While part of me wishes time travel was physically possible — if only so I could see Led Zeppelin at The Whiskey in January of 1969 — it’s probably best that it isn’t because you know not everyone would use it to see rock concerts they were too young to go to at the time. Some would weaponize it. But while doing this may not be possible (thank god), it is still fun to read about. Say, in an anthology of time travel stories. In the following email interview, writer and editor Christopher Ruocchio discusses Time Troopers (paperback, Kindle), a new collection of time travel-centric military sci-fi short stories he co-edited with frequent collaborator Hank Davis.
As I understand it, Time Troopers is an anthology of military sci-fi stories that involve time travel. Who came up with the idea for it?
This one was all Hank’s idea. For all our editorial collaborations, I’ve been his bag man, so to speak. He had a list of anthology concepts he wanted to do, and I was brought on to help and manage all the paperwork. He came to me and said he was thinking we’d do some time travel war stories, and that was about as on-brand a Baen Books anthology idea as I’d ever heard, and time travel was something I’d actually done remarkably little work on in all my time at Baen, so I jumped on it.
And whose idea was it to have it be a mix of new stories and classics?
That’s been a Hank Davis staple for years and years. At the bare minimum, I believe he’s always included an original story by Sarah A. Hoyt in each of his anthologies (they’re good friends), and since I’ve come on board he’s had me write a story as well, which has been very nice as a relatively new and obscure writer. But it’s usually the case that as we’re putting the list together, either Hank or I will realize there’s a book Baen’s putting out in the present that has some thematic overlap with the anthology’s theme, and we’ll reach out to the author and see if they’d like to do a short story, since the theme is well inside their wheelhouse.
In terms of the classics, who decided which you’d include, and aside from having to fit the theme, what other parameters did they have to follow?
Like with all the books Hank and I have worked on, the table of contents was Hank’s design. Hank has a near photographic memory for the old pulp magazines. The man can tell you what the cover story was off an issue of Analog for basically any given month up into the ’80s or so. So he always has a plan going into these books, and what you see is usually 50% to 80% of what was on his initial list. The only criteria, other than fitting the theme, is basically just availability. In some cases, authors or their estates may decline to participate (we lost one of my favorite stories on this book that way, which is always a sadness), or are impossible to find (this happens especially with the older, more obscure stories). Sometimes we can’t find an heir or executor, and if the rights to a story are unclear (say we’re not sure if it’s public domain or not), we have to not print it to err on the side of caution. We lose some stories off the initial list that way. Happens every time.
And then, in terms of the new stories you have in Time Troopers, were they written for this collection or just relatively newer than the classic ones?
They were written for this book. As I mentioned, Hank has a tradition of always inviting Sarah A. Hoyt to his anthologies, on account of their long friendship, and there are a couple other stories that were similarly written with the them in mind. Jacob Holo wrote a story, “Doctor Quiet,” that fits into the Gordian Division universe he created with David Weber [first book: The Gordian Protocol], which we thought would be a perfect fit and a nice way to inject something contemporary from Baen’s catalog into the collection. And as always, I get to try and work backwards from the theme to a story that fits neatly inside my Sun Eater setting [first book: Empire Of Silence].
With the new stories, how often did you nix an idea because it sounded like a bad Terminator movie?
Ha! Not once. To be honest, if we’d gotten something that sounded like a bad Terminator movie, I might have pushed for it. The only ideas we really nixed were nixed because we couldn’t find contact information for an author’s estate, or because we weren’t confident in the public domain status of a story.
Now, you previously collaborated with Hank on an anthology of space pirate stories called Cosmic Corsairs. Did you learn anything working on Cosmic Corsairs that made editing Time Troopers easier or better or more fun?
I don’t know about more fun, but — and this is perhaps too honest and boring an answer — I believe this was the first anthology I’ve done where I kept a spreadsheet to keep track of story and contract deliveries and revision notes and the like, which really helped streamline and centralize the process. This was invaluable, given how scattered everything has become with the pandemic’ getting a hold of agents and estate holders and especially making sure the paperwork doesn’t get lost in the mail has never been more tedious. But it wasn’t nearly so painful as I’d feared when we started in on the book.
