Archive for the ‘obituaries’ Category

Author Harlan Ellison is dead at age 84. While somewhat expected — he has been in poor health for years, from a series of heart attacks and most recently a stroke — as usual for Harlan, he decided to do it when he decided to do it, dying in his sleep of natural causes rather than of cancer or a respiratory infection like most of his 80-something peers.

Harlan was a puncher, not a boxer. His specialty was the knockout punch in the first round, where you’d sit back in awe at what you’d just seen, and… well, that was it, KO. That was why Harlan’s best form was the short form, short stories that packed a wallop and then were done. As a result, he got far less fame for his literary output than he should have. His TV writing perhaps got more attention, but he grumpily noted that he’d written hundreds of television and movie scripts and only a handful ever got produced.

Harlan was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve without apology and without pulling punches. He was infamous at science fiction conventions for not suffering fools gladly, even to the point of making young people cry. Yet for all that, he was a bit of a mensch. Tales of unexpected kindness abound. Harlan was a bundle of contradictions that way.

BUt mostly what I remember are the stories he wrote. Probably thousands of them over the years, but there’s a couple dozen of his stories that just knock my socks off. Plus the anthologies he edited — “Dangerous Visions” and “Again, Dangerous Visions” — which are chock-full of excellent stories.

And now his story is over. Bon voyage, Harlan Ellison. Your time for screaming at the stupidity and hate in the world is over. Now it’s our turn.

– Badtux the Obituaries Penguin

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So Gardner went into the hospital for treatment of mild congestive heart failure, caught massive antibiotic-resistant infections while in the hospital, and has now shuffled off this mortal coil.

One of my greatest regrets in life is that I never managed to sell anything to Gardner. Because once you did, you knew you’d made it as a science fiction writer. I state that he was the best editor of short science fiction ever because during his 20 years as editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction, stories that he purchased and edited for the magazine won Nebula awards 40 times and Hugo awards over 40 times, as well as he himself winning Editor of the Year 18 times. His editorship of the magazine resulted in a magazine whose quality still astounds. I can pick up, say, a 1988 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and it’s still mind-blowing. You can’t say that about a 30+ year old issue of any other science fiction magazine.

Now, then there’s people who will bring up John W. Campbell. Yes, Campbell basically defined the modern science fiction genre. But: he was relevant for far less time than Gardner was. By the mid 50’s Campbell was basically irrelevant to the field. The leading edge had leaped over to Galaxy under the editorship of Horace Gold and, later, Fred Pohl, and most of the leading writers of the field had deserted him. Even during his glory years in the late 40’s / early 50’s the stories were laughably crude by today’s standards. You won’t enjoy many of them today. You’ll laugh at how ridiculous they are, perhaps, but you won’t enjoy them. Meanwhile, pick up any issue of Asimov’s edited by Gardner and prepare to have your mind blown. They were that good, usually 2/3rds of the nominees for the Hugo and Nebula for short fiction during his editorship of Asimov’s were first printed in Asimov’s.

The science fiction short story arguably hit its peak during Gardner’s editorship of Asimov’s. He published stories that were both literary and scientific, hard science fiction and things you could barely recognized as science fiction or fantasy. And they were *good*, tight and beautiful and full of impact and meaning. Not by accident, either. Joe Haldeman once noted that Gardner had gutted and filleted one of his shorter novels into being a novella to run it in Asimov’s, completely ruining it in Joe’s opinion at the time. The end result, “The Hemingway Hoax”, won both the Hugo and Nebula Award for Novella in 1991. Needless to say, Joe changed his opinion :).

That’s what Gardner was as an editor: Someone who could take one of the best works by one of the best writers in science fiction, and make it better. Sadly, as the Internet era took its toll on print magazines, it became harder to maintain that quality and eventually he retired as editor and returned to writing. He was a good writer too. But not as good a writer as he was an editor. (And I say this despite the fact that he won both a Nebula and a Hugo for his writing).

