In Memoriam: Jim Baen

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I remember where I was when Robert Heinlein died.

You know how people from an earlier age than mine remember where they were when they heard Kennedy was shot, or where others from a later generation than mine remember where they heard Princess Diana had died? For me, it was Lieutenant Robert Anson Heinlein, U.S.N (ret.).

Lt. Heinlein died in May of 1988, which was the tail end of my second year at Boston University. I had moved off campus in that year, and into my first apartment. It was a squalid affair sitting right on the green line on Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton -- a one bedroom apartment I shared with my good friend Andy. (That we both slept in the same bedroom didn't bother us, particularly. We had both moved out of the dorms at B.U., where having a roommate was de rigueur. And this place reeked of being a one bedroom apartment shared by two bachelors. There were constant problems with cockroaches (I found one inside a sealed tin of homemade hot cocoa mix. To this day I have no idea how it got in there), though it was cheery with good windows and the floors were... well, wood, if not 'hardwood.'

We loved it. It was our home. It was an expression of our first true freedom. It was a pit, but it was our pit.

I was at home. Alone, as it works out. Sitting at a drawing table Andy had set up. Doing something -- possibly inking a picture he'd drawn of Iron Man. I was a terrible inker, but he was cheerful and liked to do joint projects, so we endured. The television was on behind me, but I'd tuned it to the public access channel, which meant it was showing a neon green screen with white text scrolling on it, letting us know about exciting community events in Brighton. As with most public access channels of the late eighties, it broadcast a local radio station while it did this. Unlike most public access channels, it was broadcasting NPR, which meant I was listening to All Things Considered.

Which at the time was unusual for me. I'd grown up listing to All Things Considered, but I was 20 years old and vastly more likely to have MTV on in the background than NPR, whether it was on the television or not. But on this day, it was All Things Considered, and they told me that Robert Heinlein was dead. They talked about his legacy in science fiction and popular culture, they read a passage from Stranger in a Strange Land, and they pretty much did all the things you do in these situations. And I sat there in a haze and felt my whole world was melting out from underneath me.

Robert Heinlein was dead. Which meant that I would never again read a new Heinlein book (which turned out not to be true. For a while there, the estate was churning out found manuscripts, "restored" original versions, nonfiction essays and the like on a regular basis. And later this year year, his story notes for a new book will be released in an authorized novel by Spider Robinson).

But that's not what hit me the hardest. Not by a long shot.

I realized in that moment I would never meet him. I would never thank him, for his role in helping me grow. For the lessons he taught me. For the experiences he gave me. For helping create the content of my character.

And I realized he would never read anything I wrote. And that hurt almost as badly.

Really, that's the thing about having a literary hero pass away. You lose potential. You lose the chance that one day not only might you shake their hand and say something about how much they meant to you. But even more than that, you lose the chance that maybe -- just maybe -- they will read something you wrote that they enjoy, and you can repay them in kind, even just a little.

It's a sickening feeling. Like you had all the time in the world to do something important, and now there was no time at all left, and it's your own damn fault, and the Lieutenant deserved better.

Which brings me, inexorably, to Jim Baen.

James Patrick Baen had little to no direct effect on me. He didn't write the seminal novels of my youth, for example. In fact, I never even heard of him until 1992. 1992, you see, was the year that the seminal Heinlein memorial came out. It was called Requiem (and Tributes to the Grand Master). It included a few Heinlein speeches and lesser known stories (including one I have yet to read, so I can eternally know I still have a Heinlein story out there I haven't read), and a series of tributes and remembrances by the people who knew him and were as profoundly affected by him as I was. This was a diverse lot who included astronauts, mainstream writers (Tom Clancy was among them), and some of the greats of Science Fiction. Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, Spider Robinson, Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, Harry Turtledove, Gordon R. Dickson, Jack Williamson, Charles Sheffield... and others. Reading that book was profoundly affecting to me -- these were some of the absolute stars of science fiction. Some of the people who could call Heinlein a peer and a friend, instead of just an idol. And yet, they wrote things I could have written -- about growing up on the Heinlein juveniles. About the lessons he taught. About the yearning they felt to give back. A couple of them wrote about the intense pride they felt in knowing he had actually read their work (and that reminded me of my own sense of loss, from those years before).

And one of those remembrances was written by a man named Jim Baen. A man I had never heard of, which was very unusual in this group.

