Gene Wolfe (1931-2019)

Gene Wolfe in 1998. Photo taken by and (c) Andrew Porter.

Gene Wolfe died April 14 after a long battle with heart disease. Acknowledged as one of the field’s finest writers, his honors included a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention in 1996, induction to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2007, and recognition as a SFWA Grand Master in 2013.

John Clute aptly summed up Wolfe’s career in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:

Though never the most popular nor the most influential author in the sf field, Wolfe remains quite possibly its most important, both for the intense literary achievement of his best work, and for the very considerable volume of work of the highest quality.

Wolfe was a particular favorite of the World Fantasy Convention membership, who voted him four World Fantasy Awards, for The Shadow of the Torturer (1981), Storeys from the Old Hotel (1989), Soldier of Sidon (2007), and The Very Best of Gene Wolfe/The Best of Gene Wolfe (2010).

Paradoxically, the respect for Wolfe’s cumulative record of accomplishment rarely translated into Hugo or Nebula award recognition for the individual books or stories. Although nominated nine times, he never won a Hugo. He won the first of his two Nebulas in sympathy for Isaac Asimov’s gaffe at the 1971 ceremony, mistakenly announcing that Wolfe’s story “Island of Dr. Death” had won, then while Wolfe was on his way to the dais correcting himself that No Award had finished first. The mistake was eventually redeemed, as Wolfe explained:

A month or so after the banquet I was talking to Joe Hensley, and he joked that I should write “The Death of Doctor Island,” saying that everyone felt so sorry for me that it was sure to win. I thought about that when I got home and decided to try, turning things inside out to achieve a different story.

He did, and his novella “The Death of Doctor Island” won a Nebula in 1974.

Isaac Asimov, David G. Hartwell, and Gene Wolfe in the Eighties. Photo taken by and (c) Andrew Porter.

Wolfe wrote over 30 novels, of which the best known are the five comprising The Book of The New Sun (The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator – his other Nebula winning work, The Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch, and The Urth of the New Sun.)

His first published story, “The Case of the Vanishing Ghost,” appeared in The Commentator for November 1951.

I can’t remember if the first time I saw Gene Wolfe at TorCon 2’s “Meet the Pros” party he was wearing one of the plastic straw hats SFWA President Jerry Pournelle urged on all the writers to make them more identifiable. That year Wolfe was a double Hugo nominee for his story “Against the Lafayette Escadrille” in Again, Dangerous Visions and “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” from Orbit 10.

He also cut a memorable figure as pro guest of honor at Aussiecon Two in 1985, where he made a fine speech, well-attuned to a fannish audience. He said that the difference between a real fan and a fake fan is that “A fake fan will always bring the discussion around to the book he’s read that year.” And he joked — with a dash of bitters — that the difference between a book publisher and a fanzine editor is that if a fanzine sells out the faneditor will print more.

An entire WolfeWiki is dedicated to his works and material about him

Gene’s wife, Rosemary, predeceased him in 2013. He is survived by two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.


Photos taken by and (c) Andrew Porter

Science Fiction Author Vonda N. McIntyre, Official Obituary

By Tom Whitmore: Award-winning Seattle science fiction author Vonda N. McIntyre died April 1, 2019, of pancreatic cancer. She was 70.

McIntyre wrote novels, short stories and media tie-in books, edited a groundbreaking anthology of feminist SF, and founded the Clarion West Writing Workshop. She won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards for her 1979 novel Dreamsnake, and won the Nebula again for her 1996 novel The Moon and the Sun. Her short stories were also nominated for awards. In media fiction, she will probably be most remembered as the author who gave Ensign Sulu a first name (Hikaru) in her Star Trek novel The Entropy Effect: that name was later written into one of the Star Trek films. With Susan Janice Anderson, McIntyre edited one of the first feminist science fiction anthologies (Aurora: Beyond Equality, 1976). She was a participant in the Women in Science Fiction Symposium edited by Jeffrey D. Smith (Khatru #3/4, 1975 – reprinted with additional material as by Jeanne Gomoll, lulu.com, 2008) with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, James Tiptree Jr. and others. Her Nebula-winning fantasy novel The Moon and the Sun has been made into an as-yet-unreleased film, The King’s Daughter, starring Pierce Brosnan. Much of the film was shot in Versailles, and McIntyre delighted in telling how kind Brosnan was to her when she visited the set.

McIntyre founded Book View Café, a online publishing collective for member authors to sell their ebooks. When she developed some joint problems in her hands, she began making what she called “beaded sea creatures,” which she regularly gave to friends and charity auctions. She had a lively correspondence with Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner about them, and some of them are in the Smithsonian Institution.

