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Old 01-29-2011, 12:26 PM   #1
Vintage Season
Pulps and dime novels...
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Six Degrees of Publication...

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Question: What do Avram Davidson, Ben Bova, Harry Turtledove, Robert Silverberg, Gene Wolfe, Robert E. Howard, John Gregory Betancourt, Kij Johnson, Jonathan Vos Post, Fritz Leiber, Clifford D. Simak, Gregory Benford, R. Garcia y Robertson, Dean Wesley Smith, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Alan Dean Foster, Orson Scott Card, Darrell Schweitzer, Charles de Lint, George Alec Effinger, Frederik Pohl, Robert Bloch, Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Piers Anthony, Lois McMaster Bujold, Jeff VanderMeer, Richard Paul Russo, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Alfred Coppel, Jack C. Haldeman II, R. A. Lafferty, Julian May, David Drake, Jack McDevitt, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, Lilian Jackson Braun, P. G. Wodehouse, Dorothy L. Sayers, Mike Resnick, Gordon Van Gelder, George H. Scithers, Jack Williamson, Christopher Stasheff, Spider Robinson, Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin, Andre Norton, Laura Resnick, Hal Clement and A. E. van Vogt all have in common?

Answer: Two Degrees of Publication

Confused? All right...

A few days ago, Dave Nicholas posted the following in Joe Haldeman's sff.NET newsgroup:
Anyone who shakes the hand of Joe Haldeman is one handshake away from Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), A. E. Van Vogt (1912-2000), Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985), Cordwainer Smith (1913-1966), and all the writers who made up the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Jack Williamson (1908-2006) is there too, but he managed to span several generations. Yet another handshake away are E. E. "Doc" Smith (1890-1964), Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), and Olaf Stapledon (1886-1950). One more and the hand being shaken belongs to Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), who in turn lived in a literary world made possible by Jules Verne (1828-1905). Shake hands with Joe Haldeman and you are but three or four literary lifetimes away from H. G. Wells and Jules Verne (two if you count Jack Williamson), and you will find in Joe's work the craftsmanship, imagination, literary worth, a none-too-simple storytelling acumen that has accumulated in speculative prose and poetry since a young British woman (1797-1851) first published Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus in 1818 and a young man (1809-1849) who identified himself only as "a Bostonian" published Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827.
... and that got me thinking. Several months ago, at ReConStruction/NASFIC10, I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Haldeman and his lovely wife, Gay. Got to spend quite a bit more time with them than anyone would have at most conventions, in fact. Sat next to Joe and looked at character sketches and multi-colored script over his shoulder as he talked about fountain pens and inks, and traveling. Chatted about our respective writing processes and got him to sign a few books, and probably made an all-around nuisance of myself, but Joe was incredibly friendly throughout. Either he enjoyed meeting me as well, or he took all his frustrations out on the hotel staff. Either way, I loved every minute of it. Heck, he was the first major science fiction author I'd ever met face-to-face* in a setting where we could talk about writing, and he actually talked about it.

Then I realized that put me into the lineage Dave Nicholas described. I vicariously shook Robert A. Heinlein's hand, and all the ghosts of the Golden Age, and almost every one of the writers on whom I cut my teeth.

All of which means precisely diddly/squat about the quality of my own writing... and I am the least qualified person to judge the quality of my own writing, anyway. It's simply one of those little "sure feels cool to know this" warm fuzzies.

So what did I do? Revel in the warm glow? No, I fired off an e-mail to someone else who would appreciate Mr. Nicholas' insight, and the humorous weight of such literary heritage. Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, editor of Bull Spec, met Joe at the same venue I did. Sam is, in his own way, helping to shape the future of our field, and Sam is most assuredly a fan of Joe Haldeman's work.

Sam quickly reminded me of the six degrees of separation that hypothetically connect every person on earth. (In popular form, this concept became "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," and is a great party game for people who know far too much about celebrities and don't have any worthwhile games to play.) Then Sam had a wonderful/sick** idea, and said, "This makes me want to build a Six Degrees of Separation using magazines and anthology contributor indexes."

And then that little trouble-maker in the back of my skull started bouncing up and down, singing you could actually do that, couldn't you?

Sure you could. Anyone could. Most probably wouldn't, but that's seldom stood in the way of a nutty idea.***

Just for the heck of it I took a quick look at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and started tracing my connections. I wasn't terribly surprised to find that I still only have a single publication**** listed:
Stupefying Stories: "It Came From The Slushpile"
  • From the Editor's Desk (Stupefying Stories 1) • (2010) • essay by Bruce Bethke
  • Tech Support • (2010) • shortstory by John Oglesby
  • Lifeline • (2010) • shortstory by Kersley Fitzgerald
  • It Came from the Slushpile • (1987) • shortstory by Bruce Bethke
  • Catechronism • (2010) • shortstory by Jakeb Lliesl Landrey
  • Icehawk's Ill Omen • (2010) • shortstory by Martin Davidson
  • Armstrong • (2010) • shortstory by James Rye
  • We Don't Plummet Out of the Sky Anymore • (2010) • shortstory by M. David Blake
  • Assault and Buttery • (2010) • shortstory by Anton Gully
  • Teaching Women to Fly • (2010) • shortstory by Guy Stewart
  • Whistle • (2010) • poem by Avery L. Maxwell
  • Dance • (2010) • poem by Avery L. Maxwell
  • First Rule • (2010) • shortstory by Allan Davis
  • Then the End Cometh • (2010) • shortstory by David Yener Goodman
  • Heart of Dorkness • (2010) • shortstory by Henry Vogel
Any links worth noting? Henry Vogel wrote comic book story-lines for several years and even edited a small-press genre magazine, but "Heart of Dorkness" was his first fiction sale, so I couldn't use him. Kersley Fitzgerald has probably written more full novels than I've written short stories, but she's still breaking in to the field as well. But the editor, Bruce Bethke, started writing short stories in the early eighties, and even won the Philip K. Dick award for Headcrash. And Guy Stewart is another fella who's sold a tall tale or two. Maybe they shared the covers with some interesting ink-slingers.

Here is the point where, if I was writing a bit of computer code instead of a bit of idle journaling, I would insert a snippet that said this: GOTO QUESTION

All those names I listed earlier? Every last one of them, from Edgar Allan Poe and H. G. Wells and H. P. Lovecraft, to Mike Resnick and Spider Robinson and Robert J. Sawyer, to Gordon Van Gelder and Kij Johnson and Jeff VanderMeer, every last one of them shared a magazine issue or an anthology with either Bethke or Stewart. Pages, upon pages, upon pages of names... and there were a lot of good names.

Suddenly I was Two Degrees of Publication away from a hell of a lot of good writers, and Mike Resnick***** to boot!

And what does that mean about my own writing? Absolutely nothing. It's a fun bit of whimsy, and Sam and I both got a laugh out of the results, but now I've got a better game....

I am going to try and be within One Degree of Publication with as many of you as I possibly can, before they take me away.

— M. David Blake

• • • • • • • • •

* Andre Norton and I used to bump into each other in used-book stores when we were both living in Murfreesboro, but that was before I began writing the stuff.

** I don't pass judgement. You decide, because I'm gonna get tarred and feathered with the same brush.

*** Seriously, I don't pass judgement.

**** Until the next issue of Bull Spec hits the newsstands, that is.

***** Once your list includes "Mike Resnick," the next degree of publication sort of encompasses the rest of the known universe.
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