Science fiction has always been one of my favorite literary genres. If memory serves I went from the “Dick and Jane” books to juvenile sci-fi without much transition. It helped that this was the 1960’s, and everyone thought science fiction was something that was pretty necessary in order to get people ready for the Space Age future that was coming at warp speed.
It was obvious by the 1970’s that the future wasn’t about to arrive, or at least the one envisioned seemed to fall by the wayside. There were some big names in the business back then, like Asimov and Bradbury, but science fiction had mostly lost its way. In 1968 the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey showed everyone a false but brilliant glimpse into a universe where people lived on the Moon and traveled around in bright, clean commercial spaceships. Less than ten years later and the best anyone could do was a story about some hick farm boy who gains magic powers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars and think it is one of the best movies ever. But I don’t think anyone can reasonably claim that it is a thoughtful and mature film. Science Fiction as literature had slipped back into sci-fi as juvenile entertainment.
But then James Baen came along.
He didn’t write the stuff himself, working instead as an editor. He would buy and publish the work of some of my favorite authors, almost single handedly pulling the business out of a boring swamp of dreadful hack writing by giving some extremely talented people the chance to get paid for doing what they did best. After Jim Baen got started you could take a science fiction novel up to the checkout counter in the bookstore and not be afraid that the pretty co-ed behind the cash register would laugh at you.
Those of us who enjoy science fiction owe Jim Baen a debt that is so big it’s tough to even acknowledge the whole of it. We’re never going to get the chance because he died yesterday.
Click on that last link and you’ll find a eulogy written by Jim’s buddy David Drake. It’s a fitting tribute to the man who saved our sense of wonder.
(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)