Vonda Neel McIntyre was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1948. Her family moved to Seattle in the early 1960s, and she earned a BS in biology from the University of Washington. She went on to graduate school in genetics at UW. In 1970, she attended the Clarion SF Writing Workshop – and in 1971, with the blessing of Clarion founder Robin Scott Wilson, she founded the Clarion West Writing Workshop in Seattle. McIntyre continued to be involved with the workshop throughout her life. She enjoyed a close friendship with Ursula K. Le Guin throughout her career that including various editing and publishing ventures.

The Seattle science fiction community recalls McIntyre as the “fairy godmother” to hundreds of Clarion West graduates, many of whom have gone on to be bright stars in the publishing world. “Vonda was one of Clarion West’s founders, and has always been our fairy godmother, bringing comfort and whimsy to class after class with her impromptu visits and gifts of crocheted sea creatures,” said novelist Nisi Shawl, a Clarion West board member. “She was the Good Witch of the Northwest, a fearless public reader and a stellar private writer who is missed by all.”

A memorial service will be arranged in Seattle. McIntyre requested that, in lieu of flowers, people make memorial donations to one of their favorite charities.

For additional information, please call or email her agent, Frances Collin at fran@francescollin.com, 610-254-0555.

Vonda N. McIntyre did ten times as much behind the scenes in the science fiction community than she did out in the open. Her award-winning stories, her media tie-ins, and her editing were all quite visible, and important: more important in the long run will be her legacy of support for individuals and institutions.

After going to the Clarion workshop in Pennsylvania, where she roomed next to Octavia E. Butler, she decided to found a similar workshop on the West Coast. With the aid of Clarion founder Robin Scott Wilson, she started (and ran for three years) Clarion West; when Marilyn Holt and JT Stewart decided to restart it in the 1980s, she continued to advise and support the workshop. Most of Clarion West’s archives were stored in Vonda’s basement. She was a regular donor of both money and items for their auctions.

She was the webmaster for SFWA for many years, and the webmaster for Book View Café ase well.

She supported more writers than anyone realizes. Her friendship and support for Ursula K. Le Guin is well known: they published holiday cards together, and each regularly mentioned the other. She also was strong writing support for James Tiptree Jr., Paul Preuss, Molly Gloss, Nicola Griffith, Nisi Shawl, Octavia E. Butler, and just about anyone else who she met who wrote. She also listened to and cared for folks who didn’t write. She was a quiet, tireless force helping bring women’s voices forth in the SF community.

Her beaded sea creatures are almost pure Vonda. When she began to develop some pain in her hands from arthritis, she decided to take her crocheting skills and create beaded shapes reminiscent of nudibranchs and fractal patterns to give her the needed exercise to keep her hands supple. She began giving them to friends, donating them to charity auctions, and talking with people about them. She had a lively correspondence with Martin Gardner about them. The Smithsonian has examples of her work as well.

Vonda also helped out in small ways. Greg Bear commented about how happy Vonda was to wheel him around when he was temporarily in a wheelchair at the memorial for Karen K. Anderson, his mother-in-law. Every convention organizer who ever had her as a guest was pleased with her smile and her kindness to people working on the convention. She would not accept mistreatment, but never attacked. She had stories about all her friends, and would tell them whenever it was appropriate.

The SF community lost a major pillar today.

Vonda N. McIntyre (1948-2019)

Vonda McIntyre

Coming rapidly after a cancer diagnosis eight weeks ago, Vonda McIntyre’s death on April 1 was announced on her Caringbridge page by Jeanne Gomoll:

Vonda N. McIntyre died at 6:25 pm, Pacific Time, in no pain and surrounded by friends. The funeral home has collected her body which will be cremated. Vonda was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on February 7; her death came swiftly, just short of two months later. Vonda’s posse and local friends will get together for a brief gathering within the next couple days. A reception that is open to the public will be scheduled within about a month and will be announced here on CaringBridge as soon as the details are known. Good-bye, Vonda.

McIntyre won her first Nebula Award in 1973, for the novelette ‘”Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand”. This later became part of the novel Dreamsnake (1978), which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. She won a third Nebula in 1998 for The Moon and the Sun. Overall, McIntyre was a five-time Hugo nominee and eight-time Nebula nominee.

After attending Robin Scott Wilson’s last Clarion Writers Workshop at State College, PA in 1970, she transplanted the idea to Seattle. She later said that “Neither James Sallis nor I could bear the idea that the workshop would die.  We both got Robin’s blessing to start workshops.  Jim’s was at Tulane, and the one I helped run was at the University of Washington. I called the Seattle one ‘Clarion West’; it seemed a good idea at the time.”

The Tulane workshop only lasted the one year. The Seattle Clarion West lasted three years, before McIntyre found it too difficult to continue managing the conference while being a graduate student. (The Clarion West Writers Workshop was resumed by different organizers in the 1980s.)

