Priscilla Olson (1951-2024)

By Geri Sullivan: I regret to share the news that Priscilla Olson died on Friday, June 14. Just yesterday, so it’s still the early days of shock and grief. Please forgive the incompleteness of this announcement.

Priscilla chaired four Boskones, edited books for NESFA Press, and was a brilliant convention programmer for Boskone and several Worldcons. She was also an avid gardener, a fierce competitor, intrepid traveler, excellent cook, and so much more. She was my friend for the past 35 years or thereabouts. Where does the time go?

Priscilla dealt with various forms of cancer the entire time I knew her. When she turned 70, she was proud of the fact that she was still alive after having had cancer for more than half of her life. For decades, medical advancements meant each new cancer was treatable and she carried on. That’s been getting harder of late, and just this past week it became clear there weren’t any more treatment options.

But when I think of Priscilla, I don’t think of cancer. I think of how she did the polar plunge when on a small boat cruise with friends in Alaska in 2012; of when we soared above the unique landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey along with hundreds of other hot air balloons in 2022; and how she spent this most recent New Year’s on a cruise around Cape Horn. I think of her persistence, and how much I’ll miss her.

There won’t be a funeral or memorial; Priscilla didn’t want one. She is survived by her husband Mark Olson, who asks for no phone calls or visitors at this time. Emailed condolences are welcome.

In December 2001, Priscilla and friends celebrated her birthday at PriscillaCon. Laurie Mann took the “quality chick” photo below and many others from PriscillaCon and the NESFA New Year’s Eve Party that followed shortly after. Let’s remember the good times.

Remembering Roger Corman (April 5, 1926 – May 9, 2024)

By Steve Vertlieb: Roger Corman, the legendary motion picture producer/director has succumbed at age 98. His status as a film pioneer is undeniable.

From humble beginnings, Corman virtually re-invented the traditional horror genre in the 1950’s and 60’s with reimagined cinematic translations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, featuring such classic actors as Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Ray Milland, and Peter Lorre, while discovering and virtually creating the careers of Jack Nicholson, and Peter Fonda.

Vincent Price, in particular, found his career newly flourishing as a result of his frequent collaborations with Corman, while other stars such as Jack Nicholson were nurtured and encouraged by the director, finding new prominence in their early screen careers.

Roger Corman remains an essential component in film history, having launched the careers of such prominent film makers as Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Bruce Dern, Joe Dante, Ellen Burstyn, Robert De Niro, Robert Towne, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, Ron Howard, and Peter Bogdanovich, as well as creating his own enduring imprint as a major influence in the development and cultural respectability of the horror/science fiction/fantasy genre over the past sixty five “odd” years.

More importantly, however, he was a genuinely bright, thoughtful, gracious soul whose celebrity never diminished his kindness toward others.

The man will be missed … but his artistry and legacy remain eternal.

Roger Corman and Steve Vertlieb.

Here are the posters for some of his films.

Vernor Vinge (1944-2024)

Vernor Vinge

Vernor Vinge, author of many influential hard science fiction works, died March 20 at the age of 79.

Vinge sold his first science-fiction story in 1964, “Apartness”, which appeared in the June 1965 issue of New Worlds.

In 1971, he received a PhD (Math) from UCSD, and the next year began teaching at San Diego State University. It wasn’t until almost thirty years later, in August 2000, that he retired from teaching to write science-fiction full time.

His 1981 novella True Names is often credited as the first story to present a fully fleshed-out concept of cyberspace. 

He won Hugo Awards for his novels A Fire Upon the Deep (1993 — tie), A Deepness in the Sky (2000), Rainbows End (2007), and novellas Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002), and The Cookie Monster (2004). A Deepness in the Sky also won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and in translation won Spain’s Ignotus Award, Germany’s Kurd Lasswitz Preis, and Italy’s Italia Award.

Vinge was the guest of honor at ConJosé, the 2002 Worldcon. He won the Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014. He won the Heinlein Award presented by The Heinlein Society in 2020.

He was married to Joan D. Vinge from 1972 to 1979.

David Brin has posted a heartfelt tribute on Facebook which says in part:

It is with sadness – and deep appreciation of my friend and colleague – that I must report the passing of Vernor Vinge. A titan in the literary genre that explores a limitless range of potential destinies, Vernor enthralled millions with tales of plausible tomorrows, made all the more vivid by his polymath masteries of language, drama, characters and the implications of science.

