I just read this rather nasty blog post. Like most Marxists this guy reaches for the wrong thing and doesn’t have the depths to understand what’s going on.
Mr. Wisse, the very unwise, misses the point of the blurb that Jim Baen used to put in the back of his books. This one:
LIKES BAEN BOOKS
BECAUSE THEY TASTE GOOD
Recently we received this letter from Travis Shelton of Dayton, Texas:
I have come to associate Baen Books with Del Monte. Now what is that supposed to mean? Well, if you’re in a strange store with a lot of different labels, you pick Del Monte because the product will be consistent and will not disappoint.
Something I have noticed about Baen Books is that the stories are always fast-paced, exciting, action-filled and seem to be published because of content instead of who wrote the book. I now find myself glancing to see who published the book instead of reading the back or intro. If it’s a Baen Book it’s going to be good and exciting and will capture your spare reading moments.
Another discovery I have recently made is that I don’t have any Baen Books in my unread stacks — and I read four to seven books a week, so that in itself is a meaningful statistic.
Jim didn’t put that in the back of his books to imply that what he published was just a commodity. I don’t think that Jim ever thought of the things he published as just a commodity. Baen has always had a diverse and eclectic stable of writers. And Jim was ALWAYS looking for new talent. The thing I can remember most on Baen’s bar is that he would post “write something up and send it in.” That’s how John Ringo and bunch of others got their starts.
Baen’s wiki touches the highlights but doesn’t give you the story.
I followed Jim Baen starting in 1975, when I discovered Galaxy Magazine in my High School library. The librarian would give me the issues as came in every month, probably because I was about the only person reading the magazine. I still have most of them. One thing I really liked was the fun stories and mind blowing concepts that were always in the magazine. Along with Jerry Pournelle’s, A Step Farther Out, Spider Robinson’s review column and the crazy alien. Galaxy magazine is where Jim started his habit of finding new talent and reaching for new ideas. Remember that this was the depth of the 1970’s when “that Buck Rogers stuff” was in high disregard and new wave was in. Yet Galaxy published Pournelle’s “High Justice” as well as the accompanying science column by Pournelle explaining how space travel worked. Heady stuff for a 17 year old.
Baen moved on to Ace books where he pioneered things like the shared world anthology and published nonfiction as part of the Ace package. That’s how “thieves World” got it’s start. And how some very right wing ideas got out into the real world. “Expanded Universe” and the book edition of “A Step Farther Out” weren’t the only things he published. And the book magazine he tried. Of course the fact that he published Newt Gingrich’s book and stuff about things like missile defense is probably why he was never in the running for a Hugo.
After his brief stint at TOR he started Baen books and the innovations came fast and furious. As did the new authors. Elizabeth Moon. Lois Mcmasters Bujold. Computer books. Speculative nonfiction. Another book magazine. More bad politics, you know, dangerous talk about liberty and such.
Enter the 1990’s and the internet. I know that Baen was an early internet presence but I’m not sure when the Bar started. Baen’s Bar was probably the most important innovation that Baen ever did. It was so innovative that I don’t think that the Big Five have understood what it does for Baen to this day. The Bar gave Jim instant connections with his customers. He could propose an idea and get an instant response. Authors could put up snippets and get early push for sales. And long, long discussions on how to do electronic publishing went on well before anybody had heard of ebooks. The free library? Copyable ebooks? Earcs? All that happened on the bar, back and forth. To say nothing on the discussions about ereader technologies well before the ipad or kindle.
Jim Baen’s passing left a big hole in a lot of us’ lives. I do know that the one thing he never compromised on was a good story. To hear the smear that he only wanted commodity books disgusts me. Especially from somebody who obviously hasn’t read what Baen had published. Jim was always looking for diversity of ideas, the mindblowing stuff, never the literary pablum that seems to be norm in reading these days. And he was always, most of all, looking for high quality storytelling. If that’s the Delmonte that Baen represents, then hand me the can opener.