Guest of Honor - Norman Spinrad

Norman Spinrad is the author of over twenty novels, including Bug Jack Barron, The Iron Dream, Child of Fortune, Pictures at 11, Greenhouse Summer, and The Druid King. He has also published something like 60 short stories collected in half a dozen volumes. The novels and stories have been published in about 15 languages. His most recent novel length publication is He Walked Among Us, published in April 2010 by Tor. He's written teleplays, including the classic Star Trek, "The Doomsday Machine," and two produced feature films Druids and La Sirene Rouge. He is a long time literary critic, sometime film critic, perpetual political analyst, and sometime songwriter.

He's also been a radio phone show host, has appeared as a vocal artist on three albums, and occasionally performs live. He's been a literary agent, and President of the Science Fiction Writers of America and World SF.

He has just finished a new novel and a highly experimental novel, Welcome To Your Dreamtime, in which the reader is the viewpoint character. "Lighter Than Air" is an entirely free-standing story in the form of a dreamtime scenario. Because of its unusual nature, he wrote the novel over several years and has only now begun to seek a publisher for the book.

Norman Spinrad on the web:

Norman Spinrad - Confronting the Man

By Michael Moorcock (originally published in Progress Report 4)

We met in Milford, Pennsylvania, at one of the early conferences called by Damon Knight and his wife Kate Wilhelm at their house. Harlan Ellison, Judy Merril, Tom Disch, Jim Sallis, Anne McCaffrey, Gene Wolfe, Chip Delany, Joanna Russ, myself, and Norman Spinrad. Spinrad was making a name for himself with his early novels, and most of the writers had recently sold to Knight's Orbit series or New Worlds or both. A good sampling of the cream of what would become known as the SF New Wave. Even in this company Spinrad stood out. He was by no means the only author there that summer of 1967 to be spitting fire and ready to get started. Almost all of us had turned up with a story that challenged the readers' expectations. "It was literature, Jim," I remember telling Sallis, "but not as we know it."

Norman had brought along a chunk of what was then his magnum opus. A story about, among other things, how the media, supposed to inform and educate us, is used to corrupt and deceive us. Not a particularly uncommon theme in science fiction. Pohl and Kornbluth had done it in The Space Merchants, Bester had done it in his non-SF novel, The Rat Race, and several outstanding writers, especially in Galaxy magazine had also shown an interest in how the public media is used to manipulate us. But nobody had married original style and content in that dynamic, explosive way that Spinrad did in his extraordinary novel Bug Jack Barron. Spinrad took the language of Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the projects of Manhattan and blended it into one of the most effective literary instruments we had seen since William Burroughs's The Nova Trilogy, which is a continuation of the Naked Lunch book.

As editor of New Worlds, I was very enthusiastic about the book and immediately asked Norman to send me the whole thing as soon as he got back to California. I cut a Brian Aldiss serial short in order to get the first installment of Bug Jack Barron into print and off we went! Our distributors at the time were the two largest in the UK. WHSmith and Son and John Menzies Ltd. pretty much controlled the market. When they took exception to Spinrad's serial, and Langdon Jones' story The Eye of the Lens in issue 170, they started a battle which ultimately we won, but which took a lot of our financial and emotional resources. Although we were able to get a new distributor in the end, the conflict did somewhat reflect what Norman was writing about.

The attempt at back-door censorship by the distributors (who also happened to be the Britain's and her overseas territories' major retailer) was countered by a press campaign which began spontaneously in the mainstream English media. Soon questions were asked in the House of Commons concerning public money (we had a small Arts Council award) being spent on "filth." Meanwhile, Norman's original US publisher got cold feet and refused to publish the novel. Eventually the book would be published in the UK and Europe to great reviews, as ultimately it would be in the USA.

A while later, when Norman was in Europe, we were discussing the fascistic elements commonly found in sword and sorcery fiction, and Norman began wondering what such a novel would be like if it actually was written by a German immigrant to the US who became a hack-writer of pulp sf and fantasy. The immigrant's name was Adolf Hitler, and the fictional novel was Lord of the Swastikas, published as part of Spinrad's novel, The Iron Dream. This was another of Norman's books to become a bestseller in Europe, sparking yet another censorship row, this time in Germany. A further example of censorship at New Worlds in 1978 came when the typesetting commune we used, unable to detect the irony concerning the "Femocrats" in Norman's The World Between, refused to set the extract. We ran a blank page in its place. New Worlds was also privileged to publish some of Norman's best short stories including "The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde" and "No Direction Home," which were also the titles of two of his short story collections. His novels and stories, as well as frequently being controversial, are marked by their variety of subject as well as their choice of style and tone. What strikes a new reader most about Spinrad's work is that extraordinary range of subject matter and approach, from the sledgehammer attack of Bug Jack Barron to the lyricism of, say, The Void Captain's Tale. No one book is like another, whether it is SF, literary or historical (like his impressive story of Roman Gaul, The Druid King) reflecting both the width and depth of Spinrad's remarkable career.

In France, where we both live part of the time, Norman is admired as much for his political originality as for his literary invention. Traditionally, science fiction has been understood in Europe as a medium for political satire and debate, whereas in the US it is still mainly seen through the lens of Frank Reade and Star Wars as a medium mixing marvels with adventure. This could explain why Norman has consistently received much more serious attention in Paris and London, say, than almost anywhere in the US. He is a serious political thinker, a self styled anarchosyndicalist in the great tradition of Anglophone imaginative artists going at least as far back as Morris and Chesterton. His political/literary life has not been confined to theory and he has been an active President of both SFWA and World SF, constantly working to improve conditions for his fellow writers.

As a winner of many honours in the US and European SF field, Norman Spinrad, my friend of some 45 years, is about as articulate, funny, observant and classy a GoH as any SF reader might wish to meet. You are going to enjoy him. I only wish I could be there to enjoy him with you.