Accused by some of a grievous sin – that of ‘optimism’ – Vernor gave us peerless legends that often depicted human success at overcoming problems… those right in front of us… while posing new ones! New dilemmas that may lie just ahead of our myopic gaze. He would often ask: “What if we succeed? Do you think that will be the end of it?”…

…We spanned a pretty wide spectrum – politically! Yet, we KBs [Killer B’s] (Vernor was a full member! And Octavia Butler once guffawed happily when we inducted her) always shared a deep love of our high art – that of gedankenexperimentation, extrapolation into the undiscovered country ahead.

Right to Left: Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear.

Dick “Ditmar” Jenssen (1935-2024)

Dick Jenssen in 2000.

By Bruce Gillespie: A message from Elaine Cochrane, my wife, to all those who’ve known Dick Jenssen over the years and enjoyed his company, his artwork and his articles, died March 7 (Australian date). He was 88.

Elaine writes on our behalf: “Hi everyone: Grace Villa rang me at about 6 this morning to tell me that Dick had just died. He had requested no funeral so we’ll arrange a private cremation. Hard to type through the tears. Much love, Elaine.”

Dick Jenssen has been a part of fandom since 1952, when he was a founder member of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. Of those who formed the original club, Bob McCubbin, Lee Harding, Race Mathews, Merv Binns, and Dick, only Race Mathews is still alive. Australia’s annual achievement awards, the Ditmars, are named after Dick. (‘Ditmar’ is one of his first names. Dick’s full name was Martin James Ditmar Jenssen, hence ‘Ditmar’ signed onto his artwork, and his usual name, ‘Dick Jenssen’.)

Race Mathews, Merv Binns, Dick Jenssen, and Lee Harding in 2000.

Dick’s career as a meteorologist was distinguished. He was head of Meteorology at Melbourne University when he took early retirement at the age of 55. Dick performed the analysis and wrote the program to produce the first computer-generated weather forecast for the southern hemisphere. That involved a huge amount of original mathematics but he did not write the original equations.

Dick gafiated from fandom after 1971. However, in 1993 Race Mathews enticed him into rejoining a group of his old fannish friends (and some younger, like us) for watching movies and dinner once a month. As mentor and friend, he also adopted Elaine and me as people to whom he could natter about anything, especially science fiction, science, books, and movies.

Dick drew artwork for the MSFC’s fanzines in the early 1950s, but did not take up this interest again until computer graphics developed rapidly during the 1990s. Dick contributed a large number of cover graphics to fanzines and book publishers from then until 2020, especially covers for my SF Commentary and Bill Wright’s Interstellar Ramjet Scoop. He was very delighted to win two Ditmar Awards for Best Fan Artist. He also won the 2016 Rotsler Award for his artwork.

He has suffered major health problems in recent years, at first very severe arthritis, and then cancer during the last four years. After each period of hospitalization, he has been able to return to his flat. However, recently it became very difficult for him to walk at all, so with vast amounts of help from Elaine, as his Power of Attorney, he had moved to the Grace Villa aged care facility near us. His health has deteriorated greatly during the last two months, and he died in his sleep this morning. His life has been well spent, of great value to all those who have known him or been helped by him.

Yesterday Elaine arranged the transfer of his vast library to our place. Thanks very much to those who put a huge amount of effort into this move: Carey Handfield, Justin Ackroyd, Murray MacLachlan, Rob Gerrand, and Gladys Williams.

Update 03/07/2024: Corrected the information about Dick’s work as a meteorologist. Made other minor changes.

John Hertz on Fuzzy Pink Niven (1940-2023)

Philip Jose Farmer, Larry Niven, and Fuzzy Pink at the St. Louiscon, the 1969 Worldcon.

By John Hertz (reprinted from Vanamonde 1575): Marilyn Wisowaty Niven (1940-2023) was “Fuzzy Pink” to me and perhaps to you. She and Larry Niven met in 1967, and were married in 1969, until death did them part. She left us for After-Fandom on December 3rd. She’d been wrestling with ill health for some while. As Larry told me by telephone, it finally was too much for her.

