Fred Was There First

Last week Fred Saberhagen died. I can’t claim to have been a close friend, since Fred and I talked less than a dozen times over as many years, but he was always thoughtful, kind, and insightful, what anyone would have called, and many have, “a class act.”

In thinking about Fred, however, I realized there is an important aspect of Fred’s writing that’s been mentioned in passing, but not really emphasized to the degree it merits. In more than a few areas of fiction, he was there first. All too often, the true innovators in writing get overlooked by those who do it later with greater fanfare, more brashness, and less talent and class, and, for this reason, I’d like to point out how much of a quiet pioneer Fred was.

Fred conceived of and began his “Berserker” books some twenty years before the Terminator was even a gleam in James Cameron’s eyes, and “popular culture” tends to credit the Terminator as the first violently anti-human cybernetic intelligence. But… Fred was there first.

Fred’s use of Vlad Dracula — historically depicted as one of the great semi-mythic villains — as an intelligent and sympathetic hero not only predates all the other vampire books, but does so with wit and charm, and, to my way of thinking, his books are not only better written, but far more thoughtful. Just a few years later, I wrote The Fires of Paratime, in which I made the Norse mythic villain Loki the hero. While I had not yet read Old Friend of the Family or The Dracula Tape, it didn’t matter. Fred was there first.

Underlying his “Swords” books and Empire of the East is the premise that atomic warfare would change the very principles of the world on which we live — in a way an overlooked use of a metaphor that has come to pass. In this, and in his use of technology, myth, and modern techno-metaphor… Fred was there first.