You may know Robert Silverberg as one of the great science fiction writers of the second half of the 20th century — not only has he published dozens of novels in the genre, but he won five Hugo Awards, including one for “best new writer” in 1956, five Nebula Awards, and was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2004 (the organization’s highest honor). What’s less well known about Silverberg is that early in his career he also wrote more than a million words of crime fiction under a variety of pen names, and was a mainstay of the pulp crime magazines of the 1950s and ’60s.
One of the best of his hardboiled thrillers, Blood on the Mink , has never appeared in book form or under Silverberg’s real name, and in fact hasn’t appeared in any form whatsoever for half a century. But thanks to the award-winning Hard Case Crime series, the novel is hitting bookstores this week. In honor of the book’s publication and Silverberg’s many literary talents, we asked Charles Ardai, the book’s editor, to come up with some other examples of authors best known for their work in one genre but who also made a splash — sometimes surprisingly — in another. Click through to read Ardai’s list, and be sure to chime in with your own favorite genre-hoppers in the comments.
Fleming became world famous for his series of novels (and two collections of short stories) about international super-spy James Bond. It’s hard to imagine a less likely source for a classic children’s picture book than the creator of the martini-drinking, damsel-bedding, thug-slaying 007, but after telling his son, Caspar, a series of bedtime stories about a car than can fly and float and alert its driver to danger, Fleming wrote the story down and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was born.
Here’s something even more unlikely than Ian Fleming writing a children’s book: who could imagine that the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , James and the Giant Peach , and Fantastic Mr. Fox could also be the author of scabrous tales for adult eyes only? But he was: In addition to classic crime stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter” (in which a woman beats her husband to death with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooks the murder weapon and serves it to the policemen who come round to question her), children’s author Roald Dahl also wrote the macabre stories collected in Kiss Kiss and the salacious ones in Switch Bitch , not to mention the novel My Uncle Oswald , about “the greatest fornicator of all time.”
And how about this odd intersection – children’s literature and… a handbook of grammar and style? Until 1959, E.B. White was known primarily for the beloved children’s books Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web – but then he turned up an obscure 1918 style guide written by a former professor of his, William Strunk Jr., and at the request of his publisher edited and revised it. This new edition of The Elements of Style became the classic reference work on the subject of clear writing, and permanently earned him a place in the minds of millions of college students as the White of “Strunk and White.”
A. A. Milne
Did you know that A. A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, also wrote a popular whodunit? Four years before creating Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and the rest, Milne wrote The Red House Mystery , a classic English country house “locked-room” murder yarn in the Agatha Christie vein. The host of a house party receives an unexpected visit from his black-sheep brother, who swiftly winds up shot to death in a seemingly impossible manner. Famed critic (and regular at Dorothy Parker’s Algonquin Round Table) Alexander Woolcott pronounced it “one of the three best mystery stories of all time,” and it’s been in print pretty much continuously ever since.
Milne wasn’t the only author from another genre to dabble successfully in crime fiction. No less a literary titan than Stephen King – best known, of course, for his best-selling works of horror, such as The Stand and The Shining and It (among many, many others) — is also the man behind the prison stories “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (shortened for the classic movie to just The Shawshank Redemption) and The Green Mile . Not to mention his own Hard Case Crime novel, The Colorado Kid , which inspired the TV series Haven, now entering its third season. In recognition of his work as a crime writer, the Mystery Writers of America named King a Grandmaster in 2007.
Horror writer Anne Rice is best known for her vampire novels, starting with Interview With a Vampire in 1976. She’s also written about witches, werewolves, mummies and angels, all of which fall comfortably under the “supernatural” rubric. But earlier in her career she penned several novels that focused on a different sort of fantasy fiction: erotic novels of the BDSM variety (bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism). These include Exit to Eden , written as “Anne Rampling,” and the three Claiming of Sleeping Beauty novels written as “A. N. Roquelaure,” exploring all possible variations of sexual coupling and sexual torment.
Also well known as a master of genre fiction – in this case crime fiction – Lawrence Block writes some of the most popular series in the genre, including the Matt Scudder novels, about a brooding, alcoholic ex-cop who moonlights as a private eye, and the Bernie Rhodenbarr novels, about a charming and witty burglar who keeps stumbling across murders in the course of his criminal exploits. But back in the ’60s and ’70s, Block wrote more than 100 works of softcore erotica, including seven sensitive evocations of lesbianism written under the nom-de-plume “Jill Emerson.” He kept Jill’s real identity secret for decades; last year he published his first new book written as Jill in almost 40 years, Getting Off: A Novel of Sex and Violence .
Scottish literary writer Iain Banks ( The Wasp Factory ) and Scottish science fiction writer Iain M. Banks ( Consider Phlebas ) and have sufficiently different bodies of work that people sometimes wonder if they’re the same person at all – perhaps the genre writer uses his middle initial to differentiate himself from the literary writer, much as John Ross Macdonald took to using his middle name to distinguish himself from his famous contemporary, John D. MacDonald? Well, yes and no: the middle initial is for differentiation, but Iain and Iain M. are the same person, and he’s won raves on both sides of the genre/mainstream split.
Also winning raves for crossing from literary to science fiction: Philip Roth, legendary author of Portnoy’s Complaint and two dozen other novels that have won him every major award for fiction and made him a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize. With 2004’s The Plot Against America, Roth took his first stab at the branch of science fiction known as “alternate history,” asking how America might have turned out if the anti-Semitic American hero Charles Lindbergh had been elected president. The result? A non-aggression pacts with Hitler, martial law in the US, and – for Roth’s readers – a powerful “Could it happen here?” thought experiment of the sort usually reserved for the pages of science fiction magazines.
My personal favorite example of an author crossing genres is almost a cheat, since it would be hard to describe this author as being known primarily for one genre rather than another in the first place. People who encounter Dan Simmons through Song of Kali or Summer of Night might think of him as a horror writer and be surprised to learn he won the Hugo Award for his mind-bending science-fiction novel, Hyperion . Fans of Hyperion and its three sequels might be startled to learn of the three hardboiled crime novels he wrote about private eye Joe Kurtz. Is there any genre Simmons can’t master? We’re still waiting for his stab at a romance novel – but I wouldn’t put it past him…