In the Sixties at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology her bedroom slippers, or I’ve also heard it was sweaters, led Fran Dyro, her roommate, to call her Fuzzy Pink Roommate; “Fuzzy Pink” stuck. She was graduated S.B. in 1962. The first woman graduate from M.I.T. was Ellen Swallow (1842-1911; S.S. + an A.M. from Vassar the same year; later Ellen Swallow Richards) in 1873, but there still weren’t many women nine decades later,

The M.I.T. SF Society (MITSFS, “mits-fiss”) had 10,000 books then (70,000 today); Fuzzy Pink maintained an index, naturally called the Pinkdex. She was instrumental in forming NESFA, the New England SF Association; when it established a Fellowship in 1976 (“created to honor those people who have made a significant contribution to NESFA and to the furtherance of its aims. The Fellowship is modeled after academic fellowships Fellows are awarded the postnominal abbreviation F. N.”, NESFA Fellowship), she was made a Founding Fellow, along with Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, Judy-Lynn & Lester del Rey, Jill & Don Eastlake, Suford & Tony Lewis, Elliott Shorter, Col. Harry Stubbs, Leslie Turek.

She joined LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1968, was on our Board Of Directors by the time of our first clubhouse in 1973, earned our Evans-Freehafer service award in 1982, was Fan Guest of Honor at Loscon X (our local SF convention; Loscon XLIX was 24-26 Nov 23) in 1983. Her APA-L zine was Fuzzily. She sometimes signed things “Fuzzily, Pink”.

She was a friend to costumers and did some herself. By Heicon (28th World Science Fiction Convention, Heidelberg, 1970) Larry had begun the Trantorcon in 23,309 bid for the 21,370th Worldcon — a big world by then — or maybe a Galacticon — Lazarus Long says “I’ll be there, Will you?” — and he & Fuzzy were in the Masquerade (SF cons’ costume competition) as “The Trantorcon in 23,309 Committee” (l was later added to the concom; it’s true we haven’t published a Progress Report in a few decades, but there’s still a long time before site-selection voting). Somewhere I have a Bea Barrio drawing of Larry in a crown and Fuzzy Pink in something fuzzy.

She made lace; she led a workshop on that at Noreascon Ill (47th Worldcon, 1989; many things happen at Worldcons), co-chaired the Int’l Old Lacers, Inc. (Int’l Org. of Lace, Inc., since 2012), annual convention in 1992, and edited lace magazines. She won table-setting contests at the LA County Fair.

For years there was LASES Poker, often at the Nivens’. My father taught me there were two kinds Of Poker, 5-Card Draw or 5-Card Stud, and crazy games like Baseball (7-Card Stud, 3s and 9s Wild; if dealt a 4 up, you get another face-down card; if dealt a 3 up, you match the “pot” or fold; best5 of 7 wins). Baseball was mild in LASFS Poker, with games like Werewolf, Vampire, Girdle Sale in Yankee Stadium, and Soft Shoe where you could shuffle off to bluff a low. Fuzzy was patient and good-humored throughout.

I looked at a book on a table one night at the Nivens’ and asked “What’s that?” Fuzzy said It’s a Regency romance by Georgette Heyer, try it, you’ll like it. Soon I was driving all over town to find the rest of them in bookshops. See “The English Regency and Me”, Mimosa 29.

When I learned she had gone I wrote to Larry,

     I had a hot fudge sundae for her — and you. We got acquainted because of “Inconstant Moon”.

     I saw her sense of whimsy — I’ll use a greater word, and say “comedy”; her brilliant mind — many Who have that, flaunt it, which she never did; her craftsmanship; her sense Of — I’ll use another big word — beauty; in these last times, her — another big word, I can’t help it — dignity, which also she never flaunted. I’m trying to remember that, according to my religion, she’s been released.

     My special gratitude to her is for sparking the Regency Dancing adventure. I’d never have thought of it. When Rich Lynch asked me to write it up for Mimosa, he wouldn’t let me minimize it. I try to remember that.

     It mustn’t go without saying that she was a wonderful hostess. That mustn’t be minimized either.

     I’ve written this poem. It’s an acrostic (read down the first letters of each line) in unrhymed 5-7-5-7-7-syllable lines, like Japanese tanka.

“Friend to levity”
Under another regime
Zeroed approval;
Zest, among us, counts for more.
Your light, flavor, nourished us.