Jim Baen, as it turned out, was an editor and publisher. He had worked at Ace Books, and then Tor Books -- two of the great SF houses -- and gone on to launch his own company: Baen Books, which was an independent publishing house (whose books were and are distributed by the Pocket Books arm of Simon & Schuster). He related a story of how, when he was at Ace, he discovered that the one Heinlein book that Ace still had (a collection of essays) had a royalty rate half Heinlein's normal rate. Baen decided that was wrong and convinced his employers to double it, with no expectation of quid pro quid. This turned out to be a good move, as it prompted Heinlein to expand that collection into the staggeringly successful The Past Through Tomorrow at an advance that was vastly below his normal rate, and pitch it exclusively to Ace. Baen then edited the expansion.

Right there, I knew that if I ever met Jim Baen, I would buy him a drink. He was "in the honor guard." (The Honor Guard being the people I considered folks I... well, had to buy drinks because they were good to Heinlein. Spider Robinson was the charter member, when he put his career on the line to loudly defend Heinlein at a time when the SF community was trying hard to pretend he didn't exist.)

That Baen was someone special was highlighted more by Robinson's filk song "Ol' Man Heinlein," reprinted in that same collection. The specific lines were: "You and me sit and think/Heads all empty 'cept for drink/Tote that pen, jog that brain/Get a little check in the mail from Baen." And yeah, okay. "Tor" doesn't rhyme with brain but still....

Over time and over the years, I developed a respect for Jim Baen that far exceeded my appreciation of how he took care of Heinlein. For one thing, Baen was one of a dying breed -- a man who owned his publishing company (as opposed to selling it to a large multinational) and who selected books not just for salability but for significance. David Drake (in his superior obituary for Baen) mentioned how Baen had kept buying Keith Laumer's books (and in fact still keeping them in print today) despite Laumer's skills having degraded after a stroke in the early seventies and despite Jim Baen disliking Laumer personally because Baen recognized Laumer's significance and because he wanted to ensure an income for someone who had profound effect on Baen.

Loyalty is a rare commodity in the publishing game. All evidence suggests Baen had loyalty in spades.

But loyalty isn't enough to make money as a publisher. You need to have a good eye, a good sense of what will sell, and chutzpah. Baen had all of these things, and because he owned his company, he had the ability to indulge it.

There was a time when publishers kept some books because they made money and kept some because they should or they wanted to. Before conglomerates bought corporations that bought businesses, there were just companies that published books, and sometimes their heads could be idiosyncratic. The most famous publisher of the second half of the twentieth century was a man named Bennett Cerf. He actually was one of the regular panelists on What's My Line, given the tale end position and generally a chance to tell a (bad) joke at the top of every program. Today, writers can't get on television, much less publishers. Cerf founded Random House, and in addition to publishing the books that made that house great, he also bought the Modern Library, whose mission was to keep the great masterpieces in print in hardcover for libraries and the public. Cerf believed in that, and at the time publishers could do that. It is in no small part thanks to Cerf that the Modern Library persists today, too grand a name to be cut apart and watered down even though Random House is now a wholly owned subsidiary of publishing giant Betelsmann.

Well, Jim Baen owned his company and made his decisions. That allowed him to publish The World Turned Upside Down, which is a short story collection assembled by Baen, Eric Flint and David Drake, comprised entirely of the short stories they could get ahold of that had rocked their world as teenagers, setting them on a course that would change their lives forever. You know, in exactly the way Heinlein (and others) had done for me as a teenager. This is a massive collection -- almost seven hundred and fifty pages in oversized trade paperback (much larger than a standard paperback page) crammed full of words by people like H. Beam Piper, Arthur C. Clark, Jack Vance, Fritz Lieber, C.M. Kornbluth, Poul Anderson, that selfsame Keith Laumer and yes, of course, Robert A. Heinlein, selected not because they're the most salable of names available (though some of them are, of course), but because these were the books that had the goods. These were the ones that could hook a person. You slip in the big names and the big name editors, and you use them to slide in the names of people they've never heard of, in hopes that they'll go out and read twelve authors where they might have only read two before.

Baen did things like that. And in the last few years, he absolutely turned conventional wisdom, the internet and publishing on its ear.

