By Arnie Fenner: Publisher, entrepreneur, and showman Robert “Bob” Self died as the result of an accident at Mono Lake in California August 3, 2022.
Bob had a background in the entertainment industry and worked behind-the-scenes with a number of magicians, comedians, and illusionists. In 2003 he and his wife Rani—a professional costume designer for various TV series including The Orville—formed Baby Tattoo, Inc., a company that published high-quality books devoted to contemporary artists and also organized intimate live events that connected artists and entertainers with fans and patrons including Baby Tattooville (the first artist-focused convention) and Beyond Brookledge of which the LA Weekly said, “The best way to describe Beyond Brookledge is that it’s as if somebody fit the L.A. Opera and Burning Man into the Magic Castle and then had a three-day slumber party.”
Bob curated a number of exhibitions at the Riverside Art Museum and the Oceanside Museum of Art, including shows devoted to the work of Oliva De Berardinis and Jordu Schell and a major retrospective of Michael Whelan, “Beyond Science Fiction”, and produced books chronicling both. Bob was a founder of the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! convention and helped make the Spectrum Awards ceremonies lively, unique, and memorable; he and Orbit Books Creative Director Lauren Panepinto co-hosted the gala for Spectrum 26 in Kansas City and Bob had arranged for the ceremony for #27 at the original Magic Castle in Los Angeles.
Bob Self was quite literally bigger than life, a huge personality, both inimitable and ultimately unforgettable; he delighted in all manner of art and artists and he was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the entire creative community. He is survived by his wife Rani and children Margaret and William, and a legion of friends and admirers.
Actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Star Trek’s iconic Lt. Uhura in the original series and in movies, died of natural causes on July 30 at the age of 89.
She began her career as a singer and stage actor in the 1961 musical Kicks & Co. She also appeared in the role of Carmen for a Chicago stock company production of Carmen Jones and performed in a New York production of Porgy and Bess. On the West Coast, she appeared in The Roar of the Greasepaint and For My People and the James Baldwin play Blues for Mister Charlie. She toured as a singer with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands. Her first film role was as an uncredited dancer in Otto Preminger’s Porgy and Bess (1959.)
Nichols initially crossed paths with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry when she was cast in a 1964 episode of his earlier TV series The Lieutenant, her first television role. The two had a fleeting romance that turned into a longtime friendship. She was brought in to audition for Star Trek (after the second pilot) – originally reading for Spock, as the Uhura character she would ultimately play had not yet been written.
However, by the end of the first season of filming the original Star Trek series, having been worn down by repeated slights and indignities and having been offered a role in a musical that would be Broadway bound, Nichols gave Gene Roddenberry her resignation. Roddenberry asked her to reconsider over the weekend, during which she met “her biggest fan,” Martin Luther King, at an NAACP fundraiser, who told her in no uncertain terms that she could not quit the show.
“Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am that fan. I am your best fan, your greatest fan, and my family are your greatest fans…. We admire you greatly ….And the manner in which you’ve created this role has dignity….”
I said “Dr. King, thank you so much. I really am going to miss my co-stars.” He said, dead serious, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m leaving Star Trek,” He said, “You cannot. You cannot!”
I was taken aback. He said, “Don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time on television we will be seen as we should be seen every day – as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance, but who can also go into space, who can be lawyers, who can be teachers, who can be professors, and yet you don’t see it on television – until now….”
I could say nothing, I just stood there realizing every word that he was saying was the truth. He said, “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because, you see, your role is not a Black role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”
At that moment, the world tilted for me. I knew then that I was something else and that the world was not the same. That’s all I could think of, everything that Dr. King had said: The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen.
What is popularly believed to be TV’s first interracial kiss—between Nichols and William Shatner—also occurred on Star Trek, although earlier examples exist.
She reprised her character in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (promoted to Lt. Cmdr.), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (now a full Commander), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Nichols also voiced Lt. Uhura on Star Trek: The Animated Series. Her other voice work included the animated series Gargoyles and Spider-Man. She also voiced herself on Futurama.
Other film SF roles included Ruana in Tarzan’s Deadly Silence with Ron Ely as Tarzan, High Priestess of Pangea in The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space, Oman in Surge of Power: The Stuff of Heroes and Mystic Woman in American Nightmares. Nichols played a recurring role on the second season of the NBC TV drama Heroes.
