Last week ended on a high note when Josh Gentry of Snackreads.com e-mailed me and Joan Saberhagen to let us know that “Servant of Death,” the story I wrote in collaboration with Fred Saberhagen, is now newly available as a $1.99 Snackread. You can find it at: http://www.snackreads.com/products-page/product-category/servant-of-death/
“Servant of Death” joins my own “Hamlet Revisited” and Fred’s “Mr. Jester” as part of Snackread’s expanding line of short fiction released as inexpensive e-books with classy covers. You can check out their full selection at www.snackreads.com.
Although since Through Wolf’s Eyes hit it big, I’ve usually been classified as a fantasy writer, I’ve always written both science fiction and fantasy. Nor has my SF always drawn on the softer social sciences. I enjoy the chance to blow up a space ship or explore mysterious planets. Happily, even after my novels became more likely to be fantasy than SF, invitations from anthologies gave me ample opportunities to write SF.
When I was approached to contribute a story for the anthology Man vs. Machine, Fred Saberhagen’s iconic Berserker novels immediately came to mind. I decided to ask the anthology’s editor, John Helfers, if he’d be open to a collaboration. John was enthusiastic.
Now for the tough part – asking Fred if he wanted to play with me in his classic universe. At the time I was asking, Fred had published over forty novels, written numerous short stories, edited anthologies, and designed games. I had eighteen published novels and over fifty short stories, so I wasn’t exactly a beginner but still…
I have a confession to make. When I moved to New Mexico and Roger Zelazny wanted to introduce me to his friends, the only one I was nervous about meeting was Fred Saberhagen. I’d read works by George R.R. Martin, Suzy McKee Charnas, Melinda Snodgrass, and others in the New Mexico gang… I’d even taught Walter Jon Williams’ novel Hardwired in my SF class and thought it was among the best of the cyberpunk pieces I’d read.
But it was Fred Saberhagen who awed me. I loved his novel, Mask of the Sun. I’d spent a lot of time with Berserkers and Swords. His An Old Friend of the Family was one of the few vampire novels I actually liked. And, of course, I’d read Roger’s two collaborations with Fred: Coils and The Black Throne.
Roger insisted I had nothing to be nervous about, that Fred and Joan were lovely people. Still, as we walked up the pathway and through the arch to their front door, I was indeed nervous. I had no reason to be. Fred and Joan were welcoming. Both Fred and Roger could be quiet in larger groups, but were quite chatty with each other. And Joan proved to be one of those people who is a vibrant force of nature. Over the next year, I grew very fond of them both and was grateful when they opened their home for the memorial we held when Roger died. After Roger’s death, Jim and I continued to meet up with Fred and Joan for lunch or dinner. But, friends or not, I was still nervous about asking Fred if he wanted to write a story with me.
About the time I had the invitation to contribute to Man vs Machine, David and Sharon Weber came to visit me and Jim in New Mexico. We took the Webers over to visit with Fred and Joan – with whom they had hit if off on earlier visits. While the others were chatting, I drew Joan aside and explained that I wondered if Fred might like to write a Berserker story with me. I told her how I was very shy about asking because, not only was Fred “Mr. Berserker” (and so it seemed incredible cheek to ask to write in his universe), I’d also admired Fred’s work for a long time.
Joan, however, didn’t seem to think I was out of line. She sang out: “Freddy! Jane has a question for you.” When Fred joined us, I hoped Joan would let me off the hook and do my asking for me. She just smiled encouragingly. Grabbing my courage in both hands, I managed to fumble out my request. Fred considered for a moment, then nodded. “That could be fun. You’re a good writer.”
When we left with the Webers some hours later, I was both walking on air and terrified I’d screw up. Over the next few weeks, I re-read a bunch of Berserker stories. I came up with a list of questions and suggestions for Fred. Then we arranged to get together at the Saberhagens’ house.
Fred and I went into the dining room and started trading ideas, while Jim and Joan retired to the living room and chatted. I scribbled a bunch of notes in the spiral notebook I’d brought along. Eventually, Fred and I settled on writing a stand-alone sequel to Fred’s novel Berserker Man. “Servant of Death” is the result of our shared ideas and his complex universe…
Fred died near the time “Servant of Death” was released. More than ever, I was happy I’d screwed up my courage and asked him if he wanted to write with me because, if I’d waited, we wouldn’t have had a chance. Later, Joan would invite me to write another story set in one of Fred’s universes, that of the novel Mask of the Sun for the landmark anthology, Golden Reflections. My story is called “Like the Rain.” I’m very fond of it. I’ll admit, as I put my ideas together, I imagined myself back at the table with Fred, spiral notebook between us on the table.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy “Servant of Death.” I also hope you also take the opportunity to read other of Fred’s novels and stories. Joan has devoted the last several years to making sure as many of Fred’s works as possible are available as good quality e-books. Take advantage of what’s out there. I’m sure that among Fred’s varied and various works you’ll find plenty to enjoy…