See, e-publishing hasn't met its potential yet. Which isn't surprising -- we really haven't entered the information age yet. We're at the threshold, but we haven't gone through the door. But conventional wisdom is e-publishing is A) the future of publishing and B) a monumental threat to publishing in all its forms. Piracy was already a problem in some fields, because the internet persists in being open and anarchic and dupable. Book publishers (the same ones who in an earlier generation tried to restrict the sales of photocopiers lest they destroy publishing as we know it) have been terrified by the thought that people could pirate books trivially. This has guided their initiatives moving forward: Digital Rights Management. Systems that require the credit card number used to buy the book sometimes years after that credit card had been cancelled. Systems that assumed by definition that the fans of the book were criminals who wanted to do bad things.

Systems which, essentially universally, actual criminals cracked trivially. So it was all worthless, and did nothing except piss off honest people. But it was that or open the doors to anarchy.

Jim Baen said "screw it," and put up completely unprotected PDFs html files, RTFs and other open formats of his books.

On his website.

For free.

Honestly. It's called the Baen Free Library, and it has dozens of books on it, available in multiple formats. And the same books available in html format for reading right on the website. Want to read Larry Niven's Fallen Angels online? Go for it. Want to get the first four Mercedes Lackey Bardic Voices books (and other Lackey stuff) down onto your PDA? Okay. Want to try Lois McMaster Bujold on for size -- see if you like her style? You can. It's. Literally. Free.

Why did he do this? First off because DRM offended Baen. And second off because he believed, fervently, that someone who reads books for free online will then buy copies of those books or others by that same author.

Guess what. He was right. Sales of the books in the Free Library, plus other books by those authors, increased after they were made freely available. Which maybe people should have figured out before that, since it's been known for generations that putting copies of books in public libraries (which publishers also resisted) led to increased book sales.

It takes guts to try something like that. He did it and he was right.

Baen made himself available to the general public. He was a huge participant on his company's forums, Baen's Bar. He wasn't afraid to be himself on those forums, either. He expressed his honest opinions and he was sometimes frighteningly blunt for a man who, after all, was trying to sell products to the general public. But at the same time, while Jim Baen was himself a conservative (at this point in his life, anyhow), he never tried to stifle dissent or debate. He publishes a number of openly liberal books -- he might have disagreed with their content, but he didn't disagree with the right to express that content, and he could look beyond where he might disagree with the author and see the book for what it was: a valuable part of the discussion. In short, he respected men and women of conviction who supported their arguments, even when he disagreed with them. And he published the people he respected.

And women. Guys, Science Fiction is a field where the guys outnumber the girls by an order of magnitude. It's better in fantasy, but not astoundingly better. And yet, in going through the lists of authors, I counted (very quickly) a good thirty female authors currently in print at Baen. Not enough? Sure, but more than a lot of companies. (And some of them are giants -- Anne McCaffery publishes through Baen. André Norton. Catherine Asaro. Bujold and Lackey, who I've already mentioned. Holly Lisle. And many, many others. Baen was clearly more interested in finding a good story than anything else.

And he was actively, deeply interested in encouraging new talent. He honestly felt that here were giants in the field who haven't actually entered the field yet, and he wanted to be the one to let them through the door. His new project, a web magazine called Jim Baen's Universe, was at least in part devoted to that principle.

And all of this brings me back to the beginning of this story. It brings me back to a twenty year old in a squalid apartment who had heard that his hero had died... and there would never be a day when Heinlein would read his work. Never. He had blown it. It was too late.

It's not that I didn't have plenty of opportunity, practically beating my door down. For one thing, one of my good friends, name of Chris, is a regular on Baen's Bar. He had pointed to stuff I wrote for Websnark out to them there, and gotten some discussion going. And he encouraged me to participate. "There are some good opportunities here," he kept saying. "You should be getting to know these folks. Especially Jim Baen! He's great!" "Hey Eric -- you need to get a book over to Baen. They've been talking about how they're looking for stuff, and it sounds a lot like Trigger Man!" "Hey Eric! You need to check out Universe -- it's perfect for you, and they're looking for short story writers, especially ones not established!"

And I kept agreeing, but I never got to it. And yeah, I've always intended for Trigger Man to go to Baen Books, when I finished the rewrite. I just had other things on the docket, first. There was just stuff. There was still time. There's always still time.

Only, that's a lie. On June 28, after a massive stroke suffered sixteen days before, Jim Baen passed away.

There have been much better obituaries than mine. I never met the man. I never shook his hand. I seriously doubt he ever heard of me. But at that moment, when I read that he was gone, I felt something I hadn't felt for eighteen years. I felt that crushing, nauseating sense of lost potential.

