1. A curious phenomenon in Genre SF is the extreme longevity of some of its writers and many of its publications. In referring to the longevity of writers, we mean their professional lives rather than the span between their births and deaths. The difficulty lies in defining "career" which may not always, in sf circles, mean that all stories were sold professionally or that writing was the sole source of income. What we are considering is a more or less continuous creative career where, year on year, without any significant gaps, writers produced material intended for publication. Even so, finding definitive starting and ending points is rarely straightforward because few writers retire, and most will remain creative (if they are able) until the end. Consequently the dates and time spans considered here are consciously generous.
Although sf careers spanning more than 50 years are not usual, neither are they especially uncommon. One can establish some basic starting points by considering the two major pioneers of sf, Jules Verne (1828-1905) and H G Wells (1866-1946). Leaving aside a stage play completed in 1850, Verne's first work of sf interest was "Un Voyage en ballon" (August 1851 Musée des familles) and he was still actively writing at the time of his death in March 1905, a career of 53½ years. Identifying the start of Wells's career is less easy, since he was writing material from the point he founded The Science Schools Journal in December 1886, and his sf work had certainly started by the time he began publishing there with "The Chronic Argonauts" (April-June 1888 The Science Schools Journal). He too wrote virtually to the day of his death in August 1946, certainly to the production of his film treatment "Whither Mankind?" in May 1946, so we can assess Wells's career at 58 years without being too generous. A figure of some importance, though less significant as an sf writer, Curt Siodmak (1902-2000) sold his first adult stories to Das Magazin in Germany in 1924, and continued to write novels, stories and screenplays throughout his life, completing an autobiography, Wolf Man's Maker (2001) just before his death. His career therefore spanned 76 years. Frederik Pohl (1919-2013), whose first professionally published story – a collaboration, "Before the Universe" – appeared in July 1940, was still actively producing his daily blog and writing the occasional story and essay in 2013, 73 years later, his last blog appearing just before his death on 2 September 2013. In fact one can go back further to Pohl's first published poem in the October 1937 Amazing Stories and grant him a creative career of 76 years in all. It is less easy to assess the full extent of the career of Stuart J Byrne (1913-2011), whose first published story was "The Music of the Spheres" (August 1935 Amazing Stories) and who remained active until at least 2008 with the e-book Lord of the Djinn, making a span of 73 years, though he was less active in the sf field for some of those years.
The record for a woman writer within the genre almost certainly belongs to Andre Norton (1912-2005). Although her first novel, The Prince Commands (1934) was not sf, soon after she "sold" both Garan the Eternal and "The People of the Crater" to William L Crawford, and though she had to wait many years for them to appear, they were part of her early active writing career. Her books continued to appear until her death, a notional span of 70-71 years (although clouded by reliance on collaborators who may have written most or all of her late works).
Arthur C Clarke (1917-2008) was active until his death; his first sf appearance was with "Loophole" (April 1946 Astounding), a span of 62 years, but his first professional sale had been the article "Man's Empire of Tomorrow" in Tales of Wonder for Winter 1938, extending his career to 70 years. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) was active in fan circles from 1937; his story "The Pendulum" appeared in Futuria Fantasia in Fall 1939 and was later reworked as a professional story for Amazing Stories, which can be taken as a starting point for his career of 73 years, the last story published in his lifetime being The Nefertiti-Tut Express: A Story in Screenplay (2012 chap). This comes close to the current record for writers within the field, still held by Jack Williamson (1908-2006), whose first published story was "The Metal Man" (December 1928 Amazing) and whose final completed story was "The Mists of Time" in Millenium 3001 (anth 2006) edited by Russell Davis and Martin H Greenberg, published in February 2006, a span of 77¼ years.
Amongst currently active writers the most notable examples are James Gunn, whose debut was "Communications" (September 1949 Startling Stories) as Edwin James, and Robert Silverberg, with a span of over sixty years since his first professionally published story "Gorgon Planet" (February 1954 Nebula).
