I developed a fairly intense interest in the possibilities of bio-technology which is the main theme running through my harder science fiction. And also over time I began to do a lot of work for reference books, encyclopedias, bibliographies, and over the years have cultivated a certain expertise in the history of imaginative fiction, not just science fiction but also fantasy and horror as well. That interest in the way that ideas have developed historically over time is also something which has motivated a lot of my recent work. Books like Empire of Fear and Werewolves of London are really attempts to look at classic themes in imaginative fiction in a new and distinctively modern way, hopefully.

Andreas Björklind: You mentioned your academic education here: biology and sociology. You said you got more inspiration or ideas from those fields that you could put in your work. So you think it really contributed to you as an evolving author?

Brian Stableford: Yes, it makes an enormous difference actually to know something. The big thing about turning to writing very young is that you have nothing to write about except the things you have read. There isn't any scope for you to develop anything original. Being educated does indeed give you a much sounder basis for thinking originally. You have to know a lot before you can begin to extend it a little bit. I really did get very interested in certain aspects of biology, particularly evolution theory and later bio-technology, which provided me with a constant source of not only new ideas to put into stories but also some kind of central argument that I can put forward. I am somewhat of a propagandist for bio-technology which I think is misunderstood by many people in the population at large. There is a way of thinking about such ideas as genetic engineering which is very negative and based on false ideas about what the true possibilities are and I do try to set this right a bit. My collection Sexual Chemistry: Sardonic Tales of the Genetic Revolution -- of which there was one one copy in the book shop -- has as well as the stories a long essay which I first did as a lecture for a symposium of young scientists and engineers in Tokyo which is about the sociology of technology and about the potential for bio-technology for remolding society.

Andreas Björklind: Sounds very interesting. [Sounding totally insincere]

Brian Stableford: It's absolutely fascinating.

Andreas Björklind: Let's confuse this a little more. You mentioned that you liked the stories you wrote and wrote them for yourself. Who do you write for now?

Brian Stableford: I do hate to sound cynical but really I write for the money. Until a couple of years ago I still had an academic post so I had a salary and a pension and things like that. Then I gave it all up and now all I got is the writing so I have to look after myself. I quite often do write short stories simply because there is a market there and I can get money for writing something for it. But on the other hand I find it very difficult to write something which doesn't have some points of interest in it for me. I find it very difficult nowadays to write the kind of pastiche that I found much easier when I was seventeen. Unless it has some kind of twist that interests me it seems lifeless while I'm doing it and it does become very much harder to do. Hopefully I've got a fairly wide range of interests so when someone proposes to me that I might write a story set around some strange board game it actually seems like more of a challenge then a chore. The work that I have done for Games Workshop I think is in some way very interesting work. I enjoyed it a lot and it was good fun. Occasionally I write a story simply because I think it is a very good idea and I really like to do it. That has helped to push me into other projects like editing anthologies because if all else fails you can always sell the story to yourself. It's useful in keeping up the motivation to know that even if nobody else is going to buy it you can always buy it yourself. Not for very much unfortunately. The anthologies I edited for Dedalus are very very low budget.

Andreas Björklind: Many anthologies?

Brian Stableford: I think they have published two so far and I have delivered two more and I am doing a fifth one. The first one, the one which has original material in it is called Tales of the Wandering Jew, which David mentioned in the piece he did for the program book, which is a kind of half-antique half-modern collection. It is a collection of ten half-antique short stories featuring that particular motif and then ten modern ones. I am doing another one like that. The others in the series has been published as The Dedalus Book of Decadence which wasn't my idea originally. They originally had somebody signed up to do it who didn't turn it in and I couldn't resist the title. So then they said ''We have put this book in our catalogue and now it is four weeks to go and he won't deliver it.'' So I said ''Well, yes, I will do my best.'' Which is very interesting because although it doesn't have any original material in it, it does have translations from the French. Originally when I took on the book I was going to ask somebody else to do that but I then realized that they were going to do it so slowly so it would be pointless. So I had to do it myself which was difficult because I don't speak French. But I now read French tolerably well. There are dictionaries, you know.

Andreas Björklind: You mentioned this Games Workshop thing. It seems like all of Britain's science fiction writers are working for Games Workshop in that Warhammer stuff thing.

