Preiss, Byron

Tagged: Author | Editor

(1953-2005) US book packager, anthologist and co-author of two sf/fantasy novels – Guts (1979) with C J Henderson and Dragonworld (1979) with J Michael Reaves – and The Bat Family (1984 chap; vt The Vampire State Building 1992), a juvenile. Though he has also edited and co-edited numerous Anthologies, Preiss is best known as the most successful of the independent sf book packagers (i.e., creative middlemen who conceive projects, pitch them to publishers, commission writers, artists and others to produce the required material, etc.), founding Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc (frequently abbreviated to BPVP) in 1974. The company's first project was the Weird Heroes anthology series – Preiss himself edited Weird Heroes #1 (anth 1975), Weird Heroes #2 (anth 1975), Weird Heroes #6 (anth 1977) and Weird Heroes #8 (anth 1978) – which early demonstrated Preiss's interest in visual presentation. Among the early BPVP projects were a number of Graphic Novels: adaptations included a version written by Preiss of Alfred Bester's Tiger! Tiger! (October 1956-January 1957 Galaxy as "The Stars My Destination"; 1956; rev vt The Stars My Destination 1957; rev 1996) published first partially as The Stars My Destination: The Graphic Story Adaptation: Volume One (graph 1979) and later in full as The Stars My Destination: The Graphic Story Adaptation (graph 1992), both volumes illustrated by Howard Chaykin (the expected Volume Two never appeared as a separate work); original works included Samuel R Delany's Empire (graph 1978) with Chaykin. In the 1980s, BPVP branched out into many different areas, from children's and young-adult books to art books, nature books and other projects.

But most of the company's attention remained on the sf field, and BVPB was one of the forces behind the huge growth during that decade of Shared-World texts tied either to the work of well known authors or generated by BVPB itself, and almost always written on a Sharecrop basis. Projects of the first sort included Isaac Asimov's Robot City, a series of novels by various authors including David F Bischoff, Arthur Byron Cover and William F Wu; Arthur C Clarke's Venus Prime, all by Paul Preuss (whom see for details); and Robert Silverberg's Time Tours, a series of novels by Wu and others. Projects generated by BPVP included U.S.S.A., to which authors like Tom De Haven contributed individual volumes. Such projects – which BPVP was far from alone in producing – generated lively debate, some critics feeling that writers were being led to recycle the ideas of others rather than exploring their own. Defenders of the sharecrop argued that newer writers, who might otherwise have trouble selling a first novel, could more readily work for hire; and suggested that young readers might be encouraged to read more ambitious sf through initial exposure to accessible shared-world books; this argument did not, of course, apply with any consistency to BPVP projects, which were often executed by well-known authors (as above). Later projects included the Next Wave line of novels, each focusing on a specific area of scientific speculation and accompanied by an essay on the subject by a notable scientist; titles included Red Genesis (1991) by S C Sykes, about colonizing Mars, with an essay by Eugene Mallove; and Alien Tongue (1991) by Stephen Leigh, about Alien contact, with an essay by Rudy Rucker.

Also during the 1980s, Preiss produced several lavishly illustrated, ambitious theme anthologies combining fiction and nonfiction. The Planets (anth 1985) featured fiction by Robert Silverberg, Jack Williamson and others, and essays by scientists such as Dale P Cruikshank. The Universe (anth 1987) included fiction by Poul Anderson and Gene Wolfe along with essays on Cosmology and Black Holes. The Microverse (anth 1989) included the Nebula-winning "At the Rialto" (October 1989 Omni) by Connie Willis along with nonfiction from Gerald Feinberg (1933-1992) and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon M Lederman (1922-    ). First Contact (anth 1990) was a similar treatment of CETI. Other anthologies have included the Ultimate series, beginning with The Ultimate Dracula (anth 1991) with David Keller, Megan Miller and (anon) Martin H Greenberg, with the last volume in his lifetime being The Ultimate Alien (anth 1995) with John Betancourt and Keith R A DeCandido. The Ultimate Dinosaur: Past, Present, Future (anth 1992) with Robert Silverberg, produced more sumptuously, stands to one side.

Despite the controversy surrounding some of his sharecropped projects, Preiss should be recognized for his contribution to the visual presentation of sf, and for reaching out to a younger readership through such projects as the new Tom Swift adventures (see Tom Swift for details), the Dragonflight series of short novels, and the Camelot World series. Of all the book packagers, Preiss was likely the only one from his period to have made any lasting creative contribution to the field; his early death in a car accident was not only a personal tragedy. [RKJK]

Byron Cary Preiss

born New York: 11 April 1953

died East Hampton, New York: 9 July 2005

works (selected)

novels and stories

nonfiction

  • The Secret: A Treasure Hunt (New York: Bantam Books, 1982) with Sean Kelly and Ted Mann [nonfiction: puzzle book with verse and pictorial clues to hidden valuables: illus/John Jude Palencar and others: pb/]

works as editor

series

Weird Heroes

Ultimate

individual titles

  • The Planets (New York: Bantam Books, 1985) [anth: fiction/nonfiction: pb/]
  • The Universe (New York: Bantam Books, 1987) [anth: fiction/nonfiction: pb/David Malin]
  • The Microverse (New York: Bantam Books, 1989) [anth: fiction/nonfiction: pb/David Scharf]

nonfiction works as editor

links

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