Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Interview: John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams is an American science fiction and fantasy editor and critic (conform Wikipedia). He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from The University of Central Florida in December 2000. He is an assistant editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and a reporter for SCI FI Wire. He also is the editor of the very good anthology "Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse" (Night Shade Books, January 2008), that I reviewed recently, and of the future published anthologies "Seeds of Change" (Prime Books, Summer 2008) and "The Living Dead" (Night Shade Books, Fall 2008). And he was kind enough to answer my questions.

Dark Wolf: To start with, where does your interest in reading came from and why SF & F in particular?
John Joseph Adams: I came to SF via a long and circuitous path. As a kid, I read a lot of fantasy novels, such as Piers Anthony's "Xanth" books and Robert Asprin's "Myth" novels, but those books, and most of the other ones I read as a kid were given to me, and so I never really identified as a genre reader until much older. I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons as a teen, which lead me to read a lot of epic fantasy.
The first SF I read was probably Douglas Adams's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and its sequels. In my late teens, I read a lot of medical thrillers, which got me interested more in science, and lead me to Michael Crichton, which lead me to the SF section because I wanted more stuff like that. For some reason, I'd always thought that SF books would be too complicated for me to follow, or that they would be so full of info-dumps that it would be like reading a technical manual for technology that doesn't exist yet. Thankfully I had people point out that if I could follow the science in "Jurassic Park", then I'd be pretty well equipped to handle the science in any SF novel. "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" were also instrumental in getting me into SF - I loved both of those franchises, and so I read a bunch of those media tie-ins. One of the first, if not the very first, SF novels I read as an adult was "Mars" by Ben Bova, primarily because I was told it was basically a medical thriller set on Mars (which is true, to some degree). Shortly after I discovered Robert J. Sawyer. The first I read of his was "The Terminal Experiment", which also has a strong resemblance to a medical thriller, and then "Starplex", which is like the coolest episode of "Star Trek" never made. From there I continued to explore the genre and basically started reading SF and fantasy almost exclusively.

Dark Wolf: How did you start writing reviews, essays and articles?
John Joseph Adams: It all started with audiobooks. I was (and still am) a big fan of audiobooks, but back around 2001 I found the lack of SF/fantasy audiobook review coverage problematic; after all, the narrator of an audiobook is just as important as the author is (if he's terrible, he can ruin the book just as much as an author can), and back then it wasn't easy as it is now to go online to listen to a sample of the narrator's style. So, over lunch one day, I was complaining to my boss at F&SF, Gordon Van Gelder, about this lack of review coverage, and he suggested that I pitch a review column to Locus. So I did, and they went for it. The column only ran twice, but it opened the doors for me to new opportunities. Shortly after the Locus column fizzled, I started reviewing audiobooks for Publishers Weekly.
With those two publications on my resume, it became easier to pursue other opportunities. I had a review column for a while in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. I reviewed books for Kirkus Reviews, one of the top publishing trade journals. I also did some reviews and interviews for SCIFI.com - in fact, my first book review (regular book, not audiobook) was published in Science Fiction Weekly. I went on to do some interviews for them, and then became a correspondent for SCI FI Wire (the news service of the SCI FI Channel), and nowadays provide pretty much all of their book-related coverage, with an interview by me appearing there pretty much every day of the week.
I'm kind of an accidental - or reluctant - critic/freelance writer. I always thought that if I got paid for writing, it would be fiction, but my fiction writing kind of got put on hold once I started working at F&SF. And I never had much interest in writing book reviews, so it's kind of funny that I ended up doing so much of that. Mainly it was just to earn some extra cash, but it all turned out to be beneficial in other ways too - reviewing and doing interviews really helped get my name out there more than it was already, and allowed me to build up a comprehensive network of contacts, which has proven useful.

