Thursday, June 29, 2006
We need many more like him
Jim Baen passed on last night.
He had a stroke a couple weeks ago, and has been in critical condition since, so this wasn't a shock; but he will be greatly missed. He wasn't an old man, or a young one, at jsut about 63; but he had an amazingly full life; perhaps three or four times the actual LIVING a man might expect to do in 63 years.
Baen, along with Tom Doherty, and Les and Judy Lynn Del Rey, basically created modern Sci-Fi publishing; and moved editing forward from Gernsbach and Campbell, through Bova to where it is today. As editors and publishers they've given thousands of authors their starts.
I've met Jim a few times, and I used to talk to him semi-regularly when I was one of the early Barflies (by early I mean I was on there the first day; but I stopped after a while. Too much noise, too little signal. I've been back a few times since but not regularly) he always seemed a great guy to me; though I have nothing but the most casual of personal knowldge or contact with him. To those who've seen him at cons, who've had business dealings with, and even his friends and loved ones (maybe ESPECIALLY his friends and loved ones)... well, Jim was an odd guy...
Of course I LIKE odd guys.
He had a habit of saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the right time. He could be touchy, and prickly, and his moods were highly variable (in fact I believe he was a manic dpressive from what I've seen and heard, but I don't know if it was ever diagnosed). He could be an authors best friend one day and fire him the next; but he usually came around if he liked your work, and if he trusted you. With Jim, two things were absolutely important; your work had to be good, and he had to trust you. Even if he hated your guts, if he trusted you, and your work was good, you were good with Jim. If you screwed him or if he even thought for a second you were fucking with him... well you'd better not do that.
All of this was apparent, even to me... really because of his visibility and impact on the world of SF/F. I didn't know him well personally, but I know so many people who know him etc...
What I know a great deal about however is his professional legacy; which is quite simply unmatched in my eyes.
Jim Baen had an intense personal interest and passion in bringing Science Fiction and Fantasy along, as an art form, as a business; and this sounds weird, but as a societally affecting factor. To my mind, he has done more in that regard than any other publisher.
From 30 years of giving a start to so many great new authors who wouldn't otherwise have a chance; to sponsoring so many wonderful collaborations, so that lesser known authors can get exposure writing with a "name" (and better known authors can write better books -eh Misty); to setting up the most successful regime of electronic publishing of copyrighted works yet devised.
Jim had a simple philosophy. He and his people KNEW what was good, and what wasn't. They bought good books, and didn't worry too much about trends and marketing. Jims thought was always, if it's good, somebody will buy it; so we'll publish it.
A few years ago, Jim, Eric Flint, David Drake, David Weber, and John Ringo (and others, but those were the big movers) had another simple idea: If the people don't know that it's going to be good they might not buy it, so we'll give it away for free, they'll see it IS good, and they'll come back to buy more later.
That simple philosophy is so antithetical to traditional publishing that I can't describe it... AND IT WORKS.
I fully and firmly believe Jim Baen has done more for SF/F than anyone since Ben Bova, or even maybe Campbell. In the process he has also done more for the engineering profession, the military, and libertarians (and other liberty lovers) than most people would ever imagine.
Thanks Jim, you'll be missed.