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John M. Ford

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John Milo Ford
John M. Ford portrait 2000
John M. Ford portrait 2000
Born(1957-04-10)April 10, 1957
East Chicago, Indiana, US
DiedSeptember 25, 2006(2006-09-25) (aged 49)[1]
Minneapolis, Minnesota, US
GenreScience fiction, fantasy, cyberpunk
PartnerElise Matthesen
Dr. Mike at Minicon 38 in 2003

John Milo "Mike" Ford (April 10, 1957 – September 25, 2006) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer, game designer, and poet.

A contributor to several online discussions,[2] Ford composed poems, often improvised, in both complicated forms and blank verse; he also wrote pastiches and parodies of many other authors and styles. At Minicon and other science fiction conventions he would perform "Ask Dr. Mike", giving humorous answers to scientific and other questions in a lab coat before a whiteboard.[3]


Ford was born in East Chicago, Indiana, and raised in Whiting, Indiana.[4] In the mid-1970s he attended Indiana University Bloomington, where he was active in the IU science fiction club and Society for Creative Anachronism (using the name Miles Atherton de Grey); while there, he published his first short story "This, Too, We Reconcile" in the May 1976 Analog.[5]

Ford left IU and moved to New York to work on the newly founded Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine,[4] where, starting in mid-1978, he published poetry, fiction, articles, and game reviews. Although his last non-fiction appeared there in September 1981, he was tenth most frequent contributor for the 1977–2002 period.[6] About 1990, he moved to Minneapolis.[4] In addition to writing, he worked at various times as a hospital orderly, computer consultant, slush pile reader, and copy editor.[7]

Ford suffered from complications related to diabetes since childhood and also had renal dysfunction which required dialysis and, in 2000, a kidney transplant, which improved his quality of life considerably. He was found dead from natural causes in his Minneapolis home on September 25, 2006,[2] by his partner since the mid-1990s, Elise Matthesen.[4] He was a prominent member of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library, which established a John M. Ford Book Endowment after his death with the donations to be used as interest-generating capital for yearly purchase of new books.[8]


Ford's works were varied in setting and style.[9] Several were of the Bildungsroman (coming-of-age) type: in Web of Angels, The Final Reflection, Princes of the Air, Growing Up Weightless, and The Last Hot Time, Ford wrote variations on the theme of growing up, learning about one's world and one's place in it, and taking responsibility for it – which involves taking on the power and wisdom to influence events, to help make the world a better place.

Ford spent part of his career working in other people's universes. His 1983 book The Klingons for FASA's Star Trek: The Role Playing Game had an influence on subsequent productions from Paramount.[10]: 121  He also wrote a comedic novel set in the Star Trek universe called How Much for Just the Planet?, where the Enterprise crew compete with a Klingon crew for control of a planet whose unhappy colonists defend their peace in inventive and farcial ways. The book includes song lyrics that satirize many 20th century stage musicals.[9]

Ford authored the award-winning adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues (1985) for West End Games' Paranoia role-playing game.[10]: 189 

Ford used a variety of styles to suit the world, characters, and situations he chose to write about. Author and critic John Clute wrote in the 1993 Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that "two decades into his career, there remains some sense that JMF remains unwilling or unable to create a definitive style or mode; but his originality is evident, a shifting feisty energy informs almost everything he writes, and that career is still young."[11][page needed]

Ford was much respected by his fellow writers, editors, critics and fans.[9] Robert Jordan, Ford's lifelong close friend, called Ford "the best writer in America – bar none." Neil Gaiman called Ford "my best critic ... the best writer I knew." Patrick Nielsen Hayden said, "Most normal people had the slight sense that something large and super-intelligent and trans-human had sort of flown over ... There would be a point where basically the plot would become so knotted and complex he would lose all of us."[4]

After his death, almost all of Ford's work was out of print. The rights to his work had reverted to his legal heirs, but no one had managed to get in touch with them. After an investigation by a journalist, Isaac Butler, Ford's editors at Tor Books were able to reconnect with his family, and in November 2019 an agreement was reached to reissue all his published works, starting in 2020 with The Dragon Waiting.[12]