Others to break the sixty-year mark have included Brian Aldiss, who published regularly for 63 years from his sf debut "Criminal Record" (1954 Science Fantasy #9) until his death in 2017; Hugh B Cave (1910-2004), more closely associated with supernatural and horror fiction as well as many adventure stories for the Slick magazines, who had a serial published in his local Sunday School newspaper in 1926 before his first professional sale, "The Corpse on the Grating" (February 1930 Astounding); his last book, The Mountains of Madness (2004) appeared one month before his death, a writing career of between 74 and 78 years; Frank Belknap Long (1901-1994), whose first professionally published story was "The Desert Lich" (November 1924 Weird Tales), and who was active at least until 1990, making a span of 66 years, though his first published story, in an amateur magazine, was "The Eye Above the Mantel" (March 1921 The United Amateur) suggesting a creative career of 69 years. Jack Vance (1916-2013) was nearly thirty when he turned to writing with "The World-Thinker" (Summer 1945 Thrilling Wonder), wrote no further novels after Lurulu (2004) but remained arguably active up to 2010, having then completed his collection Hard-Luck Diggings (coll 2010) with new material: a span of 65 years. Raymond Z Gallun (1910-1994), who began with "The Space Dwellers" (November 1929 Wonder Stories) and whose most recent novel was Bioblast (1985), had a span of 56 years (increased to 62 years if we take into account his sf memoir Starclimber ); and Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (1910-2003), who published comparatively little fiction but played an important role in sf publishing, and whose writing career nevertheless ran for 60 years from "The Man with the Silver Disc" (February 1930 Scientific Detective Monthly) to The Scroll of Lucifer (1990).
Some careers were marked by long intermissions. Nelson S Bond (1908-2006) first sf story was "Down the Dimensions" (April 1937 Astounding), though he had written earlier pulp stories since 1935. Although there were fallow years when he worked as a bookdealer and in public relations during the 1960s and 1970s, he returned to writing in the 1990s with "Proof of the Pudding" (October/November 1999 Asimov's) and assembled a collection The Far Side of Nature (coll 2002) which would give a sporadic career of 65 years. Likewise E Hoffmann Price who, whilst only occasionally involved with the sf field, sold his first story to Droll Stories in 1924 and saw his last novel, Operation Isis (1987) published 63 years later.
Many more had careers between 50 to 60 years. L Sprague de Camp (1907-2000), who began with "The Isolinguals" (September 1937 Astounding) and who published The Swords of Zinjaban (1991) with his wife Catherine A Crook de Camp, a span of 54 years – extended to 59 years if his autobiography Time and Chance (1996) and his final historical short story "Captain Leopard" in Classical Stories (anth 1996) edited by Mike Ashley, are counted – and he remained actively working until his death; Clifford D Simak (1904-1988), whose first published sf was "The World of the Red Sun" (December 1931 Wonder Stories) and whose last was Highway of Eternity (1986), a span of 55 years; Fritz Leiber (1910-1992), who began with "Two Sought Adventure" (August 1939 Unknown; vt "The Jewels in the Forest" in Two Sought Adventure, coll 1957) and whose late collection The Leiber Chronicles: Fifty Years of Fritz Leiber (coll 1990) edited by Martin H Greenberg announces his writing lifespan on the cover; and Murray Leinster (1896-1975), who sold sketches to The Smart Set from February 1916 onwards, whose first fantasy was "Oh, Aladdin" (11 January 1919 All-Story Weekly) and whose last was Land of the Giants No 3: Unknown Danger (1969), a span of 50 to 53 years. Even a comparative youngster in terms of natural lifespan, such as Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), whose career began when he was very young with "Marooned off Vesta" (March 1939 Amazing), managed a 50-year span up to the solo novel Nemesis (1989), and indeed continued to write stories, collaborative novels and articles until only months before his death early in 1992, a creative career of 53 years.
Various factors – longevity in general, career structures in particular – have ensured that many living authors have already had publishing records that pass the half century, among them two editors of this encyclopedia; many authors now seventy or more fit easily into this category. For reasons of concision, we mention no living writers who have not been active for more than sixty years.