Brian Stableford: Games Workshop are very cunning, they hired David Pringle to be their editor so he immediately started ringing around all his friends promising vast amounts of money. I really think it is quite fun writing within that. It does have certain annoying restriction and they do take the copyright on the stuff so even after you have turned in the absolute final text they tend to muck about with it a bit. One has to live with this sort of thing. It is no better selling stories to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Gardner Dozois still changed your endings.

Andreas Björklind: You mentioned your work for reference books and you have done a lot of critical articles and things about science fiction and fantasy and horror. You like to do it I suppose?

Brian Stableford: Yes, over the years, twenty-five years I have been buying books and I have always tended to buy them in some quantities so over the years I have assembled quite a considerable reference collection. I also have access to London Library, Railing University Library. I have access to an awful lot of books and I have always been reasonable skillful taking information out of reference books and condensing it. There is a sense in which writing for reference books is absolutely heartbreaking because they pay you by the word but they wont let you put in too many words. All the skill goes into boiling it down to a minimum possible number of words and you know that if you succeed you get less money for it. It is a slightly perverse business. It is useful to be able to vary one's work pattern if you are a full time writer. You can easily get bogged down writing the same kind of thing. It is quite nice to be able to think that today I can't do that anymore, I need something else to do. Do I have something completely different to do? After a few weeks writing fiction being able to write non-fiction suddenly seems like a good idea because it is all there, you only have to write it down. It is just the truth and all you have to do is to find exactly where it is. But after three weeks of doing that you get really sick of getting up and getting the books off the shelves and condensing everything and you think ''my God, wouldn't it be really nice to be able to sit down and just make it up for a bit.'' So the ability to work two different kind of patterns is useful to maintain your time schedules. The other thing about reference books is that the truth doesn't change that much. It does a bit but not much. So that once you have written an article of something you can plagiarize it endlessly. You can be payed for the same thing six, seven, eight times if you are really lucky. Not much but it does accumulate over time. When I first started doing this back in the seventies, science fiction was just being taken on in American universities as a subject and there was this sort of vacuum of reference book material. There was an awful lot of work about. In America most reference books get written by American academics who do it for free because they need to publish in order to get tenure and get promotions. There is a large population of American academic slaves who is willing to do the work for nothing or less than nothing. Sometimes they even pay to get it published, this is madness. There was nobody in the American university population who had the requisite knowledge to write these reference books. Now of course there is a population of parasites who just plagiarize my bits of reference books which is really annoying because when I plagiarize my bits of reference books I expect to be paid for it again but they just do it for nothing. There was a lot of work around at one time so I was able to get a lot of fairly low paid but nevertheless reasonable congenial work and I really do like some aspects of critical work. It is easy to get obsessive about the historical and bibliographical things. When you find, in some sort of forgotten corner of British Museum catalogue, a fact that nobody else knew or, while browsing in London Library you find a book nobody else have ever heard of, this comes to seem like a great discovery. There is a kind of obsessive pursuit of the irrelevant that can easily take over your life. I try to not let it go too far but I do take this terrible delight in discovering authors that nobody else have ever heard of and writing critical articles about them. I know that the definite critical articles only get read by three people but even so there is a sense in that once they are on the record they are there. You do get a chance occasionally to redeem people's reputation a bit and help things along. It is a minor art form but interesting.

Publik Anders Holmström: Could you name five reference books you find especially essential?

Brian Stableford: The Nicholls encyclopedia is currently being revised by Peter Nicholls, John Clute and myself and anybody else we can persuade to do any of the work. That will be published next year and that will be absolutely indispensable. Not only will it update the first edition but it will correct all the errors or at least most of the errors, the one we have found out about. I think Neil Barron's library guide Anatomy of Wonder is a very useful book. It is a good survey of the history of the field. It contains sort of capsule descriptions of all the notable books that have ever been written. Quite a lot of that is by me as well. I don't have to be modest here, do I?

Publik Anders Holmström: Apart from your own books. I understand that they are absolutely essential.

Andreas Björklind: He means number six to ten on the list.

Brian Stableford: I think Alexei and Cory Panshin's book The World Beyond the Hill is a very useful and thoroughly researched book about the beginnings of American pulp science fiction. I disagree with their central thesis but I cannot in any way fault their research.

Publik Anders Holmström: What is their central thesis?