Nichols became the first African American to have her handprints immortalized at the TCL Chinese Theatre. The ceremony also included other members of the original Star Trek cast.
In 1976, along with the other cast members from the original Star Trek series, she attended the christening of the first space shuttle, Enterprise, at the North American Rockwell assembly facility in Palmdale, California.
In response to her criticism of NASA’s lackluster efforts to include women and minorities in the Astronaut Corps, NASA contracted Nichols to undertake major recruitment blitz. The recruitment drive she led in 1977 drew applications from more than 2,600 women and minority astronaut hopefuls. Among those hired from the diverse applicants were two trailblazers: the first American woman astronaut to travel into space, Sally Ride, and the first African-American astronaut to do so, Guion “Guy” Bluford.
In 1994, Nichols published her autobiography Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. She also authored two sf novels, Saturn’s Child and Saturna’s Quest.
She was one of the women to whom Robert A. Heinlein dedicated his 1982 novel Friday. Paintings once owned by Robert and Virginia Heinlein and displayed in their home included a portrait of Nichols as Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, by Kelly Freas.
Nichols married twice, first to dancer Foster Johnson — they were married in 1951 and divorced that same year. Johnson and Nichols had one child together, Kyle Johnson. She married Duke Mondy in 1968. They divorced in 1972. A brother, Thomas Nichols, died in the 1997 mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult at Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego.
In early 2018, Nichols was diagnosed with dementia, and subsequently announced her retirement from convention appearances, although that did not take effect until later. She participated in the San Diego Comic-Con in July 2018 where she received an Inkpot Award.
She was the subject of a contested conservatorship proceeding between her manager, a friend, and her son. The conservatorship was finally granted to her son Kyle Johnson. Today he wrote on Uhura.com – Official Site of Nichelle Nichols:
Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. Her light, however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration.
Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.
I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.
Prolific and distinguished author and editor Eric Flint died July 17 at the age of 75. David Weber made the announcement on Facebook.
Flint was frequently hospitalized for health problems in recent years. In 2019, he had to leave the NASFiC/Westercon/1632 Minicon where he was one of the guests of honor to be treated for pneumonia (though he did one of his panels by Skype from a hospital bed.) Before that he had cancer surgery in 2016. In 2017 had to forgo his GoHship at Balticon 51 due to a previous case of pneumonia. This May, he told Facebook friends he was in hospital for a staph infection.
Flint’s incredible career in sff was all the more remarkable for having essentially started after he reached age 50.
Flint spent many years as a longshoreman, and then machinist, as well as serving as a labor organizer and member of the Socialist Workers Party, before beginning his writing career.
With his short story “Entropy, and the Strangler” he won the fourth quarter of the 1993 L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. However, it was another four years before his first novel, Mother of Demons, was published by Baen Books. He only moved into writing full-time in 1999.
Since then he has published over 70 novels, many in collaboration with other authors including David Freer, David Drake, David Weber, Ryk E. Spoor, Mercedes Lackey, and more.
Beginning in 1999, he became the first librarian of the Baen Free Library, working with Jim Baen to determine whether the availability of books free of charge on the Internet encouraged or discouraged the sale of their paper books. In a 2001 article in The Industry Standard — primarily composed of quotes from Harlan Ellison railing against e-piracy — Flint took a very different tack: “’The real enemy of authors – especially midlist writers – is not piracy,’ says Baen’s online librarian Eric Flint. ‘It’s obscurity.’ Two-thirds of the e-mail Flint has received since the Baen Free Library began posting books is from readers who purchased books they initially downloaded from the site.”
Flint also helmed Jim Baen’s Universe, an e-zine published from 2006 until 2010.
for his ongoing encouragement of the genre of alternate history through his support of the community and writers developed around his 1632 series. In 2000, Eric Flint published the novel 1632. Following the publication of the novel, Flint has encouraged an extensive on-line community to expand on his vision and explore the ramifications of alternate history through discussion and publication of fiction and non-fiction that builds off his original work, resulting in dozens of stories and novels and helping to launch the careers of many authors.
And he was a five-time Dragon Award nominee for novels he co-authored in the 1632 series, winning last year for 1637: No Peace Beyond the Line written with Charles Gannon.
Flint donated his archive to the department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University in 2008.
Some of Flint’s convention guest of honor appearances not already mentioned were at the 2010 NASFiC, ReConStruction, and as guest of the 1632 Minicon held in conjunction with the 2020 NASFiC in Columbus, OH.
