First published at Alexandra Pierce’s blog.
Jonathan Strahan has been luckier than any one person has a right to be. Happily married with two lovely daughters, he has edited or co-edited more than fifty books, has been the Reviews Editor for Locus for ten years, is the producer and co-presenter of more than a hundred episodes of The Coode Street Podcast, and a long time ago he once worked on a magazine called Eidolon. He is a recipient of the World Fantasy, Locus, Aurealis, Ditmar, Atheling and McNamara awards, and is a six-time Hugo Award nominee. Although his Twitter profile says he dreams one day of being covered entirely with jam, this is not entirely true.
It’s true that I do tend to have a number of projects going at any one time, but Under My Hat has always been special. About three years ago I was having a conversation with my youngest daughter, who was about eight years old at the time. We were talking about what it was I did for a living, and at one point she asked me if there was any of my books that she could read. That really struck a chord with me, and I became determined to do a book that would really appeal to both her and her sister.
As it happened, both girls grew up loving witch stories, and when visiting the US to attend World Fantasy Convention each autumn I would search through stores for wands and hats and witchy stuff to bring home for them. A witch book seemed perfect. The title came to me when reading one of Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, and the whole thing seemed inevitable.
The book was actually a dream to work on. I sat on the idea for a while, busy with other projects, but then one day I did the calculations that made it clear the girls would only be the right age for the book if I did it now so I really got my act into gear. It sold quickly to Random House in the US – my editor Jim Thomas has been a dream to work with – and the book itself has come together quickly and easily. Everyone got the idea immediately, and everyone seemed to love it. The final book is one I’m really happy with. One of the nicest things about doing it was working with my daughter, who actually read some of the stories in the book and provided editorial opinions on them that I sent to the authors. It’s been a real family affair.
Speaking of themes, over the last few years you have brought out four anthologies in the Eclipse line, which is a consciously non-themed set of anthologies. How different is it to solicit and edit for non-themed rather than themed anthologies? What has it been like to see the Eclipse ‘brand’ develop over the last four years, and how have they been received?
It’s both similar and quite different. Obviously with a theme anthology you need to solicit stories within quite a narrow range. They have to address the theme, but not be repetitive, and while you have scope to control the feel of the book the direction is pretty much set. With an unthemed project like Eclipse you have almost total freedom, at least at the outset. You’re only limited by what you and the publisher have agreed, and by the stories you can find. I revelled in that freedom, and really tried to reach out to a broad range of writers whose work I loved.
As happens, though, over time the series evolves its own character, which I think became most clear with Eclipse Three. It really is quite a wide-ranging book, and it has quite a diverse range of writers and subjects, but they all never quite lose touch with genre or story. The books have been received incredibly well, with stories winning many awards and the books themselves either winning or being shortlisted for awards. I’m very, very happy with and proud of the series, and am even now contemplating its future.
As well as original anthologies, you’ve also been involved in putting together collections, particularly of Jack Vance. What do you regard as the value in collections such as these, and how are they different from anthologies to work on?
I’ve been remarkably lucky to collaborate with some wonderful people at Subterranean Press and Night Shade Books on collections by Jack Vance, Bruce Sterling, Kim Stanley Robinson, Joe Haldeman, Fritz Leiber and others. Probably the heart of them are the seven books of Vance stories I’ve co-edited with Terry Dowling, and probably my favourite is the Robinson book.
The value of these books is that they either preserve an important piece of genre history, or they present a chance to look at a writer’s body of work through a different lens. I think that’s what happened with the Robinson book, which really highlighted the variety and strength of the short fiction he’d done over a long period of time.
The main difference between editing single author collections and anthologies, the obvious one of there only being one author to deal with aside, is that you do get to go into a different sort of depth. You’re balancing styles, approaches, flavors while also trying to remain true to the historical perspective on the author. It’s a challenge and a delight and I hope to do many more.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
I don’t read as much at novel length as I’d hope to these days, so I’ve only read a small number of novels by Australians over the past decade. The most interesting and exciting of those that I have read was Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle, which I came to quite late in the piece, but loved. At shorter length, Margo Lanagan’ continues to amaze, and the stories in her short collection Cracklescape are simple terrific. I also spent some time recently taking a second look at Deborah Biancotti’s Bad Power, which I enjoyed a great deal, and would happily recommend Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Love and Romanpunk.
Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian speculative fiction scene?
When I started to think on this my initial reaction was to back away from the question a little. I think a lot has been happening in Australian SF, but initially I wasn’t sure how transformative it was. On reflection, though, I think there have been changes. The most obvious one, from a personal perspective, is the rise of podcasting. Before Aussiecon 4 it was a side event, but now it’s an important central part of Australian SF and we contribute significantly at an international level, with two of them (he notes immodestly) currently up for the Hugo Award. I think the small press has also been invigorated. Perth’s Twelfth Planet Press has been undertaking a series of really ambitious projects and publishing some very fine books, and Ticonderoga Press has really emerged from a long quiet period with some terrific books. That change has to be good for the field. I also think there is some potentially important change with our major publishers. I’m not sure if a publisher like Voyager would have published Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle five years ago. They seem, perhaps, willing to take more artistic chances, and that can only be a great thing.
All in all, the the nearly two years have proven really vigorous and adventurous and I’m optimistic for the future (though I’d still like to see some more SF being published <g>).