Brian Stableford: Their stated thesis is that science fiction constitutes a quest for transcendence. That's what they say in the subtitle of the book. Their argument is that science fiction all along, although nobody who was writing it actually knew this, was aiming for this particular kind of transcendental goal. And they do actually present a lot of argument that demonstrates that when John W. Campbell said he was producing hard science fiction about the real world he was lying. They do prove that but they think that is a good thing and I don't, I think that is a bad thing. Their book has convinced me that John W. Campbell was not all he is cracked up to be which was not their intension. I still do think it is a very good book in many ways. I think Darko Suvin's book Victorian Science Fiction in Britain has an enormous amount of very scrupulous and very good research. In bibliographical terms it is a masterpiece but what he says about the books is pretty much nonsense. It is a great bibliography with a very heavy Marxist commentary which is unreadable. The bibliographical stuff is really very good, he did an enormous amount of work. Everett Bleiler's work I think is absolutely indispensable. He has written a whole series of bibliographical guides. His bibliographical guide to the early science fiction [Science Fiction: The Early Years, 1991, written together with his son Richard Bleiler] has just been published. His earlier guide to supernatural fiction (The Guide to Supernatural Fiction, 1983) is a distillation of a life time's reading is absolutely indispensable. I plagiarize it all the time writing reference books. He edited two anthologies for Scribners. They were very badly distributed so they are not very well known. They are sets of critical essays: one is on science fiction writers [Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day, 1982] and one is a two volume work on supernatural fiction writers [Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror, 1985]. They I think are very very good. Bleniler is by far and away the outstanding American scholar of the field. He has spent sixty years reading it assiduously and he is a very intelligent, very perceptive man. Sam Moskowitz does a lot of work but even his best friend would not describe Sam Moskowitz as intelligent and perceptive. There's a sense in which you have to read Moskowitz for the data as well. He has read everything, that is the advantage of him. I think there is a lot of good stuff in Sam Moskowitz' work as well. But Bleiler is for me the man who has done the most work and is by far and away the most valuable resource.

Andreas Björklind: When we are at your reading habits, what about fiction? Could you name some fiction you think is wonderful or good in some way which you would like to recommend to someone completely new to science fiction?

Brian Stableford: There are a couple of dozen writers whose books I automatically buy and read. There are some whose books I buy and they sit on the shelves and I might get around to them at some stage. Of people writing at the moment, the writers who have impressed me most in the last couple of years have been James Morrow and James Blaylock. Morrow writes intense, highly colourful, very fast paced moral fantasies which I think are brilliantly written and very intelligent books. Blaylock has a wonderful sort of subtle style. His book are not in any sense science fiction really, Homunculus is supposedly science fiction but it isn't very. They are very clever and subtle stories which I find a joy to read. I think that those two are among my favourites. I have long held people like Robert Silverberg in high regard although I held him in high regard before he gave it up because since he started again he has really been doing it for the money. He is not now at his best which one could say about a lot of writers who was popular once upon a time.

Andreas Björklind: If we go back to yourself and your writing. This is quite confused, it is the conventions name anyway. Do you see yourself writing in one of the subgenres in science fiction, hard core or space opera or something, or do you like to see yourself as a multi-genre author.

Brian Stableford: In a way both. I like to think I can do absolutely anything, it would be nice, so I try. But essentially I am a science fiction writer. The way the market is these days there is a sense in which it is easier to sell fantasies and there's perhaps some more interest from publishers in horror fiction even than science fiction so I have diverged into those other genres or at least I have borrowed motifs from these other genres. One thing I find it impossible to get rid of is my science fictional conscience. What I find dissatisfying about a lot of fantasy and horror fiction is that it isn't thought out properly. Nobody actually tries to ask the questions about what is going on that a science fiction author would naturally ask. If I read a book about some sort of ancient monstrous entity which is sitting under somebody's house doing terrible things to him I don't just want to know there is a reference to his name in some ancient crumbling text. I want to know what kind of entity is this? What is it actually made of? What can it actually do? What are the limits? I want to investigate more thoroughly the kind of metaphysics that is implied by fantasy and horror. In a calculated attempt, really, to try and widen the potential audience for my books I have in recent years been using themes borrowed from fantasy and horror. The Empire of Fear is a novel about vampires, but they are science fictional vampires. I had to device a bio-chemistry of vampyrism so I could do it properly. There are a lot of very good modern vampire novels. There has been a boom in this kind of fiction because the idea of taking this ancient motif and looking at it in a non-judgemental way, not using it simply as a figure of menace but thinking: What if there is such things as vampires, what would they have for breakfast? What would they think about themselves? What would be their attitude to human beings? And the central question of a modern vampire story, what would they do for a sex life? I was quite interested by this fiction, this idea of subjecting the idea to rational examination and extrapolation in this way. It seemed to me that the idea of the vampire as a kind of lone predator fleeing from hoards of vengeful van Helsings was perhaps a bit difficult to swallow. I thought that if there were such things as vampires, if it was biochemically possible for there to be enormously long lived very sexy, very powerful blood drinkers then they would rule the world so I reconstructed the entirety of history so that they did and that was The Empire of Fear. Werewolves of London which is the next novel, the most recent novel that I have published, is somewhat in the same vein. It does envisage that there are these ancient nasty-minded, godlike entities and the first book really just serves to introduce them to the reader so that the reader knows more or less what they can do and what they are disposed to do. Then in the sequel, which is due to be published this year, called The Angel of Pain there is then a long examination of, well what are they are made of and what kind of universe do we have to be living in if there are such beings as this and what consequences does that have for our prospects as a species. And in the eventual third volume we will get forward to the year 3000 and see how it all turned out.

