Peter Straub, who passed away on September 4, was the Toastmaster at World Horror Convention 2006 San Francisco. Tina Jens was asked to write his “appreciation” essay for the program book. Here it is, in its entirety.
Barbie wants to be an astronaut. Geena Davis wants to be president. When I grow up, want to be Peter Straub. We’ve all got to have our dreams. And let’s face it, as dreams so, I’m shooting for a much farther star than Barbie or Geena.
Maybe it’s because, rumor has it, Peter still dresses for dinner each night. (And I’m not implying the alternative is Peter showing up for dinner in his skivvies.) If you’ve seen him at a convention, you know he looks damned fine in his custom suits. (We won’t talk about his old publicity photo where he looked like a dead ringer for Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show.)
Maybe it’s because he spent time as an ex-pat writer in Ireland, then London, or that he lists Raymond Chandler, Herman Melville, and Charles Dickens as his favorite authors, alongside Dennis Lehane and William Faulkner.
Maybe it’s because Rosemary Clooney, the brassy and beautiful singer of “Mambo, Italiano” was a family friend (which means he may well have had a play date with George Clooney). Although when he first told me that, I didn’t watch ER and was much more impressed that he knew Rosemary; but since we’re talking about it, Peter – can you introduce me to George?
The Anthony Villiers by Alexei Panshin: Star Well, The Thurb Revolution,
and Masque World (Ace Books, 1968-1969). Covers by Kelly Freas
Alexei Panshin has died. He was one of the first SF critics I read — I read both Heinlein in Dimension and SF in Dimension as a teen. At the time I took his words as Gospel — in times since I have learned to question a lot of what he said, but what he said was well considered and an advance in understanding science fiction.
He was also a novelist of considerable ability. I don’t like his Nebula winner Rite of Passage as much as many, in part for the petty reason that I felt its Nebula undeserved in the presence of novels like the Hugo winner Stand on Zanzibar, Joanna Russ’ Picnic on Paradise, and above all one of my favorite novels ever, Samuel R. Delany’s Nova. But as I said that’s petty — Rite of Passage is an accomplished and enjoyable novel, a triumph as a first novel; and if I would argue with it that’s OK — I think it was arguing with itself (something I failed to perceive when reading it as a young teen.)
But for me his prime achievement is the three novels about Anthony Villiers: Star Well, The Thurb Revolution, and Masque World. These are not perhaps deathless fictional masterpieces, but they are supremely entertaining.
Contrary to popular opinion, comic science fiction didn’t start and end with Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The humorous mode has a long and honorable history, exemplified by writers like Stanislaw Lem, Harry Harrison, R.A. Lafferty, Frederic Brown, Robert Sheckley… and Ron Goulart.
Ron Goulart, who died on January 14th, a day after his eighty-ninth birthday, was an insanely prolific science fiction and mystery writer, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, when he wrote over one hundred novels, many of them pseudonymous entries in various “copyrighted character” series such as The Avenger, Flash Gordon, Vampirella, and The Phantom. These productions are about what you would expect — professional, work-for-hire potboilers written at high speed for the sole purpose of keeping the refrigerator stocked and the gas and electricity on. Hack work, in other words.
He was also William Shatner’s ghostwriter on the actor’s TekWarbooks; what would you give to have been a fly on the wall during their story conferences? “What do you think of this idea, Ron?” “It’s dead, Bill.”
It was not long ago that I wrote an obituary here for Charles R. Saunders, the father of Sword & Soul and a man who showed the possibilities of sword & sorcery/heroic fantasy in non-European settings. Now, I must poor libations for another who took a genre’s flickering torch and in his own, and very different way, showed how to keep it burning.
Richard Louis Tierney (7 August 1936 – 1 Feb 2022) was an American writer, poet and scholar of H. P. Lovecraft, in the latter category probably best known for his essay “The Derleth Mythos” in which he clearly and succinctly provided a critical analysis of Lovecraft’s nihilistic vision vs. Derleth’s more Manichaean one, that had come to dominate “Mythos” fiction in the decades after HPL’s death. As a writer of heroic fantasy, he is best known for two major works: his series of six Red Sonja novels co-authored (with David C. Smith), featuring cover art by Boris Vallejo, and his Simon of Gitta series (which “reconciled” Derleth and Lovecraft’s take on the Mythos, through the lens of historical Gnosticism). He also wrote some straight Robert E. Howard completions and pastiche, including finishing two tales of Cormac Mac Art, and co-writing (again with Smith), a novel of Bran Mak Morn (For the Witch of the Mists).
We all have our end-of-year rituals, those small ceremonies that prepare us to ring out the old year and ring in the new. For me, one of the most important is watching the current TCM Remembers, the annual short film with which Turner Classic Movies bids farewell to the film people that we’ve lost throughout the year. It’s always beautifully done, and it always makes me tear up, usually no more the thirty seconds in.
Some of its subjects — the more famous ones — come as no surprise, as I heard about their deaths when they occurred during the year. There will always be many people, though, that I only find out about when I watch the video, late in December. This year one of the people that I didn’t know was gone was William Smith, who died July 5th at the age of eighty-eight.
William Smith? Who was William Smith? Oh, you know him — I guarantee it. To say that he was a prolific actor is to greatly understate the case. He has two hundred and seventy-five movie and television credits listed on IMDB, the first a miniscule part in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein when he was nine years old and the last in 2020, in the Steve Carell comedy Irresistible.
Back when there was a print version of Black Gate, Bill Ward introduced a new author by the name of Robert Low in Issue 14 (2009). Bill had good things to say about The Wolf Sea (2008), the second book in the author’s Oathswornseries, which had appeared a year after the first, The Whale Road.
Bill went on to cover subsequent installments in the series, and his reviews impressed me enough to seek them out. The Oathsworneventually rounded out as a five book series, including The White Raven (2009), The Prow Beast (2010) and Crowbone (2012).
I recently got to thinking of Robert Low and looked him up to see what else he’d published. This sadly revealed that this talented author of historic fantasy had passed away earlier this year.
Robert Low was a Scottish journalist and author who started on a long career at the age of 17. By 19 he was in Vietnam on assignment, an eye opening experience for sure. He returned to journalism in Scotland but occasionally went on other dangerous assignments in Kosovo, Sarajevo, etc.
Later in life an interest in ancient warfare lead Robert Low to delve into the re-enactment scene, which in turn encouraged him to write the excellent Oathswornseries. By no means done, he subsequently published three other series.
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.