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Editing New Worlds: a question

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  • Editing New Worlds: a question

    A question for Mr. Moorcock, if he has the time and feels inclined to comment.

    Perdix and I were discussing the historical role of editors in the sf magazines of the past. I find myself wondering to what extent you "worked" with submitters of work to New Worlds, and to what extent you simply filtered submissions to find good work.

    If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, editors such as H. L. Gold and to a lesser extent Boucher and Pohl could be very demanding about asking for revisions if they felt there were technical flaws or omissions in a potentially-publishable story. I've heard similar stories about Silverberg for New Dimensions and Terry Carr for Universe. I've heard a LOT of things about Alice K. Turner, formerly at Playboy fiction desk.

    The question of detail: did you often engage in such give-and-take / requests for revision with prospective submissions to New Worlds? Or did you have sufficient "flawless" material at all times to be permitted the luxury of rejecting "almost" acceptable work?

    Just curious. I read New Worlds back in the '60s and (in the quarterly format) the early '70s, and the work was consistently of high quality, but I heard little about your editorial practices when it came to these matters. It goes without saying that you rejected work you found unsuitable for the purposes of your magazine.

    Thanks for any illumination.

    LSN

  • #2
    Gold, Campbell and the others were all heavy editors, working in what I think of as the US newspaper tradition, which rewrites often as a matter of course, without reference to the authors. Gold sometimes changed endings without reference to the authors (according to anecdotes told to me). I reacted against this tradition and our method of editing was pretty different, perhaps closer to British book-editing methods. My policy was pretty simple -- if I thought an author had promise I would usually buy the first story without suggesting any significant changes (i.e. nothing about spelling corrections and internal inconsistencies). Once
    I had demonstrated my respect for the author I might suggest changes to later work, but ONLY if those changes improved on what the author wished to say. I never edited to change the content or intention of a story. I would work on a Xerox copy, showing where I thought improvements could be made, but ultimately the author ALWAYS had final say. I know Bob Silverberg turned down Ellison's A BOY AND HIS DOG, for instance, because of what he saw as a weak ending. I actually thought the balance of the story could be improved and told Harlan so, but Harlan insisted he wanted it to stand as it was, so I accepted his decision. The story, of course, went on to win a Nebula. Keith Roberts, incidentally, was an excellent editor, but his suggestions had more to do with improving the structure and writing of a conventional narrative.
    Since I encouraged writers to produce idiosyncratic narratives, my main effort was to help the author produce stories which made the most of those idiosyncracies.
    Aside for not approving of its sexual politics, I refused to have stories sent to Playboy. When Judy Merril was a fiction editor there she showed me their 'rewrite sheets'. These were actually blue sheets on which a story was entirely rewritten by the editors. This was the direct opposite of my own policies.
    One thing some authors said about New Worlds was that they wrote 'up' to what they thought were the standards. Thomas M. Disch, for instance, told me that he would never have made Camp Concentration as ambitious as it was if he hadn't been doing it as a serial for us, delivering each section month by month. Essentially, then, I suppose you could say that by raising the bar, demanding a higher standard, authors rose to the occasion. Therefore, less and less editing was necessary!

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
    The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

    Comment


    • #3
      Thank you. That cleared up a number of questions I'd been wondering about. Setting the bar pretty high seems a good approach, and editing with a light touch shows respect for the author. Considering your experience and understanding, I don't see how anyone could have objected if you had made suggestions (structural or technical) about improving a story. As Perdix and I discussed earlier, arguing with a story's central premise, or in effect "rewriting" the story, is something more than mere improvement. If the editor wants the story to be something that much different, perhaps he simply doesn't want to publish the story and should leave it at that!

      I had read Mr. Silverberg's comments about why he rejected "A Boy and His Dog," the general substance of which was that he disliked the writing style and had issues with the content, to some degree. I have considerable respect for Mr. Silverberg, and greatly admire his best work, but he seems (at times) a bit squeamish in a curious way. As I recall, he told Ellison that he would publish "A Boy and His Dog" only if he did what amounted to a complete rewrite. I think it was at that point that Mr. Ellison sent the story to you.

      I noted in passing back in '69 that Ellison's paperback version of "A Boy and His Dog" claimed to be considerably expanded from its original magazine publication. I wonder whether he took some of your comments about balance to heart and tried to follow up on them.

