By Rich Lynch: It was back in 2001 that my late friend Mike Resnick, in a fanzine article about what he’d include in a personal time capsule, wrote something that came across as perhaps overly pessimistic but also sadly prophetic: “My fandom is dying. It’s been dying for years. It’ll be decades more before the last remnants are gone, and I have every hope and expectation that it will outlive me.”
At the time that Mike wrote that, he was nearly four decades into what was a very successful career as a professional writer. But he was also very much a science fiction fan, having discovered fandom in 1962 in the pages of a fanzine. And it was his perception, back then, that his fanzine-centric fandom was in the midst of what seemed a steep decline. Which had brought on that bit of pessimism.
I can’t remember for sure when Nicki and I first met Mike – it was probably about the time of the 1988 Worldcon – but I do know when we became friends. It was in 1994, during that year’s Worldcon. We had an enjoyable long conversation with him in the Cincinnati Fantasy Group’s hospitality suite, where Mike had settled in after having missed out on winning a Hugo Award due to a controversial decision by the award administrators. He told us that he had read a few issues of our fanzine, Mimosa, and out of the blue offered to write us an article for the next one. Which we gratefully accepted. It turned out to be one of the best pieces of non-fiction he ever wrote: “Roots and a Few Vines”, where he described in detail his experiences at the 1963 Worldcon in Washington, D.C. which made him a fan for life and set him on the road to becoming a science fiction writer.
That article got so much positive reader response that Mike ended up writing eight more articles for Mimosa, including a series of four first-person remembrances of other Worldcons he had attended. And he attended a lot of them. Mike ostensibly used Worldcons as opportunities to meet with publishers about book contracts and the like, but he was actually there as a fan. From the time we became friends until just a few years ago when health considerations started to affect his ability to make long trips, he was a constant presence at nearly every Worldcon. His most famous fiction series, one which brought him awards and award nominations aplenty, was Afrocentric in theme (one of Mike’s favorite travel destinations was Kenya) and many of his friends, us included, started to affectionately refer to him as ‘Bwana’. I remember that he kept trying to convince Nicki and me to come along with him on one of his Africa trips but by that point in our lives we were not so much into that kind of an adventure. Instead, we preferred a more vicarious experience by listening to him talk at conventions about his travels.
One of the shorter trips he took was back to his original home city of Chicago. Near the end of the “Roots and a Few Vines” article, Mike had written that: “I’ve won some awards, and I’ve paid some dues, and I don’t think it’s totally unrealistic to assume that sometime before I die I will be the Guest of Honor at a Worldcon.” It was a much-deserved honor that finally came to pass in 2012, in Chicago, and I was happy to be on a panel with him about a joint interest we both had – Broadway musicals. But it turned out that my knowledge on the topic was not even close to what Mike and the other panelists displayed so I spent most of the hour just reveling in the experience while trying not to embarrass myself. After that we often compared notes about musicals we’d seen and liked (and sometimes disliked). And that, in a way, was the inspiration for Mike’s final fanzine article – a musical theater survey that was published in 2019 in the fanzine Challenger. In it, he and eight other Broadway enthusiasts (me included) listed our top twelve favorite musicals. Which, I’m sure, would have resulted in many more enjoyable hours of discussion on that topic with him.
Instead, I’ve spent some time trying to organize my thoughts on how I would remember my friend Mike. Cancer is a cold, ruthless killer, and his last days from what I’ve read are not the way I’d want to go out. But my memories of him, indeed memories of him by all of his friends, live on. Of all the pleasant times, and there were many. I’ll end this remembrance by going back the time capsule article that Mike wrote for Mimosa. In it he listed all the things related to fandom he possessed that he would preserve in stasis, if he could, for fans of the year 2100 to discover. And he also would have included a contextual note for all those future fans:
Dear Citizen of 2100:
I hope you are living in the Utopia we envisioned when we were kids first discovering science fiction. I am sure you have experienced technological and medical breakthroughs that are all but inconceivable to me.
But I have experienced something that is probably inconceivable to you, at least until you spend a little time studying the contents of this capsule.
I wish I could see the wonders you daily experience. But you know something? As badly as I want to see the future, to see what we’ve accomplished in the next century, I wouldn’t trade places with you if it meant never having experienced the fandom that this capsule will introduce you to.
Enjoy. I certainly did.
I feel grateful to have been part of Mike’s fandom. And I feel regret for all those future fans of the year 2100 who won’t have the chance to meet Mike in person. But they can still meet him through his fiction and descriptions of his fandom, and that ought to make him larger than life for them. He already is for me.
[Illustration for Mike’s article by Joe Mayhew.]