Fred Saberhagen

by wjw on July 2, 2007

Fred Saberhagen passed away this past weekend, after a long battle with cancer.

He was a fine human being, and a far better author than most people gave him credit for. He created two undying archetypes for science fiction: the first being the Berserkers, robotic combat machines whose destructiveness outlived the war for which they were created. So powerful was this archetype that it was ripped off repeatedly, sometimes by people who had no idea with whom the concept originated.

The other archetype was that of the modern, rational vampire who tells his own story. The Dracula Tape, in which Dracula was given his own sardonic voice, was the first example of what turned out to be a hugely successful genre. Anne Rice and many others owe him a huge (and so far as I know unacknowledged) debt.

Fred’s non-series work show a highly individual imagination at work: Octagon, Century of Progress, and Love Conquers All are not only very different works from the Berserker books, but are each so distinct that it’s hard to believe they were all works from the same hand. And The Veils of Azlaroc is so freaking strange that it’s clearly a candidate for the Weirdest SF Novel of All Time.

In person, Fred was soft-spoken and reticent, but had a sly, understated sense of humor that I wish was more apparent in his fiction. During one of our first meetings, at a Halloween party, I found myself staring at his teeth with great unease. (He had commissioned a dentist to make him a set of highly realistic vampire vangs.) When he encountered a young, enthusiastic Dracula fan who said that meeting him made this was the most important day of her life, Fred replied, “Fortunately you are young, and have many days ahead of you.”

During his final illness, Fred woke one morning after having dreamed of chorizo eggs from a local restaurant. His family got him the eggs, which he enjoyed. The next morning, when asked what he’d like to eat, he replied, “I have had no prophetic dreams about breakfast this morning.”

I’m going to miss him a lot.

Tarl Neustaedter July 3, 2007 at 3:00 am

Damn. I primarily remember Saberhagen for his “Empire of the East” trilogy. I just looked in my shelves and I have dozens upon dozens of his books – but I remember EotE most. A work obscure enough most of my SF friends never heard of it (lessee… written 68-73).

For those who’ve read a lot of Saberhagen’s stuff but also not heard of this, I feel it pretty much provided the proving ground for his later swords/lost swords/gods series.

[Hey – I just noticed in Wikipedia that he published a fourth in the trilogy – Ardneh’s Sword. Damn, wish I’d known sooner.]

Pat Mathews July 3, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. We will surely miss him.

Dave Bishop July 3, 2007 at 7:18 pm

This is very sad news.
When I was a teenager, in the 60s, in the UK, real SF (the good stuff) was fairly hard to come by. I discovered that a local newsagent sold back copies of ‘Galaxy’, ‘Worlds of Tomorrow’ and ‘If’ (all edited by Fred Pohl). The first copy of ‘If’ that I bought (the March 1965 issue) contained Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker novelette, ‘Stone Place’ – a wonderful piece of space opera that made a big impression on an impressionable lad!
Rest in peace, Fred – you were one of the greats!

Bruce July 4, 2007 at 9:25 am

I hope you’re sending a copy of this appreciation to LOCUS.

James Mishler August 10, 2007 at 4:32 pm

When I read the news I dug out my dog-eared copy of Empire of the East and reread it. It was even better than I remembered. I missed hearing of the release of Ardneh’s Sword; I’ll definitely have to find that one somewhere. I think his fantasy work, in the Changeling Earth and Swords series, were far more influential than many realize; not only in literature, but also in gaming. I will regret never having met him; he sounds to have been a wonderful person to speak with.

Jacob Cord August 22, 2007 at 12:09 am

Ardneh’s Sword was the perfect glue to tie the Empire of the East books to the Swords stories. Saberhagen was a wonderful author that I will miss very much. I was lucky enough to chat with him via email a few times, he was never too busy for a fan.

Chuck August 29, 2007 at 7:44 pm

I am glad someone mentioned the EoE and Swords series. Fred – and his friend Roger Zelazny – were my first and most influential Fantasy authors. His passing marked a very sad day for me and I think the world (literary and otherwise) is much emptier without him. I recently had the pleasure of carrying on an email conversation with Fred’s wife Jane when I purchased some books recently from his site. I’d encourage any of you who are looking for copies of his works to buy them from his bookstore at

Jan Zimmerman September 24, 2007 at 11:38 pm

Fred (Tom) Saberhagen was my cousin and though I haven’t seen him in many years, he cannot be forgotten. He spent summers in Byron, IL and I was just a little girl. He used to sit me on his lap and tell me stories, the like of which you had never heard before, at the same time doing wierd things with his ears & making sounds to go with the stories. He always had time for a story for me. And as a little girl, I always wanted to grow up to be just like him! Fred, you will always be remembered & held close in my heart.

dubjay September 25, 2007 at 9:58 pm

Jan, what a terrific story!

I wish I had been a fly on the wall.

Eyepoke October 1, 2007 at 2:22 am

I adored his work for over half my life. I found his Swords books at age 14, 20 years ago, and have read him ever since. Anytime I am in a library or a bookstore I always graviatate first to the “S” section then to Saberhagen. Never met him, but he was a part of my life. I am glad that there are so many books of his left that I have not yet read, but sad to think that there will not (in this life) be another Saberhagen Dracula novel- or a follow up to Ardeh’s Sword- or another Harry Silver Berserker story.

It sounds like he really was a wonderful person as well as my favorite writer.

CaptCavemanfromflickrdotcom February 10, 2008 at 9:36 am

He will be sorely missed. This was shocking and depressing news. What a loss for his fans and those closest to him on a personal level. Good bye Fred. You were one of the greats…

Noah September 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm

I am just a youngin' in the scope of Saberhagen fans, just turning 21. I began reading 'adult level' books at an early age, my father would take me to a local used book store, he would gravitate around the science fiction section, and like many fathers to their sons, I wanted to be just like him. One particularly important day in my life was when I decided to give Fred's Berserker series a try, I think I must have had a thing for collections, I left the store with a good chunk of the series ( the covers were so cool (: ).

I remember how scared I got when reading from the 'captured aboard berserker' perspective, I would suspend my disbelief and imagine such a terrifying force out there in the stars. Whenever a hero would board a berserker, as the reader (an expert on the berserkers) I KNEW how vulnerable he was, it was as if the text on the book was being put down right before I read it, if our hero would just listen to what I said, he would come out alive!

Years later I'd read the Empire of the East and Swords series. I thoroughly enjoy how Fred was unafraid to mix genres, the world of EotE and Swords (I'm yet to read Ardneh's sword!) had more mystery to it then a traditional fantasy setting. Veils, Golden People, the non series stories are always unique, obscure, and fun.

The passing of Fred Saberhagen is truly a world event, I am a few years late with my words, but I very much wanted to say my tribute to the author that changed my life.

For Saberhagen fans in Minnesota: Sorry if you can never find his books in those used book stores, I pick up and hand out every copy I can find 🙂

I often use the name Ardneh as an alias in online video games
My PS3 ID is 'G-Idea' if anyone happens across this and wants to chat.

Take care /all!

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