Jim Baen will never read my novel. He will never know how grateful I was as a Heinlein fan for all he did and said about the Lieutenant. He will never know how grateful I am as a writer for all he's done to keep Science Fiction and Fantasy alive and thriving. Of how grateful I am for the Baen Free Library, and what it means for the future of e-publishing. And the sick, tragic part of that (from my own selfish viewpoint) is it's entirely my own fault. I could have gotten off my fat ass and submitted. I could have taken the myriad invitations offered and participated in the Baen's Bar. I could have sent the man a god damned e-mail saying thank you.

But I didn't. And now I can't.

And I'm sorry.

So, I do what I can. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers people purchase copies of The World Turned Upside Down, that book full of seminal short stories by seminal authors, which once upon a time blew Jim Baen's mind (as well as the minds of others, of course), and, in their words, "donate them to libraries or teenagers of their acquaintance." That, I can do. And I have. I now have four copies of the book. One for my school library, one for the town public library, one for a student I know who needs to have Science Fiction in his life.

And one for me.

If you want one, for you, for a teenager or for a library, it is available. As it is a book of short stories with conflicting rights in many cases, it's not in the free library, but it is available for download for a minor fee. Or you can buy it outright.

But it makes so much sense. Even in death, Jim Baen is less concerned about his name being lauded, and more concerned that young people be turned on to science fiction. That people who haven't had their world turned upside down should. And I can respect that.

I just wish I had told him so when I could.

29 Comments

Hell Yes on both counts. Ever since I ran across Flint's essay at the free library I wanted to sell my first book to Baen.

I've been corrected on one detail of the essay. Baen didn't like PDFs in general, so the Free Library is RTF, html, and other open and unDRM'd formats. My error, fixed now.

Amen.

Rest in Peace, Jim.

If you make it a habit of reading through introductions and essays and the like in science fiction books, you start to get a sense of how big an effect publishers and editors have had on the history of SF. The editor who first recognized their potential, the one who truly brought their writing to the next level, the publisher who was willing to print their novella even though it is the hardest of books to sell. How much of SF history has been shaped by John Campbell, Lester Del Rey, L. Sprague de Camp, Ben Bova and Jim Baen? Those, of course, are just the ones that sprang to mind first, and I'm sure that list is missing giants who's names weren't as memorable (after all, since two of them had self-named publishing houses, two of them are some of my favorite SF authors, and the other one is John Campbell, it stands to reason that these would be remembered by me).

Jim Baen was certainly one of the greats, though I'm not sure I really knew how great until he was gone. I knew enough to have a sinking feeling in my stomach when I first heard he was dead, though. I doubt I'll ever be enough of a writer that I should regret not being able to submit to him, but as a reader I know I regret that he won't be there to support my favorite authors or find the guy who would be my favorite author once I got the chance to read him.

All in all, I just say, Jim Baen, nobody loved Science Fiction more or has done more to support what they loved.

s/The Past Through Tomorrow/Expanded Universe/;

I remember where I was when I heard that Heinlein had died; it was May 8, 1988 (my eighteenth birthday), and I had just gotten back from the bookstore, where I had gone to purchase To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which had just come out in paperback. When I got back home, I was just about to start reading it when I found out the news. So my reaction wasn't "I'll never have New Heinlein again!" so much as "I'm about to read Heinlein's Last Book." And then it was largely about cheating death, which was neat.

Today, I purchased The World Turned Upside Down but since it's my only copy, I'm probably going to have to read it before I can give it away. And who knows, maybe my world needs to be turned upside down.

Two copies of TWTUD are on their way to me now. One will be shared between myself and my girlfriend (to whom I sent a link to this essay - it touched her as deeply as it did me, and probably more, because she's been a lifelong Heinlein fan), and the other will be my "lending copy". I have just-recently-teenaged siblings (to one of which I attempted to introduce to SF with Ender's Game a few years back, but she might have been too young then), and friends who always appreciate good stories, and new authors...

Thanks for pointing us at that, Eric. His legacy will live on, and I'm still expecting to buy a Baen book with "Eric Burns" on the cover someday...

For a few years, I was a science fiction fan. Then, I just - stopped. Not so much out of losing interest, as out of a feeling that all of the really great work had been done already, and that I could always wait until the next.

And then, one day, I picked up a book by one of those up-and-coming authors who Jim Baen worked so hard to endorse, and it blew my mind (and, incidentally, introduced me to the world of webcomics, as the author is a big fan of Sluggy Freelance). After that, SF turned into a living genre for me - one where I could look around and find something new - Bujold, Weber, Ringo, or some new - or old - writer that I'd never heard of.