  • Web of Angels (1980, Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-82947-5; 1992, Tor Books, ISBN 0-8125-0959-5), an early exploration of some topics that would later be described as cyberpunk
  • The Princes of the Air (1982, Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-44482-4; 1991, Tor Books, ISBN 0-8125-0958-7), a space opera
  • The Dragon Waiting (1983, Timescape Books, ISBN 0-671-47552-5; 1985, Avon Books, ISBN 0-380-69887-0; 2002, Gollancz, ISBN 0-575-07378-0), a fantasy alternate history combining vampires, the Medicis, and the convoluted English politics surrounding Edward IV and Richard III; winner of the 1984 World Fantasy Award
  • The Final Reflection (1984, Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-47388-3; 1985, Ultramarine, ISBN 0-318-37547-8; 1985, Gregg Press, ISBN 0-8398-2885-3; 1991, Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-74354-6), a Star Trek tie-in novel; (also 2004, Pocket Books, ISBN 0-7434-9659-0 [in omnibus Signature Edition, The Hand of Kahless])
  • How Much for Just the Planet? (1987, Pocket Books, ISBN 0-671-62998-0; 1990, ISBN 0-671-72214-X; 1991, ISBN 0-671-03859-1), a Star Trek tie-in novel
  • The Scholars of Night (1988, Tor Books, ISBN 0-312-93051-8; 1989, ISBN 0-8125-0214-0), a high tech Cold War thriller involving an undiscovered Christopher Marlowe play
  • Casting Fortune (1989, Tor Books, ISBN 0-8125-3815-3), a collection of stories set in the Liavek shared world, reprints "A Cup of Worrynot Tea" and "Green Is the Color" and original story "The Illusionist"
  • Fugue State (1990, Tor Books, ISBN 0-8125-0813-0), a longer version of the novella of the same name, published as Tor SF Double No. 25 with The Death of Doctor Island by Gene Wolfe
  • Growing Up Weightless (1993, Bantam Spectra, ISBN 0-553-37306-4; 1994, ISBN 0-553-56814-0), a Bildungsroman set on a human-colonized Moon; joint winner of the 1993 Philip K. Dick Award
  • Timesteps (1993, Rune Press), a selection of poems
  • From the End of the Twentieth Century (1997, NESFA Press, ISBN 0-915368-74-9, ISBN 0-915368-73-0), a collection of short stories, poetry, and essays[13]
  • The Last Hot Time (2000, Tor Books, ISBN 0-312-85545-1; 2001 paperback, ISBN 0-312-87578-9), urban fantasy set in a magical Chicago, Illinois
  • Heat of Fusion and Other Stories (2004, Tor Books, ISBN 0-312-85546-X), a collection of short stories and poetry, finalist for the World Fantasy Award in 2005
  • Aspects (2022, Tor Books, ISBN 9781250269034), the final novel written by Ford.[14]

With Darrell Schweitzer and George H. Scithers, Ford co-authored On Writing Science Fiction (The Editors Strike Back!) (1981, Owlswick Press, ISBN 0-913896-19-5; Wildside Press 2000, ISBN 1-880448-78-5), a writers' manual with advice illustrated by short stories that were first sales to IASFM.[15]

Short works and poetry[edit]

  • "A Cup of Worrynot Tea" in Liavek: The Players of Luck (1986, edited by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly)
  • "Green Is the Color", "Eel Island Shoals" (song), "Pot-Boil Blues" (song) in Liavek: Wizard's Row (1987, edited by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly)
  • "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station" (in Invitation to Camelot, edited by Parke Godwin)
  • "Riding the Hammer" in Liavek: Spells of Binding (1988, edited by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly)
  • "The Grand Festival: Sestina" (poem), "Divination Day: Invocation" (poem), "Birth Day: Sonnet" (poem), "Procession Day/Remembrance Night: Processional/Recessional" (poem), "Bazaar Day: Ballad" (poem), "Festival Day: Catechism" (poem), "Restoration Day: Plainsong" in Liavek: Festival Week (1990, edited by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly)
  • "Scrabble with God", IASFM October 1985, reprinted in From the End of the Twentieth Century

Other published works[edit]





  1. ^ "John Milo Ford, September 25, 2006". United States Social Security Death Index. Retrieved February 16, 2013 – via FamilySearch.
  2. ^ a b Matthesen, Elise (September 25, 2006). "John M. Ford, 1957–2006". Making Light.
  3. ^ Shetterly, Will (February 2005). "An Introduction to John M. Ford". player.org. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006.
  4. ^ a b c d e Vezner, Tad (October 28, 2006). "Crafters of sci-fi attend obscure writer's eulogy: Peers laud Minneapolis author for his unpredictable works". St. Paul Pioneer Press. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. (Discussion by fans of the article and a few factual errors in it.)
  5. ^ Ashley, Mike (2000). Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980. Liverpool University Press. p. 21. ISBN 9781846310034. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  6. ^ Kelly, James Patrick (April 2003). "On the Net: Frequent Fliers". Asimov's. Archived from the original on August 6, 2006. (See also Ford's entries Archived April 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine in the Asimov's index.)
  7. ^ "Ford's comment at a "four things" meme blogpost". Making Light. December 25, 2005.
  8. ^ Matthesen, Elise (October 2, 2006). "The John M. Ford Book Endowment". Honour Your Inner Magpie. Archived from the original on April 25, 2015. Retrieved April 29, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Sleight, Graham (April 15, 2012). "Graham Sleight's Yesterday's Tomorrows: John M. Ford". Locus Online.
  10. ^ a b Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.
  11. ^ Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1993). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Orbit Books.
  12. ^ Butler, Isaac (November 15, 2019). "The Disappearance of John M. Ford". Slate. Retrieved January 27, 2020.
  13. ^ "From the End of the Twentieth Century". NESFA Press. August 5, 2006. Retrieved April 5, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Aspects". Macmillan. Retrieved September 7, 2021.
  15. ^ On Writing Science Fiction (The Editors Strike Back!). WorldCat. 1981. OCLC 7885690.
  16. ^ "Against Entropy". January 20, 2007. Archived from the original on January 5, 2011.
  17. ^ Cazaux, Jean-Louis (November 24, 2001). "Klin Zha". chessvariants.com.
  18. ^ "1998 Minnesota Book Awards Nominees and Winners". St. Paul, MN: The Minnesota Humanities Commission. Archived from the original on August 19, 2002.

Further reading[edit]

Texts by Ford online[edit]

About Ford[edit]

External links[edit]