Monday, June 09, 2008

Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys died today. He was one of the two or three best science fiction writers of his generation. His gifts with character, language and theme produced books and stories notable for their maturity and humanity.

I first met AJ (as he was known) in 1977 when I interviewed him Dubuque where he was addressing students in one of George R.R. Martin's college writing classes. We had in common years in advertising and public relations. We recognized like kind. He was the mercenary I met in every agency I ever worked for. A hard guy fifty times smarter than everybody else, a man who wasn't afraid to say that it was all bullshit. He was too cool for every room he was ever in. He liked my description of him as "necktie hip." He had been and always remained one of my true idols. I own six different editions of his novel Rogue Moon. It remains one of the two or three most powerful sf novels I've ever read. It is alsoa compelling, fascinating look at machismo.

We stayed in touch and met a few times down the years. Over lunch one day I brought along a copy of his novel False Night which was published by the famous noir publisher Lion. He'd revised it in 1961 and told me he hadn't had copies of either version in a long time. I gave him mine. He revised it again and thanked me in the book for urging him to bring it back. I was truly honored.

We agreed to disagreee on a matter I was too admant about. A few years later I realized that it had been my fault and I called to apologize. He was as always gracious.

Time passed and he went to work with the people at Scientology. He asked me to work with him on a project with the group. I have to say here that I dealt with Scientologists many times in the eighties and early nineties. They were always professional, bright, pleasant and never once tried to recruit me. Still, I passed on his invitation.

When I heard that he had been diagnosed with cancer I meant to call him. Compare notes on treatment, etc. AJ had the analytical mind of a chess master and the soul of a Russian novelist. In fact just last week, looking through Locus (the sf news magazine), I saw his photo and thought of calling him then and there. But I got distracted and didn't get it done.

We weren't great friends or confidantes but my memories of him are vivid and appreciative. He was a man of many great talents. And a man as tough and complicated as any of his protagonists.

From Todd Mason:

Budrys, born Algirdas Jonas Budrys, was one of the school of mostly sf
writers who came of age in the earliest 1950s, along with Michael Shaara
(who hit big with THE KILLER ANGELS), Harlan Ellison, Robert Sheckley
and some others, who went through college writing programs with the
intent of bending those to the end of writing sf and fantasy. Budrys,
who was for a while the golden boy of John W. Campbell at ASTOUNDING
SCIENCE FICTION (and wrote some of the best work published in that
magazine in the 1950s), wrote for most of the other relevant magazines
of that decade, as well, including a few borderline-horror fantasies for
borderline-horror sf, most famously in short form "Nobody Bothers Gus."
By the end of the decade, he'd published several novels, including WHO?
(rather blandly filmed in the 1970s) and what might be his magnum opus,
THE DEATH MACHINE, a heavily symbolic sf novel that Fawcett Gold Medal
issued as ROGUE MOON...a cast of functionally insane characters deal
with an enigma of an alien labyrinth/device on the moon, which seems to
kill anything that passes through it...much like the transportation
device the humans use to get to it and back to Earth, which also kills
at the transmission point and reassembles a person at the destination,
with no sense of the death in the "new" transported person.

Budrys left sf, for the most part, for editing for various
Chicago-based publishers, including PLAYBOY, and then for advertising
work in the 1960s, though began a column of literary criticism for
GALAXY magazine in 1965 which was of superior quality; these columns
were later collected as BENCHMARKS: GALAXY BOOKSHELF (Southern Illinois
University Press, 1985). Budrys continued to write fiction, including
such crime fiction as the vicious "The Master of the Hounds," throughout
this period, and published a novel, THE IRON THORN, as a serial in
WORLDS OF IF and with Gold Medal, who meddled with his title again (as
THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN). In the 1970s, he became the primary book
another major novel, MICHAELMAS. He also was an instructor at the
Clarion Workshops organized initially by Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm.

In the 1980s, he helped get the Writers of the Future and Artists of the
Future programs off the ground, a rather controversial aspect of his
career as they were funded by the Church of Scientology and made much in
their promotional literature about L. Ron Hubbard's significance as a
literary figure; many critics felt the programs were merely means for
the Church to burnish its image. Budrys by 1993 had stepped away from
the WOTF program and began editing his own magazine, TOMORROW
SPECULATIVE FICTION, which was published by Pulphouse Publishing for its
first issue only, as Pulphouse was starting to collapse. Budrys took on
the magazine as publisher as well, and produced bimonthly issues for
several years, including the April, 1994 issue featuring Harlan
Ellison's "Attack at Dawn" and one vignette even shorter than that one,
"Bedtime" by first-story tyro Todd Mason. The magazine also published
considerable good to excellent fiction by old friends of Budrys and new
writers, and ran a series of essays by Budrys on writing. He published
one last excellent novel, HARD LANDING, complete in an issue of F&SF and
also a paperback original (his only novel in hardcover first edition was

Ill health had dogged Budrys for years, apparently mostly complications
of diabetes, and his last public pronouncement suggested that he mostly
had more pain to look forward to than that he was already in. RLH,

He was a complicated man, a great writer, and he won't be forgotten,
even if he never had all the audience he deserved.

Todd Mason


Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Ed, for writing a much better informal obit. I think you're thinking of FALSE NIGHT, aka SOME WILL NOT DIE, his first novel. MAN OF EARTH was his only dull novel, and came later.

That interview you mention is the one in Richard Geis's SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW in 1978, right? First time I saw the Ed Gorman byline.

Ed Gorman said...

Thanks for the correction, Todd. And yep that was the old SF Review. I still miss Geis' Alien critic around 66-71. Them was the days. Best Ed

Graham Powell said...

I've read WHO?, ROGUE MOON, and MICHAELMAS, and his work always packed an emotional punch that's lacking in too much SF.

I started reading him about the same time I started reading Alfred Bester, and for some reason they're joined in my mind by more than their initials.

Todd Mason said...

Sophistication, and a sense of the larger world that is indeed missing from too many writers, not solely sf writers. Or is sophistication the same thing as that sense?

To say nothing of a similar ability to employ prose...Bester lost his grip, to some extent, by the end...I recommend HARD LANDING, Budrys's last novel, to anyone, though not everyone agrees.

Unknown said...

Great posts, Ed and Todd. I can't remember which story I was sending out, or even where, but I received a very kind rejection letter from Budrys back in the late 1990s. I was stunned that a legend like Budrys would take the time to pass on a few kind words to a nobody like me.

David Jack Bell said...

Both ROGUE MOON and WHO? are excellent.

Anonymous said...

Dear Todd,

Just a short correction, otherwise a beautiful obit to Algis. He never
"stepped away" from Writers of the Future. Due to health he could not
maintain the daily activities of
Coordinating Judge. He edited Writers
of the Future up until the end, and judged quarterly entries when he could. His essay in this years writers of the Future Volume (releasing in August), says it all.

Cap'n Bob said...

I'm glad you didn't have any grief with the Scientologists, but I saw them from the inside and believe me, every rotten thing you may have heard about them is true. Multiply by a factor of ten and it's still true. Hubbard was a fraud and a madman. I can only hope to be around when they implode.

Anonymous said...

he was lithuanian also.he translated hubbards books.thanks god,scientology is not popular in my country,just few broken lifes.we a ashamed of his bad work.sorry

Anonymous said...

Budrys and Jack Vance were my favorite sf authors. ROGUE MOON (terrible publisher's title) affected me so profoundly that for 50 years I have thought of it roughly once per day. His short story (was it "For Love") about two creatures constructed by a seriously injured and tortured alien has also lived in my mind since the day I read it, like Tiptree's "Love is the plan the plan is death."