I have this bibliography on my screen and scroll through the pages. It is very pleasing to see all
these facts in one place for the first time. Sobering too. First entry, "Rock Diver", published in
1950. Written in 1949. It is now 1999 - which looks inescapably like fifty years of a writing
There was never much money in SF writing in what might be referred to as 'the good old days'. Until I went freelance in 1956, and moved to Mexico, all my work was written while I was employed in publishing. I wouldn't say that writing SF was a labor of love; rather a labor of enthusiasm and great interest. Writing science fiction was certainly more fun than writing mens' adventures or confessions. Though there was a certain amount of love about in those days; when Ted Sturgeon wrote that fine story Killdozer, Campbell only wanted short stories. Ted labelled it with the length of 5,000 words and sent it in. Great yards of galleys hung out of Astounding. Killdozer is 12,000 words long. That kind of dedication is long vanished. As has Ted and far too many other authors, friends.
A young writer once asked me a question, envious of a group of writers talking and laughing together. "How," he asked, "does one join the Old Boys network?" The answer, I thought, was obvious. Keep writing and selling for ten, twenty years and you are an Old Boy (or Old Girl which doesn't sound quite as nice) and well plugged into the network. There are no other entry requirements.
Was it easier or better to be a writer forty years ago? Yes and no. No, because there was certainly no money in it. As a full time freelance I was earning about $3,000 a year. I could get by on this because at the time I lived in countries where that was a good income. Yes in that the field was smaller, friendlier, nicer. Perhaps freer as well. I wrote exactly the books I wanted to write. In fact, I never thought of them as books at the time. In the beginning there was John W. Campbell, jr. And he was like unto a God. I grew up reading ASF. My greatest pleasure was to work with John, bounce ideas off him, study the feedback, work and shape my writing in the ASF mold. In relation to my writing I could think of nothing more important at the time. It was an added treat - not to mention vital added income - to have those serials published as novels. But all of my early books were written and published as magazine serials first.
There was room enough and time to experiment. Aquiver with trepidation I wrote a novel that was not an ASF serial. I never even submitted it to Campbell, knowing full well that it was not for his magazine. This was Bill, the Galactic Hero. (Later I discovered that John had actually bought a copy of the book when he saw my name on it; as if he didn't read enough in the slush pile. He disliked it of course.) It was new, different, difficult to sell. The editor I had written it for bounced it. Telling me that it was basically a war story and I should go back through it and take out the jokes. I am pleased that he was wrong. It has been in print now for over thirty years, in a number of languages.
I would not want to turn the clock back; and I regret nothing that happened during those years. I was exploring the physical world and discovering my capacities as a writer. Both very hard work at times; both fascinating and well worth the effort. There were high and low points in both; but without extremes everything is bland.
I always was, still am, enthusiastic about science fiction. It is a limitless field of endeavor which writers can explore, go wherever their imaginations lead them. If I am depressed about the present state of the art it is because the present crop of writers seem to have small imaginations, easy goals, tiny ambitions. The dwarves have replaced the giants. Or am I just being grumpy?
I look through the bibliography again, at the long-familiar titles, and enjoy a moment of satisfaction. Well over thirty novels here, all of them still in print, all of them translated into at least three or more other languages. Short stories as well, some of them anthologised many times. No complaints, none at all. And more books to come.
My thanks to Paul Tomlinson for his great labors in bringing it forth.
Harry Harrison, Dublin 1989 & 1999.