Ring Out The Old

One of the gloomy things about running an SF newsletter – and now, working on the revised Encyclopedia of SF (see sfe3.org) – is having to record deaths in the genre. Here are brief memories of some of those we lost in 2005. I've already commemorated the artist Frank Kelly Freas in SFX #129, and author and film critic John Brosnan in #132.

January 2005 saw the end of Humphrey Carpenter, biographer of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Inklings, who could have expected a boost of interest in his works with the release of the first Narnia film. Another loss was Will Eisner, the legendary comics artist who created The Spirit and since 1987 had revelled in the existence of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which he himself often presented. The name of Walter Ernsting is probably less familiar: with Clark Darlton he co-founded the vast Perry Rhodan adventure series which was hacked out by many authors and dominated German mass-market SF for decades.

Two SF fans who became professional writers died in February. F.M. "Buz" Busby co-edited the Hugo-winning fanzine Cry and is also remembered for his novels Cage a Man and Rissa Kerguelen. Jack Chalker achieved substantially greater fame with many hefty series like the Well World books; his trademark idiosyncrasy was that Chalker characters tended to undergo weird (not to say kinky) shape-changes.

March deaths included cartographer Karen Wynn Fonstad, who produced The Atlas of Middle-Earth and other SF/fantasy map collections. The month's major loss was the hugely prolific Andre Norton, who since 1934 had published more than 130 books (some in collaboration). Her young-adult adventures like Catseye introduced countless new readers to SF, especially in America.

In April it was farewell to Josef Nesvadba, a masterfully satirical author known as the king of Czech SF. Many of his stories were filmed; one collection was translated as In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman.

For June, although I'm mostly tracking print media, it's impossible not to mention James Doohan – Scotty of Star Trek, who for some while had been in decline with Alzheimer's. Meanwhile, the name Salvatore Lombino may not ring a bell. This author became famous under his legally adopted name Evan Hunter, and mega-famous for US police procedurals bylined Ed McBain. En route, he wrote four SF novels and the screenplay for Hitchcock's The Birds.

When first writing about 7 July 2005, I thought that no one from SF circles was harmed by London terrorism. Wrong, alas: Giles Hart, chairman of the H.G. Wells Society, died on that bombed bus. Another transport victim was US book packager Byron Preiss, killed in a car crash two days later; his "Byron Preiss Visual Publications" projects included the graphic novel of Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination.

The Philip J. Klass who died in August was "the other Klass", the grand old man of UFO debunking rather than the Philip Klass who – writing as William Tenn – still survives as a grand old man of SF satire. They're often confused in reference books. Meanwhile (since Star Wars fans already know) I hardly need mention the passing of actor Michael Sheard, a popular figure on the UK convention circuit.

September's worst news was the death of Charles N. Harness, author of the ground-breaking 1950s SF stories The Paradox Men and The Rose, and the later The Ring of Ritornel – heady mixtures of slam-bang pulp adventure with teasing philosophical speculation.

In November, the first farewell was to SF writer Michael Coney, born in Britain but long resident in Canada, who published interestingly quirky novels through the 1970s and 1980s. Hello Summer, Goodbye is the one to look for. After his 2005 cancer diagnosis, he placed several books on his website as a parting gift: see members.shaw.ca/mconey. Also in November came massive newspaper coverage of John Fowles's death, mostly failing to mention the great man's use of genre themes. Mantissa, for example, is a splendid comic-fantasy allegory of the creative process, involving physical and sometimes erotic grappling with a literal Muse. And, lurking deep inside the tortuous historical/detective labyrinth in Fowles's A Maggot, there's a "religious" visitation which is outright SF, surely a time-traveller from the future. Tell that to literary critics and they won't believe you.

Happy New Year; and let's hope for fewer losses in 2006.

Just for the record, David Langford wrote this in November ...