At the funeral Larry said “She loved you.” Somehow I didn’t cry, I just said “l loved her too.” Tim Griffin read my poem aloud. The urn had Forever in our hearts.

S. B. = Scientiae Baccalaurea, Latin, Bachelor (female; from graduates’ wearing laurel crowns filled with berries, for the fruits of their studies; bachelor = a knight with no standard [in the heraldic sense] of his own who fights under another’s standard, and bachelor = unmarried man, are another story) of Science; A.M. = Artium Magistra, Latin, Master (female) of Arts. Harry Stubbs wrote SF as Hal Clement. Trantor, see Asimov’s Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), Second Foundation (1953); Lazarus Long, see Methuselah’s Children (R. Heinlein 1958). “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, A. Dubin & H. Warren 1933. “Inconstant Moon”, L Niven 1971. “Friend to levity” e.g. Heyer, The Unknown Ajax ch. 9 (1959).

The fuzziest, pinkest photo ever taken of Fuzzy Pink Niven — by Len Moffatt at the 1972 Westercon.

Steven Richard Miller (July 31, 1950 – February 20, 2024)

[Introduction: Sharon Lee just announced, “Steve died very suddenly today.  We knew his health was failing, and he told me a few months ago that he had written an obit. I found it on his computer.” File 770 is honored to publish it.]

Steve Miller

Steven Richard Miller was born in Baltimore MD July 31, 1950, son of Donald George Miller and Helen Lorraine Miller (Myers). He attended and graduated from Franklin Senior High School, Class of 1968, where he was on the chess team and also the editor of the literary magazine.  He attended University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), where besides joining the chess team he became News Editor and later Managing Editor of the school newspaper, originating and teaching several courses on Science Fiction as an undergrad.

Pursuing his life-long interest in writing and science fiction he attended the Clarion West writing workshop in 1973 where he studied with genre greats Peter Beagle, James Sallis, Harlan Ellison, Terry Carr, Vonda McIntyre, Ursula LeGuin, and Joanna Russ, shortly after which he joined UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library staff as the founding Curator of Science Fiction.

Following his stint as a library curator, Steve pursued writing including freelancing features, photos, and community news for many Baltimore region weekly and monthly newspapers; along the way he was also editor of Prime Time News, The Valley Voice, and an owner of New County Express, while contributing articles to the Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, Locus, Bangor Daily News, Chess Life, Practical Survival magazine, Morning Sentinel, and others.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in 2017.

In April 1978, Steve and Sharon Lee declared themselves partners in life and in writing.  In the next while they opened Dreams Garth and Book Castle, a science fiction themed used bookstore and art gallery business.  They married in November 1980, and moved from Maryland to Skowhegan, Maine, in October 1988 after the publication of their first joint novel, Agent of Change, the first in what was to become a long series of space opera novels and stories set in their original Liaden Universe®.  In 1992, they moved to Winslow; and to Waterville in 2018.

After the move to Maine, Steve continued to pursue his writing career and also became increasingly involved in computers, starting Circular Logic BBS, which became one of the state’s largest independent BBS systems, about the same time he joined the Oakland Public Library (Maine) as children’s librarian and IT specialist, a part-time position.  Next, Steve was manager for Maine Computer Connection, which led to a job as lead sysop and trainer for the statewide Maine Meeting Place BBS, serving the disability community’s communication needs before the internet had become commonplace in Maine.  As the internet took hold, he became Internet Librarian for Unimation, a startup in Unity, Maine.  When Unimation folded during the dotcom winnowing in 1995, Steve transitioned to publisher and writer, a career he continued until his death.

Steve’s interest in chess spanned most of his life.  In addition to participating in the Maryland Scholastic Chess League in high school, he was a member of UMBC’s first intercollegiate chess team and later became a US Chess Federation Tournament Director, President of the Owings Mills Chess Club in Maryland, and a voting member of the USCF representing Maryland while directing a regular series of open tournaments at the Owings Mills Chess Club, publishing Skittles – a monthly chess newsletter – and enjoying occasional success over the board. 

After moving to Maine he joined and later became President of the Waterville Chess Club, where he reformed the club’s rating system, and instituted a series of regular open tournaments as well as running several Maine State Championships in a row, both of which were the largest to date in the state.  He was recognized as Maine Chess Organizer of the Year in 1995.  In addition to winning several club championships, Steve was part of Waterville’s Maine Chess League State championship team in 1998.  He remained active in the local chess scene for many years including frequent participation in the Waterville club’s virtual meetings during Covid.

