Ed Bryant (1945-2017)

Ed Bryant. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Science Fiction author Ed Bryant, who died in his sleep after a long illness, was found February 10 reports Locus Online.

Bryant discovered science fiction at the golden age of 12 when he purchased the August 1957 issue of Amazing Stories. A decade later, he made his way to the very first Clarion Workshop in 1968, where he sold a story to Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions that became his first professional publication.

John Clute’s entry about Bryant in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia captures one of the reasons for the author’s meteoric ascent in Seventies sf.

His conversational, apparently casual style sometimes conceals the tight construction and density of his best work, like “Shark” (in Orbit 12, anth 1973, ed Damon Knight), a complexly told love story whose darker implications are brought to focus in the girl’s decision to have her brain transplanted into a shark’s body, ostensibly as part of a research project; in the story, symbol and surface reality mesh impeccably. The setting for many of the stories in this collection is a California transmuted by sf devices and milieux into an image, sometimes scarifying, sometimes joyful, of the culmination of the American Dream…

Registering an exception to the overall regard for Bryant’s work was Thomas M. Disch, who named him as part of “The Labor Day Group” (1981), a set of young writers whose work stroked fannish sensibilities, and as a result often won Hugo and Nebula awards. This provoked a response from another Disch target, George R.R. Martin, “Literature, Bowling, and the Labor Day Group”, which gave Bryant a deceptively lighthearted defense.

The Colorado resident was a 7-time nominee for SFWA’s Nebula Award, winning twice – “Stone” (1979) and  “giANTS” (1980) – as well as a 3-time nominee for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. The International Horror Guild Awards named Bryant a Living Legend in 1997.

Bryant has been a prolific short fiction writer whose career has been regularly punctuated by new collections of stories — Among the Dead and Other Events Leading up to the Apocalypse (1973), Cinnabar (1976), Wyoming Sun (1980), Particle Theory (1981), Neon Twilight (1990), Darker Passions (1991), The Baku: Tales of the Nuclear Age (2001), Trilobyte (2014), and Predators and Other Stories (2014).

He regularly contributed to George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series, appearing in five different volumes.

His other professional gigs included writing an annual media coverage essay in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology, which he did for over 20 years. He also edited an anthology of original stories and some poems, 2076: The American Tricentennial (1977).

Bryant’s fame did not rest entirely on his writing. He was in great demand as a convention toastmaster, gaining the pinnacle of notoriety by conducting the Denvention Two (1981) Hugo Awards ceremony on roller skates.

[Thanks to  Andrew Porter for the story.]

Conflicted Memories

Sam J. Miller’s “Who Killed Thomas Disch” (at Strange Horizons) is organized around a silly title at the expense of questions Miller himself says have genuine value: “What was really going on? Where do we put the blame? What do we do with our grief? With our guilt?” For it’s the time he spends on those questions that makes the reading worthwhile.

When some of the sf field’s talents die their passing elicits a certain amount of survivor’s guilt, though not in the case of Arthur C. Clarke, or others who achieve literary fame and fortune. But I remember a friend of the late Roger Zelazny speaking with bitterness and guilt about the last days of this great writer of sf short stories, as if they personally and society at large hadn’t done enough.

Some of that emotion permeates Miller’s piece about Disch, a richly-detailed, but ultimately question-begging exploration of the late sf writer’s last days. After all, most people enduring the same conditions do not kill themselves, so while much can be suggested nothing can be proved. I found Miller’s essay challenging and interesting (I wouldn’t write about it if I thought it wasn’t worth your time), though it would have been more satisfying (to me, anyway) if Miller had been governed by his own conclusion:

While I’d love to turn Disch’s death into one more argument in favor of expanded rent-control laws, or better tenant protections, or gay marriage (the surviving half of a married straight couple, in Disch’s situation, would be far better situated to fend off eviction attempts), there’s something creepy about reducing a human being to a weapon in the service of a political agenda. My need to find a scapegoat for his death does Disch a disservice. Disch’s life, like his work, was defiantly resistant to outside influence. From the very start of his writing career we see someone willing to slaughter sacred cows and name names and subvert all expectations, and it’s selfish to wish he’d given us a happy ending.

Disch Appreciation by Moshe Feder

Moshe Feder wrote about Thomas Disch’s death in a post on his LiveJournal, “Grains” (and in a comment on Disch’s last post to his own LJ, “Endzone.”) I asked permission to quote him here in full, and Moshe not only said yes, he generously worked up a slightly revised and expanded version:

Moshe Feder: I was saddened on Monday night, July 7th, to learn that Tom Disch had left us, dying by his own hand the previous Friday. I hadn’t seen him in quite some time and had no idea what a difficult time he’d been having. Here’s a link to the New York Times obituary:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/08/books/08disch.html

Tom was, in my estimation, a genius. There were few writers I was more in awe of, and more nervous about meeting. Could I say anything that would possibly be of interest to him? But Tom was as gracious and sweet to me as he was brilliant and acerbic to the world, and always treated me like an equal, which I definitely am not.

Talking to him anywhere was a delight, as was sharing a lively convention panel, and I’ll always treasure the memory of the time he invited me up to his hotel room for drinks and a couple of hours of serious literary conversation. I’m not much of a drinker, so I sipped as slowly as I could, and tried to get him to do as much of the talking as possible.

It was particularly a privilege to review his books, and thereby be among the first to read them. In my opinion, his masterpiece was On Wings Of Song, a great novel of the 20th century — period, full stop. It was also, incidentally, one of the greatest SF novels ever written; and surely one of the most affecting. It should have won all our awards. With all due respect to Arthur, it’s a travesty that it lost the both the Nebula and the Hugo to Clarke’s The Fountains Of Paradise.

It’s ironic that Tom’s only Hugo win was for a work of nonfiction, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, a typically brilliant book that I couldn’t quite agree with. His was the tragedy of many of our field’s best writers. Only the literary crowd was capable of appreciating what they are achieving, only the sf/fantasy audience would want to.

Nevertheless, it’s the novels and the stories he’ll be remembered for. I’m confident they’ll stand the test of time.

I’ve been wondering if he chose Independence Day deliberately. It would be well within the compass of his oh-so-sardonic wit to have a final joke by choosing that day to ‘go off with a bang.’ In any case, from now on, the Fourth of July will always have a Tom-shaped shadow lurking in it.

His friends and his readers will miss him, and the work he might yet have done.