His work as an anthologist was also praise-worthy. Starting in 1984, he compiled the annual “Year’s Best Science Fiction”, a huge doorstopper of a book that collected the best short science fiction published in the English language, along with commentary about the works and the state of the industry. His taste at selecting stories for this anthology was as refined as his taste for selecting stories for his magazine. His work as an anthologist became perhaps even more important as the Internet gutted the traditional science fiction print magazines and the publishing of short fiction spread across the Internet to all manner of small sites, making it difficult for someone with a busy life like mine to find it. I mean, I subscribe to two of the traditional print magazines today (albeit delivered via Kindle now as vs paper, I just don’t have room for paper), but they aren’t anywhere near the quality that they were back in the last final gasp of the print magazines, during Gardner’s editorship of Asimov’s and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s editorship of F&SF. The rest of what’s published in short science fiction is scattered all over the Internet or in small ‘zines with a circulation of sometimes and never. Gardner Dozois’s work at ferreting out the gems from around the Internet was tremendously valuable to the field, bringing together a fragmented market into something visible to science fiction fans.

So that was Gardner Dozois. He was 70 years old. We probably lost ten more years of his work. So it goes.

– Badtux the Sad Penguin

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Especially when the one is Bob Dorough, jazz musician and musical director for Schoolhouse Rock. Dead at 94 years of age, likely from complications of cancer.

I learned more grammar and social studies from Schoolhouse Rock than I learned in school. I could never forget what a conjunction was after this, for example:

You done good, Bob. You made the world better.

– Badtux the Obituaries Penguin

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Barbara Bush, wife of former President George H.W. Bush, dies at age 92.

Barbara Bush was the kind of woman who could stab you in the back while exhibiting the best of manners and grace. She famously didn’t want to waste her beautiful mind thinking about dead Iraqis when her son started his most excellent adventure in Iraq, and had the patrician’s sneer about those who were less than her, famously stating about the Katrina evacuees crammed into the Astrodome, “underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”.

She had the patrician’s gift of ignoring the suffering of others. Unless it happened to someone of her social class, such as when her child Robin died of leukemia, setting off a lifelong quest to cure cancer. Or her child Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia, resulting in her donating large sums of money and advertising to literacy programs. Other than that, she had the typical American habit of being able to ignore the pain and suffering of anybody who was not of her patrician class, whether it was soldiers being sent into Iraq, the Iraqis themselves, or the Katrina survivors in the Astrodome. That pain and suffering was apparently what was due them because of not being born to wealthy parents like she herself. Like most well born patricians of her era she could be gracious and generous towards individual little people who came to her attention. But actually thinking about the plight of the “little people” in general… why would she bother her beautiful mind about things like that, anyhow?

The best I can say about Barbara Bush is that, unlike her son George W., she never made decisions that resulted in hundreds of thousands of people dying.

The worst thing is that, like most Americans, she simply didn’t care. Why bother her beautiful mind worrying about the deaths of people who were, well, not like her?

And so another patrician is dead. A more polite and well mannered patrician than the recent crop of arrogant assholes who will stab you in your stomach while sneering at you, but still, whether stabbed in the front or stabbed in the back, you’re still dead in the end. Her kind of evil may have been hidden underneath a glove of the finest velvet, but the result, in the end, was the same: a disregard for the plight of the “little people” that led to the sort of pain and suffering that we saw in the Astrodome in 2005, and which Barbara Bush, like most Americans, waved off as irrelevant while making sure her beautiful mind was never bothered with any unsettling thoughts about the plight of those gathered there.

– Badtux the Obituary Penguin

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Dolores O’Riordan, 1971-2018

This is her 2007 album Are You Listening?, the answer to which was “no” for most people.