Publik Peter Nordgren: You mentioned inspiration from fantasy and horror. What non-sf-associated genres do you also pick up inspiration from?

Brian Stableford: Well, I read a certain amount of modern contemporary fiction but most of it is on the fringes of science fiction or fantasy. I have over the time read a good deal of detective fiction and I think certainly in terms of style I have been influenced somewhat by he Chandleresque hard-boiled detectives simply because their dialog is so good. The people in those books talk to one another so cleverly that ... Once you have actually read half a dozen books by Chandler it is impossible not to try and write in that sort of way. I do like that kind of cynical off-hand style and when I am writing first person narrative I do tend to slip into something akin to that. I don't know why but people do sometimes accuse me of being sarcastic, you probably haven't noticed it but I have a style of dialog, I suppose I model my real dialog very much on that kind of fiction. That I would think would be the main influence that shows in my work. I am interested in writers like Angela Carter who isn't really a science fiction writer but is kind of at the fringe of the field. I like work of that slightly odd kind which is not necessarily science fiction or openly supernatural but which is just eccentric. I don't like anything too normal. Novels about people committing adultery in Hampstead are essentially not interesting. You don't know where Hampstead is, it is a posh suburb of London. It's where the people live who are rich enough to have nothing on their mind but adultery. An awful lot of writers live there.

Andreas Björklind: Science fiction writers?

Brian Stableford: Not science fiction writers.

Andreas Björklind: Knowing that you have written quite a lot about the sociology of science fiction I would like to ask you the question: How do you look at science fiction as a field or a literary style or whatever? What would you like to call science fiction anyway? Start with that simple question.

Brian Stableford: I got into sociology really by accident. Having done some research work in population dynamics I originally went to the sociology department intending to become a demographer but unfortunately the demographer that was going to be my supervisor had an unprecedented opportunity to sell out and did andwent to work for the London rubber company who were at the time very interested in demography. Well I suppose they still are in a way. London Rubber Company makes Durex, condoms. And the guy who I went to work with was supposedly the world's foremost expert on contraceptive methods which is why he got the job. Anyway, that is entirely irrelevant. Having arrived at the sociology department and then lost a supervisor I decided that I might as well do the sociology of something that I know something about so I started doing research about the sociology of science fiction. I suppose that like most people who have thought about the problem I have a kind of ambivalent view. On the one hand I would like to be able to make great claims for the possible merits of science fiction as a force for good in society. I would like to be able say that reading science fiction makes people much smarter, much better adapted to a fast-changing world, much cleverer dealing with new technologies and things like that and in a sense I think this could be the case. But if you look at the actual facts of the matter, if you look at the actual sales of science fiction and the actual readers of science fiction it is difficult sometimes to sustain the wild optimism that one would really like to. So my sociology is a little bit ambivalent about this. It does try and sustain some of these claims about the wonderful potential of science fiction as an educative and world-changing force but it points out that what people mostly actually buy is lightly disguised fantasy of a very stereotyped kind. I can't help thinking it is a pity but nevertheless that is the reality and if one is going to try to explain what is going on in the world that is the situation one has to address so my book on the sociology of science fiction tries to compromise, do a little bit of both.