Jim Baen made that possible. Plus, of course, he made it a lot simpler by letting me buy books online without waiting for shipping, but that's sort of besides the point. His work helped turn my world back upside down.

Having never heard of the man nor gardnered much interest in Science Fiction (which shocks a lot of people because apparently scientists are often the hugest (?) science fiction fans), I give him this compliment: I wish I could be known like him in this way.

To me, there are five events that I will always remember where I was when it happened: The Space Shuttle Challenger crash, the Collaspe of the Berlin Wall, Lady DI's crash, 9-11 (My Uncle on my mother's side, her twin brother, was driving into work to repair the air conditioning units on the World Trade Center, saw the first plane crash into the tower, and started to slow down. When the second plane crashed, he turned around and then called my Auntie Sunee (his wife) and then my mother. He was probably five miles from the site. I remember seeing it as I was about ready to go to work at a fast food place on campus and having to tell the manager, I just can't work today. I can't go to tonight's meeting. I've got to talk to family now!), and the recent death of Pope John Paul II.

Freaky how the mind stabs you with those kind of memories, huh?

I started reading science fiction because I found Heinlein's Starship Troopers in my elementary school library. At the age of eight, I didn't understand the politics behind it - I just thought it was a kickass story. The first taste is free.

As soon as I finished it, I had to read everything of Heinlein's I could find. (And in California, pre-Proposition 13, libraries had lots.) All his juvies. Then Andre Norton's juvies. Then Heinlein's adult SF, Zelazny, Vance, and so on.

I have read many books in the last ten years that Baen published. Some I bought, many I got from the library.

I think I need to purchase a couple copies of TWTUD, for me and for various local libraries. Now.
Thanks for making me think about this.

Wow. I get paid again on Monday, definitely picking this book up.

Perhaps Baen's publishing house will take a look at a manuscript for a novel I call Destiny. I'm checking out the Library and forums now. Thanks for the tip and for the great article on Heinlein and Baene. It really renews my faith in corporate America, even if but a little bit.

I had never heard of Jim Baen until he died, but I knew and loved the books he published. I miss him already. I'm just trying to find my feet as an SF writer, and he was someone I would have loved to have the chance to submit work to.

If I ever do make it as a writer, one of my works will probably be dedicated to him, and the spirit he brought to the SF world. Even if I don't, very year I will think on the life of this great man who died on my 25th birthday. And as soon as I can, I'm gonna get a copy of TWTUD.

Honestly....I owe my fandom to the greater science fiction genre to Jim Baen. Sure, George Lucas was the first one I saw, and the books based off Star Wars the first ones I read....but right beside that copy of "Han Solo's Revenge" was a copy of "Wing Commander: Fleet Action" with the Baen logo on the side. It took me a while, but when I got through it, I was opened to the fact that there WAS science fiction beyond Star Wars and Star Trek, and that's taken me through McCaffery, Turtledove, and so many, many more.

I never knew of the man himself till he died, like so many others, but Baen Publishing fed my cravings for science fiction like an owner feeding a favored pet, and to that I shall be ever grateful. Thanks to him and his company, science fiction isn't just accepted in literary fiction, it is acclaimed, and I'd like to think he at least died happy with that knowledge.

I totally grok you there, bro.

Nicely done. Mr. Baen would have been flattered.

(I drew Iron Man??)

Red and silver armor version, Andy.

I logged in here to say what an excellent essay that was, and to let you know htat you'd moved me with it, and realized that those who commented before me said it considerably better than I.

So.. what they said, and thank you. I didn't know of Mr. Baen's personal story prior to his death, but I, like so many others, have been touched by his life's work.

Here's hoping that the man's legacy continues on, and that those who run his publishing house now and in the future keep his vision in heart and mind henceforth.

There are few things worse than being hit with the realisation that you've completely, utterly, missed out on something cool.

As selfish as it sounds, I'm disappointed that I missed out on getting to know about Baen until he was already dead. Mostly because he was doing exactly the sort of thing I'd like to see more publishers do (that is to say, give aspiring writers like me with no attention spans a place to send our short stories).

I'm going to have to look into this Universe thing. A pity someone had to die for me to find out about it.

Just as remarkable as the Free Library, in a sense, is that Jim Baen also started selling e-books, and the ones for sale were also completely DRM-free. You can currently purchase a lot of Baen titles on-line, and download them, and there is nothing to keep you from copying those files endlessly.

