Sad news for the science fiction and fantasy writing world. James Edwin Gunn, writer, scholar, teacher and Science Fiction Grandmaster, died of congestive heart failure Wednesday December 23, 2020.
James Gunn founded the University of Kansas Center for Science Fiction Studies, and from their site Center Director Chris McKitterick wrote:
The Center’s Associate Director, Kij Johnson, and I offer our deepest condolences to everyone who cared about Jim, whose lives he touched – and there were many – and whose careers he influenced, which amounts to almost everyone in our field today, whether they’re aware of his intellectual parentage or not.
“He has taught so many teachers, scholars, and educators that his reach is immeasurable. Jim’s mentoring has shaped the genre into what we enjoy today, making him one of the most influential figures in SF. His is a life devoted to science fiction, and without him, the field would not be the same, nor the world as aware of both the peril and potential of human endeavor.”
The following is a memorial article from author David C. Smith for late author Charles R. Saunders.
Charles Saunders and I first began corresponding in 1977, when we were both writing for the semiprozines of the time. He wrote to me first, beating me to the punch, because I admired his work and had considered dropping him a line. As it turned out, I was privileged to know him for more than 40 years. I’ve lost count of the number of letters and emails we shared; unfortunately, all the early letters I received from him are now gone. I stored them in file folders in banker’s boxes that were destroyed when our basement flooded with 30 inches of water in 2001. I joked with him once about that: What will all the historians and fanboys do when they find out that I lost all your letters? There will be no history to write! He told me that he hadn’t held onto my letters, either, so we were even. We did not take it all that seriously. Now, of course, I regret the loss of those letters of his, as well as of his newspaper editorials, copies of which he sent me regularly.
Ironically, we never met in person, although we spoke on the phone just once. I called to bug him for the name and address of his producer at New Horizons, the Roger Corman outfit that had produced Amazons, based on Charles’s story Agbewe’s Sword. This was in 1986. I wanted to get my script Magicians at least read by someone in the business, and Charles was kind enough to help me make the contact, although of course nothing came of my effort.
I don’t recall much of what we discussed in those early letters; mainly it was back and forth musings about our stories, our hopes of seeing them published, and our shared interest in history, as well as our political and social interests, which were aligned. As time went on, we both had middling success with our fiction, seeing some of what we wrote appear as paperback originals. The botched debut of the original edition of Imaro in 1981 by DAW Books hit him hard, although for any of us who know his work, it felt absolutely correct to have Imaro in print from a corporate New York publisher. Imaro was followed by The Quest for Cush in 1984 and then The Trail of Bohu in 1985. And there ended the saga of Imaro, it seemed, at least for a time.
By then, Charles had moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Ottawa, where he had gone in 1969 rather than be drafted to fight in Vietnam. He had been radicalized in the late sixties in Chicago, where he had associated with the Black Panthers — which, despite the image of them propagated by the FBI, were concerned primarily with doing good for, and fighting for justice in, African American communities. He had grown to maturity during days of rage in our country; although he was six years older than I, inevitably, our politics were of a kind: we believed in and supported progressive causes on both sides of the border, especially social justice issues. (In the 90s, a mutual correspondent of ours referred to “feminazis” in a letter to Charles. Imagine his reaction to that.) And he was, I believe, twice married and divorced, something else we had in common.
“I started reading more about the history and culture of Africa. And I began to realise that in the SF and fantasy genre, blacks were, with only few exceptions, either left out or depicted in racist and stereotypic ways. I had a choice: I could either stop reading SF and fantasy, or try to do something about my dissatisfaction with it by writing my own stories and trying to get them published. I chose the latter course.”
–Charles R. Saunders
Sword & Sorcery is one of Fantasy’s (or perhaps, to call it by its other term, Weird Fiction) oldest sub-genres, reaching back to the first decades of the 20th Century, as a “weird” outgrowth of the fantasy historical adventure fiction that had flourished in the 1880s – 1920s.
A great deal has been written about the the antecedents of Sword & Sorcery (especially by the tireless Deuce Richardson) and the first generation of writers (giants like Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, CL Moore, and Henry Kuttner), and those who carried the flickering torch forward during the dark days of the mid-century — writers like Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Poul Anderson and the loved-hated Lin Carter — and brought that legacy to the second great wave of S&S that flourished in the 60s and 70s, where we met the likes of John Jakes, David C. Smith, Richard Tierney, and Keith Taylor.
