The disappearance and upcoming return of John M. Ford
November 15, 2019 7:41 AM   Subscribe

The more I looked into Ford’s career, the more frustrating and mystifying his posthumous invisibility came to seem. Ford had won the Philip K. Dick Award and multiple World Fantasy Awards. He was a beloved and influential peer to writers including Neil Gaiman, Jo Walton, Ellen Kushner, James Rigney (better known as Robert Jordan), Jack Womack, and Daniel Abraham. So why had so few people heard of him? Why wasn’t anyone publishing his books?
Isaac Butler fell in love with John M. Ford's writing, started looking into his career and in the process helped bring his work back into publication.
posted by MartinWisse (26 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
This is such good news. He is a brilliant author, and deserves more attention. Read Heat of Fusion for wonderful poetry and short stories! And Against Entropy remains my favourite poem about databases

Against Entropy ~John M Ford~

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days --
Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke.
The universe winds down. That's how it's made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

(Context here)
posted by Gilgongo at 7:51 AM on November 15, 2019 [22 favorites]

I just came here to post this! Great profile and great news that his work is going to be more available. Ford and Maureen McHugh always reminded me of each other.

The villain of the piece is our inadequate public health system. Just like Kage Baker. If I put together a list of authors whose work I loved who were killed by our nations disgrace of a health care system, it would be long.
posted by bq at 7:59 AM on November 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

Confession: I knew Doctor Mike (not well enough, alas), and I've missed his words. (He even shows up as a minor character in "The Fuller Memorandum", because of his shared interest in the works of Anthony Price—his novel "The Scholars of Night" is the best Price homage I've read.) I heard about this project, and the negotiations over his estate, some months ago: this has been something the folks at Tor have been trying to get off the ground for years, and I'm really happy that it's finally happened.
posted by cstross at 8:05 AM on November 15, 2019 [16 favorites]

I've never read his fiction, only his poetry -- and his posts. He was an active member of the Making Light blog community, and I know Teresa Neilsen Hayden's tribute to him.

And his 911 found poem, 110 Stories, which is the best thing written on that horrible day.

I guess I should read him, eh?
posted by jrochest at 8:42 AM on November 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

I've never read him. I do remember selling many copies of his Star Trek novels.
posted by doctornemo at 9:10 AM on November 15, 2019

I had just pulled up that poem a few days ago to try to learn it by heart.

What an amazing writer.

Making Light memorialized him with lots of links to things he'd written over the years - in addition to that page, there's a vast collection linked from

Mike Ford: Occasional Works

I had not seen the Slate piece, and probably would have missed it without this post. Thank you so much, MartinWisse.
posted by kristi at 10:21 AM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

He was an absolute witty kind scintillation of words on Making Light. I had a T shirt with his Mad Max / Romeo & Juliet verse on it once...
posted by clew at 10:57 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think that for years the only work by John M. Ford that was readily available were his scenarios for the Traveller RPG, published in the magazine Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society. The publisher went bust in the mid-90s, but the rights reverted to one of the game's creators and there was an omnibus of the magazine for sale.

Traveller attracted some pretty good writers, but Ford's scenarios were a definite cut above.
posted by Quindar Beep at 11:14 AM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ford wrote the two strangest licensed Star Trek novels ever published: the musical comedy How Much for Just the Planet? and The Final Reflection, which fleshed out Klingon culture before TNG, and barely involved the Enterprise crew at all.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:28 AM on November 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

"The Dragon Waiting". I read it and liked it a lot. I re-read it after a 10 year gap, and it held up. So glad to see some other things to seek out.
posted by coppertop at 11:59 AM on November 15, 2019

I loved "How Much for Just the Planet" a few years ago and was stunned that none of his original work was available in ebook. Looking forward to reading it!
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:04 PM on November 15, 2019

I've only read Ford's Star Trek novels. I can open The Final Reflection anywhere and it's like visiting with old friends. Who happen to be Klingons. There was no Iceberg Passage in it. I'm delighted that his work is coming back into print. And his story is a cautionary tale for all creative people to have a clear, ironclad will ready at hand in case death should suddenly come for you.

Thanks for posting this, MartinWisse.
posted by bryon at 1:03 PM on November 15, 2019

And his 911 found poem, 110 Stories, which is the best thing written on that horrible day.

