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Interview: Thomas Easton and Judith Dial

THOMAS A. EASTON is an accomplished author, reviewer, and professor of science at Thomas College in Maine. He has reviewed for the science fiction journal Analog, and his books include Classic Editions Sources: Environmental Studies, and Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Issues in Science, Technology, and Society. He lives in Waterville, Maine.

JUDITH KLEIN-DIAL owns and operates GenreInk, an online retailer for genre fiction. She lives in the Greater Boston area.

Their current collaboration is Visions of Tomorrow, from Skyhorse Publishing, “A fascinating collection of fiction-turned-reality tales. Long before movies like Minority Report and The Matrix, the world’s writers have been recording the future as it might exist; and as it turns out, they were right. This bizarre anthology collects the most stunning predictions and imagined inventions here for the first time. Visions of Tomorrow includes “The Land Iron Clads” by H. G. Wells, who described a military tank in 1903—long before it was ever a possibility; “The Yesterday House” by Fritz Leiber, who wrote about cloned humans; and many more.

In this stunning anthology of never-before-collected stories, our world’s greatest science fiction writers demonstrate that the truth can be just as strange as fiction.”


John Ottinger: Why did you decide to compile this anthology? What goes into the deliberation of an anthology’s theme, title, or central image?

Thomas Easton: Judith and I are old friends, me as sf writer and book reviewer (30 years with Analog magazine), she as bookdealer at cons. And I knew that she had a tech background, interest in futurism, and she had a family link to one of the most famous prophetic sf stories of all time. This was Cleve Cartmill’s “Deadline,” which described the A bomb (this was BEFORE the Trinity test) so accurately that the FBI descended on the magazine’s (Astounding) offices and wanted to know who talked. The link is a bit tenuous–Cartmill was the first husband of Judith’s mother, so no blood relation involved–but it’s there. And when the idea of an anthology of prophetic SF stories hit me, I thought of her.

JO: How did you decide which predictions (as there are many on SF) to include? Did you begin with stories you wanted to include and then talk about their predictions, or work from technological feat to best representative story?

TE: Well, one (“Deadline”) was obvious. Some of the rest came from searching memory and bookshelves. Most came by canvassing our numerous friends in the SF field. Judith asked her customers. People were happy to make suggestions, or to ask “Have you thought of…?” So we had a list far too long to put in one book. We read through everything, sorted the stories into categories, and still wound up with too many–which was not bad, for when the folks at Tekno (the packager) ran into trouble arranging reprint permissions, we had spares on hand.

JO: When compiling the stories in this anthology, did you ever come across two stories that made the same prediction? How did you decide which to include and which to leave out?

TE: In general, first published won the toss. After all, that was the true prediction! Any later story was just repeating. On the other hand, Charles Sheffield’s space elevator story (“Skystalk”) came out about the same time as Arthur C. Clarke’s–but Clarke’s was a novel. So shorter won.

JO: Thomas, you chose to include one of your own stories in this collection. Some readers dislike the practice of editors including their own tales in anthologies. How did you come to the conclusion that you needed to include “Matchmaker”?

TE: Some readers dislike the practice, but it IS a classic “editor’s prerogative.” That said, “Matchmaker” is part of a set of 5 stories and a dozen stories (dating to late 70s) in which I–as a theoretical biologist, futurist, and sf writer–was trying to see where the technology of genetic engineering might go by the middle of the 21st century. The precise nature of my predictions may not be dead on, but the degree of what people are going to be able to do will be closer (which deserves comparison with Poe’s “Balloon Hoax”; he did not predict the zeppelin, but he did predict transatlantic travel by lighter-than-air craft; details no, degree yes). So far, the technology has developed in such a way that I am more confident than ever that my stories will come close. Alas, I just turned 66, so I probably won’t live to see it.

JO: Do you think that readers of science fiction tend to make the ideas presented in such stories come true? Or is to vice versa, that storytellers merely extrapolate from existing science?

TE: The latter certainly, although there are remarkably many scientists among sf writers; their extrapolations can be remarkably well informed. Some readers may take inspiration from the stories–many space scientists reportedly did so.

Judith K. Dial: I actually disagree with Tom here. My dad read sf for ideas re future technologies and methods, and many of my customers who are in technological fields first fell in love with “tech” in sf. Many have told me that they first thought of becoming scientists because of sf. I think if presented a chance to make something in sf that was sound science, they’d jump on it. Although I do need to include a disclaimer here, I am not a scientist, and Tom is, so perhaps my sample is skewed, as I only know those scientists who also read sf?

JO: You include a few stories that are still potentially prophetic in their content. How did you decide that these were potentially prophetic rather than just story elements written to serve its needs? In essence, how can readers differentiate prophetic from “baloney” or “just for cool” story elements?

TE: A fine line, indeed. “Prophetic” is established only in hindsight, and some of the stories we included (e.g. Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe”) must have struck people at the time as baloney. Sheffield’s “Skystalk” is one of those whose basic idea (the space elevator) hasn’t happened yet, but people are actively working on it. In fact, see http://www.spaceward.org/elevator2010.

JO: Are there any special challenges to creating a reprint anthology versus an anthology of original fiction?

TE: So far the only anthologies I’ve done have been reprints. The next one we have in the works will be originals, dealing with “antiprophetic” or “sheer baloney” ideas. We have such a great line-up of interested writers that we may get two volumes out of it! And once we’re done we’ll be able to answer your question better.

JO: What’s the collaboration process like? Were there an advantages and/or disadvantages to having two editors on this project?

TE: Advantages: double the takes on various things, double the chances to get it right. Disadvantages: none.

JO: What was your greatest surprise in compiling the anthology?

TE: How smoothly it went. Judith is great to work with, and so is Tekno.

JO: Where can readers find you online?

TE: I’m on Facebook, and I don’t maintain http://www.sff.net/people/teaston/ very well at all.
Judith’s website can be found at www.genreink.com but it’s also easier to reach her on Facebook.

JO: Thank you very much for your time!

TE: Thank you!