Steve was predeceased by his father, Donald Miller of Madeira Beach FL, his stepfather, Ronald L. Moore Sr., and his mother, Helen Moore.  Survived by his wife, Sharon Lee, and siblings Donald George Miller (Kim), Craig Edward Miller (Brenda), Cindy Rex (Ron Prietz Sr.), Roland L. Moore, Jr. (Kay) numerous nieces and nephews.

[Thanks to Sharon Miller for the post.]

Terry Bisson Remembered

Terry Bisson in 1996. Photo by and © Andrew Porter.

By Gary Farber: Terry Bisson, writer extraordinaire, died January 10, 2024. It’s now January 18th, and his preliminary obituary is already off the Locus front page, though we’re told that a full obituary will appear in the February print issue.

Terry never had a hit novel, though at least two of his short stories, “Bears Discover Fire” and “They’re Made of Meat” became almost instant classics and have each been reprinted in many anthologies, as well as bootlegged the hell out of all over the interwebs.

But you can read the details of Terry’s published works in the Locus Online obituary, and you can read an excellent personal retrospective on Terry’s life by John Kessel on Facebook.

I’m here largely just to say a bit about the Terry I knew; I don’t claim to have been a close friend; I simply worked with Terry sporadically for the couple of years I was at Avon Books in the mid-Eighties, saw him socially on occasion, and in later decades, after we’d both moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d see him at the “SF in SF” events Terry coordinated for years, wherein excellent, often up-and-coming, writers would be interviewed superbly by Terry and talk about their work.

I first met Terry in early 1986, when we were both doing a variety of freelance editorial and writing work for Avon Books; mostly, but not entirely, for John Douglas, a senior editor at Avon.

Terry was a good friend of John’s, but also had been and continued to be a freelance expert copywriter for a variety of mass-market and trade genre houses/lines, well-known after a time as one of the very best in the business.

Terry could write immaculate cover copy for any category of book, any flavor, any writer.

When I did that work, I’d have to stare at a manuscript, flipping through it, trying to find hooks and approaches and good quotations, but Terry would just sit down and turn out nearly instant copy, whether by pen or typewriter — yes, that’s how long ago this was — and the copy would never have to be revised. It sparkled and hooked readers.

Terry worked mostly closely with our tiny science fiction department because Terry wrote brilliant science fiction and fantasy short stories and novels himself, which is likely how you know him.

All of Terry’s books are worth picking up, and worth picking up before they eventually become collector’s items, I suggest, as none, be it hardcover or soft, were published in huge numbers.

Only Terry’s fine short stories sporadically hit the reprint slot machine and one or more of those is probably how you know him.

I had the privilege of working on the paperback of one of his best novels, Talking Man, which I gave out numerous copies of after we published it, trying to stir up as much attention to it as I could, far more than I did with almost any other Avon book I worked on; it was one of the works we did that I was most proud to have helped out on, though all I did was my usual junior scutwork — arranging front and back matter, checking each stage of production, circulating the work on to the next department and the next, assigning a completely superfluous copyeditor, and engaging in a long variety of the other trivial details that go into the production of a paperback, as usual with all of our department’s books (as well as working on various other assignments of my own).

Terry wrote at least four other Hugo-nominated short stories, a couple of Nebula-nominated and one winning story, and picked up a number of other award nominations and wins. None of his novels, alas, got that sort of attention.

One thing Terry concealed from all but his closest friends for many years were his politics. It was only after months of working with Terry that he slowly confided in me that he was, oh noes, a communist.

As more months passed, Terry slowly let me know — after repeatedly swearing me to utmost secrecy, for reasons that became obvious — more details about his past, which included close support of comrades in the Weather Underground. Terry eventually went to jail for several months as a result of his beliefs and activities. Many writers talk the talk, but Terry walked the walk, all of his adult life, with his politics; later he went on to edit many chapbooks for the left-wing P.M. Press, as well as write biographies of Mumia Abu-Jamal (“On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal”) and Nat Turner for another left press.

Terry put great thought into his politics and his activities, in which he supported innumerable hardcore leftist causes that frequently few other people would touch. Terry was a fucking revolutionary. But only a strong researcher will ever adequately begin to document that side of his life. An entire essay about Terry’s political history and activities remains worth writing by someone.

