As anyone who’s read one of my previous author interviews will tell you, I always end by asking for a recommendation. And often the recommendation I’m asking for is from a writer’s own oeuvre. “If someone enjoys this new book of yours, which of your older ones would you recommend they read next.” Well, apparently iconic science fiction writer Edward M. Lerner has gotten this question so much that he decided to answer it once and for all by assembling a collection of his sci-fi short stories called The Best Of Edward M. Lerner (hardcover, paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Mr. Lerner discusses what went into assembling this collection, along with, well, you know…
You put The Best Of Edward M. Lerner together to serve as an entry point to your oeuvre. Where did you get the idea to do such a collection?
I am often asked — heck, I think every author is — “What’s your favorite among your books?” And “Which of your books should I try?” Which is like asking a parent, “Which is your favorite child?”
Besides novels, both science fiction and technothrillers, I’ve also written a lot of short stories. The stories explore many of the same themes and interests as my novels. Many of those stories, whether from reader or publisher feedback, grew into story series, or a novel, and even once a series of novels. Eventually, the penny dropped: I could assemble a collection that spanned my interests as an author and would serve to introduce a significant part of my novel-length work. Thus began the idea of a career-spanning The Best Of Edward M. Lerner.
In deciding what stories to include, did you pick your favorites, the ones you think are your best, ones that represents the depth and breadth of your career, or some combination of those things, and why did you feel this was the best approach to take?
Selection was tough. The short answer is: a combination of reasons.
Awards and award nominations were certainly factors in making my choices. So was, for lack of a better word, extensibility. That is, stories that proved rich enough to lead to more, sometimes much more, than the original undertaking surely deserved serious consideration. Beyond those comparatively objective measures of what are my “best,” I included a few personal favorites.
What didn’t I include? Excerpts from novels. I’ve never been a fan of published excerpts.
One final wrinkle: In addition to fiction, over my career I’ve written a fair amount of popular science and related essays. Most notable were a years-long, much-nominated series of magazine articles about the science underpinning popular SFnal tropes (such as, for example, time travel). To be complete, my Best Of needed an instance of my such nonfiction. I chose an article that both represented that aspect of my career and provides a non-excerpt tie-in to the five novel Fleet Of Worlds series I did in collaboration with sci-fi Grandmaster Larry Niven.
Were there any other aspects that you took into consideration? Like, did they have to be under a certain length, did you only pick stories that hadn’t been in any previous collections…?
Some of my best early stories have been previously collected. Excluding those would have defeated the purpose of a career-spanning collection. So: there was no such restriction.
As it happened, picking a variety of story types naturally led, and with no conscious effort on my part, to a variety of lengths. The Best Of Edward M. Lerner offers everything from flash fiction (that is, a story of no more than a thousand words) to novellas in the neighborhood of twenty thousand words.
What about the length of The Best Of Edward M. Lerner itself? It’s around 400 pages, but you could’ve easily made it 500 or 600. Was this a consideration at all when deciding what to include?
This was a balancing act. Too few stories, and the collection wouldn’t be entirely representative. Too many, and it’d morph from “Best Of” to something less focused. I like to believe I found the right balance.
The stories in The Best Of Edward M. Lerner are all science fiction, but what subgenres of sci-fi are represented?
Quite a few. Time travel. Space travel. Alternate history. Secret history. First Contact with aliens. Alien conspiracy. SF-mystery crossover. And more.
As you mentioned, you’ve written a lot of novels, and some of the stories in The Best Of Edward M. Lerner are connected to those novels. Can you give us some examples, please.
The novella “The Matthews Conundrum” grew into the opening segment of InterstellarNet: Enigma, winner of the inaugural Canopus Award for “excellence in interstellar writing.” The novelette “The Company Man,” its eponymous hero being a forensic accountant for an asteroid-mining firm — and also an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s unnamed detective, “The Continental Op” — grew into the opening segment of the futuristic mystery novel The Company Man. There were other such progressions.
In 2006, your story “Grandpa?” was turned into a short film called The Grandfather Paradox. Is “Grandpa?” included in The Best Of Edward M. Lerner?
Since its original magazine appearance, “Grandpa?” has been anthologized, podcast, and made into an award-winning short film. I couldn’t not include it in Best of.
The reason I bring it up is that Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies. Do you think any of the other stories in The Best Of Edward M. Lerner could work as a movie?
I believe several of these stories would work well on the big screen. To name a few: the time-travel novella, “Time Out.” The SF mystery, “The Company Man.” The secret history from the Great Depression, “Judy Garland Saves The World (And I Don’t Mean Oz).” They’re all based on fresh ideas, all definitely science fiction, and none would require huge FX budgets.
As we’ve been discussing, your hope for The Best Of Edward M. Lerner is that it will lead people to start exploring your oeuvre. In putting Best together, did you include anything to help people with this, something that says, “If you like this story, you should consider reading this novel”?
I included notes after each entry, both personal and bibliographical. Whenever a particular story led to something more, whether other short fiction or an entire book, I’ve indicated that.
This, of course, means that if someone enjoys The Best Of Edward M. Lerner, they’ll use it to decide which of your novels to read next. But after they’ve read all of your books, what sci-fi short story collection of someone else would you recommend they read next? Oh, and you get extra points if the person once said to you, “I’m a big fan of your work, Mr. Lerner.”
Picking the collection of just one other author is almost as challenging as recommending one book of my own. (Anyway, how hard it used to be, in the days before Best Of was released.) In many cases, we’re talking about friends and colleagues. But as sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer invited me to contribute a guest introduction to his three-volume Complete Short Fiction — and once wrote a guest introduction for me — I can name his collection without feeling I’m slighting anyone else.