Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Fred Saberhagen has died

I never met Fred Saberhagen, but from all accounts he was a gentle and modest man of quiet humor who enjoyed subtle plays on expectations. He was an excellent writer, a man whose craftsmanship was often overlooked because he wrote popular science fiction and fantasy -- the sort that harkened back to the gee-wiz days of pretending the cardboard box on the living room carpet was a rocket ship bound for distant worlds.

Saberhagen had an impact on science fiction that went far beyond his own books -- and an impact on romance fiction that can be seen on almost every bookshelf. Because Saberhagen is the creator of two tropes -- two fundamental archetypes -- which have shaped modern popular fiction over the last fifty years.

The first, purely science fiction, was the war machine that has lived on long after the war that spawned it ended, continuing to carry out its last orders unable to comprehend the enemy no longer exists. The original series Star Trek episode "The Doomsday Machine," dozens of science fiction movies and literally countless science fiction stories are built around some variation of that premise. It's easy to think of it as a cliche left over from the golden age of science fiction, but until Saberhagen penned his first Berserker story, it did not exist.

His second fundamental creation....
To my knowledge, Ann Rice has never acknowledged her debt to Fred Saberhagen, yet the very structure of her Interview With the Vampire reveals she was familiar with The Dracula Tape. In that novel almost forty years ago Saberhagen explored a character he'd introduced in earlier stories -- but this was the one that broke entirely new ground, which revealed the character from within. The Dracula Tape -- a transcript of a recording -- presented the world with a dynamic and compelling Dracula, speaking in his own voice as he dictated an often sardonic diary that documented his life and how his world was forever changed by his deathless love for Mina. Yes, folks, tucked away in the sci-fi/fantasy section of the used book store is the first ever sympathetic depiction of vampires as passionate, driven individuals seeking an emotional/spiritual connection that transcends their nature: the progenitor of all paranormal romance.

Fred Saberhagen has passed away. I'm going out to scour the B&N for a Berserker novel I haven't read -- I'm sure there must be one. But if your inclination is more toward fantasy and romance, find a copy of The Dracula Tape and read the book that started it all.

1 comment:

B.E. Sanderson said...

Oh, bummer. =o( I knew of Saberhagen through his Book of Swords series. How very sad.