Among the non-genre writers who nevertheless published several works of sf interest is Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), whose career is usually treated as running from at least 1920 to 1997, 77 years, though in fact he published his first poems in November 1911, and his posthumously published war-diaries had in fact been actively composed through his four years' service in World War One, extending his span of literary activity (if not active publishing) to at least 85 years. His works of sf interest appeared over a 44-year span, from Auf den Marmorklippen (1939; trans Stuart Hood as On the Marble Cliffs 1947) to Aladins Problem (1983; trans Joachim Neugroschel as Aladdin's Problem 1992). The active career of Herman Wouk (1915- ) began with Radio plays around 1935, and he remained active till at least 2015, giving him a career of 80 or more years. The active career of Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960) is usually cited as 70 years, from 1889 to 1959, and his fantasy writing career at 54 years from A Deal With the Devil (1895) to Address Unknown (1949), but in fact Phillpotts' first-ever publication was a grim poem which he had entitled "The Witches' Sabbath" but which appeared as "Original Poem" in Thespis during 1880. His last book appeared in 1959, a career of 79 years. Much of the work of Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999) flirted with sf, myth and historical fantasy. Her first work was a privately published quasi-utopian play, Saunes Bairos: A Study in Recurrence (1913 chap) performed in May 1913, and her last newly published story was "What Kind of Lesson?" in Starfield (anth 1989) edited by Duncan Lunan, 76 years later. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), whose sf/fantasy interest was sporadic though not inconsiderable, began his active career with his early music reviews in The Hornet in 1876, and was active until his death in November 1950, 74 years later.
The lengths of these professional lives and of others like them are not merely trivial material for the record books. They came about partly because the sf community, made up of writers, editors, publishers, agents, critics and fans, exists as a community – a community which, sometimes sentimentally and in the face of a clear decline in their writing power, cares for its elders (although surprisingly many continued to write well, Fritz Leiber being a particularly clear example). It is ironic that the literature of the future was, to a degree, for many years in the hands of men and women of the past; and there is no doubt that many young writers, trying to get published, cursed the names of Asimov or Clarke or Heinlein, who not only took up valuable space in the bookstores but also, it must have seemed late in their lives, would never stop writing.
The longevity of these careers is or was for many years matched by the longevity of the texts. Traditionally there was no other genre which kept its classic texts in print or focused on its past with anything like the same selfconscious zeal as sf did (we here speak of Genre SF texts rather those which have won universal acceptance as classics, as with Verne, Wells, Orwell, Mary Shelley and others). In sf, relatively crude work dating as far back as the mid-1930s, like the Lensman series of E E "Doc" Smith, was still finding new readers in the twenty-first century, even though books (as magazine serializations) from the author's early Skylark series have dropped out of copyright and entered the public domain in the USA if not elsewhere – see Project Gutenberg. The writers of the Golden Age of SF – Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, Clifford D Simak, A E van Vogt and many others – were long recycled for each generation (though some, like Blish, Simak and van Vogt, seem to be fading somewhat from sight). The same is true of more recent classics (some of them now 40 or 50 years old) by Jack Vance, Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick – a particular favourite of academia and Cinema – and a host of others. In the UK, the Gollancz SF Masterworks series has for many years continued its reprinting of significant titles. Meanwhile, cheap ebook reissues of older and out-of-copyright work proliferate but tend more and more towards invisibility in the vast flood of new, recent and self-published material appearing in digital format.
The oddity of this is that contemporary visions of the future exist side-by-side with rivals that, in the context of our era of rapid change, are ancient history. What confuses the issue further is the tendency of sf, like the Worm Ouroboros, to eat its own tail (or its own parents). There is a strangely conservative self-cannibalism in the sf culture, always redigesting "new" ideas which might easily be sixty years old, and this practice is not restricted to its lower echelons. Of all genres, one might expect sf – with its focus on change and the future – to be the one whose cutting edge would be continually resharpened. But, faced with the actual situation, we might cynically propose that sf is more like a wave, whose constituent molecules – the writers working at any one time – are always changing, but which seems as it approaches us to be exactly the same wave it was while still distant.
There are good aspects, however, to the longevity of successful sf texts. Sf's generic stability is a function of its past co-existing with its present, and it is for this reason, too, that sf's icons take on such density and richness, so that it has become the most resonant of all popular literatures. Its words and its metaphors and its narrative structures carry not just the burden of yesterday but also that of some of yesterday's excitement (and these images are not static; they slowly grow and change with the years, like a tree). It is also the case that many of the truths about the world to come we think we discover (and which we discover daily) can be found, maturely foretold, in sf written before most of us were born. Much that we experience in the twenty-first century seems new-coined; but much of it can be understood as consequence.