DW: I saw that a lot of your works appeared in various magazines and I know that you are an editor for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I also know that a lot of people would love to do your job. How is it for you? Do you enjoy what you're doing? Is it hard, is it stressful, it takes a lot of time?
JJA: It's a great job. I mean, hey, I get paid to read all day! Ever since I became obsessed with books, it was kind of a goal of mine to find a job in which I could read all day. When it first occurred to me, I kind of thought I'd find some boring job that had lots of downtime in which I could goof off and read, but actually being part of the creative process is much more rewarding, I'm sure.
I wouldn't sat that it's particularly stressful; there's other aspects of my career - some of the freelance stuff I do - that I find much more stressful. It does take up a lot of time, but it's my day job, so it's a regular schedule, so it's easy enough to manage.

DW: Where did the idea of "Wastelands" came from?
JJA: One of the first articles I wrote was an article about post-apocalyptic SF for a short-lived British magazine called 3SF. They had a column called "Readers' Guide" which served as a sort of introduction to a sub-genre and included a recommended reading list. I loved post-apocalyptic SF, so I pitched that idea to them. They bought it, but unfortunately, they went out of business before my article could be published (or I could be paid!). I'd already written the article, though, so I looked around for someone else to publish it. Right around that time The Internet Review of Science Fiction launched, and I sold the article to them, under the new name "Sub-Genre Spotlight". I went on to do a couple more of those for them, and other folks have written some as well.
But more to the point, my interest in post-apocalyptic SF comes from video games. Specifically, two computer role-playing games, Wasteland and Fallout. Wasteland introduced me to the sub-genre, but it was Fallout that really made me fall in love with it. Playing those games inspired me to seek out fiction on that subject, and from there I just read voraciously in the sub-genre. Which came in handy when the time came to write that "Sub-Genre Spotlight" article.
But even with all my reading, I did even more research for the article, so it was really because of that that I became an expert on the topic. During my research, one of the things I was astonished to discover is that there were very few anthologies devoted to post-apocalyptic fiction. So I decided I'd try to sell one myself. I started off trying to sell an anthology of original (never before published) stories, but when that didn't work out, I decided to try and sell a reprint anthology. And the rest is history.
It's kind of funny - I guess I was about four or five years ahead of the curve on this surge of interest in post-apocalyptic fiction. I initially perceived a rise in interest in the submission pile at F&SF - post-9/11 a lot of writers were writing about post-apocalyptic scenarios. That was partially what made me think it might be a good time to try selling an anthology on the subject. It took about four years for the publishing world to realize I was right, but everything worked out pretty well in the end, so I'm not complaining.

DW: How was the work at "Wastelands"? Have you met some of the authors?
JJA: Because I'd done so much research in the sub-genre, when the time came to assemble the table of contents, I already knew much of what I wanted to go in the book. I knew probably 75% of the contents off the top of my head, and then did some additional research and reading to find the rest.
I've met several of the authors, and have gotten to know some of the others via email. I've even been on Jack McDervitt's home! Coincidentally, my college roommate was living in the same town as Jack, and when I went down there for a visit, Jack had me over for dinner. I go to a lot of SF conventions, so I've met a lot of them at those over the years. I knew a few of them before assembling the anthology, too.

DW: Do you prefer one of the stories published in your anthology? And why?
JJA: Well, that's a bit like asking a parent which child is their favorite, so I can't really answer that. But I will say that a few of the stories are special to me for other reasons than simple favoritism. Before I mentioned that I'd tried to sell an original anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction before assembling "Wastelands". Well, in order to shop such a thing around to publishers, you have to get a bunch of authors to commit to writing stories for it, so you can go to the publisher and say "Here's the idea, and these are the people who have promised to write stories for me", so that the publisher can assess the commercial potential of the book. Well, Carol Emswhiller's and John Langan's stories were both written at my instigation, originally for that aborted original anthology. Carol wrote her story for me right away, and let me hold onto it for a long time, so I'm very appreciative of that. John finished up his story after I'd already given up on selling the anthology, so he (like Carol) sold it to F&SF. But he sold it just in time for F&SF to publish it, and for me to reprint it shortly thereafter.

