Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Interview! John Joseph Adams

One of the first books I reviewed this year was Wastelands, a collection of short stories edited by John Joseph Adams. John was kind enough to answer some questions about the editing process, the stories in the book and post-apocalyptic fiction in general. Here's what he had to say...

Hi John, thanks for agreeing to take part!

What made you suddenly think, “You know what? I’m going to edit a collection of post-apocalyptic stories…”?

I've long been a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. I first became fascinated with it in my teens after playing a computer role-playing game called Wasteland (which, as you might guess, is the inspiration for the title). Then, years later, another game came along called Fallout--which was and still is one of the best games I've ever played; it was the brilliant narrative of that one that inspired me to seek out post-apocalyptic fiction. So I tracked down and read a bunch of the classics, like A Canticle for Leibowitz and Earth Abides, then went out in search of some of the more obscure works, and came across great stuff like The Long Tomorrow, No Blade of Grass, and The Long Loud Silence.

I’ve interviewed a few authors but this is the first interview I’ve done with an editor of a short story collection. Could you tell me a little bit about the process you had to go through to put ‘Wastelands’ together? Did you have an idea about specific stories that you wanted to be included or did you ask writers to submit work that they thought was suitable?

Well, after reading the abovementioned titles, it became harder to find books on the subject, and so I decided to write an article on the sub-genre, which required tons of research. (I figured if I was going to do the research anyway, I might as well write an article based on it and get paid for it!) In the end, it served me quite well when the time came to put the anthology proposal together; when the time came to do that, I put down most of the table of contents right off the top of my head.
Other than that, I just talked to my friends and colleagues and solicited recommendations from them. Also, once word got out that I'd sold the anthology, I had a few authors approach me to point out that they had stories on the subject I should consider.
There's a bit more to the process than that, of course. Once you settle on a table of contents, you have to contact all of the authors (or their agents) to negotiate permission to reprint the stories. Then, once you secure permission for all the stories, you have to set the order of the stories, which can be a lot like putting together a puzzle. And in the case of Wastelands, I had to write the introduction, write the header notes to all of the stories, and finally assemble the "For Further Reading" appendix.

If you had to live through the aftermath of one of the apocalypses covered in this book which one would it be?

It would have to be the apocalypse depicted in Jerry Oltion's "Judgment Passed." In that story, it seems like the world was left in pretty decent shape after the apocalypse--no irradiated wastelands or crazed mutants to deal with, no plague to worry about. Also, no angry biker gangs plotting to steal your fuel. On the other hand, it might be a bit lonely, and it might suck if you didn't get along with any of the few people that you were stuck on the planet with. Or maybe the one in "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth." I mean, if the end of the world comes, and the internet is still working, it couldn't be all bad, could it?

What do you think would be the worst, of these apocalypses, to have to go through?

Hmm, I don't know. They'd all be pretty awful. Maybe John Langan's apocalypse in "Episode Seven." There's all kinds of crazy stuff going on there. I mean, those giant mutant dogs? I wouldn't want to have to deal with those things. I'm also tempted to say Elizabeth Bear's apocalypse in "And the Deep Blue Sea," but I don't want to explain why because doing so would kind of spoil the story.

Does putting together a collection like this make you consider investing in a well-stocked bomb shelter for your garden?

Not really. I guess I'm not that convinced that those bomb shelters would actually be much good. In post-apocalyptic fiction, almost no one who survives does so because they hid out in a bomb shelter. Plus, I don't know that I could stand being cooped up in one of those things for however long you'd need to stay in there. I'd love to have access to one of those big underground Vaults like they have in Fallout, though.

Now you’ve got the finished article in your hand, do any of the stories stand out for you? This could be in terms any that you particularly enjoyed reading or in terms of what you had to do before they could be included in the book?

As editor, it's not really fair for me to single out favourites; these stories are like my children, so I love them all equally. However, though this is a reprint anthology, a few of the stories were actually written at my request. Before I sold Wastelands, I had been trying to sell an anthology of all-original post-apocalyptic fiction. In the course of doing that, I had gotten in touch with several authors to get commitments from them before sending the proposal around to publishers. Carol Emshwiller was one of those authors, and she wrote "Killers" for me, which was great. She didn't need to do that--at that time, I was only getting authors to agree to contribute something at some point--but she got the urge to write the story, so she did. And she let me hold onto it for quite a while as I shopped the anthology around. Eventually, after many rejections, I decided the original anthology was a lost cause, and released the story back to Carol, at which point she sold it to F&SF.
John Langan also wrote "Episode Seven" because of that proposed anthology, though by the time he finished writing it, I had already given up on the project, so it went right to F&SF. Dale Bailey was one of the other authors I had talked to, and some time after, he submitted "The End of the World as We Know It" to F&SF. That story might not have specifically been written for me, but it seems likely that me talking to him planted the seed in his head.
And of course, Jerry Oltion's story is the one original story in the book, and has been singled out by many reviewers as one of the best, so I'm proud to have included it.

In your introduction, you mention that the aftermath of alien/zombie invasion is apocalyptic but is a subject for another anthology. Is this something that you can see yourself working on in the future? I’m hoping you’ll say ‘yes’, as I love zombie stories!

Well, okay: Yes. My next reprint anthology--which I'm putting the finishing touches on now--is in fact a zombie anthology. I haven't made all my final selections for that one yet, but I do have several authors already lined up, such as Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Clive Barker, Laurell K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, and several others. It's tentatively titled The Living Dead and is scheduled for publication by Night Shade Books in September or October 2008. It's going to be a big book--in the neighbourhood of 230,000 words--and it's been a lot of fun assembling it.

You also question whether the resurgence in post-apocalyptic fiction is due, in any way, to similarities between people’s reactions to the Cold War era and today’s political climate. You don’t answer this particular question though… Would you say that this resurgence is, in any part, due to this?

I don't know, but that's my theory, anyway. I don't think it's a coincidence that there's this big upsurge in the popularity of post-apocalyptic fiction while at the same time tensions around the world make it feel like we're sitting on a powder keg ready to explode.

You provide a selected bibliography, of post-apocalyptic fiction, at the back of the book. If you met someone who hadn’t read anything in this genre, where would you recommend that they start on this list?

That's a good question. The bibliography is rather lengthy, almost so long you might not know where to start. I'll echo some of what I said earlier. I'd suggest reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, Earth Abides, No Blade of Grass, The Long Loud Silence, The Long Tomorrow, and in that order--that's my personal post-apocalyptic top five. Then you'd have to check out some John Wyndham--either Re-Birth (a/k/a The Chrysalids) or Day of the Triffids. Definitely some Octavia Butler--maybe Parable of the Sower, and The Stand by Stephen King.

Finally, do you have any words of advice for people who are considering how they would survive in a post-apocalyptic environment?

Only this: Don't turn to me for advice; if the apocalypse comes, I'm sure to perish.

Thanks for your time John, I really appreciate it.


Tia Nevitt said...

Another Fallout fan! I actually still have Fallout installed on my computer, and we have all the Fallout titles except--oddly enough--Wasteland. We also have the role-playing game it is based on, which is called Aftermath.

Let me add Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon to the list of great post apocalyptic stories.

Gonna have to get this anthology.

scheng1 said...

Day of the Triffids is unforgetable. I dont know why I hate the book so much when I was reading it. However, having read once, I will never forget the story.