He is survived by his wife Lucille, their daughter Liz, son-in-law Donald and his grandchildren.
Acclaimed fanzine fan Robert Lichtman died July 6 at the age of 79. He was an 18-time FAAn Award winner — six for his fanzine Trap Door, 10 for his letters of comment, and twice scored “Number one fan face”. Trap Door also was a two-time Hugo finalist. (Issues 21-34 can be downloaded from eFanzines.com.)
Lichtman was born in Cleveland in 1942. His family moved to Southern California in 1951, and he lived there until 1965, except for a six-month period in 1961 spent living in (mostly) Ray Nelson’s attic in the Bay Area.
He discovered fandom in 1958 when he encountered Robert Bloch’s fanzine review column in an issue of William Hamling’s Imagination. That same year he produced his first genzine, PSI-PHI, coedited with Arv Underman.
After discovering fandom, he joined LASFS. He even became one of the international members of the short-lived Young Science Fiction Readers Group (YSFRG) formed in 1960 for the British Science Fiction Association’s under-25 members.
Upon graduation from university, he returned to the Bay Area, settling in San Francisco just in time for the beginnings of what he called “the Hippie Era.”
Now and then I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t discovered fandom at 15. My parents wanted me to become a banker, a concept that made me want to throw up. (I came sorta close 1965-68, when I worked for credit rating agency Dun and Bradstreet as a “credit analyst.”) I didn’t meet my previous wife, the mother of my four sons, via fandom (through Stephen Gaskin’s Monday Night Class, instead, when I was being a semi-hippie living near but not in Haight-Ashbury) — but having them in my life, and so supportive, I count as a happy blessing. Before her, there was Margo Newkom, whose name might be familiar to some of you. She was a “Berkeley fringefan,” and also very funny and smart (and beautiful). We never married, but we had some good years together.
In 2000 he married his second wife Carol Carr; she died in 2021.
In the Seventies Lichtman and his girlfriend (soon to be his wife, and six months pregnant) followed friends to live on The Farm, a 1,700-acre commune in Tennessee. Although he was largely inactive in fandom throughout that decade its myths returned to mind now and then. Lichtman wrote, “Sometimes we would get together and laugh about how we’d more or less ended up in ‘the love camp in the Ozarks’ of which the notorious Claude Degler wrote over half a century ago — though we were on the Highland Rim, not in the Ozarks. Close enough, we thought.”
He stayed there until the summer of 1980 when — after the end of his marriage — he moved to Glen Ellen, California and began working with Paul Williams (the one who began Crawdaddy) on his Entwhistle Books publishing venture. Lichtman had experience doing sales and promotion for the Farm’s publishing wing, The Book Publishing Company. Through Williams he started seeing issues of Dan Steffan and Ted White’s fannish fanzine Pong. Lichtman wrote a letter of comment to it, and soon found himself back in fandom.
In 1983 he started publishing Trap Door. Beginning in 1986 he took up the office of Secretary-Treasurer of FAPA, fandom’s oldest amateur press association (founded in 1937). By the end of the decade he was once again such an integral member of fandom that he was voted the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate of 1989 and attended the UK Eastercon. (Some of his extensive notes towards a trip report are here.)
Prior to the advent of the internet he regularly edited collections of hard-to-come by fanwriting and made them available . These included a collection of F. T. Laney’s fan writing titled Ah! Sweet Laney!, a fanthology drawing from Lee Hoffman’s fanzine Quandry titled Some of the Best from Quandry, and a collection of Walt Willis’s “Fanorama” columns (from Nebula, the British SF magazine) titled Fanorama.
He also edited Fanthology 92, Fanthology ’93 and Fanthology 1994, which were published by others.
When the internet finally caught up to him, he produced a PDF edition of Jack Speer’s Up To Now, a history of fandom as of 1939, (available on eFanzines.com).
Lichtman was a pillar of Corflu, the annual fanzine fans convention, where he was often honored. In addition to all the FAAn Awards he won there, in 1992 he was named Past President of Fan Writers of America (fwa), and he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Corflu in 2020.
Samanda B Jeude, who helped create the early convention disability access services organization that became Electrical Eggs, died July 3 at the age of 69.
Jeude was predeceased by Donald (Dea) Cook, her husband of more than 30 years, in 2018.
Jeude’s account of her life and fanac was featured by Camille Bacon-Smith in Science Fiction Culture, an account that might be too grim for anyone else’s obituary, but it was part of Samanda’s oft-repeated public testimony about her time and work in fandom.
