In recent years, the Library of America has begun to turn its attention to science fiction and fantasy. They’ve released the two-volume Peter Straub-edited American Fantastic Tales, the work of Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, and fiction from Edgar Rice Burroughs: Tarzan of the Apes and A Princess of Mars. Now they’ve come out with the two-volume American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, edited by Gary K. Wolfe and including work by Frederick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon, Leigh Brackett, Richard Matheson, Robert Heinlein, Alfred Bester, James Blish, Algis Budrys, and Fritz Leiber. Wolfe is a well-known literary critic in genre circles. His most recent book, Evaporating Genres, won the Locus Award.
Editing a set of previously published novels seemed to us to be a vastly different undertaking from either selecting new material or editing a magazine or anthology. So we interviewed Wolfe via email to get some insight into the process.
For example, how much material did he have to read through to reach final selections? “Quite a bit,” Wolfe said, “but it would only be a guess to estimate the number of novels I looked at and re-read. The Library of America staff had already identified major award-winning novels, and I added to this from various chronologies and histories, such as the ones in John Clute's Science Fiction: The llustrated Encyclopedia. That gave us a pretty long list, and I started reading and re-reading, as did the Library of America editorial staff after I gave them my suggestions.”