That was also Terry’s other publishing life: working unpaid for various tiny leftist publishers, making their output look beautiful.

For many years Terry lived with fear that word about his politics would slip out — and we’re not talking about soft liberalism — and he’d be blacklisted. So far as I knew, that never happened in the 20th century. After Terry’s move to the Bay Area and cessation of freelance work in NYC, he became more and more open about his politics, as they became less and likely to bring him legal trouble.

Terry’s politics struck me as a combination of 1930s Old Labor Communism and hardcover revolutionary 1960s militant communism, all carefully hidden discreetly in the 1980s under a calm and unflappable exterior.

Terry’s sf and fantasy I’ll leave to the far more competent analysis of others, but all except his work-for-hire work, which he largely hated doing, are worth reading: the two handfuls of novels, and several dozen short stories. As well as other oddities, such as his Locus “future history” paragraphs-at-a-time.

One thing that happened, alas, is that Terry very sensibly one day realized that he could make more money at any grunt job than he could writing and selling wild tales about filming movies on Mars, or folk wizards in Kentucky, where Terry’s roots were. Terry very much remained a rural Kentuckian throughout his life, as was easily hearable in his language, both in person and in some of his writing. Talking Man is only one of the most obvious examples.

All of Terry’s books are brilliant, and yet there are Wikipedia articles for only one or two, including that Kentucky-wizard book, Talking Man, and including one of Terry’s only fictional works where some of his politics slipped out, into an account of what might have happened if John Brown’s Raid had succeeded.

In genre fiction, Terry’s words graced the covers and interiors of more books than we’ll ever know, absent some fanatic biographer addressing Terry’s history as it should be. He became one of the most sought-out copywriters in genre fiction, freelancing for various publishers.

Terry was also one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met, muttering asides frequently, sometimes barely more than under his breath.

Science fiction/fantasy lost one of its great writers today and the worst part is that hardly anyone will know it for a long time. He will be, and already is, much missed.

It’s a shame that both David Hartwell and John R. Douglas are dead, as they’re the only two people I knew whom I think could really begin to do Terry Bisson’s publishing career, at least, justice in death.

But if you hunt long enough, you may find the three in a bar somewhere, telling each other scandalous and obscene stories. I suggest you keep looking.

[Reprinted by permission.]

David J. Skal (1952-2024)

[Film scholar and longtime member of The Classic Horror Film Board died in an auto accident on January 1. David Colton wrote a tribute on Facebook which he has kindly given permission to republish here.]

David J. Skal

By David Colton: A gentle writer and brilliant as a moonbeam horror historian, David J. Skal, was killed in a head-on car crash on the first day of 2024 in Los Angeles. Details are only now emerging, but he was a young 71, and his out-of-nowhere loss has shaken both the horror community and the larger entertainment world as well.

David Skal was one of a handful of trailblazing horror historians who took genre scholarship to a new level in the 1980s, showing how classic characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein, writers such as Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, and filmmakers such as Tod Browning and James Whale fit into or challenged the larger creative universes of literature and cinema.

In books such as Hollywood Gothic, Dark Carnival (with Elias Savada), The Monster Show, and Screams of Reason he demonstrated how the terrible wounds of victims returning from World War I helped animate the birth of the horror film, and how the super science of World War II did the same for atomic terrors of the 1950s.

As enthusiasm for monsters and their origins grew, he became a trusted scholar on the classic horrors of Universal Pictures from the 1930s and 40s. He especially helped pioneer the inclusion of bonus material when the films were released on DVD with not only multiple commentaries, but documentaries and features.

Included in those releases were precious artifacts such as the Spanish version of the 1931 Dracula, and Edward Van Sloan’s fragmentary and thought-to-be-lost “there are such things” end speech from Dracula.

David sometimes sparred with other horror historians on issues large — Browning’s skills as a director (He found Dracula slow going), or fun (was a piece of cardboard throwing shadows near Mina’s bed in Dracula planned or a mistake?) — but could always be counted upon to engage in elegant and readable writings.

His masterful and sadly, final work, Something in the Blood, was a deeply-researched examination of the still-elusive Bram Stoker, his relationship with Oscar Wilde, and his path from obscure filing clerk to creator of one of literature’s most enduring characters.