As an infant, Samanda Jeude suffered a severe case of polio that led to years of surgery and “working through the pain” to achieve her goal of independence. Jeude says:
“When I was seven … I overheard my parents talking with the doctor . . . this was in 1959 …and the doctor said, well, let’s be realistic. No man is going to want to marry her, her body is twisted, it’s distorted, it’s ugly. She will never reach thirty, she will probably be on a body board by the time she would be in high school.”
Things began looking up in college. She was reading science fiction-by the bale, she says-and fandom found her.
“[S]omebody said, why don’t you come to a con with us. OK, fine, I’ll go to a con with you. What’s to lose? This was back in the good old days when you could get in for five bucks…. I think there were fifteen of us in the room. We walked into what was Rivercon I .”
…Jeude continued to attend conventions and found, to her surprise, that people remembered her, and liked her for who she was rather than feared her disabilities. And through fandom she proved that long-ago doctor wrong on all counts: Jeude married Donald Cook and moved to Atlanta, where the couple worked on the four-year process of bidding for and holding the Atlanta Worldcon of 1986.
But her physical condition had begun to deteriorate. In 1984, at a symposium of doctors treating polio survivors, she discovered that her condition was not unique, and even had a name: post-polio syndrome. Still, Jeude refused to let her disability stop her:
“I got thrown into a [motorized) three-wheeler. And three weeks later we went to Rivercon… and everybody who saw me said, ‘Oh, we are glad to see you, you look great.’ A couple of total strangers came up to me and said, ‘Gee, you are as gorgeous as everybody told me.’ Total bullshit. And it suddenly began to sink in on me that this was a good thing. I wouldn’t be able to walk at conventions anymore, but l could go to them again…
“And about that time l met Esther Breslau. And Esther is also a polio survivor, but at this point she doesn’t have the syndrome. And we both were really ticked off that Baltimore [Constellation, the 1983 Worldcon] was trying their best and it was impossible to get around. So we started thinking about it [services for the handicapped at conventions] in ’84…. In ’85 …we did up some guidelines and Esther tried out the guidelines at Chilicon, which was the NASFIC. [LoneStarCon ]… We tested it at Confederation [Worldcon 1986]… and they gave us money to start up Electrical Eggs. And the name came because I was trying to tell somebody about my new electric legs, and I had the hiccups. Don said, ‘Great.’ Eggs are one of the strongest structures in nature, and yet it is very fragile. Perfect name for the organization.”
Jeude’s article “They Only Handicap The Best Horses” for the 1986 Worldcon program book (page 79) sought to make disabled fans visible and gave extensive recommendations for interacting with them at the con. Ahead of the convention they distributed a “Handicapped Access Form” in a progress report, canvassing members about any support they might need. (Bear in mind this is pioneering work using terminology of 40 years ago.)
The charter for Electrical Eggs so named was drawn up in 1986. The original user’s handbook written in 1985 was revised and improved in 1989. An Electrical Eggs UK group was established in 1995 and launched at Intersection, the Worldcon in Glasgow. Special art and logos were designed for Electrical Eggs by Jack Meacham and Frank Kelly Freas.
Camille Bacon-Smith ends her passage about Electrical Eggs with this valedictory:
As Jeude explained:
“A long time ago, when I was writing, I told Gordy Dickson I wanted to pay him back for all the enjoyment I’d had from his books, and Gordy’s response was, ‘Never pay back in fandom, pay forward. Don’t thank me, thank the people who are going to come into your life you’re going to like …’ So I figured, Egg was my way of paying forward.”
In the process of paying forward, a woman whose Life doctors wrote off when she was seven has achieved status and prestige in her science fiction community. In doing so, she has made life better for that community.
Samanda Jeude at DeepSouthCon 50
Apart from the disgraceful way some sought to belittle Jeude during her unsuccessful TAFF candidacy in 1995, she was revered by most other fans. She was guest of honor at Rivercon XVIII (1988), Chattacon XVII (1992), and Balticon 31 (1997). She won Southern fandom’s Rebel Award in 1991 and was presented the Georgia Fandom Award at Dragon Con in 1994. She received the Big Heart Award, our highest service award, at the 1992 Worldcon.
