In Memoriam: Fred Saberhagen (1930-2007)
Frederick Thomas Saberhagen is reported to have died at his home in Albuquerque, NM on the afternoon of Friday, June 29th, after a two-year battle with cancer.
Fred Saberhagen was best known for the long series of novels and stories about the implacable life-destroying thinking machines known as the Bersekers; the series began with the collection Berserker (1967) and ran for nearly two dozen books in the years since. The Berserkers typified the central SFnal conflict of Humanity versus the coldness of the universe, and Saberhagen rang dozens of changes on that idea, always championing the impulse of life to go on and thrive against all odds. He also wrote many other science fiction novels and stories, beginning in 1961, when Galaxy published his debut story, "Volume PAA-PYX."
Saberhagen’s fantasy work was centered around the long "Book of Swords" series, which began as a trilogy in the early 1980s and extended into a further eight-novel "Book of Lost Swords" sequence, a connection to his earlier Empire of the East trilogy, and a new series begun with 2006’s Ardneh’s Sword. Saberhagen was quoted at the time as wanting to try a fantasy series with a large number of magical objects — the twelve swords — since most such series had only one or two powerful items.
Saberhagen’s horror novels were also notable, with his The Dracula Tape (1975) being a then-modern, very atmospheric retelling of the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula from the point-of-view of the Count, in his own words. The series continued for another nine books, including The Holmes-Dracula File (1978), in which Dracula encounters Sherlock Holmes.
One other claim that Saberhagen had to fame was that, during his 1967-1973 stint as an editor for the Encyclopedia Brittanica, he wrote that reference work’s definition of science fiction: "A literary genre developed principally in the 20th Century, dealing with scientific discovery or development that, whether set in the future, or the fictitious present, or in the putative past, is superior to or simply other than that known to exist."
Saberhagen was always an underrated writer, even within the itself underrated science fiction field; some of his novels, such as The Black Throne (1990, written with Roger Zelazny), are as good as anyone’s. And the complex metaphor at the heart of Saberhagen’s The Veils of Azlaroc (1978) is also worthy of greater attention.
His official website is here; his family will announce a memorial service to be held later in the year and ask that any donations in lieu of flowers be made to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund, Doctors Without Frontiers, Catholic Relief Services, or the John XXIII Church in Albuqurque.