The Big Idea: John Joseph Adams
It’s not just authors who have Big Ideas: Editors sometimes get them, too. For example, John Joseph Adams, who has been recently been making a name for himself in speculative fiction by editing a string of compelling anthologies, including the best selling zombie anthology The Living Dead. His latest anthology, Federations, aims to evoke the feeling of exploration you get from that series that promised to go where “no one had gone before” — but there’s rather more to being an anthology editor than just coming up with an idea. Here’s how Adams put it all together this time.
JOHN JOSEPH ADAMS:
There’s just something about the idea of traveling throughout the galaxy, hopping from planet to planet, settling new worlds, and encountering alien species that I find utterly compelling. That’s the kind of thing that got me interested in the science fiction genre, and I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for it ever since.
I’m one of those hardcore SF readers who worked his way into traditional SF via media SF, like Star Trek and Star Wars, so that kind of adventure-oriented space opera has always appealed to me, even if the tie-in novels associated with those franchises long ago ceased satisfying me. Admittedly, looking back I see that I was kind of bombarded by SF from every direction, it seems, so Star Trek and the like are not solely responsible for me being here. But it sure helped.
So, when I was talking with Sean Wallace of Prime Books about what sort of anthology I might like to do next for him, when this idea came up, we realized it was perfect—given my fondness for the subject matter and what with J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek revival and the recent renaissance of space opera in traditional SF, it seemed like an ideal time to put together a book like this.
The book actually ended up almost completely different structurally than what Prime and I had first envisioned. Originally, we were going to do another book like my first for them, Seeds of Change—a small (40K words) hardcover, with a small print run, intended mostly for direct and library sales. But Prime decided they wanted to go bigger, make it a more traditionally commercial anthology project, more like Wastelands and The Living Dead, which I had done for Night Shade Books. So we bulked up the book from 40K to 125K, decided to include half reprints, and thus the current incarnation of the book was born.
One of the cool things about the book is that I had a lot of freedom in assembling the table of contents. Because we decided to do a mix of reprints and originals, and the reprint half of the book was full of bestselling and award-winning writers, there was much less pressure to get “names” to fill out the original side of the table of contents. So I had an open reading period for the anthology, and ended up including stories by several newcomers (and did end up getting original stories by some “big name” writers as well). Of course, this is all mostly interesting and/or cool from the anthologist’s viewpoint, but hopefully that translates to a more interesting book for the readers as well.
What I tried to do with the reprints was find stories by some of my favorite writers that fit the theme, but not the usual suspects—I wanted to find stories on the theme that fans of the subgenre would like but might not be familiar with. For instance, I included “Warship” by George R. R. Martin & George Guthridge, which, I think, has never been reprinted (not even in one of Martin’s collections) since it appeared in F&SF in 1979. Also, the Harry Turtledove story had only previously appeared in the rather good Space Cadets anthology from a couple of years ago, which only appeared in a very limited edition at Worldcon.
While the book has nothing to do with Star Trek officially—there are no Star Trek characters in the stories, etc.—that franchise was the foremost inspiration for the focus of the book in my mind as I was putting it together, so the result is a group of stories in the same vein as Trek, or at least close enough that I think fans of Trek should like the stories in the book (thus our choosing a title evocative of Trek). But even if you don’t like Trek (or Star Wars, etc.), and you just like good old fashioned (or new-fangled) space opera, I expect you’ll like the book as well.
What I tried to do was strike that delicate balance of New and Accessible. There were some stories, for instance, that came in that, while quite good, I felt they were just too “high-level” for the new or casual reader (i.e., someone who hasn’t read Douglas Adams and Roger Zelazny and everything in between). Which is not to say that the stories included are not challenging—I think there’s a few that some people will dislike simply because they’re challenging—but overall I think (or hope) that you could give the book to a thirteen year old and have it serve as a good introduction to the genre.
SF is largely about that “sense of wonder” we’re always talking about—well, personally, I find it hard to imagine anything would evoke more of that sense of wonder than stepping foot on (or colonizing!) an alien world, or meeting an intelligent extraterrestrial species, or even just the god damn grandeur of the vastness of space. To me, that’s what core SF is about, and so is Federations.
Visit the Federations Web site, which features interviews with several of the authors and several free stories.