Monday, February 26, 2024

Brian Stableford: The Formidable Man And His Remarkable Future History


Brian Stableford died two days ago. He was a fine science fiction and horror writer and a most erudite critic and literary historian. I knew him a little but couldn't claim to be his friend. And I have only one story to tell about him. It's a small one but since it might turn you on to a very interesting book, I'll share it.

The book is The Third Millennium: A History of the World AD 2000–3000 by Stableford and David Langford. The spine of it was a future history he had mapped out and embodied in many stories and novels in which science, particularly biotech, makes the human race ever more happy until everyone is immortal and has anything they could wish for. Any writer could tell that's an impossible future to find stories in, but he had no problem there. Fiction just flowed out of him. 

Oh, and the book was full of pictures cleverly repurposed for the future history. One, for example, showing an electrician almost buried in cables, purported to show a biotechnician among the roots of an ailing organic house.

So, anyway... I ran into Stableford at a Worldcon and told him I was reading the book and enjoying it enormously. I said that I especially liked the end of the chapter on the death of capitalism when the Last Capitalist, just before leaving  for exile on Mars, snarls, "The meek have inherited the earth."

"That was Langford's," he said gloomily. Then, still gloomily, "When we sent in the manuscript, the editor sent it back with a note requesting 'more jokes.'"

Wikipedia informs me that Stableford wrote over seventy novels and translated over a hundred books. You have no idea how intimidating I found that--and still do. The man was astonishing.

But if The Third Millennium sounds interesting to you, check it out. There's nothing quite like it.

Above: Photograph by Lionel Allorge. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (File:Brian Stableford à la remise du prix Actu SF aux 13emes Rencontres de l’Imaginaire de Sèvres le 26 novembre 2016 - 07.jpg - Wikimedia Commons). Merci beaucoup, M. Allorge.


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Tom Purdom in Roxborough


Gregory Frost, one of the guests

Because Tom Purdom used to hold a monthly brunch for the Philadelphia SF writing community, Marianne and I held a memorial brunch in Roxborough in his memory this Saturday. Those attending included Gregory and Barabara Frost, Victoria McManus, Darrell Schweitzer, Mattie Brahan, Sally Grotta, Samuel R. Delany, Sean Swanwick, and Lawrence Schoen. All people who knew Tom and many of us who knew him for decades.

We honored Tom with conversation (free of background music, of course--he was a music critic but only listened to it live), and then with memories of him. Chip Delany told of how back when all he knew of Tom was that they'd shared an Ace double, he'd made a public appearance in a Philadelphia university and there among the young people was an older man--Tom. Chip read a short story and in the Q&A afterward, Tom suggested that the story would be improved by making a small change in it. Chip agreed and made the change before publication and was impressed afterward not only by Tom's insight but by his generosity in offering the observation. "He'd listened to the story," Chip said.

Then, after sharing our memories, we went back to talking, talking, talking about everything under the sun and moon. Not only because that's the sort of people we are but because that's what Tom would have wanted.

Another thing he would have approved of was that we were reuniting a lot of people whom hadn't seen each other in a long time. The whole "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing? No. What absence does is remind you just how much you rely on seeing the people you care about most on a regular basis

And before you ask . . .

Chip did not remember what change Tom had suggested. He can't even remember what story he read. But he remembered the event, the suggestion, the kindness.


And a few more photos . . .

I regret not getting pics of everyone, but you know how it is when you're having fun.


Above: All photos by Michael Swanwick. Top to bottom: Samuel R. Delany, Darrell Schweitzer, Sally Grotta, and Victoria McManus. Camille Bacon-Smith could not attend but was there in spirit.


Monday, February 5, 2024

My True and Gentle Friend, Sandy Meschkow



My old friend Sandy Meschkow died the other day. You probably didn't know him. But Sandy was a gentle soul, a kind man, and a good friend of mine for close to fifty years.

I cannot remember Sandy ever being angry about anything. Where other people would have felt anger, Sandy was amused. When he was working at the Franklin Institute, he taped up a picture of Gore Vidal, whose writing he admired, in his workspace and his boss suggested he take it down because he wouldn't want people to think he was "one of them." Sandy, who was as straight as they come, thought this was hilarious—not that somebody would think he was gay but that anybody would think that being gay was something to be ashamed of. The picture stayed.

Sandy was an engineer and eminently competent. One day his boss said, "Meschkow! You're writing a manual on aluminum welding." To which Sandy responded, "But... but... I don't know anything about aluminum welding." To which his boss responded, "Then learn." And, of course, as these stories go, Sandy learned and wrote and the manual became standard.

He was a passionate fan of science and a mainstay of Philadelphia’s science fiction community. He was also a major reason why the Institute became an employment haven for bright and overeducated but unskilled young fans. He and I worked together there at the National Solar Heating and Cooling Information Center. Sandy was a pay grade or five above me yet he never acted as if we weren't anything but peers. He believed in me as a writer back when I hadn’t published a single word of fiction. His support came when I needed it most.

Sandy outlived two wives—both marriages happy—and on retirement gradually faded from public life. It was typical of him that he would slip away quietly.

And now this kindly, generous man is gone. The world is diminished by his leaving it.




Sunday, February 4, 2024

One Last Visit To Tom Purdom's Apartment



Marianne and I went to Tom Purdom's Center City Philadelphia apartment today to help sort through things. It was a melancholy day.

As we were leaving, I saw Tom's signature coat and cap on pegs behind the door. Waiting like faithful pets for their master to gather them up and take them out into the streets again. Tom was a great walker and he'd carried them many a hundred miles up and down the city he only rarely left.

 I looked at them and thought, "I miss him too." And left, closing the door quietly behind me.