Rina and Jacob Weisman in their home office (Photo: Cathleen Maclearie)
In celebration of the press’s 20th anniversary, Andrew Muchin of J WEEKLY interviews Jacob Weisman about Tachyon Publications and Jewish sci-fi tradition.
Had Aldous Huxley needed a publisher as a protagonist in “Brave New World,” he might have invented Jacob Weisman — a playwright’s son and printer’s grandson seemingly bred and conditioned, as in Huxley’s 1931 dystopian novel, to devote his life to publishing science fiction and fantasy literature.
As a first-grader, Weisman produced a comic book fanzine on his San Francisco elementary school’s mimeograph machine. Beginning in high school, he published The Thirteenth Moon science fiction and fantasy magazine for about 15 years.
That led to his 1995 formation of Tachyon, the San Francisco-based publisher of science fiction and fantasy that last November celebrated its 20th anniversary of publishing critically acclaimed anthologies, short-story collections, novels and novellas.
Weisman and Tachyon are part of a Bay Area tradition that has produced or been home to Jewish science fiction and fantasy authors including Robert Silverberg, Avram Davidson, Peter S. Beagle and Michael Chabon.
“There’s nothing inherently Jewish about the California landscape. But Californians have always had an eye on the future. The Jews who came here were those who didn’t fit in anywhere else,” Weisman said. “We had new forms of politics that might save the world, free love and drugs. We were somewhat tolerant of unusual sexual orientations, at least sometimes. There was always a feeling here of utopian possibilities.”
Weisman doesn’t think his own Judaism has consciously influenced his love of science fiction — but “the large number of Jewish authors I’ve published over the years suggests otherwise,” he said. “Perhaps there’s a shared worldview that resonates with me and, hopefully, with non-Jewish readers as well. I think there’s a generally high percentage of Jewish authors in general.
“We are of a culture that values education, ideas and discussion — a culture that historically has mixed European values with the study of the Torah, the Talmud and Kabbalah. Even though many of us no longer practice our religion, we are nevertheless descended from people who followed intellectual pursuits with great rigor. And that is a great prescription for delving into a literature that challenges the nature of how things are or how they could be.”
Tachyon has published nearly 130 books and won top industry prizes, including a 2013 Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Society for the novella “The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson and Nebula Awards from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2014 for “Yesterday’s Kin,” in 2012 for Nancy Kress’ novella “After the Fall, Before the Fall, and During the Fall,” and in 2006 for James Patrick Kelly’s novella “Burn.”
Tachyon, which publishes eight to 10 volumes per year, also shared a 2012 World Fantasy Award with a co-publisher for the collection “The Bible Repairman and Other Stories” by Tim Powers. It has published works by some of science fiction and fantasy’s leading authors — including Beagle, Davidson, Cory Doctorow, Harlan Ellison, W. P. Kinsella, Patricia A. McKillip and Michael Moorcock.
Tachyon began as a one-man operation “doing two or three books per year,” Weisman said. “They were 1,000 copies each, no distribution. I did everything except for the artwork. I did the layout, I did the promotion, and it was very different. It was modeled on those publishing companies from the 1950s who had done stuff to keep work in print, more than creating new stuff.”
These days, Tachyon usually prints 5,000 copies of each book and tries “to sell most of them. A successful book is anything we get reprinted at that point.”
As Tachyon grew, Weisman met Rina, a fellow book collector and science fiction and fantasy fan. “You must be the only other person on JDate who’s read ‘Lila the Werewolf’ by Peter S. Beagle,” she emailed to him. His reply: “Not only do I know the story, but I published it.”
Read the rest of the fascinating interview at J WEEKLY.
For more info on AFTER THE FALL, BEFORE THE FALL, DURING THE FALL, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Elizabeth Story
For more info on THE RHINOCEROS WHO QUOTED NIETZSCHE AND OTHER ODD ACQUAINTANCES, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Michael Dashow