[[Greg Jein, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed creators of miniatures used in filming, died May 22 at the age of 76. Jein was twice nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 1941. He also was an Emmy nominee for his visual effects work on Angels in America. He worked on a multitude of genre films and tv shows, and for the Star Trek franchise he built a Klingon starship, a Ferengi spaceship, plus studio models, props, and landscape miniatures. He generously participated in local LA Worldcons, Westercons, and Loscons. Craig Miller knew him for many years and has given permission to reprint this tribute from Facebook.]]
By Craig Miller: Back in the early 1970s, almost certainly in the home of John and Bjo Trimble, I met a guy, Gregory Jein, with a big interest in movies and special effects miniatures. He was friendly and funny and somehow simultaneously grumpy. And, as I and everyone else discovered, he was really, really, really good at building miniatures.
Greg and I became friends. And stayed friends. Yesterday afternoon, I heard that Greg had passed away. Greg had been sick with a variety of ailments for the several ears but I hadn’t realized he was that close to the edge. Though, we hadn’t seen each other since the start of the pandemic. I’d called him a couple times earlier this year but we never connected. Now I’m really sorry I didn’t try harder.
Miniatures aren’t as big a part of movie making as they used to be. CGI has taken over a lot of what used to be done with miniatures, not always for the better. But especially during the science fiction boom of the 1960s (with Star Trek) through the 2000s, they were everything.
Greg and I used to get together for lunch all the time. I’d come over to where he (and, on some pictures, his crew) were building the Mothership for Close Encounters or spaceships for Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan or a scale model of Hollywood for 1941 and Greg would show me what they were working on before we headed out to eat.
And he’d tell irreverent stories. How, on 1941, they’d built a full Hollywood street in something like 1/8th scale (so still huge) and how Steven Spielberg, the film’s director, suddenly wanted to be able to see “movement” in some of the windows. To make it seem more real. But he wanted it for that afternoon. Greg told him he didn’t think it would be possible but Steven asked him to try. They were using the then-new and then-really-expensive-to-rent Louma Crane to shoot and didn’t want to keep it longer than necessary. So Greg got a dozen or so of those toys where you pull down on a central string and the arms and legs wiggle up and down and hung them in some of the windows. Steven came back from lunch and laughed. He got more time.
Another 1941 story. The film went way over time and way over budget. The script kept getting rewritten. Greg showed me the latest version one day when we were having lunch. It said “Revised 12th Draft”. Greg, ever irreverent, printed up a bunch of tee-shirts for his crew and friends. He gave me one.
Greg was responsible for a number of “jokes” (or, these days, Easter Eggs) in films. Most famously, you can clearly see the silhouette of R2-D2 hanging upside down from the Mothership when it crests Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Other things not visible among the nurneys on Mothership are a VW bus, the shark from Jaws, and a cemetery.
Greg was a terrific guy, quite beloved in Hollywood both for his enormous skills and because he was just a great person to spend time with. Or get Christmas Cards from. I’m going to miss him.
By Mike Glyer: Longtime Ohio fan Frank Olynyk died February 24 at the age of 79. Frank, who attended Worldcons for over 50 years, was an inveterate con photographer who contributed scores of pictures to Fanac.org. He also subscribed to File 770 for decades, generously allowed me to publish some of his photos, and sent items for the daily Scroll.
Frank Olynyk was born in Toronto of Canadian parents, but raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He stayed in the city to get his college education at Case Institute of Technology (renamed after a merger Case Western Reserve University). He took a Masters in Computer Engineering, writing a thesis entitled “The Intertranslation of Algol and Fortran”, and received his PhD in Computer Science at Case Western Reserve University in 1969.
How early did Frank find fandom? Early enough to have his birthdate listed in the 1976 edition of Bruce Pelz’ Fan Birthday Calendar. Early enough to be listed as a member in the 1969 St. LouisCon Worldcon Program Book — the earliest one of many in which his name appears (or probably could appear since before then Program Books were rare and usually did not run membership lists.)
The family obituary says after completing his education he obtained his U.S. citizenship, then went to work at Chi Corporation, which Case Western had created to handle their computer needs. There he was a computer systems programmer, technical developer, and senior manager for almost 30 years. One of his first responsibilities was creating the Fortran compiler, which translated software code into usable machine code. As one person remembers, Frank was “Truly an inventive genius, he was a very bright individual and major contributor to Chi’s success.”