McIntyre’s debut novel, The Exile Waiting, was published in 1975. She wrote many Star Trek and Star Wars novels. In 1976, McIntyre co-edited Aurora: Beyond Equality, a feminist/humanist science fiction anthology, with Susan Janice Anderson.

A movie, The King’s Daughter, based on Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun, is still awaiting its U.S. release. (IMDB says sometime in 2019.)

She won SFWA’s Service Award in 2010, and the Science Fiction Research Association’s Clareson Award in 2015.

Vonda McIntyre was a guest of honor at Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon.

McIntyre was a very popular convention guest who always loved to pitch in with the committee to get things ready. I thought it was a tribute to her that one year when she was the guest of an LA convention she helped stuff registration bags — and when that was done seemed a little astonished that people didn’t have more for her to do!

Another Brother for Diversity

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 3) André Previn (1929-2019), Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (no Commonwealth citizen, he could use the initials K.B.E. but not the honorific Sir), died six weeks before his 90th birthday.  He had come to the United States (1938) from Germany via France; English was his third language, which he learned from comic books and films with a dictionary, like Nathaniel Bowditch while a boy learning Latin to read Newton’s Principia (1687) as I was taught by Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (J. Latham, 1955) in 5th Grade, except young Nat used a Bible.

By 1946 Previn was working for Metro-Goldwin-Mayer and in 1949 earned his first film credit, the music-score for The Sun Comes Up (R. Thorpe dir.; 4th film about the collie Lassie).

While serving with the Army he managed during 1951-1953 to get lessons in conducting from Pierre Monteux. He won four Academy Awards (1958-1959 [Music – Scoring of a Musical Picture, Gigi {V. Minnelli dir. 1958}, Porgy & Bess {O. Preminger dir. 1959}], 1963-1964 [Score – Adaptation or Treatment, Irma la Douce {B. Wilder dir. 1963}, My Fair Lady {G. Cukor dir. 1964}]; eleven nominations; so far the only person to receive three nominations in one year, 1961; the soundtrack albums for Gigi and Porgy & Bess won Grammys too).  Uncontent he developed a new career, or maybe two, in classical music and jazz.  His discography runs into the hundreds.

On piano, with drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Leroy Vinnegar, he recorded Modern Jazz Performances of Songs from “My Fair Lady” (1956, as by “Shelly Manne and His Friends”, Contemporary 3527), the first album consisting entirely of jazz treatments of tunes from a single Broadway musical, the first jazz album to sell a million copies; Lady had then been running on Broadway only five months.  An interview and music-making with Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) for the British Broadcasting Company’s Omnibus (1 Dec 74) was applauded as “one of the greatest hours I ever saw on television” by Marlon Brando. Previn received the Glenn Gould Prize in 2005, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 (eight other Grammys); O.P., the Gould in 1993, Lifetime Achievement in 1997.  Previn with Ella Fitzgerald in 1983 recorded Nice Work If You Can Get It (Pablo Digital D2312140; the jacket by Al Hirschfeld shows P & F and both Gershwin brothers  – for extra credit, where’s H’s Nina [his daughter’s name, which he characteristically worked in]?); five dozen jazz records through Alone (2007; EmArcy, ASIN B01G99X0DY).  Dizzy Gillespie  said, “He has the flow….  A lot of guys, they have the technique, the harmonic sense…. the perfect co-ordination….  But you need something more…. you got to have the flow.”

Previn recorded chamber music of Mozart (1756-1791), Debussy (1862-1918), Ravel (1875-1937).  He recorded Rachmaninov’s Music for Two Pianos (Suite No. 1, 1893; Suite No. 2, 1901) with Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca 444 845-2, 1974).  He was if anything still more famous as a conductor, inter alia principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra 1968-1979; music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra 1975-1985 (a television series Previn and the Pittsburgh ran 1977-1980; three Emmy nominations), of the Los Angeles Philharmonic 1985-1989.  Speaking of Rachmaninov, Ashkenazy and the LSO, all four piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (1934, which some call R’s fifth piano concerto) are on a Decca 3-CD set (ASIN B000076GYF; recorded 1970-1971).  The first complete recording of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No, 2 (1907) was Previn’s in 1970 with the LSO (Warner Classics, ASIN B00000K4FI), which in 2015 Gramophone reviewing all recordings to date called “an interpretation [that] retains its legendary emotional charge” (12 Mar; also noting “Jack Brymer navigated the Adagio’s endless [clarinet] cantilena … with unparalleled subtlety”).