Going right along with that are the CDs Baen has put in many hardcover editions of their books, which contain large collections of e-books, not only available without DRM, but with the explicit permission of the publisher to copy and make available those files to others, with no restrictions save that no money is charged for the access.

I don't believe any other publisher does that.

Of all the items on Eric's to-do list, this was the essay I was most interested in, to be honest. It is a good memorial. Jim Baen will be missed - I suspect he will even be missed by people who never even knew his name.

Freetop
Wanna know something that is even more amazing?

His company is the only major paper book publisher (as far as I've been able to find) that actually makes money on their ebooks. He looked at the customers as thieves model and decided that it wouldn't sell books so he scrapped it.

What you were saying about Heinlein was exactly (almost word for word) what I thought when Douglas Adams died. It was actually kind of scary to see my thoughts up on the screen.

I liked Baen Books, from what I read of them. He seemed to get consistently good authors, and he actually cared about what they wrote. You got the feeling that there was someone in the company that could appreciate good science fiction, and weren't just printing something that seemed like it would be popular.

On a slightly less obvious note, the books were bound well and didn't fall apart with heavy reading. That's more important than you might think, as my well-worn Pratchett collection would show (Harper-Collins needs to put heavier covers on them, really badly).

The trouble with donating books to libraries is that most donations aren't added to the collection--they're sold in the library book sale for fifty cents or a dollar, and then that money is used to buy other books.

If you want to make sure a book you're donating to the library is added to the collection, you're best bet is to find out who is directly responsible for that part of the collection (so, you need whoever handles science fiction), and talk to them about why you think the book belongs in the collection.

In regards to Baen's eBooks, one of the other aspects which has always impressed me — I've never figured why the other publishers don't get it — is that Baen's eBooks were always cheaper than the paper version. You'd think someone else would have stepped back and said "You know, it costs us maybe $50 in intern's wages to run this book through a scanner, and practically nothing to reproduce them for sale. We could sell this for a few bucks less than the paper price and still make a tidy profit." Instead, most companies actually increase the price for the electronic editions. Just never made sense to me.

As regards donating books to libraries, I had the experience of donating books and ifnding they were put up for sale twice. I then started getting personal contacts, people who could make sure the book did make it on the shelf, and made sure they had my name and address on file with strict notes that if the book weren't to be put up on the shelf, I would be happy to, at my own expense, come and pick it back up. Having the librarian know you, and them knowing that you really are serious about this, enough to take the effort of making arrangements for if they don't display it, raises the success rate significantly.

Sean
The companies that are marking up their e-books are trying to make sure that they don't eat into their paper book sales. So they aren't going to charge any less for a book, and then they have to buy a license for whatever craptastic DRM they want to use, so that gets tacked on to the price (after marking it up by the same factor)
I personally love paying extra for things that make the things I bought less useful. Don't you?

minor correction:

The collection of essays that RAH expanded for Ace after Baen upped the royalties was "The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein", which became "Expanded Universe." One of the essays in there that I have special fondness for is the one on education, in which he had some harsh things to say about the UC system in general and UC Santa Cruz in particular. RAH died at the end of my junior year of high school, right around when I was trying to decide which colleges to apply to. I'd been kind of down on the UCs since reading that essay (this was a big deal in my family, where two of my grandparents taught at UC Berkeley and 3 of my four grandparents had degrees from there), but after reading that RAH had left all his papers and manuscripts to UCSC, I figured he'd changed his mind in the 10 years since writing that essay, so I applied and ended up going there. Added advantage - I was able to read (in my spare time) every word written by Heinlein that was known to exist at the time (he didn't keep a copy of "For Us, The Living" - that's why it was the "great lost Heinlein novel"). Not to mention reading the marginal comments by John W. Campbell and Kay Tarrant, which were pretty educational as well.

I didn't have quite the same reaction when Douglas Adams died, probably because I'd actually gotten to meet him (he was a guest speaker at UniForum one year).

I really wonder what effect this is going to have on Baen Books...

First of all, you can thank Howard Tayler for another reader. I just followed the link from the 12th and actually read it. I think I follwed a previous one but got interrupted; I know that if I had read anything like that essay I'd have bookmarked WebSnark long ago.

