Tor editor-in-chief Patrick Nielsen Hayden introduces the Tor Essentials line, launching in February 2020 with the goal of highlighting a new generation of modern SF classics.
Tell me about the impetus for this initiative. Why these books, and why now?
We published some backlog classics in the early ’90s under the name Orb, but it was always a little half-hearted. It was just a response to the fact that by that time, the mass market editions of even Nebula and Hugo Award–winning books were going out of print because of the changing conditions of the mass market. Now, we’ve been seeing an increased appetite for trade paperbacks, and so we have an opportunity to repackage these books and share them with a new audience.
The oldest books in the Essentials line date to the 1980s. What’s significant about the past four decades?
Science fiction is well oversupplied with people who will tell you that the golden age of SF was in the ’40s and ’50s, but it’s obvious to me that for modern, youngish readers, a lot of it is really dated. Even looking past some of the problematic stuff, the style is slow, they were something of a slog. The golden age of SF is closer to right now. Booksellers have this canonical list of the great writers, and then the small amount of shelf space they have dedicated to science fiction is all Marion Zimmer Bradley and Arthur C. Clarke, but nothing newer. Those are great books, but they’re still taking up the shelf space. And in the meantime, the field has been reinvigorated by people of color and women. This is a good time to be talking about the overall shape of the field.
What are you looking to convey with the cover design?
We’re aiming for a strong series look, typographically unified, with figurative treatments. The background for Gene Wolf’s The Wizard Knight is taken from medieval tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. Three Californias by Kim Stanley Robinson is a geographical relief.
What readership are you looking to attract?
Thirty years ago, science fiction fans bought 25–50 paperbacks a year; it was their main reading matter. A lot of science fiction these days is consumed by a broader range of readers, who read 10–20 works of fiction a year, of all genres. This is the audience that’s made David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Charlie Jane Anders’s All the Birds in the Sky commercial successes. We’re going to continue to acquire backlist titles to republish this way.