I’ve left a lot out.  Auditioning for George Szell, who with no piano at hand (I wish I’d invented that pun) said “Play on that tabletop”; after a while, Szell directing “Slower; faster; more tender,” Previn said “I’m sorry, Maestro, my tabletop at home has a much different action,” and Szell threw him out.  Comic appearances as “Andrew Preview” on The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (BBC television 1971-1972; in 2005 “Taxi drivers still call me ‘Mr. Preview’”).  Career as a composer.  Five marriages, one of which lasting seventeen years produced a Hollywood memoir No Minor Chords (1991) edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929-1994), the fifth though also ending in divorce producing such an ongoing collaboration that Previn joked “the divorce that didn’t work.”

I wish we had more diversity, but we have more than we used to.  Obviousness is relative, and so of course is fame.  You may never have heard of Previn, Gigi, Fitzgerald, chamber music, Gramophone.  It’s still unusual that Previn was active, and achieved, in different media, or idioms, or subcultures, for which he’s now praised – although I’m not here to say he’d have been less praiseworthy if he’d done wonders in only one – and for which he was sometimes then, and is sometimes now, thought questionable.  I try not to make unreasonable assumptions.  Let’s not, any of us.

On February 28th, the day of Previn’s death, The Guardian quoted Andrew Marriner of the LSO (Bymer’s successor as principal clarinet, son of Sir Neville Marriner), “it was the extraordinary sound [Previn] conjured from an orchestra, unmistakably his own, that dazzled….  he drew the players into a deeply moving collaboration.  His touch on the piano in Mozart piano concertos and in chamber music was divine.”  May his memory be for a blessing.

The sweet season that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings,
The turtledove to mate hath told her tale.
Summer is soon, for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale,
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings,
The fishes fleet with new repaired scale,
The adder all her slough away she slings,
The swift swallow pursueth the flies smale,
The busy bee her honey now she mings —
Winter is worn, that was the flowers’ bale:
And thus I see, among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.
               Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547)

Filmmaker Larry Cohen Dies

Larry Cohen

By Steve Vertlieb: Larry Cohen, the iconic film director and screen writer whose bombastic, larger than life persona graced and reimagined many of the most lurid and sensationalistic exploitation, horror, science fiction, and fantasy motion pictures of the last sixty years has died at age 77. (Variety, “Larry Cohen, Cult Horror Writer-Director of ‘It’s Alive,’ Dies at 77”.)

Few film makers ever eclipsed his joyful zeal and enthusiasm for the often maligned art of genre film making. His work as a screenwriter and director often elevated routine melodrama to the heights of operatic theatricality, while his inescapably contagious ambitions delighted millions of admirers, imitators, and fans. His appreciation for the creative arts fostered a nearly childlike aspiration to greatness that often eluded him but he was, nonetheless, a highly imaginative writer and director whose reputation for theatricality continued the grand tradition of low budget, yet deliciously grandiose artists such as William Castle and Brian De Palma.

His recognition of classic film music and composers led him to utilize the sublime artistry of composers Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann in the latter portions of their distinguished careers, while Cohen himself was the recent subject of a highly praised and entertaining documentary entitled “King Cohen” from director Steve Mitchell.

The stars of imagination and creativity are shining just a little less brightly this afternoon as one of their brightest, brashest lights has been extinguished.

Ellen Vartanoff (1951-2019)

By Martin Morse Wooster: Ellen Vartanoff, long-time fan, art teacher, and contributor to DC and Marvel Comics, died on March 17.  She had ovarian cancer for several years.

Ellen was a long-time member of four area clubs in the Washington, DC area:  the Potomac River Science Fiction Society, the Silver Spring Science Fiction Society, Knossos, the Washington branch of the Mythopoeic Society, and the Panthans, the Washington branch of the Burroughs Bibliophiles.

Her first fannish activity came in high school, when in the late 1960s she founded a science fiction club at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland.  The Future Mad Scientists of America no longer exist, but I believe they lasted until the 1980s.  At her memorial service, one Mad Scientist reminded us that actors may make millions today playing nerds on The Big Bang Theory, but in the 1960s it was a proud and lonely thing to be a fan, and the club was a “safe space” for teenagers who were smart, introverted, and interested in science fiction and comics.

Ellen was interested in many things, but at her core she was a comics fan.  Her sister, Irene Vartanoff, and her brother-in-law, Scott Edelman, went from being letterhacks in the comics to professional careers as writers and editors.  Ellen did have some work as a colorist for Marvel Comics and DC Comics.  Her Marvel work includes being a colorist on issues of Captain Marvel written by Scott Edelman.  I don’t know her extent of her DC work, because Marvel Comics are thoroughly indexed and DC Comics aren’t.

Ellen was a walking Wikipedia of information about DC and Marvel characters.  Every time I saw her at a club meeting, she’d have a sketchbook, and would sketch and listen in the way many other fans knit and listen. She’d organize expeditions to every new Marvel and DC film.

