Editorial November 2006: Mind to Mind, Heart to Heart By Hilary Williamson
'These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice...and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart.' (Gilbert Highet)
Where have all the authors gone? It seems that every time I turn around recently, I read an obituary of a favorite fantasy/SF writer, not to mention publishing giant Jim Baen (1943-2006) who has had a huge impact on the genre. Last year, it was Andre Norton (1912-2005) whose stories - including Witch World and The Time Traders - I devoured through my teens and on into adult life. Norton is one of only a handful of speculative fiction writers who've succeeded in both SF and fantasy. Her body of works has provided a wonderful resource and refuge for young people who feel alienated (and who doesn't at some stage of growing up?)
I've long been an enthusiastic fan of David Gemmell (1948-2006), a UK author whose epic fantasy (such as his Rigante series) - though always violent and often dark - embodies larger than life characters, heroes with strong values. They make mistakes in life, and win redemption. As in Rudyard Kipling's Ballad of East and West - 'But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, / When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!' - even lifelong enemies in his books often deal honorably with each other (he also writes ferocious monsters and truly despicable villains). I particularly enjoyed Gemmell's Lord of the Silver Bow last year, and looked forward to more Troy books.
There are currently twelve episodes in Robert Jordan's long-running Wheel of Time series - the eleventh being Knife of Dreams, with a prequel, New Spring. On his website, Jordan tells us that he has been diagnosed with amyloidosis and has a median life expectancy of four years. But, he plans to keep writing ... 'I sat down and figured out how long it would take me to write all of the books I currently have in mind, without adding anything new and without trying rush anything. The figure I came up with was thirty years ... I am going to finish those books, all of them, and that is that.' His vast multitude of fans are rooting for him to meet that goal.
Of course, we all wish our favorite authors immortality to keep the books we like coming. But it's not totally selfish. Reading their writings gives insights into each one's unique voice and character, and that's what wins fans' loyalty - and concern for the individual as well as the product. So, though they still speak to us mind to mind, heart to heart from books already written, we mourn the loss of the authors who are gone and of the worlds they opened up to us ... and welcome their return even as ghostly collaborators, as in Variable Star, developed by Spider Robinson from a brief outline left by Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988).
Let's raise a glass to all these individuals in thanks for the many, many hours of reading pleasure and fresh perspectives they've given us, and wish for Robert Jordan that he wins his battle and manages to write a bunch more of the books he has in mind and heart.
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