DW: I have expected your answer, because you very well described my question, "that's a bit like asking a parent which child is their favorite". But do you belive in an apocalyptic scenario, or do you see our world in a post-apocalyptic era?
JJA: I'm not sure any of the scenarios depicted in "Wastelands" are likely to come to pass as described by the authors, but if I had to pick one that I thought most likely, I might go with Stephen King's "The End of the Whole Mess", not necessarily that that specific scenario will play out, but that the ultimate cause will be the same: our own arrogance - which can be incredibly destructive, even, as in the King story, when we're trying to do something good.
If you're asking which apocalypse in "Wastelands" would I be most in favor of surviving through, well the answer to that is easy: Jerry Oltion's "Judgment Passed". Why? Well, since the cause of the apocalypse is the Rapture (or something like it), it leaves the world empty save for the few astronaut survivors (who were off-world when the event happened), and yet leaves the planet relatively unscathed - there's no irradiated wastelands, no plague-infested quarantine zones, the cities are still standing, there's still food to be had. It's really not so bad.

DW: Can you tell us something about "Seeds of Change", your new anthology? What about "The Living Dead"?
JJA: I asked the contributors to "Seeds of Change" to write about paradigm shifts - technological, scientific, political, or cultural - and how individuals and societies deal with such changes. The idea was to challenge our current paradigms and speculate on how they might evolve in the future, either for better or for worse.
It contains stories by Ken MacLeod, Tobias S. Buckell, Jay Lake, and others. It should be out in August. Actually, I just got an advance review copy from the publisher earlier today. I have to say, and admittedly, I'm totally biased, but it looks awesome. I can't wait to see the finished project.
"The Living Dead" is a bit easier to summarize: it's a reprint anthology containing some of the best zombie fiction ever published. It's a huge book - more than 230,000 words - and contains an all-star line-up, including authors such as Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Dan Simmons, Laurell K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, and many others.

DW: Do you have other future projects?
JJA: Based on the success of "Wastelands" and their general happiness with the way I've assembled "The Living Dead", Night Shade Books wants me to do another reprint anthology for them. I've discussed it with them, but we haven't decided on the subject just yet. We've tossed a few ideas around, but I don't want to mention anything until I know for sure which direction we're going to go with that.
Other than that, it looks like I'll be doing a couple more original anthologies for Prime Books (the publisher of "Seeds of Change"). I'm not ready to make any announcements about either of those just yet either, but stay tuned to my website for updates on those and any other forthcoming projects.

DW: In the end, may I ask what do you think about the review blogs? Do you read one constantly?
JJA: In addition to my editing and freelance writing, I also do some publicity work, so I keep track of several review blogs. One of the best that focuses solely on SF/fantasy, I think, is SF Signal. I particularly like their coverage of anthologies and collections because of the attention they give each and every story.
But there's a lot of good reviewing being done in the blogosphere. In general, I think it's a good thing. Not everyone reads every blog or review site, so having plenty to choose from is a good thing. And every little bit of coverage helps.

John, thank you very much for your time and answers, it's been a pleasure and I wish you all the best and good luck.


Chris, The Book Swede said...

Really good interview :) I think maybe you should get onto a few more forums -- people are always interested in interviews with good guys like John.

Nice one, Mihai!

Mihai A. said...

Thank you, Chris. Also thank you for the advice, it helps a lot. And it's always nice to hear from you :).

Harry Markov said...

Great interview! Nice! I am so lacking with time to start reading this one. But I am so excited that I got a copy of it!! John is a really great guy!

Mihai A. said...

Yes he is and his anthology is great too.

MentatJack said...

Great interview. I subscribed to the feed and look forward to more great content in the future.

Mihai A. said...

Steven, thank you very much. I hope you'll find interesting things on my blog in the future too.