As a fan, Frank attended many conventions that he documented as a photographer. Notably, along the way, he also spent two years collecting the signatures of all 31 women dedicatees of Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday and presented the signed copy of the book to Heinlein for his birthday in 1986.
Active as he was in fandom, that interest was dwarfed by his work researching original military records and publishing books on the topic of fighter pilots of the world, their aircraft and squadrons. His goal was to establish all who were “Aces”, pilots credited with destroying five or more enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat.
American Fighter Aces Association officers state that “Frank Olynyk was the world’s most knowledgeable historian regarding the fighter aces of the world; his volumes of U.S., and some British, aerial victory credits far exceed anything produced by officialdom; he will be irreplaceable.”
Frank Olynyk’s 700-page book Stars and Bars: A Tribute to the American Fighter Ace, 1920-1973 was published in 1995, a concise list of the 1,301 U.S. Aces credited with five victories, along with photos and bios. It soon sold out, and was never reprinted, although Frank kept constantly researching and updating his databases.
After Stars and Bars, Frank began a years-long collaboration with prolific air-wars author Chris Shores of Great Britain. An ambitious series of six volumes entitled A History of the Mediterranean Air War, 1940-1945 was published starting in 2008, involving several co-authors, and the final volume will be published in 2023.
Additionally, Frank took it upon himself to organize an Aces page linked to Find-a-Grave.
Olynyk was of Ukranian descent. Mindful of the date he died – February 24 — the family obituary comments that “it is ironic that this was the evening of the apocalyptic invasion of the Ukraine by Russian forces.”
[Thanks to Rick Kovalcik for the story.]
Update 06/15/2022: Added photos of Frank Olynyk taken by Andrew Porter at DisCon III in December 2021.
“To have power over a thing, name it. To name a thing, know it. To know a thing: become it.” — “Camouflage”, Patricia McKillip
By Paul Weimer: If the world of fantasy is a series of baronies, duchies, emirates, city states, and kingdoms, and every fantasy author has a place of their own in fantasy, there is a special realm. A realm of subtle magic, and of beautiful music. Where the people are a full part of the land, a rich place where its creatrix has imbued the place with immersive detail. Where bards sing and myth and legend wind into the fabric of the land, the soul of the people who inhabit it. A land of poetry and power, always wondrous to cross the border and visit.
Patricia McKillip in 2011. Photo by Stepheng3.
This is the realm of Patricia McKillip.
In the mid to late 1990’s, I started a serious campaign to really understand a genre I had already been reading for 20 years: science fiction and fantasy. I had been led by chance, choice and suggestion up into that point but in the middle of the 1990’s I decided to be more systematic in my reading of SFF. Not being connected to a wider community of science fiction, I used the tools I had on hand, and leaned on my issues of Locus to tell me what I should be reading–by looking at finalists and winners of various awards. The Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and among others, the Mythopoeic Award.
And, so among the many fine authors and their work I thus started to discover in the late 1990’s in that effort would be Patricia McKillip. It seems to be a truism for me that if I really like an author’s work, no matter how much better their subsequent work is, I bond very strongly with the first work of theirs I read. This is definitely true of McKillip. When I saw in that long ago issue of Locus that she had won the Mythopoeic Award for Song for the Basilisk, I went and dutifully picked it up at Forbidden Planet. (I was blessed, living in NYC, to have a dedicated SFF bookstore I could rely on).
Cover art by Kinuko Y. Craft
The lush cover reminded me a bit of Tom Canty’s work (it is actually by Kinuko Y. Craft). The lush and richly descriptive and immersive prose reminded me some of the more poetic aspects of Tolkien, or the descriptive power of early Zelazny, or Peter S Beagle. I fell for the story of Caladrius/Rook/Griffin hard and well. For all that I love sorcerers and martial heroes, having a bard as a hero was something relatively unusual in my reading. It’s a careful and well-drawn thing, a writer who knows the power of words, the power of music, the power of language and revelation, to use a character who is raised to be all of that to point and counterpoint the very techniques that the author uses to bring the story to life. And it was a revelation to have a hero deal with the villain not by a swordfight, or a magical contest, but with the power of music. And even there, the denouement is not as straightforward or direct as you might think. It’s a high wire balancing act that charmed me into her worlds, firmly and forever.
I then subsequently started reading McKillip’s work, backwards and since, from the Celtic-themed Riddle-Master books all the way to the last work of hers I read, “Camouflage”, a story in Jonathan Strahan’s The Book of Dragons, introducing us to yet another everyday character, Will Fletcher, who is better at hiding his talents even from himself than even he knows. It is a story of hope and building and working toward a future.