Her fellow Burroughs Bibliophiles recalled that she’d regularly contribute art based on Burroughs characters to the Panthan club newsletter.  She also contributed art to two Edgar Rice Burroughs books:  Edgar Rice Burroughs in the Second Century, published by the Panthans in 2010, and The Mucker/Return of the Mucker, published by the Chicago chapter of the Burroughs Bibliophiles.

Her love of comics wasn’t limited to English.  She had a good reading knowledge of French, and when the awful Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets came out two years ago, she brought out copies of her albums of the original Valerian strips and explained how they were so much better than the movie.

A friend recalled at the memorial service taking Ellen to a chemo session in 2011.  The friend had an album of The Airtight Garage, drawn by the great French artist Moebius. Ellen began reading it and showing the friend the characteristic traits of Moebius’s style.

A nurse came in and asked if Ellen was all right.  The friend said, “If she’s translating French, she’s all right.”

Ellen made her living as an art teacher, specializing in teaching traditional art and comics to children. Among the places she taught were he Smithsonian, the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center, and a summer school run by the Holton Arms School.

Her comics classes were quite popular, and people in their twenties who took their classes told me that Ellen was a very good teacher.

Visit an art gallery in Washington, and you’d often see Ellen and her students.  One friend recalled spending time at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery, and running into Ellen introducing her students to Japanese art.

Here’s an exercise Ellen gave:  She’d bring out an image where the left half was Lois Lane and the right half was Minnie Mouse.  She’d ask students what was similar about the images—and what was different.

She was very influential in the lives of many teenagers.  One man in his late fifties recalled that forty years ago he volunteered at Adventure Theatre, a children’s theatre at Glen Echo Park in Maryland where Ellen was involved in creating sets.  Ellen showed the man how easy it was to make a wooden sword, and how much fun it was to bop other kids with it.

The man recalled that at the time he was an English major, and didn’t realize he had any ability to make things.  He then ended up creating a construction company, which he said he wouldn’t have done if Ellen hadn’t showed him he had skills he didn’t know he had.  He said he was on the verge of retirement, and was looking forward to resuming studying the arts Ellen had introduced him to 40 years before.

If I had to sum up Ellen in one word, it was that she was enthusiastic about life.  She always wanted to know more, and when she’d show up at a club meeting, usually with Lindt chocolates and Kedem sparkling peach and raspberry juices, she was eager to learn about the latest books, movies, and plays that other club members had seen and read.

“Ellen always had time for you,” one friend recalled. “She didn’t realize the rest of us were in a hurry.”

She was also a very happy person.  I knew her for nearly 40 years, and I never heard her snarl or be angry.  Her laugh was unforgettable.

Her interests were very wide.  One friend recalls having a half-hour discussion with her about the differences between Turkic and Finnish. But I’ll limit her passions here to two.

She was really interested in archeology, and regularly went to public lectures where archeologists would give the results of discoveries they made in the field.  But her greatest passion was ancient Egypt, and one of the peaks of her life was going to Egypt in the late 1990s with a papermaking group.  At the service, guests were given a card with Ellen’s photo on one side—and a cartouche of Ellen’s name on the other.

Finally, she loved classical music.  She’d regularly go to broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera at a local movie theatre.

I once went with her to a double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci at the University of Maryland.  I Pagliacci has a children’s chorus, and the sister of one of Ellen’s students was in it.  The girl and Ellen had a good conversation, and I think Ellen reminded her why classical music was worthwhile.

Her sister, Irene Vartanoff; her brother, David Vartanoff, her brother-in-law, Scott Edelman, and her nephew, Trevor Vartanoff, survive Ellen.  Her mother, Margaret Vartanoff, died in 2010, and I wrote a tribute to her at File 770 here.  


Irene Vartanoff (left), Scott Edelman (center), Ellen Vartanoff (right), New Year’s Day, 2012.  Photo by Risa Stewart.

Frank Johnson (1953-2019)

By Joel Zakem: [Reprinted from FB with permission]

This is a post I hoped to never write.

In terms of longevity, Frank Johnson was my oldest friend. I believe that we first encountered each other in 1966 or 67, when we both around 13 or 14. At the time I was looking through a table of used science fiction magazines at the Ohio Bookstore in downtown Cincinnati with my friend Earl Whitson when Frank and his friend, Brad Balfour walked up. The four of us started talking and subsequently became friends. While I’ve since lost touch with Earl and rarely see Brad, Frank and I remained close.

In 1968, the four of us co-edited an atrocious sf fanzine entitled Advocates of the Infinite, which, thankfully, only lasted one issue. In the same year, we attended our first SF convention, the 1968 Midwestcon and in 1969, Frank, Brad and I joined the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (the local SF club, which put on the convention). Frank and I remained members.