Second, I have to echo MarvinAndroid's remark about seeing one's own thoughts on the screen. In my case, it wasn't about remembering were I was, though. It was about the sense of loss for something I'd never gained in the first place. Feeling like there was always time, I can still finish my novel and have a chance that Jim Baen could review it personally. I bought a membership to the Universe in equal parts because I wanted to read it, and because I wanted to write something for it.

I rarely go to the Bar. I’ve only posted once, in fact, when I needed to express my jumbled thoughts over Jim Baen’s comatose state. I felt certain he was going to die. I really, really wanted to be proven wrong, though. I was surprised at how strongly I felt like that, too. I think it was a close second to anticipation and dread of Pope John Paul II’s death, though in the latter’s case I’d had years to prepare myself. I didn’t even know how old Jim Baen was. (Almost exactly the same age as my father, in fact.)

Another difference between Jim Baen and the late Pope was that with the latter I knew exactly what to thank him for. With the former, I hadn’t realized how important he had been in my life. Intellectually, I knew he’d been somehow responsible for some of the best stuff I’d read in my short life, and for almost all of the recent ones. I knew his Free Library and ebook CDs let me try out more authors that I wouldn’t have otherwise gambled on with my limited budget. But that was hardly something I thought about most of the time. When I got the news of his coma, though, I was forced to consider a world without the great Jim Baen. And I realized at the very least I wouldn’t have had such easy access to great SF&F books. At the very most, I wouldn’t have had any access to some of them at all, like the Ring of Fire books or anything by John Ringo . . . and I wouldn’t have had the hope that I could do the same.

And more importantly, it was only after I realized how much Jim Baen bent over backward trying to give anyone he could a chance that I began to consider my own (currently) meager writings as payback. That if I got published I wouldn’t just be giving people the chance to read what I thought was a good story, but I would be actively giving back to the people who’d helped shape my life.

Most of the people I know at my college are a lot more intellectual about books. They’re automatically suspicious of any fiction that was printed in their own lifetimes. That’s not to say that they’re all snobs. Far from it. I’ve introduced a small but growing fanbase at this college for Schlock Mercenary, primarily because people stop and read the strips taped to my door. The Baen ebooks I download from the website or copy from CDs have been placed on the college server, and downloaded by several people who have both thanked me and cursed me (the latter because they know they’re hooked). The dead-tree books I have with me get borrowed and reborrowed as people who dislike reading on a computer also start getting into the stories.

It’s just that most of the people can’t quite comprehend that a modern book can have as much pull on the imagination, have as much care in its crafting, as Homer or Shakespeare or Chaucer. Of course, I’m certain that people once thought that about an odd-looking man writing popular plays in Elizabethan London: “It’s good, but it won’t last through the ages.”

The key thing is a story that challenges one’s imagination, causing it to stretch and reshape itself in such a way as to leave one better off than before. Baen Books has stuff like that in spades. Heck, forget spades. Let’s go with steam shovels. It’s exercise for the mind and food for thought all at once. I can stand in front of my bookcases and look at all the stuff I have and think “What was that story about?” If it has the Baen logo on it, I know what it was. If not, well, it’s hit or miss. That logo means quality. It means a memorable tale.

Let me compare to webcomics. Titles such as, say, GPF, Mindmistress, Dominic Deegan, and (of course) Schlock Mercenary are highly memorable. They’re entertainment first and foremost, but they wouldn’t be so successful at brain-exercising if they weren’t. It’s been known for ages that entertainment is a great way to educate -- but it’s proportionately hard as well. Those webcomic titles are wonderful at doing it, and their authors know what to do. They aren’t out to be teachers, but they’ll do a little teaching on the side. Everyone does it. THESE people, though, are actually good at it.

Case in point is Howard Tayler himself. Who’d expect what is essentially a sci-fi sitcom to use real science? Moreover, to interest its fans into looking up obscure facts that, ordinarily, only people with advanced degrees would find at all engaging? And yet it’s not an “educational” type strip, like a newspaper version of what might get placed on PBS; it just happens to have a little bit here and there that makes you think beyond the panels themselves. (As the previous essay demonstrated. Whether Mr. Tayler intended Mr. Burns to think what he did is irrelevant. The point is, Mr. Burns did think that.)

So too are Baen Books’ titles. David Weber’s books are more about political and social what-ifs than space battles, but work just as well as “space battle” type stories. Eric Flint’s masterpiece series about the mixture of the 20th and 17th centuries shows us that neither time was superior to the other, just different -- and moreover tells us why. Yet the Ring of Fire series isn’t dependant on that, either; it works just as well as a rollicking good tale of the clash of cultures.