Today I want to talk about a man from that second flourishing of the Third Generation who, in my opinion, stands apart, because he was also the father of an entire genre only now beginning to see its potential — Sword and Soul.
Charles R. Saunders was born at the start of the Baby Boom in Elizabeth, PA, a small town near Pittsburgh, moved to the Philadelphia suburbs, and was educated at Lincoln University, a historically black institution in Pennsylvania from which he graduated in 1968 with a degree in Psychology. The next year he moved to Canada, where his life as a writer began, primarily, as fate would have it, as a journalist — both as an editor, but also as an editorialist and columnist.
With a somewhat restless intellect, he didn’t just fall into journalism and stick — his life was a wandering, as writers often do, from lowly cut-and-paste editor, to scholarly writer, to teacher, and then at last to columnist. He slowly worked his way east through Canada, settling at last in Nova Scotia in 1985.
After Mike Resnick’s death, some people, Jaym Gates in particular, posted some of their thoughts about his career, most particularly his SFWA Bulletin piece in which he made some sexist remarks about historical women editors. I’m not the right person to dig into detail about that, but it represented part of a historical attitude that, even when held with superficially positive intentions (praise of said editor’s actual editing work, for example), clearly sent a message that for women in the field, one’s appearance can affect one’s reception. And that’s just wrong. No argument. (There is much more to unpack on that subject, and I’m not the person to do it. See Jaym’s post, or see some of the articles posted back then (2013).)
But I confess I was a bit bothered that this discussion happened immediately on Resnick’s death. I am culturally conditioned to follow the ancient Latin maxim “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” (say nothing but good of the dead). I mentioned my feelings on another person’s FB page. And I got some pushback.
I thought some good points were made by those who responded to me … One is that people who have been truly hurt by someone else have an understandably complicated reaction to news of that person’s death. At the very least, even if one disagrees with that person’s reaction, one ought to have sympathy, to try to understand why they felt they had to say what they said. Another point is that if the full story of a man’s life, his contributions, is to be offered, when will it be seen except when he’s in the news? Many of us have made posts celebrating the good Mike Resnick did — and make no doubt of it, he did much good for the field. But I acknowledge that he also caused harm — and those who have been harmed deserve a voice, too. A third point is that the voices of people traditionally marginalized — as women have been in our society and in our field — sometimes don’t get heard, or weren’t heard when it really mattered. (The Isaac Asimov stories should make that clear.) If it takes a little rudeness to make sure those voices are heard, that’s a price we ought to be prepared to accept.
The cartoonist Gahan Wilson, who died last Thursday, was a Guest of Honor at the first International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts that I ever attended, in 1995, and that is the scene of this story.
I arrived at the con hotel a day early, knowing no one, and mostly roamed the halls, hoping someone might talk to me. Seeing a propped-open door, I walked through it, and found myself in a big room set up for an art show, a maze of temporary walls. Hanging on them were dozens of original Gahan Wilson drawings. So much larger than the published versions, several feet to a side, these were museum-quality works, in pen and ink and pastel, their captions handwritten across the bottom.
I slowly roamed the exhibit, taking my sweet time in front of each piece. I examined them up close and from a distance. I savored every moment of that private viewing, that wholly unauthorized VIP preview experience.
And repeatedly, my path kept crossing that of the only other person in the room: a balding man in a safari jacket, holding a clipboard, who stopped in front of each piece and jotted a note. I assumed he was a conference official, some sort of curator, and I expected him to ask me, politely, to leave, and to come back when the exhibit was open.
Last summer, I got an email from Michael Blumlein about how much he liked Audrey Schulman’s PKD Award-winning novel Theory of Bastards and in the email, he said, “What are you doing that keeps you smiling these days?”
So I sent him a response by mail and since then, we’d been swapping dead-tree correspondence. I’m pretty sure he had no fear of dying, but he was so full of life that it’s sad to learn the end has come.
But it’s not the end, in that he lives on — through his family (to whom my sympathies go out) and through his work, which was simply amazing.
The Movement of Mountains came out shortly before I started working at St. Martin’s, but I did some mop-up work on it (I probably contacted him when the remaining copies of the book were remaindered, for instance). I can’t remember where or when we first met — it was before the ’93 Worldcon, I’m certain of that — but we always seemed to have a good time.
When I took the F&SF reins from Kris Rusch, the first story I bought was Michael’s “Paul and Me.” It remains one of my favorite stories. I think my enjoyment of the story is enhanced by the memory of some outraged letters we got over Michael’s bold revisionist treatment of an American myth. Michael considered writing a whole series of stories about the deaths of American folk heroes.