In the fanzine world, Frank went on to co-edit, with Brad, the first issue of Conglomeration before going off on his own with Schamoob, which lasted more than 10 issues and where I was a regular contributor. He also provided cartoons to several other fanzines in the 1960’s and 70’s. Frank later revived Schamoob in the music APA “ALPS ,” where we were both members.

As con goers, Frank and I attended 51 straight Midwestcons (1968-2018) and, during every five Midwestcons since our 25th straight, in 1992, we have been hosting an anniversary party. Frank was also a regular attendee of Worldcons and several regionals such as Confusion and Windycon, but he rarely participated in panels or presentations. His 50+ years in fandom probably made him one of the longest tenured African-American SF fans.

Besides fandom, Frank and I shared several other interests, most notably music. While our taste occasionally clashed (we both enjoyed jazz and folk, but Frank tended toward the progressive area of rock while I was more into punk and new wave), I spent many an enjoyable hour in record and CD stores with Frank (and our differences in taste meant that we often would locate items the other wanted). Frank made regular trips to Europe, and he loved browsing the record stores there.

While music was more of a hobby for me, it became a career for Frank, as he has had a long tenure in radio as an announcer and programmer, in genres including album-oriented rock and smooth (or as we sometime called it snooze) jazz. In recent years, he hosted a drive-time classical music show on Cincinnati’s WGUC-FM, a job he truly seemed to enjoy.

Last year, however, Frank was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Like many things in his life, he tended to keep his condition secret from all but his closest friends. Various treatments proved unsuccessful, and the 2018 Windycon (which I regret skipping) became his last con (I offered to drive him to the 2019 Confusion, but he determined that it would have been too much of a strain). 

Though we have lived in different cities for the past 30 or so years, we have remained friends (and Cincinnati and Louisville, our current cities, are only two hours apart). In fact, in early January of this year, I ended up driving him to one of his treatments. At that time, he was noticeably thinner and weaker, but still seemed alert. After the treatment, we returned to the house he shared with Karen, his long-time significant other, where he insisted on playing me certain musical selections on his surround sound system. 

Unfortunately, in the past week, his condition radically worsened, and he ended up confined to bed. I had planned to drive up to see him today (March 20) but, around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 19, I received a call from Karen saying that I should probably drive up on that day. I quickly showered, threw some things into the car, and hit the road to Cincinnati.

I arrived at Karen and Frank’s at about 11:30 a.m. and was shocked at the deterioration since the last time I had seen Frank. He probably weighed less than 100 pounds, could not talk, and was completely listless. While I would like to think that he knew that I was there, I cannot be sure. I was still there, with several of Frank’s other friends, in mid-afternoon, when Frank took his last breath. He was 65 years old.

Something kind of wonderful did happen right before Frank passed. A few months back, Frank, accompanied by Karen, made a last visit to the radio station where Frank worked. A long-time Hitchhikers fan, Frank asked, somewhat jokingly, that if he did not make it, could the phrase “So Long and Thanks For All The Fish” be used in any on-air tribute to him. (And WGUC just broadcast a moving tribute to Frank which ended with a recording of Frank saying those exact words.)

A package for Frank had arrived from the radio station earlier in the afternoon of the 19th. When Karen opened it, she discovered a glass fishbowl containing a number of paper fishes, each one with a message from one of Frank’s coworkers on the back. Karen, with a little help from me in deciphering some of the handwriting, read each message to Frank. The last one, read shortly before Frank died, read “The Answer is 42.”

I know that I will never forget Frank, and I also know I will never forget the opportunity to share Frank’s last hours with some amazing people, especially Karen who did so much for and with him. Safe journeys, old friend.

Karen Kelley and Frank Johnson in 2006. Photo by Joel Zakem.

Cincinnati Public Radio News’ post “WGUC Announcer Frank Johnson Loses Battle With Cancer” begins:

WGUC classical music host Frank Johnson lost his battle with cancer Tuesday, March 19. He was 65.

The Cincinnati native, who started his career in 1975 at Dayton’s WTUE-FM, joined WGUC-FM in 1998 on the All Things Considered news shift.

He had hosted afternoon and evening music shifts, most recently 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He had been off the air since December.

Cincinnati Public Radio will pay tribute to Johnson today by playing some of his classical music favorites during his air shift. He loved Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

“The staff and listeners of WGUC and WVXU, as well as the Greater Cincinnati radio and music community – and science fiction fans everywhere – have lost a dear friend,” Cincinnati Public Radio said in an announcement today. “Frank was a true radio professional and aficionado of all types of music, especially jazz, his soul music.” 

And the Cincinnati Public Radio website is hosting a Remembering Frank Johnson page. Here’s the comment left by Denise Johnson —  

Denise Johnson (Frank’s sister)

Although WTUE was his first job after college, Frank’s radio career began while he was still in high school. Junior Achievement had a public affairs program that broadcast from the studios of WCIN. Once bitten he was hooked on mass communications.