David was also a quiet and proud flag-bearer for the LGBTQ community, an early member of the Classic Horror Film Board, a multiple Rondo Award winner and Stoker award nominee, and a lecturer worldwide at film festivals, symposiums and conventions.

A friend who was always helpful with questions large or trivial, the fact that David is gone at only 71 is a shockwave for everyone who knew him and appreciated his understanding of the uncertain alchemy when words and film so often meet.

Farewell to a true film historian who, far too early, has left his own mark on horror history.

“Bram Stoker, working in a largely intuitive manner, and no doubt propelled by more than a few personal demons, managed to tap a well of archetypal motifs so deep and persistent that they can assume the shape of almost any critical container.” — David J. Skal, Hollywood Gothic


Piotr Rak and the Katowice sports arena

By Rich Lynch: I learned about his death from a short two-line obit in the December issue of Ansible:

Piotr ‘Raku’ Rak (1962-2023), noted Polish fanzine editor, con-goer and club/award organizer who won special Eurocon awards in 1991 and 1993, died on 2 November aged 61.

To me, the fandom I know is maybe a bit like an ornate tapestry – filled with colorful memories about events I’ve participated in and people I’d met and come to know over the years.  And every time one of those people passes it creates a tear in that fabric.  That’s definitely the case with Piotr.

He was not the first Polish fan I ever met – that distinction goes to Andrzej Kowalski, who at that time was his supervisor.  Most of my professional career had been as an International Activities Advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy and way back in 1992, Andrzej had been part of a visiting Polish delegation of energy experts that I had chaperoned to meetings at several technology demonstration sites in the United States.  We were out in the middle of Kentucky, almost a week into the trip, before I discovered he was an avid science fiction reader and fan.  And it had probably been a similar revelation for Andrzej to discover that I was, too.

I met Piotr the following year on my first of many trips to Poland.  Andrzej had assigned Piotr as my liaison when I visited their energy institute in Katowice.  He had evidently informed Piotr of my interests in science fiction and that I was a fan because it was what our first extended conversation was mostly about.  Things were in transition, during that first ten years following the fall of communism, and I was fortunate that there had been sufficient interest from the U.S. Government, in terms of getting greater knowledge of Poland’s energy sector, that I was able to find funding to go there about once or twice a year through the end of the 1990s and very beginning of the 2000s.  Whenever I traveled to Poland, Katowice and its energy institute was always part of my itinerary.  And my point of contact there was always Piotr.

We became friends very quickly.  Science fiction and its fandom was a common denominator, of course, but it went beyond that.  He took time away from his family to make sure everything was okay during my stays in Katowice and that included setting up a dinner with him and others in his local fandom whenever I was in town.  They were bonding experiences, fueled by good food and good beer.  It was at one of these dinners I met the prominent Polish fan and translator Piotr Cholewa, and we all found we had yet more of common interest – 1970s and 1980s rock music.  I told them in more detail than was probably necessary about a fabulous Springsteen concert I’d attended in Tennessee and got back a similar amount about a Jethro Tull concert at Katowice’s big flying saucer-shaped sports arena.  It went on from there – it was a  musical geekfest.

The time Piotr went the most out of his way to help me was on the first day of my May 2000 trip.  Just as the train to Katowice was about to depart the Warsaw Central Station, two guys jostled me while I was struggling to get settled in the railcar compartment and got away with my wallet.  All my credit cards were in that wallet, including my ATM card.  It could have been a financial disaster.  But Piotr met me at the Katowice train station and he immediately provided unlimited use of his mobile phone to call back to the United States to cancel the stolen credit cards, arrange for replacements, and get some cash wired to me.  He also vouched for me at the hotel so I could check in without a credit card.  And he even treated me to dinner at one of Katowice’s many pleasant sidewalk restaurants.  He absolutely saved my trip.

I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time I’d ever see him.  He wasn’t at my meeting the next day with the institute’s upper management and when that concluded I was whisked away to the Katowice station for a train ride back to Warsaw.  We kept in touch by email and I’d planned to go back there the next year, in the autumn, but then 9-11 happened and all international travel was put on hiatus.  By the time that had lifted my funding had dried up and I had been reassigned to another group where my travels took me to other places in the world.  I did eventually make it back to Poland, but not anywhere near Katowice.

