Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Goodbye Mr. Disch and Mr. Budrys

Two recent losses have saddened fans of science fiction and beyond. Both Thomas M. Disch and Algis Budrys were major fixtures in the genre. Their influence has been lasting.

Cult science fiction writer Thomas M. Disch passed away on July 4th. I read most of Disch’s output, but perhaps my fondest memory is reading his novella The Brave Little Toaster to my eldest daughter when she was an infant. I will miss the work of this strange writer/poet who pushed the genre into the literary with masterworks such as 334 and Camp Concentration. Although an American, Disch was associated with the British new-wave of SF/F in the 1970s when he resided in the UK. The Telegraph reports on his passing away in a lengthy obituary:
Though an American, Disch was often associated with the New Wave of science fiction in Britain -- where he lived during the late 1970s – which was centred on writers such as Michael Moorcock and M John Harrison, rather than with figures such as Philip K. Dick and Ursula Le Guin in the United States, who were also engaged in broadening the field from its pulp origins.

Disch's work was self-consciously literary and ambitious -- and became more so as time went on -- and was notable from the first for its sardonic wit, chilly anger, cynicism and reliance on irony and allegory. In his later novels and poems, it often seemed that satire had given way to bitterness.

The critic John Clute judged him “perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern first-rank SF writers.” He was well-regarded for his poetry (which he wrote as Tom Disch) by many who had no idea that he wrote genre fiction.
The Telegraph’s obituary is here.

Disch’s last interview was with Bat Segundo and is available as a podcast downloadable here. In a surreal twist, Disch is asked about Algis Budrys who passed away in June. Disch appeared to predict Budrys’ passing:
Correspondent: I wanted to also ask you about A.J. Budrys, who I know you -- I saw your LiveJournal where there were many caustic remarks directed his way. But I should point out that when I received this galley well before June 9th, when he died, you referred to him as “the late Algis Budrys.”

Disch: (laughs) Yes!

Correspondent: I’m wondering if you had some inside dope or if this is another example of your divine powers.

Disch: I guess so. I mean, I never know what my divine powers are going to do often, until they’ve done it. And this is certainly a case where I had picked the right horse without even knowing.
Influential and award winning writer Algis Budrys passed away on June 9th. The Chicago Tribune took a fond look back:
Known to friends as “A.J.,” Mr. Budrys' books, particularly 1960’s Rogue Moon and 1977's Michaelmas are highly regarded by critics and students of the genre. His work explored “the way a person feels or develops, more than with wild space adventures,” said his wife, Edna.“A lot of his books are about identity, who we are and why do we do what we do,” said Charles Brown, editor of the science fiction magazine Locus. The plot of Michaelmas touched on computer hacking and domination of human behavior by machines, “which pretty much predicted a lot of what’s going on today,” Brown said. “He was well ahead of his time.”
The full piece is here.

In a recent interview, Budrys’ was asked what the future held for him and replied somewhat poignantly considering his passing
I'll probably be found draped over my computer keyboard at some point. I’m 70 years old. I don’t know how much longer I can go, but I plan to keep going until I stop. I don’t have anything else I’d rather do, and since there’s no retirement income here (although I've been drawing Social Security for some time), I’ll just keep going.
The Times reported:
Algis Budrys was one of the writers who made his name alongside such luminaries as Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick in the early-1950s boom in science-fiction magazines.

Budrys’s first two published stories, in 1952, were The High Purpose (in Astounding Science Fiction) and Walk to the World (Space Science Fiction). He went on to write more than 100 stories in the next decade. In Silent Brother (Astounding, February 1956), the hero finds an alien intelligence living in his mind, with mutually beneficial results for both of them and the entire human race.

Other exceptional stories from this period are The End of Summer (1954), Nobody Bothers Gus (1955), The Man Who Tasted Ashes (1959), The Distant Sound of Engines (1959) and Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night (1961). The Edge of the Sea (1958), a seminal first-contact story, narrowly missed out on winning a Hugo award.
The Independent reported that Budrys’ later career was not without controversy –
In the early 1980s, a new professional role began to occupy Budrys's time, and changed his life. His involvement in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future brought him far too close, in the eyes of many, to Scientology, both as a controversial religion and as the corporate backer of the series of anthologies Budrys edited – 18 of them in all between 1985 and 2007. This programme was of immense use to many young writers, which goes some way to justifying Budrys's sometimes strenuous defence of his advocacy, in word and deed, of Hubbard himself.

It was also in the 1980s that Budrys decided to come to England for the first time, to attend the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention being held that year in Brighton. To do so he had to modify his technical statelessness, and gained an American Green Card to make the trip (in the 1990s he took out American citizenship). Unfortunately the Brighton experience was shadowed by a perception on the part of British science-fiction professionals that the Church of Scientology, which maintained a highly visible sponsoring presence at the convention, was attempting to take over the event.
Meanwhile, Locus Magazine published this excellent essay on Budrys’ work shortly after his passing.

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Anonymous Graham Sleight said...

Thanks for your kind words about my Locus piece on Budrys. However, a point of clarification. I actually wrote it in late April 2008, and delivered it to the Locus editors then. They published it (as part of a series I do on "classic" sf authors in their June 2008 issue. It was just a sad coincidence that the issue was delivered to subscribers around the time of Budrys's death. I was happy, though, that Locus's webmaster Mark Kelly decided to put it online as part of their obituary coverage.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 8:45:00 AM PDT  

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