Saturday, March 22, 2014

Geek Highways, Day 5: A Visit to Robert Sheckley


Briefly, in mid-adventure, Marianne and I took a break from our rather intensive journeying at my sister's and brother-in-law's house, to collapse, recover, and do some laundry.  But while in the Woodstock area we took a side-jaunt to visit the grave of Robert Sheckley.

Eight years ago, on a dark and bitterly cold day I drove from Philadelphia to Kingston, NY, to attend Sheckley's funeral.  It was an extraordinary event.  Three of his ex-wives were in attendance and a fourth sent her regrets that she was unable to make the trip.  His daughter, noted writer Alisa Kwitney gave a loving and moving memorial that began with the words "Robert Sheckley was a terrible father."  Barry Malzberg made an extempore speech that was one of the best things I've ever heard, a genuine work of literary art.

I got up then and said a few words on behalf of the Russian people.  This may seem a little cheeky of me, but I knew his readers there would want to be represented.  Sheckley -- and his clear-eyed, razor-edged satiric humor -- were big as big in that part of the world.  When he collapsed in Kiev, months before his death, it was front-page news in Pravda.

Some years before -- and I was lucky enough to be able to tell the man this in person -- I was guest of honor at Aelita, Russia's oldest SF convention, in Ekaterinburg.  This was a year after Robert Sheckley was goh.  During the press conference, organizer Boris Dolingo was asked how the attendance numbers compared to the previous year's.  Looking directly into the television cameras, he said, "Swanwick is a writer.  Sheckley is a god."

Bob liked hearing that.  And at his funeral, his family were glad as well.

Sheckley is buried in the Artists Cemetery in Woodstock.  Not to be anticlimactic, but when Marianne and I got there we found that half the graves were buried under snow.  Sheckley's, a flat stone with a galaxy engraved on it, was among those unviewable.

No matter.  I had my memories.  I was there.  And in a sense, through me, so were all his many friends, fans, and readers.

On that same day I learned that my old friend Lucius Shepard had died.  I would be lying to you if I said that mortality wasn't heavy on my mind.  But they left behind their books.  Any time we want to revisit them, we can.


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