I find that I have not read as much of McKillip’s short fiction as I have with her novels. However, her short stories, especially the aforementioned and most accessible “Camouflage”, I feel ARE a good way for readers who might be reluctant or nervous to immerse themselves into McKillip’s work and just want to try a taste of her down-to-earth characters, her love of language, of poetry, of evocative description, of characterization and beats of the heart that draw you to love and fall in love with her characters. In an age and time where a lot of epic fantasy is frenetic, kinetic, and dark, there is a more stately and beautiful pace that McKillip’s work evokes. It is not all light and sweetness, there can be depth and darkness in her work, but her worlds are fundamentally more optimistic, and brighter, than a large share of fantasy today.
Sadly, now, McKillip and her work have come to an end. Her influence (never her shadow, she illuminated, not overshadowed her peers) runs to fantasy today, even in this age of grimdark fantasy and gritty shades of grey. Authors like Michele Sagara, Julie Czerneda, Daniel Abraham and others carry on her tradition, extending and reinventing and exploring what McKillip first illuminated, extending the boundaries of fantasy in her vein.
I will close with a quote from early in A Song for the Basilisk that just shows the sheer power of her ferocious literary talent:
“Play the song you made for the picochet. See if you can find it on the harp.”
He tried, but the sea kept getting in the way of the song, and so did the hinterlands. He gazed at the floating hills, wondering what he would see if he walked across them, alone through unfamiliar trees, crossing the sun’s path to the top of the world. Who would he meet? In what language would they speak to him? The language the sea spoke intruded then, restless, insistent, trying to tell him something: what song he heard in the seashell, what word the rock sang, late at night under the heavy pull of the full moon. His fingers moved, trying to say what he heard, as the sea flowed like blood in and out of the hollows and caves of the rock, trying to reach its innermost heart, as if it were a string that had never been played. He came close, he felt, reaching for the lowest notes on the harp. But it was his own heart he split, and out of it came fire, engulfing the rock in the sea.
By Rich Lynch: Twenty years ago today I lost a friend. I remember first learning about it from an Internet news group: [Matthew Tepper] “I have just returned from tonight’s LASFS meeting. Larry Niven announced that Bruce Pelz died this afternoon.”
I’m trying to think back to when I first met Bruce. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, as I’d known of him practically since my entry into fandom in the mid-1970s – he was frequently mentioned in many fanzines that I read back then. But I’m sure that our first face-to-face meeting was in 1979, when my job in industry took me from Chattanooga all the way out to Los Angeles for some much-needed training in electrochemistry. I didn’t really know anybody in L.A. fandom back then but I did know the address of the LASFS clubhouse, so on my next-to-last evening in town I dropped in on a meeting. And it was there that I found Bruce mostly surrounded by other fans while they all expounded on fandom as it existed back then and what it might be like a few years down the road. It was like a jazz jam session, but all words and no music. I settled back into the periphery, enjoying all the back-and-forth, and when there eventually came a lull in the conversations I took the opportunity to introduce myself. And then Bruce said something to me that I found very surprising: “Dick Lynch! I’ve heard of you!”
Thus began a friendship that lasted right up to his death in 2002. It took a few years after that first meeting for me to develop a strong interest in fan history, and Bruce was partly responsible for that. My wife Nicki and I decided to publish Mimosa, a fanzine dedicated to fan history, in large part because of Bruce and other fans interested in preservation of our past enthralled us with entertaining and interesting stories about fandom’s past eras. It was inevitable that Bruce and I would work together on fan history projects, but it took more than a decade after our initial meeting before the first of those happened – he used his considerable power of persuasion to convince me to be editor of Harry Warner, Jr.’s anecdotal history of fandom in the 1950s, A Wealth of Fable. It had previously existed as a three-volume fanzine, filled with a myriad of typographical errors that needed to be fixed and more than a few instances of incorrect or outdated information that needed to be re-researched. This was officially a project of a L.A.’s Worldcon corporation, SCIFI, but in actuality it was Bruce who was the project manager. And also my chief researcher. I leaned on him, heavily at times, to take advantage of his deep knowledge of fandom of that era and also his extensive library of fanzines that often contained exactly the information we were looking for. How he knew where to find it I’ll never know, but he always did.