In other news, Ursula LeGuin has died at age 88. She lived a long and productive life. I liked her 60’s and 70’s output, and didn’t like her later works where the sound of axes being ground drowned out the sound of literature, but she remained productive until the end. Weeks before her death she was working on a collection of essays to be published later this year.

Time for me to pull The Word for World is Forest out of my stacks…. especially given that Ken Burns has run out of hard drive space for all the footage for his Afghan War documentary, 16 years after the war started.

– Badtux the Obituaries Penguin

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Charles Bradley, a soul singer who was one of the hardest working men in R&B, died yesterday of liver cancer at age 68.

To answer the question in his above song, “Why Is It So Hard?”: Selfishness, greed, and hate.


Time to go back and re-listen to his three-album catalog of heartfelt soul.

– Badtux the Music Penguin

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Jerry Pournelle, science fiction writer.
August 7, 1933 – September 8, 2017

Jerry Pournelle, once upon a time, was at the top of the second tier of science fiction writers, right below giants like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. That was a long time ago, in the 1970’s, back when he was still insecure enough to take direction from editors. After around 1980 or so, only collaborators could keep him from writing blatantly racist and sexist military / fascist fan fiction, as his arrogance and ego took over and outran what talent he had. And even collaborators didn’t always manage to keep him from going off the rails.

Ask any con-goer, and they’ll have their own “Jerry stories”. He was not a surly prickly presence like Harlan Ellison, but his sexist, arrogant and domineering behavior at cons was infamous. Yet, despite the fact that he was born in the Deep South and had many of the beliefs typical of his generation of Southerners, including racism and sexism that were typical of more “genteel” Southerners (nothing crude like the racism and sexism of the Orange Racist Pussy Grabber), he had one redeeming quality: He was not a stupid man. Furthermore, he was not a mendacious man like, say, William F. Buckley. He didn’t bend the truth in order to justify his beliefs, and when in positions of responsibility he performed his responsibilities fairly and without bias. During his stint as President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, he didn’t run it as a white boy’s club, he ran it in a fair manner that benefited all of its members, even the minority and female members.

Furthermore, while arrogant and egotistical, he was not a mean-spirited man, and did not cloister himself away from people and ideas that might challenge his own beliefs. He rarely changed his own beliefs, but unlike his son Alex who has made death threats against liberals, he didn’t demonize people simply because they had beliefs different from his. He collaborated with Steven Barnes, a black liberal writer, and he collaborated with Charles Sheffield, notoriously liberal writer of Brother to Dragons which is probably the most radical left-wing science fiction novel ever published by Baen Books during Jim Baen’s lifetime (and which is sadly out of print despite being the Campbell Award winner in 1993). He even tolerated Joe Haldeman, the ferociously anti-war author of The Forever War whose opinion of Jerry’s war fan fiction was unprintable. Quipped Pohl Anderson at one con, “He’ll put up with Joe because Joe makes the metal detectors go off at airports.” I.e., as a Vietnam veteran who still had shrapnel in him from being blown up in Vietnam, in Jerry’s mind that earned Joe the right to say whatever Joe wanted to say, regardless of whether Jerry agreed with him or not.

So anyhow, on September 7, Jerry wrote something about DACA on his web site, basically parroting the Trump administration line that Obama had no right to create the program so Trump was forced, forced I say (at what gunpoint?) to end it, and mentioning as an aside that he had enjoyed Dragoncon but had caught a cold and/or the flu. Then he went to sleep, and he didn’t wake up again. It was a quiet death, likely pneumonia, the old man’s gentle helper in passing from this mortal coil. And so it goes.

In any event, Jerry leaves behind a lot of good science fiction, as well as some spectacularly bad science fiction in his later years. I doubt any of it will survive the test of history, but he entertained and in some cases educated a whole lot of people in this lifetime. He was an ass, but the world has art in it today that would not have existed if he’d never existed. In the end, that’s all that anybody can ever wish for.

R.I.P to an ornery old ass…

– Badtux the Fiction Penguin

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