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An Interview with Lou Anders

Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ groundbreaking science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as many anthologies, including the forthcoming volumes Masked (Gallery Books, July 2010) and Swords & Dark Magic (Eos, June 2010, co-edited with Jonathan Strahan). Lou is a four-time Hugo Award nominee, a Philip K. Dick Award nominee, a World Fantasy Award nominee, and a Chelsey Award winning art director.

Is the life and work of a sci-fi editor at all like you imagined it would be? What are the best and worst parts of the job?
I’m not sure I imagined doing this at all. As a kid I wanted to be either James Bond or Batman, and in college I fell in love with acting and directing. I came into the field backwards, through a series of career shifts, from playwriting to journalism and screenwriting to the dot com industry to freelance anthology editing to here. At each stage, it was always throw myself in and sink-or-swim, so I didn’t have a lot of lead time to imagine what was around the corner. I do remember telling my boss when I was hired that I thought I could do the job utilizing about a third of my day. Ha ! (In my defense, it was initially conceived as a much smaller list and ramped up very fast after I was onboard. Hmmm, could that have been deliberate?).

As to the best and worst parts: The best part—finding a book that has me leaping out of my chair with excitement, a manuscript so good I forget to edit it and just get caught up in the action, then sharing that book with the world. Equal to this is the pleasure (and honor) of working with some of the world’s top illustrators when it comes to creating a cover for these books. At such moments, I am the luckiest guy on earth. The worst part—when something brilliant and deserving fails to catch and find its audience. Nothing more painful.

Within the last few years, the number of fantasy works set in our present day world, but with magical tweaks, has surged dramatically (as have romance hybrids). Do you think something like this will happen with sci-fi as well?
Well, we’ve already been through a wave of “techno-thriller” novels, with a lot of the big names of SF forgoing space for the near future. Greg Bear, David Brin, William Gibson have all been writing novels set in the present, Neal Stephenson even went back into the past for “historical science fiction”. I don’t want to misquote him but I believe Robert J. Sawyer has said something to the effect that he intends all (or most) of his forthcoming work to be like this. As to romance hybrids, I did recently notice a “my boyfriend is an alien” type novel on the mass market tree display in B&N last week, packaged exactly like an urban fantasy only with tentacles. I’m surprised there isn’t more of an SF incursion into urban fantasy already, as that crowd pushes out further from vampires and werewolves. But we’ve also had a flowering of space opera, perhaps coming out of that now. And parallel universe novels, with its sub-sub-genre of steampunk, are all the rage.

Given the wide range of sci-fi from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern to the work of Alastair Reynolds, how do you define sci-fi? Would you include steampunk without obvious fantasy elements, for instance?
Science fiction is always easier to identify at its center than at its edge, and I feel strongly that definitions need to be descriptive not prescriptive, talking about what it does rather than what it isn’t. My favorite definition is Frederik Pohl’s, which I’ll share here:
“Does the story tell me something worth knowing, that I had not known before, about the relationship between man and technology? Does it enlighten me on some area of science where I had been in the dark? Does it open a new horizon for my thinking? Does it lead me to think new kinds of thoughts, that I would not otherwise perhaps have thought at all? Does it suggest possibilities about the alternative possible future courses my world can take? Does it illuminate events and trends of today, by showing me where they may lead tomorrow? Does it give me a fresh and objective point of view on my own world and culture, perhaps by letting me see it through the eyes of a different kind of creature entirely, from a planet light-years away? — These qualities are not only among those which make science fiction good, they are what make it unique. Be it never so beautifully written, a story is not a good science fiction story unless it rates high in at least some of these aspects. The content of the story is as valid a criterion as the style.”

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1 Free SF Reader { 06.01.10 at 1:05 am }

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4 Lou Anders on Art Directors/Editors and Illustrators « Greasy Pig Studios :: Arvin Bautista { 06.01.10 at 7:22 pm }

[…] Anders, editorial director for Pyr, Prometheus Books’ sci-fi/fantasy imprint, also serves as art director when it comes to the boo… who also, to my delight, rightfully proclaims Ender’s Game to be the Harry Potter of science […]

5 Geek Media Round-Up: June 2, 2010 – Grasping for the Wind { 06.02.10 at 8:02 am }

[…] Redstone Science Fiction interviews Lou Anders of […]

6 simply scott { 06.02.10 at 10:44 am }

Hurray! Based on Pohl’s definition, I have indeed written a science fiction novel! Just hope everyone likes it! Awesome interview! Nice to hear someone talking without the typical sci-fi nerd condescending tone that is so typical on so many blogs/forums/sites.

7 The Great Geek Manual » Geek Media Round-Up: June 1, 2010 { 06.02.10 at 3:10 pm }

[…] Redstone Science Fiction interviews Lou Anders of […]

8 Pete Miller { 06.05.10 at 11:34 pm }

Thanks for the really terrific interview. Interesting to hear Lou talk about the trends, but very discouraging for the SF reader, but I’m sure “regular” SF will very go away entirely and eBooks will allow many books with smaller audiences to thrive.

9 Interview with Lou Anders | The DARK CRUSADE { 06.07.10 at 9:32 pm }

[…] June 7th, 2010 § 0 In case you missed it, I con­ducted an inter­view with Lou Anders. The inter­view appeared in the most excel­lent first issue of Red­stone Sci­ence Fic­tion. Below is an excerpt. You can read the entire inter­view here. […]

10 Elizabeth Campbell { 06.08.10 at 8:58 pm }

What great questions for a leading publisher in the industry. This is really interesting insight for me as an SF/F reader. Thanks!

11 Pyr-o-mania: Three New Lou Interviews for You (Say That FIve Times Fast) { 06.11.10 at 4:25 am }

[…] Hardy, an engineer who works with scientific research on the International Space Station, and one with Yours Truly (conducted by author David Alastair Hayden). Check it out and give them your love. […]

12 First Issue Survival | The Blog at GateTree { 06.13.10 at 4:43 pm }

[…] interviews would reinforce the fiction. Instead, io9 and several other sites picked up the kick-ass interview with Lou Anders done by our friend David Alastair Hayden and traffic went through the roof. As that excitement […]

13 Interview with KS Augustin « The World SF News Blog { 06.14.10 at 7:33 pm }

[…] Personally, however, I feel SFR is a completely different kettle of fish because of those two letters … “SF”. Because I incorporate science-fiction in my books, I feel compelled to include some deeper insight into the human condition. To me, that’s what it means to write sf or anything sf-related. Lou Anders, quoting Frederik Pohl, said it best in his recent interview at Redstone: […]

14 Redstone Science Fiction #1, June 2010 | Redstone Science Fiction { 06.18.10 at 8:22 pm }

[…] Lou Anders, Editorial Director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr with David […]

15 Black Gate » Blog Archive » A review of Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery { 06.23.10 at 5:07 pm }

[…] again, in a Redstone Science Fiction June 1, 2010 interview: “Swords & Dark Magic (co-edited with Jonathan Strahan) is our attempt to examine, and if […]

16 Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery – Strahan & Anders | von Darkmoor's thoughts { 06.24.10 at 12:39 am }

[…] in a June 1, 2010 interview at The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review. Lou again, in a Redstone Science Fiction June 1, 2010 interview: “Swords & Dark Magic (co-edited with Jonathan Strahan) is our attempt to examine, and if it […]