© 2006 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.
Yesterday my old friend Jim Baen had to leave. Stroke, at 62. The official announcement from Baen Books, and a link to David Drake’s excellent and moving obit, are at the bottom of this page.
Back in May of 1988, he and I cried together on the phone for over half an hour, the night that Robert Heinlein caught a cab. I said I’d always wondered why Robert had, famously, turned down Alcor’s desperate offer to waive the $10k fee for cryonic suspension—to pay him if he’d only agree to be frozen—but that I’d never had the hairs to ask him. “I did,” Jim said. “His answer was: ‘How do I know it wouldn’t interfere with rebirth?’ Now there’s a true agnostic.” And we giggled and sniffled.
Whom shall I cry on the phone for Jim with, now?
John Varley, I guess. Jim looms even larger in Herb’s legend than he does in mine. There was a period of what seemed to be a year or more, there, back in the day, when you simply couldn’t pick up an issue of Galaxy without finding at least one new John Varley story, even more Hugo-worthy than last month’s—one of the great debuts in the history of the field, an eye-catching triumph for Herb and Jim both.
Herb’s not much of a crier, though.
I do know several people I’m sure are crying right now. But they’re all a generation younger than Jim and me. The memories they share are different from mine. They’re crying for the successful and powerful publisher who singlehandedly held on to science fiction’s center and kept it from flying apart. I’m crying for the brash, cocky young editor-on-the-make who couldn’t believe what idiots he worked for, and used his considerable skills to con them out of cheating their writers and artists, without ever getting caught at it.
In my very earliest days, he kept food in my belly by hiring me to read slush for Galaxy, for $20 a day. (Mind you, this was back when $10 a day was minimum wage.) It was an educational job. In one year I forwarded three manuscripts to him for consideration, and I think he bought one. Mostly, we argued. He was extreme right wing, I extreme left, and we loved arguing with each other, because either of us would change any cherished opinion for a good enough argument.
Then I happened to phone him up ten minutes after Theodore Sturgeon resigned as book reviewer for Galaxy, (because the magazine’s publisher had managed to succeed in cheating Ted), and before I had the wit to shoot myself I found myself writing a book review column called “Spider vs. The Hax of Sol III,” and that’s how I acquired a lifetime’s worth of implacable bitter enemies, several of whom went on to become editors themselves.
Irony aside, not only did I get free books for over five years, and not only was Jim able to keep the boss from cheating me most of the time…every single month, month after month, my name appeared at the very top of the magazine cover, where even people who walked past the magazine stand without pausing could not help but notice it, month after month, until finally they just had to wonder who the hell was this guy with the weird name that seemed to be in every single furshlugginer issue? And sometimes I’d get lucky, and their curiosity would happen to achieve critical mass not at a magazine stand, but in a bookstore where I had longer length to hook them with.
Jim helped me get started. More than once, he kept me afloat until the Coast Guard arrived. The firm he founded publishes a large fraction of my catalog today. In between we made each other laugh hard a lot, and made each other think hard a lot, and shared some bad times and good. As a publisher, he conned himself out of cheating me, whenever he could afford to. I miss him already.
We all do, and shall. He helped more than any other editor or publisher to preserve and repeat and promote Robert Heinlein’s heartfelt belief that off-Earth colonies are utterly essential right now—the message I spoke about last week at IdeaCity, the message I wrote VARIABLE STAR to preserve and repeat and promote. He believed in man in space, and did more than most to help us get there.
I hope, more than I know how to express, that Jim received his advance reading copy of VARIABLE STAR in time to read it, and that he enjoyed it. I wanted to know his opinion of it so badly, because few men alive would have understood so well what I was trying to do, and been so qualified to judge it. I should have sent him a copy the day I finished it, instead of waiting for the bound galleys. Dumb. Now Robert gets to hear his opinion before I do…
I’m pretty sure Jim would have liked the song in Chapter One:
I can't prove it's so, but I'm certain: I know
that our ancestors came from the stars
It would not be so lonely to die if I knew
I had died on the way to the stars
And if we do our part and we follow our heart
our descendants are bound for the stars
He did, and is. I know that.
I’m going to go call up Herb, now, and not cry with him.
Life goes on, Marc Cohn sings. Life goes on.
The official announcement:
We regret to inform you that publisher Jim Baen passed away on June 28th. He suffered a massive stroke on June 12, 2006 and never woke from it. Jim Baen was a founding partner of Baen Books, one of the largest independent publishers of popular fiction. Since its inception in 1984, Baen evolved to be one of the leading publishers of science fiction and fantasy, and in recent years a leader in electronic publishing and the fight against encrypted books.
Jim Baen started his career in publishing in the complaints department of Ace Books. He moved on to Galaxy magazine in 1973, where his editorial acumen turned the magazine into one of the leading short story venues of the day. He returned to Ace under publisher Tom Doherty to run the science fiction line. When Doherty left to found Tor Books, Jim went with him and established its science fiction line, purchasing its first 170 titles. In 1984 a deal with Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books gave Jim a chance to found his own independent company. S&S has distributed Baen Books ever since. Recently, Baen Books has enjoyed a string of New York Times bestsellers by such authors as David Weber, John Ringo and Eric Flint. Jim also personally worked with Jerry Pournelle, David Drake, Larry Niven, Charles Sheffield, Lois McMaster Bujold and many other authors who shaped the field of modern science fiction. In recent years Jim continued to develop a whole new generation of science fiction writers.
Jim Baen was a personal and vocal champion of unencrypted ebooks. The Baen Books Webscriptions program is a model in the field, and the discussion board at www.baen.com, “Baen’s Bar,” is an active forum and thriving online community. Jim’s piquant wit and incisive commentary will be sorely missed.
Jim is survived by two daughters, Jessica Baen, 29, and Katherine Baen, 14.
The surviving partners of Baen and his heirs intend to continue Jim’s legacy of innovative, independent publishing. Longtime Baen Books executive editor Toni Weisskopf will be acting publisher and direct day-to-day operation of the company. Remembrances of Jim’s life will be held at Tri-noc-Con in Raleigh, NC Saturday, July 22 and Lacon IV, the Worldcon, in Los Angeles, CA in August.
For a complete obituary please go to author David Drake’s website: www.david-drake.com