Publik Anders Holmström: You said that the reason that science fiction hadn't got its full potential in making this utopia is that so much is junk and that people just read Dragonlance novels.

Brian Stableford: I wouldn't want to be too rude about fantasy. I write fantasy myself although the fantasy I write tends to be very anti-fantasy but then I think that is what fantasy is for really. I wouldn't even want to be too rude about Dragonlance books. They are very popular and there is a sense in which anything which is very popular is by virtue of that of some sociological interest, it always needs to be explained, and it is therefore a phenomena in which I have tried to take some interest.

Publik Anders Holmström: So when is your Forgotten Realms novel coming?

Brian Stableford: As soon as they volunteer to pay me the money. I really am not proud, if anybody came to me and offers me a lot of money to write something I will do it.

Publik Peter Nordgren: Boiling down your review of the Dragonlance novels. Do you derive any enjoyment from reading a Dragonlance novel?

Publik Anders Holmström: Have you ever read a Dragonlance novel? Come clean.

Brian Stableford: Well, I once read the first eight pages of one but after that I thought it wasn't really worth my while ploughing through the other seven hundred because I had a suspicion of what they might be like. I did read the entirety of Raymond E. Feist's Magician because I had volunteered to write an article on it and therefore I felt obliged to go from the beginning all the way through to the end. The article is a bit slight on details about the second and third novels because I just read the first eight and the last eight pages of those. In a sense I think it is good for me to occasionally read things I don't much like because it does force you to think about why you don't like them and why they are selling hundreds of thousands of copies.

Publik Jukka Nylund: I have a question about a scary tendency in science fiction. Take Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee's sequels to Rendezvous with Rama which are disgusting novels.

Brian Stableford: I must admit that I haven't read that either. I began to stop reading Arthur Clarke when he was very ill and his novels did begin to get very slight and were obviously written with great difficulty. He was at one time very ill and he was desperate to try and finish certain projects he had embarked on. He didn't know whether he was going to come through the illness and that I think was when he became tempted by the idea of letting Gentry Lee write a couple of his books for him which from what I've heard was not a terribly good idea. In a way it is understandable that someone in that situation should not be able to produce books that were of the same level as he was producing when he was fit and healthy and in much better shape.

Publik Jukka Nylund: It's this tendency that a well known writer is offered a lot of money to write a book just because they want to sell a lot of books.

Brian Stableford: Well, that is the way the market works. However much one regrets it, there is a sense in which authors who have spent thirty years establishing themselves as big names, then find that their name is a commodity in its own right and whatever it appears on is going to sell more copies simply because it is there. I am certainly not going to throw stones at Isaac Asimov for hiring out his name for vast sums of money because if anybody came to me and said ''We don't want you to do work, we just want to use your name and we will pay you lots of money'' I wouldn't be able to withstand the temptation. It is easy to be holier than though and say that Isaac Asimov doesn't need the money. But needing the money tends to be a relative thing. Yes, I think it is a shame. I sometimes wince at the thought that people who are producing novels which are only a tenth as good as what they could do when they were young and fit are nevertheless being paid vast sums of money and the novels are being heavily advertised and sells well to people who remember when they could write. It is a pity that work like that does get out. It doesn't just happens in science fiction, it is just a fact of how the market place works. It always will be the case so you just have to live with that. You don't have to buy them, you don't have to read them. Once you know that someone has gone senile you can at least avoid them.

Publik Anders Holmström: Science fiction. Shared worlds?