But it was Jim Baen himself who made it possible. He personally gave both authors the chance to publish, and was possibly the only one who would let them. Certainly, in the case of Mr. Flint, the Ring of Fire series would not be possible at any other publishing company. No other company has such a close relationship with its customers.

Which is the final point. Baen Books doesn’t treat its customers as just bags of money. First and foremost, we’re an audience. Mr. Baen knew what we wanted, and he knew what to do about it, because he was a part of his own audience. He was out to make a profit, sure. But he knew that profit comes in more than just money. The fact that he made money hand over fist from that attitude just goes to show he was right.

I have my own copy of The World Turned Upside Down, which I got for free with my Universe subscription. I’ll be ordering a dead-tree copy, though. Eventually I’ll get one for my bookshelf, but on my budget I can only get one, which I want to donate to my college library. I want to be certain it will be added, though. I work there this summer, and I know how many books end up in the booksale we have. Fortunately, our Academic Dean, who also happens to be my favorite Lit professor, wants to expand our fiction section. He wants to include recent material as well, to help encourage all the burgeoning writers that he keeps noticing at the college. I was telling him about the sort of stuff available from Baen Books, starting with TWTUD, and he’s quite interested. In fact, he says that the anthology sounds like it fits under the current selection: fiction which has shaped attitudes and ideas through the ages, from Homer to the present day.

That’s exactly what Jim Baen wanted, too.

It's easy enough to remember the great works of fiction that we've read and remember. It's a little harder to remember all the people oter than the writer who helped get it in print and to the public.

Heinlein...

I could live with Grubles from the Grave..

But when an Artist is dead, he's *DEAD*.

Talking about "dead"..... it's been almost 24 hours, and you missed "Marriage" on SP? :p

I unfortunately can't have that sort of memory -I was born Aug1989, and have only just recently gotten into Heinlein. I understand your frustrations, however. Nothing tastes so bitter as a lost oppertunity.

~Sor

Dammit Eric, you made me cry!

I remember seeing a nondescript thread in the EGS forum. I clicked it idly, my mind already somewhere else. And then suddenly there it was: Jim Baen is dead!

It was like being hit over the head with a giant sledgehammer. All I could think was: "I'm too young for Jim Baen to be dead."

Or perhaps that is hit over the heart; thinking back on it, I'm reminded of that line in Bujold's "Mirror Dance", when Miles is shot in the heart and his last thougth is: "No, wait! I haven't..."

I remember when Bean Books first started with the free library. I had been introduced to the publishing house with Weber's "On Basilisk Station", still a superb book to my mind, despite the decline of the series, but I didn't know the history behind Bean Books or Jim Baen. I was a bit sceptical to the free library at first. What Flint was saying *sounded* good, and it certainly seemed beneficial to me as a reader, but was this really going to work? Or was it just one of those enthusiast projects that get abandoned and fall into ignominy after a few half-hearted attempts? What could a small specialist publishing house put up against the pressure of big business?

But Baen Books was half-hearted NOTHING. Webscriptions, e-books, the Bean-bar forums. Bean was energetically, almost aggressively, pursuing the Internet potential.

And slowly the story emerged. Bean Books was owned by one person. It *belonged* to one person, an expression of his convictions and the vehicle for his views. And Jim Baen wasn't just some enthusiastic fan with his own publishing house: He'd worked in the business for *years*. He'd been a valued member of Tor and Ace. He'd come to this point the *long* way around. He had *weight*.

And he wasn't sitting on his ass with that weight: he was throwing it around, or at least throwing it over the borders.

The publishing industry is my spiritual home. All the things I value most in life, ideas, knowledge, civility, education, information, they all flow from the publishing industry. It is the life-nourishing soil. It's the sun that warms and the water that quenches thirst.

And Jim Baen was making it change. Re-examining assumptions, taking risks, exploring new ground. Not to mention that new authors seemed to pop out of his publishing house like daisies. If anyone could make the new concepts work, he could.

Now, I don't know. I can hope that Bean Books will continue in the way Jim was leading, but who knows? Who calls the shots over there now. And who are they? What kind of person? Do they have the sheer gut that Jim had? Will they have the same weight? Will the traditional publishing houses listen to them, and follow where they lead?

I don't know. All I know is that I am but 32 years old, and I'm too fucking young for Jim Baen to be dead.

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