An elder neighbor introduced him to shortwave (ham) radio. In order to get a stronger signal, Frank climbed up a telephone pole outside of his bedroom window to connect a tie a wire to the telephone cables.

Frank was an avid comic book consumer and collector. On one occasion, his little sister’s pet gerbil escaped from its cage and nibbled on a prized possession. To impress the importance and value of his collection, he dangled the offending rodent over the toilet as he repeatedly flushed while his sister cried and begged for mercy and his mother stood watch with an arched eyebrow. The gerbil wasn’t flushed and his sister made sure to avoid additional trauma by relocating the pet to an aquarium.

Frank continued to hone his skills as the student newspaper editor at Courter Technical High School and was on the yearbook and “managed” the school’s radio station.

His obsession with science fiction led to a book collection that earned him an award in a contest sponsored by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

His literary pursuits and graphic art skills led his to publish fanzines; the first, Conglomeration – a collaborative effort with other teen sci-fi fans and a solo effort titled Schmoob, published on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine from typewritered stencils. He managed to snag contributions from top-shelf authors like Ray Bradbury — all while still in high school.

While earning his Bachelor’s degree in Speech and Mass Communications at Bowling Green State University, he was the manager of the campus radio station and earned pocket change dj-ing campus dances and parties.

The sum of his combined experiences created a first-call radio announcer, programmer and production manager. Enunciation and a smooth delivery led to a side hustle of voice-over work. He worked in his chosen profession for nearly 50 years.

Norman Hollyn (1952-2019)

I was crushed to read that Norm Hollyn passed away this weekend. He and Lou Stathis were among my first friends in fandom. We connected through fanzines while in college at opposite ends of the country, USC for me, SUNY Stony Brook for Norm (then, Hochberg) and Lou. I’d seen their fanzine Xrymph mentioned in Arnie Katz’ Focal Point and we started trading. I wish I could say I was doing Prehensile by then, but in truth I was probably still doing the execrable New Elliptic, so it’s almost unbe­lievable that they actually read it, let alone gently critiqued it in occa­sional letters. We hung out at the 1972-1974 Worldcons, and I visited them in New York.

Of course, the way life works, it has been years since I talked to Norm although he wasn’t far away, having become a faculty member at my alma mater’s School of Cinematic Arts after working for several decades as a film editor. He was the author of two important books on the subject, and a popular mentor. It was shocking to read on Facebook that he died a few days ago while lecturing in Japan, from a coronary embolism and subsequent cardiac arrest.

Norm flew out for L.A.Con in 1972 — he came with me to the first Hogu Ranquet. The following year I rendezvoused with Norm and Lou at Torcon 2. We were equally new to fandom, trying to forge an identity in it and make friends. I visited them in New York after Discon in 1974, driving up from Wash­ington D.C. before returning to Ohio for graduate work in Bowling Green’s popular culture pro­gram. I had that carefree, broke-student quality of denying even my VW Bug’s most outra­geous mechanical problems, like the rear tire that wobbled uncontrollably whenever it hit a bump, but could be put in order simply by braking to a stop. I hadn’t thought to mention this to Norm and Lou until we were on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, swooped into one of its elephantine potholes and started to shimmy violently. We stuck with public transit the rest of the week.

By the time I really was publishing Prehensile, Norm had also started another fanzine, Regurgitation Six, with a title designed to leave some wondering what happened to the first five issues, at least until they received Regurgitation Six #2.

Norm went from Hochberg to Hollyn when he married for the first time, he and his spouse merging their names into a new surname.

Norm finished his studies at Stony Brook in 1974, graduating with a degree in theater arts. Now came the hard part – getting a job in the film industry. His persistence paid off, as The Hollywood Reporter summary shows:

Early in his career, he served as an apprentice sound editor on Bob Fosse’s Lenny (1974), an uncredited apprentice editor on Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), an assistant music editor on Milos Forman’s Hair (1979) and an assistant editor on Alan Parker’s Fame (1980).

I heard him speak with pride about his work as music editor on The Cotton Club (1984), and soon many would recognize him as the editor on Heathers (1988).

He also was film editor on the 1993 Oliver Stone-produced ABC miniseries Wild Palms and on It’s Pat: The Movie (1994).

During the next phase of his career as a writer and a teacher, Norm passed on his professional knowledge to the new generation. His book The Film Editing Room Handbook, first published in 1986, is regarded as a standard in the field. In 2009 he followed with The Lean Forward Moment: Telling Better Stories for Film, TV, and the Web. He published nearly 100 articles in magazines and peer-reviewed journals.