Brian Stableford: You have to understand that the American science fiction market is in a very peculiar situation at the moment which is all because of the invention of shopping malls. Twenty years ago, books were mostly sold out of book shops which was what you would expect really and book shops used to operate as independent entities. One book shop was just a business in its own right. But then American shopping begun to move into these gigantic purpose-built malls and every mall tends to be built with two fairly small book shop premises in them which are hired out to the book shop chains Waldenbooks and Dalton. And because Americans do so much of their shopping in shopping malls now something like 45 -- 50 percent of American books go through Waldenbooks and Dalton chain stores. Waldenbooks and Dalton do their buying essentially by computers. They just tap a few keys to find out exactly how many copies of somebody's last book they sold. Their display space is fairly limited, they don't have very big premises, and therefore the shelf space is a very valuable commodity. They quickly worked out with the aid of their little computers that a book which you put onto a shelf was going to sell most of the copies it was going to sell inside a matter of eight days and that it was more profitable for the book shop owner to take it away then and put something else in its place. This quickly produced the situation where there is a small select class of books which can be replaced perpetually, you can always put more copies of that book on the shelf and they will always sell more than a new title and those are the big bestsellers that are perpetually in stock, they sell millions. But the books that can't make that kind of regular turnover, the kind of book which after eight days it is more profitable to put a new title in its place, have found that their sales have been very drastically squeezed indeed. Back in the sixties you could sell thirty or forty thousand copies of almost anything with the letters sf on the cover provided it had a spaceship or an alien on it so that people knew what they were getting. These days that would be an enormous sale for an ordinary mid-list paperback because it's literally on the shelf today and it is gone within a matter of days. They just do not have the display space anymore. This has had two effects. First of all it means that the publishers want to publish more and more titles so that there is one of their titles that gets put there in place of the last one. Secondly they want to pay the authors less and less for them because they are not selling anything near as many copies. So you got the paradoxical situation of having a boom in terms of the number of titles produced but none of them are making any money. Every single one of them is making a loss because the publisher is having to pulp two thirds or three quarters of the print run. If the American publishers had any sense and if they were prepared to ignore the anti-trust laws, which I assume they are, they would just get around the table and say ''OK lads, we are forming a cartel. No more sale or return to these bastards. They buy our books and they keep them and that is it.'' But the American publishers don't do that. What they do is compete with one another ever more fiercely, cut one and another's throat so that they are all making a loss. But it doesn't matter because they are all owned by other companies anyway. One of the effects of this situation of declining sales has been that the only hope a publisher has of getting any real orders for a title is if the title is part of a series so that when he publishes volume four he has some slight hope that the book shops will reorder volumes one, two and three. So American publishers are intensely interested in series titles and they are intensely interested in any other kind of marketing ploy that works. So as Isaac Asimov can't write fifty-seven books a year, what they do is put his name in big letters on a series of novels which are going to be written by other people for a few thousand dollars each. The real people's names might appear in very small types at the bottom. This is going to be put out as a numbered series because that is the easiest way of trying to sell slightly more than the minimum number of copies. And some of these shared world anthologies are in fact very successful. The whole thing was kicked off by the astonishing success of the Thieves' World anthologies. You can see why it is an attractive marketing ploy to the American publishers. And while it is an attractive marketing ploy to the American publisher hungry science fiction authors will be pleased to write stories even for the miserably amount of money they pay and even knowing that Isaac Asimov's name is going to appear on the cover in far bigger letter than theirs. It's just the reality of the situation. I don't think it will last forever, partly because sheer overkill will make shared world anthologies unfashionable very quickly. I think in five years time it may be the publishing wisdom, publishing wisdom and reality are not necessarily the same thing but what publishers believe tends to be a self fulfilling prophesy so that when publishers believe that collections of short stories don't sell they don't because nobody publishes them and publishers believed that for some time, but publishing wisdom will just come to be that the day of the shared world anthology is done and when publishers believe that it will be done because they won't publish it any more. In terms of science fiction, what is happening is that you are getting a return of the fifties and sixties situation when most of the science fiction which is published and sold doesn't go through the book shop circuit at all. Because the sales of mass market hard covers and paperbacks has dropped so low now it is possible for specialist publishers like Dark Harvest and Mark Zeising to sell as many copies as the big publishers do without anything like the overheads. So you are seeing a big buildup again of speciality publishers and small publishers. Pulphouse has been enormously successful swimming against the prevailing tide. Because the publishers didn't believe that single author collections sold Pulphouse decided they were going to do one a month and they have done quite well out of it because they are the only place you can get collected short stories by most of the authors they are dealing with. They sell their books through conventions and they sell them by mail orders and they just ignore Waldenbooks and Dalton. It doesn't make any difference because there are sufficient outlets there. I think that the speciality publishers will keep alive the kind of science fiction which the mass market publishers are not for the moment terribly interested in. The market situation will shift I think gradually back to a more sensible situation simply because science fiction readers in America will just stop going into Waldenbooks and Dalton. They won't bother, they will just buy all their books by mail order or through book stalls at conventions.

Andreas Björklind: Unfortunately we are out of time. I am sorry about that because we have several questions here. I suggest that you continue with a personal inquisition with Mr. Stableford. Thank you Mr. Stableford for the interview.

LSFF:s hemsida