      Keith Roberts was a fine writer, and I liked his stories and his magazine, SF Impulse, quite a bit. His approach as a writer was obviously within the tradition of conventional narrative, but he handled it so well that I never felt the need to object. Hardly a surprise if his editorial approach resembled his approach to fiction.

      I'd gathered that Tom Disch pulled out all the stops, as it were, for Camp Concentration. (I loved the book so much I read it twice in succession when it came out.) Disch's intentions were obviously high from early on. My absolute favorite of his stories that you published was in New Worlds Quarterly#1, "Angoulأ?me." (Later part of 334.) Another ambitious piece of work, the like of which one didn't see elsewhere too often.

      (It has been more than 5 years since Disch's last novel. I wonder when he'll bring out another one. I'm growing impatient. )

      Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my question. I very much appreciated the information and your viewpoint.

      LSN

      Comment


      • #4
        That IS interesting, in an affirmatory way, from the viewpoint of horribly callow neophytes like me.

        Good question, LSN. Thanks for the answer, Mr Hedge-jumper :D

        Has that bloody crate arrived yet?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Perdix
          That IS interesting, in an affirmatory way, from the viewpoint of horribly callow neophytes like me.

          Good question, LSN. Thanks for the answer, Mr Hedge-jumper :D
          It was an obvious question, given the nature of our prior discussions. After all, we've got a professional editor close at hand. Why not simply ASK him what he did? He can always ignore us if he doesn't want to answer. And if he thinks we're stupid, hey, it's not as if it would hurt physically.

          LSN

          Comment


          • #6
            That should have read 'nothing but spelling corrections etc.' I need an editor, evidently.
            Harlan didn't know how little NW paid in comparison to the US rates of the day and was a little shocked when he got his cheque (check), in spite of being pleased we'd accepted it. He later retaliated (I reminded him of this a while ago but he appears to have forgotten) by paying me a low rate for the first story I sold him for The Last Dangerous Visions. Since
            then I've replaced the story about four times, of course... Given that Harlan almost singlehandedly helped improve the rates and conditions for the average sf writer, I certainly didn't begrudge him his 'retaliation'.
            The story, of course, later made quite a lot of money for him. And in some ways the prequel, which he happened to write while I was staying with him in LA, did even better. I had no issues with the tone, only with the balance of the ending. I felt it probably needed another 5,000 words. I haven't read the story since I published it, so I don't know if he did anything with it. Harlan tends not to like rewriting.
            Tom Disch remains a fine writer but seems to be devoting much of his time to journalism, these days, working for The Weekly Standard, among others. I agree, it would be wonderful to be able to read one of the two or three novels he has in the works. It would be nice to see some more of his stories in Vintage editions, like Camp Concentration. To some extent Disch was almost too mature not just for the genre but for the general reader. His reputation as a poet, of course, continues to grow.
            He also paints, these days.
            Langdon Jones is another writer I'd love to see more work from, but aside from the collection of stories published by Macmillan in the US and Savoy in the UK (The Great Clock) he has published very little fiction. This is partly because he is primarily a composer. His setting for Peake's Rhyme of the Flying Bomb is brilliant. Like a number of the people associated with New Worlds, he seems content to do the work for its own sake and makes little effort to publish. In 'real life' Jones is a hard-working local politician!
            I was glad, recently, to be in touch with David I Masson, too, who is now almost 90 and did most of his work for New Worlds. When NW stopped regular publication, he stopped writing! His collection was recently republished as a POD book via his agent Christopher Priest.
            Priest also represents John T. Sladek, another much underpublished writer. They all appear in the Thunder Mouth's Press edition of New Worlds: An Anthology, including Disch's Angouleme and Sladek's Masterson and the Clerks. I agree that Angouleme is another of Disch's very best stories -- which is saying a great deal considering the high standard of his work in general. Disch, Sladek and Zelazny were three of the writers whose early work I was so pleased to get for New Worlds.

            The crate of lions and tigers did arrive, Perdix, as I think I've now told you elsewhere. I have devoured them with relish.

            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
            The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
            Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
            The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
            Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Steeplechaser
              ...

              Tom Disch remains a fine writer but seems to be devoting much of his time to journalism, these days, working for The Weekly Standard, among others. I agree, it would be wonderful to be able to read one of the two or three novels he has in the works. It would be nice to see some more of his stories in Vintage editions, like Camp Concentration. To some extent Disch was almost too mature not just for the genre but for the general reader. His reputation as a poet, of course, continues to grow.
              He also paints, these days.

