Jim Baen – In Memoriam
October 22, 1943 - June 28, 2006
It is customary to begin an obituary, at least in some places, with a personal recollection of the subject. Unfortunately, Jim Baen and I never met in person and now never will, so I am forced to cast my mind back to the time when a young schoolchild like myself first heard of Jim and Baen Books.
I remember that day surprisingly clearly. It was during my third year in secondary school (I would have been around 14/15) and we were forced to attend classes at Telford College, Edinburgh, which were intended to introduce us to the modern world. The only compensation was that the way home passed a library, which held a book with a golden spine and the title; On Basilisk Station.
I don’t know why I picked that book up, but I started to read it on the way home…and then couldn’t put it down. I devoured the first story, and then I went looking for more. The Edinburgh Public Libraries were low on Baen Books (I think that myself, John and Andrew have done wonders in encouraging them to buy more), but I devoured what I found…and then started forking out the cash for more.
Why did I do this, one might ask. The truth was simple; Jim had a nose for a good author and a potential success. David Weber, John Ringo, SM Stirling, Rick Cook, Eric Flint, William Forcheston…all of them had their genesis in Jim’s willingness to take a chance. Some authors, such as Daniel Graham and Oscar L. Fellows never returned to writing books – or if they have I have missed it – but their stories were good.
Jim did not restrict himself to books, either. Baen Books became a market leader in the field of ebooks, publishing a handful of free books through the Baen Free Library, and allowing cash-strapped readers like myself to read books before actually forking over more than a few dollars. Would Tom Kratman and Travis Taylor have their books on my shelves without the Webscription program? Almost certainly not. Without all the free commentaries on Baen’s Bar, would those books have been as good as they were? Almost certainly not.
Without Jim’s willingness to move ahead of the curve, it is possible that modern-day science fiction would be in a worse state than it is today. His willingness to take chances on new authors, time and time again, allowed newcomers a chance to enter a VERY competitive field, one where they could take up the torch and pass it on to a new generation. Indeed, it is hard to think of an author, with the exception of Peter F. Hamilton and John Birmingham, who are a) on my ‘must-buy’ list and b) not touched in some way by Jim Baen.
Jim was not liked by everyone, it must be admitted, but there were few indeed who did not respect him. Science-fiction will be forever grateful to him.
Go with God, Jim – I will remember you in my prayers.
By Chris Nuttall
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