Daniel Keyes, the MD who wrote the classic science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon, has died at 86, of complications from pneumonia. I met Keyes when he received the Science Fiction Writers of America's Author Emertius honor in 2000, and he struck me as a sensitive and thoughtful person. He told the story of how he'd conceived of Algernon while riding the subway to his medical residence, and how pleased he'd been with its reception (it's also one of the small handful of science fiction novels whose film adaptation is in the same league as the book -- the 1968 film "Charly" won its lead an Academy Award).
Algernon is a truly fantastic contribution to literature -- a book that has stayed with me for decades and influenced the way I think about intelligence, science, medicine, and self-determination. Though Keyes never wrote another science fiction work that attained its success, that book alone earned him a richly deserved place in history. (via /.)
The first time I had a proper conversation with Jay Lake, it was after the 2006 Los Angeles World Science Fiction convention; I was invited to a dinner with a bunch of other Campbell Award winners from years gone by. It was the year John Scalzi won the award, and I want to say it was me, him, Jay and Elizabeth Bear, though these dinners do blend together and I may be missing a name.
The last time I had a proper conversation with Jay Lake, it was last July, at the San Diego Comic Con, where Jay was in a wheelchair, and when I asked him how he was, he said he was dying, and that he wasn't going to last more than about six months. He was frank about this, and seemed to have made some peace with it. His daughter, the other people around him, we all knew he was dying. He didn't let us get maudlin. But every conversation I had with him meant something, because I had gotten to know Jay by then, and to know what a fantastic person and what a fantastic writer he was. I made a conscious effort to fix every interaction in my mind. I hugged him goodbye when I left. He was still a bear of a man, but unmistakably frail.
He'd had cancer for years, and had been brave about it, and had fought. He even beat it for a while. Not long ago, though, it became clear that he was going to lose. Every time I saw Jay thereafter, he was the model of a person who was looking death in its snake-eyed gaze and not allowing the fear to paralyze him.
But I think he was afraid, and his loss -- like the loss of every single person who is taken by cancer -- represents a loss to us all. Not just because he was a prolific, imaginative and talented writer. Not just because he was a devoted father and a very good friend. Not even because he was a good man. He was every one of those things.
But we lost something today when Jay died, because every person who dies of a mindless, terrible, awful disease like cancer costs our species something.
Good-bye Jay. You are missed already.
From the official announcement:
If you want to make a contribution in Jay’s name, please make it to:
Clayton Memorial Medical Fund
P.O. Box 5703
Portland, Oregon 97228
The famous Swiss surrealist leaves behind some of the twentieth century’s most impressive and startling artwork. Here are our favorite biomechanical wonders.Read the rest
Squa tront! Spa Fon! The great Al Feldstein, passed away today.
Feldstein began working at EC comics, publishers of Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear in 1948. Soon he became editor of most of EC's titles. He typically wrote and illustrated a story in each title and drew many of the covers, a mind-bogglingly prolific output. Eventually he stopped doing the art for stories and stuck with editing, writing, and cover illustrations. According to Wikipedia, from "late 1950 through 1953, he edited and wrote stories for seven EC titles." I've always loved his signature, which features elongated horizontals on the F and the T, and an extended vertical on the N.
After MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman got in a fight with publisher William Gaines over ownership of the comic and left EC in 1956, Gaines put Feldstein in charge of the humor magazine, where he remained as editor until 1985.
Here's an excellent biography of Feldstein, which came out last year.
Sue Townsend has died. Ms Townsend wrote (among other things) the marvellous Adrian Mole books that have been a touchstone for me since I was 14 years old (I'm the same age as Adrian Mole, and grew up with him through Townsend's fictionalised diaries). Townsend has been legally blind due to complications from diabetes for some time, and had been writing her books by dictation. The BBC says that she died at home "after a short illness." I am so sad about this. She was one of the great comic writers, with all that implies: wisdom, wit, compassion and ruthless honesty. She was 68.
Science fiction radio-host and podcaster Rick Kleffel writes, "Lucius Shepard was one of my guiding lights for reading; he worked in all the spaces I loved best. Here's a link to my one conversation with him [MP3], back in 2005. He'll be missed very much; and remembered every time we read his work." (Thanks, Rick!)
Lucius died last week. It was far too soon, and he is very much missed.
Lucius Shepard, one of science fiction's great writers, has died. He was
66 70. I had met Lucius on several occasions and found him to be just as you'd hope from his novels: smart and witty (but lots of writers are smart and witty), and kind, and weird in the most delightful ways. I watched a chess-boxing match with Lucius and I have never seen someone more delighted. Shepard was involved in many good causes, and we had brainstormed many ideas for helping friends of his who were eking out a living in Central America as skin-divers and facing grave physical peril. It had been a few years since I'd seen him in the flesh, and I knew his health was often poor, but this was sudden and terrible news out of the blue.
Tor.com's obit does a good job of getting at the facts of his career:
Shepard began publishing short stories in 1983 and his first novel, Green Eyes, appeared in 1984. In 1985 he won the John Campbell Award for Best New Writer; over the course of his career he won the Nebula for his novella “R&R,” the Hugo for his novella “Barnacle Bill the Spacer,” and the Shirley Jackson Award for his novella “Vacancy” in 2008.
But to stop there is to miss how Shepard's fans and friends reveled in his work -- its originality, its dazzling language, its hardbitten and hard-won verisimilitude. He was a writer who changed the readers who found him, and I miss him already.
