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The Silver Age of Science Fiction
by Bill Higgins

November 1986 was a pivotal month.

If Steven H Silver had not, in November 1986, gone on his first date with Elaine, they might not have gotten married. Their daughter Robin might never have existed. Their daughter Melanie might never have existed. The world would have been deprived of two intelligent and charming young women.

If, in November 1986, Steven had not attended his first Windycon, he might not have become involved in science fiction fandom. Chicago fandom in particular would have been the poorer for it. Several subsequent Windycons would all have had some other chairman. Someone else would have been in charge of the program at the 2000 Chicago Worldcon, and, no doubt, the lineup of people and panels would have been very different.

Steven Silver, Denvention 2008. Photo by William S. Higgins

Had Steven not become an energetic and diligent member of the fannish community, perhaps he might never have become a science fiction professional. Without an editor, such books as Magical Beginnings and War and Space: Selected Stories of Lester del Rey might never have been published. Without an author, such stories as "In the Night," "Les Lettres de Paston," or "Bats in the Bayou" may never have been written at all. (And without "Bats," the anthology Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies would have been somewhat thinner.)

Most shockingly of all, Steven might never have teamed up with two prominent connoisseurs of elsewhen, Robert B. Schmunk and Evelyn Leeper, to create an annual award for outstanding works of alternate history. Imagine a world in which nobody had ever won the Sidewise Award. Incredible! If November 1986 had played out differently, not only would history have been different, but alternate history would have been different.

As things are, Steven Silver is a fixture in Chicago fandom. He possesses wit, charm, and an encyclopedic knowledge of science fiction.* The fanzine he publishes, Argentus, has a terrifically appropriate name** and is quite well-regarded: Argentus has been nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award three times, and Steven himself has been nominated for the Best Fan Writer Hugo ten times.

With a head buzzing with esoteric facts, it's no surprise that Steven is fond of trivia, and is often MC for SF trivia contests in the Midwest. He appeared on TV's Jeopardy three episodes running, during which his knowledge of Isaac Newton's hobbies proved crucial to unseating the reigning champion.

He comes by his interest in alternate history naturally; he earned a Master's degree in medieval history, and it is but a single step from real history to the realm of might-have-been. He continues to serve as a judge for the Sidewise Award every year.

Another of his interests is astronomy. As a lad, Steven met Clyde Tombaugh, the kindly astronomer who discovered Pluto. The great man impressed Steven deeply, and ever since he has been a passionate partisan of Pluto, defending the icy sphere against the recent onslaught of critics who would demote it from the company of planets.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction may be past, but truly we are living in the Silver Age. Steven is always engaged in projects large and small, writing articles, doing bibliographic research, or editing. Now and then, one may hear him say with a smile, "You know, I published Neil Gaiman's first story." Or it might be "I published Howard Waldrop's first story." When he mentioned publishing Arthur C. Clarke's first story, it dawned on me that Steven edited the anthology Wondrous Beginnings and its successors, the point of which was to reprint the first stories of numerous SF and fantasy authors. So while his claim to have published Neil Gaiman's first story is true in a strict sense, he didn't exactly discover Neil Gaiman…

When the con-sponsoring organization ISFiC (Illinois Science Fiction in Chicago) decided to branch out into publishing SF, Steven played an important role. I remember volunteering to help out when pallets of novels were delivered to his garage. Over and over again, Steven and I carried boxes containing hardcovers of Jeff Duntemann's The Cunning Blood up the stairs and nestled them beneath the Silver rafters.*** As a consequence, I published a review of The Cunning Blood assessing not how good it was—I had not yet read it—but rather how heavy it was. I called the book "uplifting" and wrote "I can definitely say that Jeff Duntemann impressed me as an author on his way up; though if sales are brisk, as I expect they will be, his stock will no doubt drop lower."

I, for one, am grateful we got the November 1986 we did. For eventually I was destined, on our own timeline, to meet Steven Silver, and we became friends. Who knows? On the weekend of this Fencon, dear reader, perhaps you yourself will share this destiny.

*Literally. To the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, he contributed an article on Jewish SF.

**Argentus being the Latin word for a certain metal.

***I'm sure "beneath the silver rafters" appears in one of Lord Dunsany's stories somewhere.


Originally written for Fencon near Dallas, which invited Steven Silver to be Fen Guest of Honor (even though he is a singular fan) in September 2011.