And now he’s gone.  What I have left to remember him by are a few photos I’d taken of him all those years ago.  But up in my headspace he’s still alive and probably always will be.  Oh, and there’s one more thing.  Even though he wasn’t at that next day’s meeting he’d made sure I was given a replacement for the wallet that had been stolen – a much nicer one than what I’d had.  I still have it.  And I make use of it whenever I’m on the road.  Like me, it’s starting to show its age but I’m not going to discard it.  It’s a reminder of all the good times.

Piotr Cholewa, Piotr Rak, and Andrzej Kowalski

David Drake (1945-2023)

David Drake in 1994. Photo by and (c) Andrew Porter.

[Thanks to Baen Books for this tribute.]

David Drake, the science fiction and fantasy writer often referred to as “the Dean of Military Science Fiction,” died December 10, 2023, in his home close to Pittsboro, North Carolina. He was 78.

The author or coauthor of over 80 books, he is best known for helping to establish the military science fiction subgenre. Drake’s writing after his Vietnam war experiences is credited with bringing a “grunt’s eye view” to the writing of military science fiction, centering the experience of the soldiers on the ground. His works made an indelible mark on the fields of science fiction and fantasy, and influenced the lives of many veterans and first responders for the better.

Born September 24, 1945, in Dubuque, Iowa, Drake graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Iowa, majoring in history (with honors) and Latin—a subject which would prove a lifelong passion and inspiration for many of his works.

While studying law at Duke University, Drake was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as an enlisted interrogator with the 11th Armored Cavalry, the Blackhorse Regiment, in Vietnam and Cambodia. The experience was a defining one for Drake. He described his work—especially his early stories and novels—as a form of therapy, helping him deal with what he had seen during the war. Upon returning stateside and graduating law school, Drake served as assistant town attorney in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for eight years before turning to writing full time.

David Drake at the 1987 Boskone. Photo by and (c) Andrew Porter.

His first book was the influential Hammer’s Slammers (1979), the first in a series of ten books, drawn largely from his own military experience. In addition to launching Drake’s literary career, the book also marked the beginning of Drake’s association with Jim Baen, which would continue until Baen’s death in 2006. Three of the stories in Hammer’s Slammers were bought by Baen as editor of Galaxy Magazine, and when Baen took over as science fiction editor at Ace Books, he contacted Drake’s agent, asking for additional stories to complete a collection. Drake would follow Baen to Tor and would become one of the first authors to sign with Baen Books when Jim Baen started the company in 1983. Drake’s relationship with Baen Books continued after the death of Jim Baen, with many more works including Drake’s final published novels, the Time of Heroes series.

In addition to the Hammer’s Slammers series, Drake’s work included the RCN series, which were influenced by Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin novels, the Belisarius series, the General series, and the Lord of the Isles series of fantasy novels, as well as the Old Nathan Appalachian stories and many standalone novels, including Starliner and Redliners, both cited by current Baen Books publisher and editor-in-chief, Toni Weisskopf, as personal favorites and exemplars of the best the science fiction genre has to offer. An anniversary edition of Redliners contains samples of the many positive reader responses to that work.

Drake was a collector of pulp magazines and an advocate for the stories that appeared in them. With his friend and fellow author Karl Edward Wagner, Drake founded Carcosa, a short-lived but legendary small press in the mold of Arkham House. With Jim Baen, he curated the Robert E. Howard Library for Baen Books and served as editor of almost a dozen collections of short fiction.

Drake often downplayed his contributions to the field but was honored by author/editor Mark L.Van Name and Baen Books with a tribute volume Onward, Drake! featuring appreciations and new stories influenced by his work. It was released in 2015, the same year Drake was named a special guest at the World Fantasy Convention.

Reflecting on his career in a newsletter to his readers earlier this year, Drake wrote, “I wouldn’t have become a writer if I weren’t a Nam vet. I’ve been asked if you can write military sf if you’ve never served. Of course you can, but I don’t know why you’d want to.”

After a series of health problems, Drake announced his retirement from novel writing in 2021.

He is survived by his wife Joanne (Kammiller) Drake; his son, Jonathan Drake, daughter-in-law April, and his grandson, Tristan Drake, all of Burlington, NC; and one sister, Diana Drake, and her partner David Handler of Old Lyme, CT.