Start Anywhere, And Read

Posted by Niall Harrison

Graham Sleight's final Yesterday's Tomorrows column looks at John M. Ford:

John M. Ford (1957-2006) had a career that appears, at least from the outside, to have jumped from one genre to another. He was a very difficult author for readers to get a fix on. Although one of his books, The Dragon Waiting (1983) won the World Fantasy Award (and has been reissued in the UK as a Fantasy Masterwork), it doesn’t feel like he’s yet a part of the canon in the same way as the other authors I’ve discussed here. For those who knew him – and I certainly can’t claim to have – he was clearly an enormously erudite and witty polymath. Those characteristics come through in his writing, as I discussed in a long review of his last collection, Heat of Fusion (2004) in The New York Review of Science Fiction (April 2006). In brief, it seemed to me that a lot of his short fiction (and poetry) was spurred by formal challenges. Can you write a sonnet that’s a palindrome? Can you write a present-day retelling of the Oedipus myth as a road movie? Can you write a story embodying and describing a Kuhnian paradigm shift in how humans see the world? Ford could, and did. Inevitably, given the range of challenges he set himself, the works in the collection weren’t all as effective as his considerable best. There was also a sense that some of them foregrounded the technical challenge they were overcoming, so that the figure of the story occasionally didn’t emerge from the background of its predecessor works. But the relationship with predecessor works was clearly the starting-point for much of Ford’s work.