              ...
              I also rate Camp Concentration most highly. I first read it when AIDS was becoming recognized as a serious epidemic, so it made quite an impression. And, Echo Round His Bones has to be one of my all time favourite Science Fiction books, with a really original take on the problems of teleportation.

              So, it was something of a shock when I discovered that Disch had also written The Brave Little Toaster! :D

              Comment


              • #8
                Take a look at The Genocides, 334, and On Wings of Song. Really good stuff.

                I like Disch's horror novel The Priest quite a bit, too, as well as The M.D..

                The book he wrote collaboratively with Charles Naylor, Neighboring Lives is excellent, too.

                Probably one of my favorite living writers. I've been following his work since I first encountered it, in 1966.

                Now if he'll only finish The Pressure of Time. I've only been waiting for it since around '68.

                As for Mr. Moorcock's comment about Disch being almost too mature for the genre and the general reader, I can't say. I don't think I'm in any way exceptional in this regard, and I've found Disch to be one of the essential writers, irrespective of consideration of things like genre. Even his individual sentences are works of art.

                LSN

                Comment


                • #9
                  I've got Langdon Jones's early '70s short story collection from Macmillan, The Eye of the Lens. He's really good. His expertise in musical matters certainly came through in his story about Ludwig van Beethoven II. :lol: (Hilariouis little tale, with a serious undercurrent.)

                  I'd love to see more of his work, but it seems to be hard to come by.

                  LSN

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    John Sladek's "Masterson and the Clerks" is a wonderful story, by the way, but readers who like it shouldn't stop there. Sladek was a terrific writer of short stories (take a look at the looney tunes story, "1937 AD!" for another dose of disorientation), as well as a novelist (see The Reproductive System and the Roderick books). He also wrote several books with Tom Disch. Black Alice was published under the name "Thom Demijohn" and the "gothics" they wrote together were published, I think, under the name "Cassandra Knye," the pseudonym of the dying writer in Disch's excellent story, "Getting into Death."

                    Sladek was genuinely unique, and New Worlds was his natural habitat.

                    Let's hope Perdix's magazine "Prototype" can publish at least a few works as good as the stuff that I remember from New Worlds.

                    LSN

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Aha! The Lion roars, and the Tiger stalks by night! :D

                      Eek! I'm beginning to fee the pressure, here! I had no intention of Prototype converging on the New Worlds tradition, but inevitably it seems to be evolving that way...OMGNoWay! springs to mind! (where did she go, anyway?). Hohum. I'll do me best. Though, I have received three excellent submissions TODAY, so that's good... :roll:

                      Boing!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I've got confidence in you, Perdix, and the rest of us have got your back, as it were.

                        As for converging on a New Worlds sort of aesthetic, if your intentions are high, but not necessarily solemn, I think it's inevitable that what you're doing will bear a similarity.

                        Remember Edmond Rostand's lines in Cyrano de Bergerac about tilting at windmills. You might get tossed in la boue, or to les أ©toiles.

                        That's why we tilt at 'em, right? Well, that and because we have no sense to speak of. :lol:

                        LSN

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Windmills. Stars. Gutters. Stars.

                          >flatulates disturbingly<

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I'm not in the least disturbed.

                            I would suggest you avail yourself of some Depends before you use the squat rack in the gym.

                            :lol:

                            LSN

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Argh, I still need to pick up that edition of New Worlds. It's sitting right there nest to Mike's last two Elric novels at the store where I work, and which I had to special order to get in. But money is always tight. I had to exchange a bunch of books just to get some new(er) ones, and finally picked up Nameless Cults by Howard and Gladiator by Wylie (both special orders as well -- I'm trying to raise the bar, as it were, for my customers who only seem to by Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms and Brooks, Jordan, etc). never enough time or cash, it would seem.

                              But I WILL finally buy it with White Wolf's Son and make a lovely month of must-read Moorcock and Moorcock edited material.

                              And when Prototype X comes out, then there'll be even more interesting prose to read. Not to mention other authors whom I've not had the pleasure or reading yet.

                              Never enough time... to read, write, work... just need to give up sleeping is all.

                              yep, that's it.

                              Jeff

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