I was preparing a Vintage Treasures article on Melisa Michaels on Saturday, and particularly her two-volume urban fantasy series featuring private eye Rosie Levine, Cold Iron (1997) and Sister to the Rain (1998), when I stumbled on this disturbing Facebook post by Rich Horton:
I have just learned that Melisa Michaels has died. I knew she had cancer, and she had recently reported that there wasn’t much more to be done, but it’s still sad news, and it seems to have come more quickly than she thought.
But I wanted to celebrate her — she was one of the first people to, as it were, welcome me to the SF community, when I first went online, and when I joined SFF Net. We had many great conversations (online) about SF and other matters. She is one of the people I really owe a debt to for helping me make friends in this field.
I read her novels, the SkyriderSF series and the Rosie Levine Fantasy/Mystery series, with much enjoyment… Melisa always made tremendous contributions to SFWA — as I recall, she was the first webmaster of the SFWA web page, right at the dawning of the WWW. I didn’t keep close track of her later on, especially after the demise of SFF Net, but we had reconnected to a small degree on Facebook. I offer condolences to her family, and I celebrate a life well-lived.
I didn’t know Melisa the way Rich did, but I was still very saddened by the news. And I thought we could help celebrate her life here by showcasing her novels. Rich discussed Cold Iron when it first appeared over 20 years ago; here’s an excerpt from the review at his website, Strange at Ecbatan.
When John asked me to write an article for Black Gate about Gene Wolfe, I agreed immediately. I had written a blog about his passing, and a poem, and then a remembrance for the latest issue of Locus — the print magazine, not the online zine, although they have a wonderful remembrance of him here.
I wanted to keep writing about him, as if writing were an act of resurrection. I wanted to write everything.
But instead of getting easier, it’s been getting harder. I’ve been wracking my brains about this blog. So many amazing articles have been coming out about Gene, beautiful interviews and retrospectives. What more can I say? My memory is panicky, faulty. I don’t know what to add.
I’m not an expert on Gene’s work. I’ve read a good deal of it, but not everything. I knew him more as a mentor and a person than as a writer. I was looking forward to having my whole life to read his work.
But I’ve gathered up here, for you, some of my favorite articles about Gene by people who are much more critically familiar with his writing than I am.
Anyone who’s been paying attention to anything I’ve written here at Black Gate over the last few years knows how much I love William Goldman and his work. His death last week was a solid blow, for me, my husband, and our best friends. Not because we expected him to produce any more work, after all, the man was 87, but because the world is a smaller, colder place without him.
His body of work does mean, however, that he’s not completely dead. In many ways, for those of us who didn’t know him personally, as long as the work lasts he’ll be alive for us.
If you want to know biographical details of birthdate and the name of his wife, and his two children and so on, Wikipedia is for that. What I’m going to do here is tell you what the man meant to me, and what impact he’s had on my work, and my life.
I never really thought Stan Lee would die. I’ve been saying for years that as long as there was a single nickel to be squeezed, Stan the Man would be making his cameo and taking his executive producer credit and raking in the long green.
I guess we now live in a nickleless universe, and there will be a blank spot somewhere around the margins of the next Marvel cinematic blockbuster. Stan Lee took a last intrepid leap into the Negative Zone on Monday, November 12. He was 95.
As W.S. Gilbert wrote long ago, “I often think it’s comical/How nature always does contrive/That every boy and every gal/That’s born into the world alive/Is either a little Liberal/Or else a little Conservative!” Gilbert and Sullivan never wrote a comic opera about superheroes (oh that they had!), but the observation applies as much to comic books as it does to politics. It’s certainly possible to appreciate both, but at the end of the day you’re either Marvel or you’re DC.
When I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s, in the prime of my comic book buying and reading years, I was DC all the way. I had hundreds of comics, but very few were Marvels. There was something about them that I just didn’t trust. The combination of self-mockery and over-the-top rhetoric put me off. The goofy syntax and leather-lunged self-promotion that screamed from a thousand Gil Kane-drawn covers proclaimed that unlike the solid, stolid DC products, these weren’t serious comic books. (You know what I mean — titles like “Whence Comes the Werebeast!!” and banners proclaiming that the story is “Another Mighty Masterpiece in the Munificent Marvel Manner!!” and stuff like that.)