Oh wow, this is wonderful.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:38 PM on November 15, 2019

Thanks for this! I only know his work through his poetry being linked to and passed around online, so I'm glad to know I'll be able to find his work in print.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 3:14 PM on November 15, 2019

This is one of my favorite poems of his:
Janus: Sonnet

Sufficient time for faith and miracles
We find we cannot fit into our days;
And nothing’s left at all that joyous dwells
Inside the heart. The spark of spirit stays
Too small for dreamburst, and all earth may prove
Inadequate for art. No human is
This potent all alone, and fear kills love . . .
Love kills fear, and alone; all-potent, this.
No human is inadequate for art,
For dreamburst; and all earth may prove too small.
The spark of spirit stays inside the heart
That joyous dwells, and nothing’s left at all
We cannot fit into our days. We find
For faith and miracles, sufficient time.
posted by Lexica at 3:46 PM on November 15, 2019 [8 favorites]



I love Ford so much. I love The Dragon Waiting, I love the Liavek stories and poems, I love the sonnet sequences and long-form poems, I love Growing Up Weightless in all its 80s nerdery. (Teenagers on the Moon who play a nerdy Robin Hood RPG set on medieval Earth!? NONE MORE NERD. But I love it. Also there are trains. On the Moon.)

Ford was an amazing writer of prose and an amazing character artist. His poetry was decent with occasional brilliance, but my god, he could make a prose passage sing. The Dragon Waiting is so well written that when I lend it to people I have to say "Yes, it's an alternate-historical fantasy with the word "dragon" in the title. I know. But it is, honestly, really good."

I think The Dragon Waiting is as good as it is because Ford wasn't necessarily writing fantasy-- he was writing alternate history that incidentally contains supernatural elements. It fits because in the 1400s, most people believed without question that certain supernatural things were real. All Ford has to do is tweak it a bit, and make intelligent use of his alt-history departure point: that instead of falling, the Byzantine Empire flourished.

If you're looking for a place to start with Ford, his short story collection Heat Of Fusion is great. Like most collections, it's hit-and-miss; but there's a lot of great stuff there. The hardback is a better edition than the paperback, and can be acquired pretty cheap secondhand.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh wow, I had wondered why I never saw more of his stuff in print. The Final Reflection is one of the best Star Trek novels and the Dragon Waiting made me a fan of Richard III.
posted by jadepearl at 5:23 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love the Arthurian train station poem so much. (I hope this link to the blog of a random person who also seems to love it is okay.) "The great glass station...the line goes on."

I may be a bit of an outlier in being far more fond of Growing Up Weightless than any of Ford's other books (if you know both works and suspect that I like trains, you would be right), and within that book being drawn not to the bildungsroman part but to the adults-struggling-with-bureaucracy one. I want to sit down and discuss sometime what the hell is actually going on with Albin Ronay, because it's pretty much all subtext and not all of it is admirable, but I love him anyway, musician and unwilling bureaucrat and capable of great love.
posted by huimangm at 7:04 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

An acquaintance with great taste used "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station" for his holiday card a few years ago, and I loved it and was a little surprised I didn't know anything about the author. I looked for other work by him and when I heard of How Much For Just the Planet I had to possess it (dadaist Klingon pie fight musical theater, oh my heart), and I guess I just was lazy and never looked into why there wasn't lots more. This is great news and I'd have totally missed it, thanks MartinWisse!
posted by jameaterblues at 7:39 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I honestly had no idea Ford was out of publication. I read lots of his books when I was young and liked them a great deal.
posted by rednikki at 1:49 AM on November 16, 2019

To have sparked that worm poem is one of the things I am proudest of. At one stage you could buy cafepress cushions with the poem on them, and there is still one prominently displayed on my sofa.
posted by alloneword at 7:14 AM on November 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've got ties to the Minneapolis fandom scene and this news - and the article, which as far as I can tell is reasonably accurate and evenhanded - absolutely delighted me. I didn't know Mike personally, but I was a regular on Making Light and his loss was great even at that distance. Now that I know a lot of his friends and (chosen) family, I'm even happier to see this bullshit sorted out.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:49 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

So my first introduction to Mike Ford was "Street Legal" (which predated Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service by a good margin so would have been in Space Gamer maybe?) Jesus, I'm old. When did that happen?

I also remember when he passed away and Teresa Nielsen Hayden made a big deal out of telling everyone who had ever written anything more complex than a grocery list to make sure the rights to their literary works were clearly spelled out in their will. She apparently knew it would take more than a decade of I dotting and T crossing to work this all out.

Glad to hear this.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:13 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

And I come back and look at this a few hours later and go "Mike Ford...whaaaaa? And spend a solid minute recalling that Mike Ford was a guy I knew in the Boy Scouts. So apparently really old and wafting over into my dotage.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:41 PM on November 17, 2019

Ford wrote the two strangest licensed Star Trek novels ever published

And two of the better ones at that.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:38 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Growing Up Weightless is my favorite Ford novel as well. I love its pairing of father and son POVs, seemlessly woven back and forth, done without any chapters or even scene breaks.

No scene breaks, without seeming forced, and minimal stream-of-consciousness -- now that's quality stunt writing.
posted by Quasirandom at 8:21 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

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