Lately it’s felt as if the sf/f field is under a curse. Within the space of a few months we’ve lost Lucius Shepard, Iain Banks, Jay Lake, Graham Joyce, and just this week, Eugie Foster. Nor was it that long ago that Kathy Wentworth left us. I think it was Kathy’s passing that hit me the hardest. Even though we’d been drifting in and out of touch as geography and our separate directions pulled on us, I considered her a friend. Then she was gone before I even knew she was sick. Cancer, like most of the above. All of them gone too soon no matter their ages, but Eugie especially in that regard. She was only forty-two (And for anyone out there who considers forty-two old, all I can say is—wait a while).
Well, that was a cheerful start. Let’s go on to something even more cheerful. How about a pop quiz? Who out there under the age of forty or so can tell me—no fair Googling—who C.F. Kornbluth* was? How about Henry Kuttner? Or, say, Leigh Brackett? C.L. Moore? A few of you, I’m sure, but probably by no means all or even most. Those were names that once dominated the sf/f field in the 20th century, right alongside Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Fritz Leiber, especially in the magazines—as, once upon a time, that was almost the only game in town. Now all of them mostly forgotten. You can still find their work here and there if you look, but then you’d have to know who they were to be on the hunt in the first place. Knowing that, I look at the long list of writers above whose works are now, barring a few posthumous releases, complete. Very fine work, all of them. Great, even, perhaps, in a few cases. How long do you think it’ll be before they’re forgotten too? Outside of academic circles and research libraries, who will be reading them in ten years? Twenty? Fifty?
Make your own guess. I’ve made mine.
This isn’t my first rodeo, as they say, and I’ve been around long enough to see this dynamic in action more than once. A writer at the top of his or her game, highly regarded among both readers and their peers, slips into obscurity within only a few years of their passing. Possibly to undergo rediscovery and revival every so often, but that doesn’t happen to everyone, even the deserving. Works entering the Canon last longer, but that’s a short list by comparison. There was a time when both readers and writers spoke of a thing called “posterity” as if it was something real or inevitable. You don’t hear that as much these days, and for good reason–for most of us, there isn’t going to be one.
Which, finally, brings me to my point, which is about neither despair nor the illusion of posterity. It’s about “here” and “now.” It’s been said before and not just by me that some of the finest writers this field has ever seen are all active now, and even with the harsh blow of recent departures, that’s still true. Writers like Jeffrey Ford and Cat Valente and Cat Rambo (what is it with Cats lately?) and Jim Hines and James Van Pelt and Andy Duncan and Genevieve Valentine and Nicola Griffith and Kelly Link and Margo Lanagan and Robert Reed and Paul Di Filippo and Lavie Tidhar and…whew. Ran out of steam with a very incomplete list, which rather gives you the idea. (And here’s where Google is your friend—if you don’t know them, look them up). Or make up your own list. They’re out there. Read them now, appreciate them now.
Now is all any of us has. The rest is wishful thinking.
*C.M. Kornbluth, of course. No idea where that F came from, unless it was the grade my memory received on that particular recall.