He joined the faculty of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, rose to full professor, and in 2013 became the first to hold the Michael Kahn Endowed Chair in Editing, . He served as President of UFVA, the largest association of production-based cinema university professors. He taught workshops all over the world – in Europe, the Middle East, India — and the very last time, in Japan.

His survivors include his wife, Janet, and daughter, Elizabeth.

Till they ring inside my head forever

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1309)  On June 28th, Christine Valada told us.

Susan Ellison has asked me to announce the passing of writer Harlan Ellison, in his sleep, earlier today.  “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.” — H.E., 1934-2018.

Susan is his widow.  Valada, the widow of Len Wein, is Susan’s and was Harlan’s friend.  His birthday was May 27th.  He was 84.

Among much else he wrote science fiction and fantasy.  His first story “The Gloconda” was published in 1949; his first in a prozine, “Life Hutch”, in the April 56 If, illustrated by Emsh.  The L.A. Times’ 2,100-word obituary, 29 Jun at p. B4, did not mention his eight Hugos and four Nebulas – “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965) and “Jeffty Is Five” (1977) won both; most recently, a Nebula for “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” (2010) – but did observe he was the third-most anthologized s-f author, after Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

He reviewed Joel Nydahl’s fanzine Vega in Spaceship 22 (1953; his own zine at the time was Science Fantasy Bulletin).  With six Hugos and two Nebulas behind him he had thoughtful engaged letters in Janus (1976-77).  “Nissassa!” by Nalrah Nosille began in Science Fiction Five-Yearly 2 (1956) before “Assassin!” (1957) by Ellison in the prozine SF Adventures, and continued through SF5Y 12 (2006) in which I appeared myself.

The Avram Davidson Treasury (R. Silverberg & G. Davis eds. 1998) has H.E.’s after­word to “Polly Charms, the Sleeping Woman” (1975) – noting H.E.’s “Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman” (1962), which Davidson while editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction published there – and H.E.’s Afterword to the whole.  The 1999 Van Vogt collection Futures Past has H.E.’s Introduction.

He had a superb relation with the Dillons; they did three dozen covers and interiors for his work, to which I paid tribute in my exhibit “The Art of Diane & Leo Dillon” at Chicon VII, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention.

If we had to choose a leading s-f author whose work was most unlike Ellison’s, that might be Asimov.  The memoir I. Asimov (1994) says “Harlan … is a writer in the fullest sense of the word….  one of the best writers in the world….  if you … work your way past his porcupine spines … you will find underneath a … guy who would give you the blood out of his veins if he thought that would help” (p. 244).

The twenty-third annual Odyssey workshop [was] going on [while this note was originally written], 4 Jun – 13 Jul [the week after his death], Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire.  In its third year, H.E. was Writer in Residence for a week; twenty students, four hours each weekday morning; eight hours’ homework each weekday, twenty-four each weekend.  These remarks by and about him were published.

Harlan holds back nothing.  He shared moments from his own life that moved some of us to tears.  He gives in full measure, whatever he does. The night he arrived … he told us, “I’m here to give you what I can…. I can be as wrong as any of you.  Do not think in any way that I am a deity.  But I’ve been doing this for forty years and there’s … some stuff that I can … do well, and I will give you as much of that as you want.  There is nothing you can ask of me that I will not give you in this week.  So ask me.”

Harlan does not lecture about art.  He critiques stories.  Nothing is too small or too large.

“Write by hand on actual paper with an actual pen, ball-point, or the bloody end of your … index finger, if that’s what you need.  Because only in that way will you come back into con­tact with your words.

“Without character, you are thrown back on … anecdote….  That is the dopey way of writing.  There is no subtext, no confluence, no something back here that pays off up there.  Character is the engine that drives the story.

“If you want to be a good writer, all you have to read are the Sherlock Holmes stories.  They are based upon observing.

“There is no nobler chore in the craft of writing than holding up the mirror of reality and turn­ing it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the ‘normal’, the obvious.  People are reflected in the glass.  The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself.  And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us.

“You never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you’re willing to risk everything, dare any­thing, put yourself dead on the line every time … once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.”

He devoted every waking moment to the class and the students (and there were very few sleeping moments for him or any of us that week).

Some of us felt it incongruous that he died in his sleep.  But he was a dreamer.  Nor shall I decline to say May his memory be for a blessing.


A. McGarrigle, “Going Back to Harlan” (1995)

Ellison Among SFF Figures in Academy Website’s Oscars In Memoriam 2019 Photos

Harlan Ellison

Many of the genre figures fans complained were missing from the “In Memoriam” video shown during the Academy Awards broadcast on February 24 do appear in its online gallery of over 200 “Oscars In Memoriam 2019 Photos”.

They include:

[Thanks to Steve Davidson for the story.]