Brian Aldiss, Author & Gentleman

A few words about Brian Aldiss, who passed away today at the age of 92.

In May, 1982 I attended my first science fiction event of any sort–the Third Conference on the Fantastic, in Boca Raton, Florida. I had to take a couple of days’ unpaid leave from my teaching job in Middlebury, Indiana to do it. I couldn’t quite persuade the superintendent that it should count as a professional conference (I was, after all, teaching science, not science fiction).

But COTF really was more of an academic conference than a con (it was co-located with a little fan event that I think was called Tropicon, but I don’t remember much crossover or seeing many fans). There was a further division within COTF itself, as the academics seemed mostly interested in dead authors, leaving the live authors to our own devices. We went to each others’ readings, and hung out together by the pool.

That’s where I met for the first time (among others) Harlan Ellison, Fred Pohl, Ellen Datlow, Robert Sheckley, Jay Rothbell, David Lunde, Marilyn Masiker, Charles Platt, Tim Sullivan, Terence Green, David Kyle…and Brian Aldiss.

Brian’s reading was one of several that I attended. I don’t remember exactly how it came to pass, but he invited me to have lunch with him. We walked across the parking lot to a deli in an adjacent strip mall, just the two of us–one legend in the field and one nobody (I had only had a handful of short stories published by then). Over sandwiches, we talked a lot about the business, a little about the art and craft. I remember distinctly how gentlemanly he was, how he treated me as though I was an equal. And he insisted on paying for the meal, too. I felt–well, befriended.

That weekend was the only time I ever saw Brian Aldiss. Through 86 cons across 33 years, our paths never crossed again (I never made it back to another COTF, alas). But when my first novel EMPRISE was being readied for publication in 1985, Brian remembered me from that weekend and that lunch and very graciously provided a cover quote.

I read many more of Brian’s works after COTF3 than I had prior to it. My favorites remain the HELLICONIA trilogy, though there’re certainly many others worth any SF fan’s attention. He also made an important contribution to documenting the history of the field, with THE BILLION-YEAR SPREE and its update THE TRILLION-YEAR SPREE.

If you haven’t discovered his work, it isn’t too late.

And, though it is too late, I want to thank him again for his kindness.

Ad astra, Brian. We will remember.