You talked a bit about this already, but what does Hank bring to the process of editing an anthology that you do not? Or maybe did not before you started working with him?
The main thing with Hank is his prodigious memory and love for the genre. For most of its history, science fiction was sort of ruled by the short story. Those days are long gone, but for decades the short story was really the prestige format for the genre, back when the pulp magazines really were science fiction, and Hank used to read everything. He can literally tell you what story was published in which month of any given year, and as such he has this great talent for picking out stories that haven’t been reprinted in decades, sort of lost gems, if you will. Getting to bring some of these forgotten writers and stories back up out of the depths of time has been one of the great privileges of working on these books, and so when you read a Hank Davis anthology, you’re really going through a kind of archaeological expedition through the old pulps. Sure, we’ll visit some of the famous sites, like Heinlein’s “All You Zombies,” but we’ll go way off the beaten track for stories like T.R. Fehrenbach’s “Remember The Alamo.” There are names he’ll turn up that even I haven’t heard of.
Now, along with Time Troopers, Baen recently released an anthology you edited on your own called Sword & Planet. People can read our earlier interview about that book if they want, but for people who don’t, what is it all about?
Sword & Planet is a collection of science fantasy stories, sort of running the gamut from the John Carter end of things to Dune. Some of the stories verge toward what folks traditionally call space opera, but the idea was to catch the sort of high adventure sensibilities of pre-Campbell SF, stuff in the Flash Gordon / Star Wars sort of corner of things. I think it turned out great.
You said in the S&P interview that you’re also putting together an anthology called Worlds Long Lost, which you said is, “a collection of alien archaeology stories.” Do you know yet when it will be out?
Worlds Long Lost , which I’m co-editing with Sean CW Korsgaard, will be out December 6th, the same day as book 5 of my Sun Eater series, Ashes Of Man.
Worlds Long Lost, which will be out December 6th. It’s all original stories of alien archeology.
Cool. Going back to Time Troopers, I joked earlier about The Terminator, but the truth of the matter is that Hollywood does love time travel stories. Do you think any of the stories in Time Troopers could be made into a movie or a TV show or a game?
One of them already has! We reprinted Robert A. Heinlein’s “All You Zombies,” which of course turned into the film Predestination with Ethan Hawke…which I’ve not seen but hear was pretty good, despite taking some liberties with the text. I am of the general opinion that short stories are sort of ideal for film adaptation, since they’re short enough to do faithfully, and even allow the filmmaker a little room to add, rather than subtract, which is usually what has to be done in the case of adapting a novel.
Besides my own story — which is a bit of a flip on the usual script, with a far future galactic empire being invaded by a time traveler from the past — which of course I’d like to see adapted for selfish reasons, I think the story I’d most like to see adapted from this anthology is Poul Anderson’s “Delenda Est,” a sprawling novella in which the course of the Roman Empire is altered, ushering in a timeline that’s substantially more Gaulish and Celtic, which as a bit of a classicist would be a blast to see.
Finally, since he’s not here, let’s talk shit about Hank. By which I mean, if someone enjoys Time Troopers, what anthology that Hank edited without you would you recommend they check out next?
There’s a bunch of great ones of course, but for my money, my favorite solo Hank Davis collection is Things From Outer Space, I love a good sci-fi horror story, and this has some real classics in it. It also holds a special place for me because it contains John W. Campbell’s legendary novella Who Goes There?, which of course became The Thing; the John Carpenter film remains one of my favorite science fiction films of all time. But what makes the book so special is that I put a copy of it into a care package we sent to a research station in Antarctica…which I of course think is hilarious. My sense of humor aside, it’s an excellent collection, and perfect if you — like me — like thinking about all the horrible things that might be up there and out there in the dark.