An sf that was always genuinely new would be intolerable; it would concuss us with future shock. The reward for sf's longevity is that it remains workable; the cost, too often, is that it is also kept familiar and safe. [PN/MA/DRL/JC]
2. Longevity may also be seen in SF Magazines and editorial tenure. The longest surviving magazine, at least by name, is Weird Tales which continues today, ninety years after it first appeared in 1923. However, the original magazine series ceased in 1954, did not reappear until 1973, and has passed through four separate series and even a brief title change, so its cumulative active life is only sixty years. The fact that Weird Tales has been kept alive is a tribute to the achievement of the original Pulp series. Its survival is due to a blend in part of nostalgia, being a desire to continue with something that had helped define a field and publish so many significant authors and stories, and in part because the magazine is iconic, and iconography within the sf and fantasy fields is a significant factor in sustaining the genre. The same can be said of Amazing Stories which also survives in name after 87 years, though again having seen significant periods of change, a variety of editors, and periods of inaction. The very name of Amazing Stories seems out of place with modern sf and a throwback to a Golden Age (see Retro-Pulp), yet there is clearly a need to want to sustain the early titles to provide a continuity within the field and a link to its roots.
The need to be both a link to the past and an icon is what has sustained the name of New Worlds in Great Britain, despite many changes and manifestations. The title goes back to March 1939 when John Carnell took over Novae Terrae and anglicized the title. He revived that title after World War Two and the magazine then continued, with minimal gaps, from 1946 to 1979 – with further revivals since, meaning that the title is still active after 74 years, even though its cumulative active life is barely half that. Within its life, though, the magazine has been associated with only two names, those of John Carnell and Michael Moorcock; Moorcock's ability to be associated with the magazine since 1964, even to the extent that its current online edition is called Michael Moorcock's New Worlds, gives him an editorial/proprietorial span of fifty years, which exceeds any other editor.
For true magazine longevity the record should belong to Analog, despite the title change from Astounding Stories under which it first appeared in January 1930 (see Astounding Science-Fiction). Apart from a brief gap between March and October 1933 when it was sold to a new publisher, the magazine has appeared continuously, mostly on a monthly basis, but for a period four-weekly, for over 83 years. Because of its regularity, it has amassed more individual issues than any other magazine and will pass the 1000 mark in June 2015 if it retains its current schedule. What is more, the majority of those issues have been compiled by just two editors who also hold the record for longest editorial tenure. John W Campbell Jr was editor from December 1937 to December 1971, a span of 34 years and 408 issues. Stanley Schmidt edited it from December 1978 to March 2013, which was also 34 years and 401 issues. A regular editorial tenure provides a consistency to a magazine to the extent that one can argue that the Analog of today maintains direct continuity from the original Astounding Stories, or at least from its 1933 rebirth, which provides an eighty-year span (and still counting) unequalled anywhere else in the field.
The only other magazine to have survived continuously for over sixty years is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which has appeared on a regular schedule (albeit changing to bi-monthly in 2009) since Fall 1949. For most of that time, until the end of 2000, it was within the publishing purview of one family: Joseph W Ferman and his son Edward L Ferman, and the latter edited it for almost 27 years. Throughout its existence F&SF has retained the digest format and the same logotype for the title and cover, thus providing a consistency in presentation that is unrivalled.
The longest surviving non-English sf magazine is SF-Magazine in Japan which has been published by Hayakawa regularly since January 1960. Because it has retained its monthly schedule and also publishes additional special issues, the total number of issues it has published is steadily gaining on the 700+ that F&SF has achieved, and if both keep to their current schedules SF-Magazine will pass F&SF's total some time in 2015, depending on how many extra issues SF-Magazine publishes. It will then have published the most issues of any SF Magazine, second only to Analog.
With most other fiction magazines having long vanished, the need for the science-fiction field to retain its magazines and sustain so many over such a long period shows how important they are to both readers and contributors in helping guide and develop new writers and new ideas. They are the life blood that helps keep the field fresh and vibrant and feeling young, despite their age. [MA]
Previous versions of this entry