When Tony Benn was a Member of Parliament, he would go around with homemade plaques celebrating heroes of democracy, such as suffragette* Emily Wilding Davison, and illegally screw them to the walls. He copped to this during a sitting of Parliament in 2001, saying, "I have put up several plaques—quite illegally, without permission; I screwed them up myself. One was in the broom cupboard to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison, and another celebrated the people who fought for democracy and those who run the House. If one walks around this place, one sees statues of people, not one of whom believed in democracy, votes for women or anything else. We have to be sure that we are a workshop and not a museum."
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Here's a photo of Pete Seeger, aged 2, with his family in 1921. It comes from a National Photo Co. Collection glass negative. Seeger, who was persecuted by the House Unamerican Activities Committee died yesterday. He was 94.
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I'm sad to report that Roy Trumbull, a maker, podcaster, and happy mutant, died of cancer last week. He was 74, and died peacefully in his home. I was an avid listener of Story Spieler, Roy's podcast, where he read aloud all manner of odd and fascinating public domain materials (he was a Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame inductee, and a legendary engineer). I was deeply honored when Roy agreed to read a story for the audio edition of my short story collection With A Little Help (Roy also recorded great readings of my stories Craphound, The Super-Man and the Bugout and To Market, To Market).
Roy often suggested great Boing Boing stories (like this one, about some lost Yippee! movement footage) and was a warm and thought-provoking correspondent. I was lucky enough to meet him a few times in San Francisco, and he was just as funny and warm in person.
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Thomas sez, "I don't just want to give condolences to my friend's family. I want to do as much actual good as I can. I am auctioning off this signed and dated Datamancer keyboard. Sadly, there will not be more like this ever again. If you have ever thought that you just have to have one, this is your chance. Help keep his legacy alive. Every penny is going to his family. I have contacted them directly to ensure this is done with good grace and honor toward his name."
See also: RIP, Richard "Datamancer" Nagy
David sends us "An obituary for a prolific commenter on the Brisbanetimes.com.au news website. This nonagenarian only took to the internet in the last year or so and was prolific in the comments on the site. A touching tribute to a respected member of a community."
The person who commented under "Bob Menzies" was "a lifelong Queensland public servant" who been a member of the Liberal Party since 1950, and who wore a black suit to work every day of his working life.
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Rest in peace to my beloved grandfather Frederik Pohl, who showed me by example how to be an author. 1919-2013. http://t.co/GXP2H1pI72— Emily Pohl-Weary (@emilypohlweary) September 2, 2013
Frederik Pohl, one of our oldest living science fiction masters, died on September 2. I was privileged to know Fred for more than twenty years, and looked up to him as a writer and colleague (I was honored to contribute the story "Chicken Little" to Gateways, an anthology in Fred's honor, which also included work by Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe, Vernor Vinge, Harry Harrison, Joe Haldeman, and many others).
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Iain Banks died yesterday. The Guardian's John Mullan does justice to the long and important career of one of the best writers in two fields:
In 2010 he gave an interview to BBC Radio Scotland in which he spoke with painful frankness about the breakdown of his relationship with his first wife. But then the media interview seemed his natural forum: it is difficult to think of a more frequently interviewed British novelist.
While his science fiction spanned inter-stellar spaces, his literary fiction kept its highly specific sense of place. The place that gives the title to his 2012 novel Stonemouth is fictional, but, like other fictional places in earlier Banks novels, it is a highly specific Scottish town. Like The Crow Road and The Steep Approach to Garbadale –it is the story of a man coming back to his family home, and it is difficult not to think that this is Banks's story of himself.
Last month, on her Facebook page, she wrote about the experience of being a breast cancer patient since 2010:
"Unfortunately the last 18 months have been a real challenge for me having breast cancer and MS and all the new places that will take you. You become sadly a patient in a world of waiting rooms, waiting sometimes hours for a result or an appointment. You spend a lot time in cold machines... hospital beds, on your knees praying for miracles, operating rooms, tests after tests, looking at healthy people skip down the street like you once did and you took it all for granted and now wish you could do that. I have not stopped singing throughout all this in my dreams and to be once again performing and doing what I love to do."
Ravi Shankar, RIP: A performance on the Dick Cavett Show, and a reporter's recollections of a visit with Raviji
In the clip above, the late Indian music legend Pandit Ravi Shankar (web, Wikipedia, Amazon) performs on the Dick Cavett show, in an episode where his friend George Harrison of the Beatles introduces him to the viewing audience.
It is with heavy hearts we write to inform you that Pandit Ravi Shankar, husband, father, and musical soul, passed away today, December 11th, 2012. As you all know, his health has been fragile for the past several years and on Thursday he underwent a surgery that could have potentially given him a new lease of life. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away.
Read the rest here at the Shankar Foundation website. He had upper-respiratory and heart problems, and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last week. The surgery was successful, but recovery was too much for the 92-year-old musician. His last performance was with his daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar, on November 4 in Long Beach, California. It was a celebration of his tenth decade of creating music.
I interviewed him in 2003 at his home north of San Diego for Grammy Magazine. The article is no longer online, but I'll try to dig it up from the old print copy. His home was set up a little like an Indian villa, and I remember feeling like I was back in India as I sat on the floor in the room where he received guests and visiting reporters. He was very patient and attentive; very sweet to this starstruck and stuttering reporter.