After that came a much less successful undertaking, the now-moribund 1960s fan history project. Bruce was once again an able researcher, and his involvement was a big reason we were able to produce a knowledge base of sorts that now resides on the Internet in the form of a very extensive outline. The project eventually proved to be undoable, mostly because 1960s fandom was so much larger in size and scope than its 1950s predecessor that it became obvious that a lot more research was needed than either of us had time or resources for. But for a few years we both had a lot of fun, if that’s the right word, discovering and sometimes re-discovering various nuggets of information about that era which eventually made their way into the outline.
It might be that the 1960s project was a progenitor of FanHistoricon. Bruce, along with Joe Siclari and Peggy Rae Pavlat, came up with the idea and the first one was held in 1994, deliberately sited in Hagerstown, Maryland so that attendees could have the opportunity to visit the legendary Harry Warner, Jr. at his home there. That’s probably the main memory which most attendees took away with them, but Bruce also used the occasion to do some ideating in the workshop portion of the event. The result was formation of the Timebinders, an informal association of fans which had the goals of ensuring the preservation of endangered fannish materials and finding ways of making fan historical information more widely available. That organization, in the end, was a bit too informal to last for very long, but it was most likely an inspiration for a parallel organization which has all the same goals: fanac.org. Joe Siclari was one of the main architects of that but it’s I think it’s fair to say that Bruce, holding forth as he did at the first FanHistoricon, certainly helped to plant some of the seeds.
These are not nearly all the projects and activities that Bruce originated or was otherwise involved in over the more than four decades of his life in fandom. He was the driving force behind the creation of Retrospective Hugo Awards. He championed a large fundraising campaign which allowed LASFS to purchase its first clubhouse. He persuaded LASFS to hold an annual convention, Loscon. He edited and published the focal point newszine Ratatosk in the middle part of the 1960s. He was active in many amateur press associations and founded the annual Worldcon Order of Faneditors (WOOF). He was the much-deserving Fan Guest of Honor at the 1980 Worldcon. And outside of the science fiction genre, he was one of the creators of the World Mystery Convention, BoucherCon.
Bruce was also an avid fanzine collector, as I’ve described earlier, and at one point had arguably the largest collection in the world. I feel fortunate that I got to see it, back in the mid-1990s, and it was amusing to learn about his modus operandi for sorting new acquisitions: toss them gently into the air and after they come to rest on the floor, peruse through them for interesting stuff before filing them one by one. That’s just one of many pleasant memories I have of Bruce. Living on opposite coasts of the United States, we didn’t physically cross paths all that often and I treasured the times that we did. The final one was at the 2001 Worldcon in Philadelphia, though I’m not sure when during the convention it was. It probably happened when we went to dinner on Saturday night, prior to the masquerade. I remember that we shared about an hour’s worth of conversation, on topics ranging from places in the world we wanted to go back to (he was a world traveler in his final years) to what we thought would make good fan history projects in the future. Before we parted he told me a story about him spending a night in Robert Heinlein’s fallout shelter that he soon afterwards wrote up for Mimosa. No surprise, he was also a really good writer.
Back then, I don’t think I ever once thought that would be the last time I’d see him. He was always a rock, someone whose presence at Worldcons I attended seemed an absolute certainty. And then, less than a year later, he was gone. Two decades after Bruce’s passing, rarely does a week goes that I don’t think of him. He was a great friend. And also a strong influence. Whenever I’m at a loss on how to proceed on some kind of fandom-related project I’m involved with, I often ask myself, “What would Bruce do?” It usually helps a lot.
By Valentin D. Ivanov: Bulgarian fandom has lost one of its leading figures: on May 6, 2022 the prominent Bulgarian SF writer, artist, translator, fan, and thinker Atanas P. Slavov passed away after a long illness.
He was born in the town of Burgas and in late 1960s organized the first genre clubs and organization in then-communist Bulgaria. He left us with one novel, The Psychoprogrammed [Man], scores of stories and essays. Most importantly, we will remember him for his influence on countless fans whose lives he touched, spreading the ideas about the constant search for paths to a better, brighter and cleaner future in every thinkable aspect – from moral to ecological and technological.
His stories have been published in Bulgarian, English, German, Russian and Ukrainian.
Probably, the closest counterparts of Atanas P. Slavov from the Western SF milieu are Kim Stanley Robinson, with his optimism and his positive look at the future, and Stanislaw Lem, with his thoughtful and analytic approach to the world.