We lost a legend of science fiction and fantasy just a few days ago. I’d had the honor of meeting him in person, and he was a sweet man who’d written many wonderful books that left their mark on the world. I thought the best thing I could do to honor him here was to republish some things the First Reader and I had to say about him when he was alive – what better time to have eulogized a man? If there’s someone you admire and look up to, let them know now. Don’t wait, because you never know when it will be the last chance you have to speak.
(originally published at Otherwhere Gazette in April 2014, written by Sanford Begley)
It was my pleasure to again meet Christopher Stasheff at Millenicon this year. Those of you who read my stuff regularly know I interviewed his son Ed a couple of weeks ago. While there I had a chance to chat with Chris for a while. This was a thrill for me and I hope, not too annoying for him. I met him the first time at last year’s Millenicon and was shocked to find out he was still alive.
You see, I first read Chris’ work as a teen way back in the dimly remembered days of the 70s. His first work was A Warlock In Spite Of Himself in 1969, for the next half century he remained one of the best humorous writers of the field. I read everything of his that I could find. From the multitude of Warlock books, to the Starship Troupers story of actors in space. The last book I saw available in stores was The Secular Wizard in 95. When I stopped seeing his books I assumed he wasn’t writing because the Wizard In Rhyme series was as good as anything being published. Considering he had been a published author all my life I assumed he had succumbed to illness or age.
The truth is he continued to be published until 2005 by traditional publishers and is working as an Indie right now. The vagaries of the publishing industry and the book sellers managed to hide that from a lot of his fans. If you will remember the period when I stopped seeing him was when the Big Box bookstores came in and changed the availability of books. It used to be that one could hit his half dozen local bookstores and see totally different selections, centralized stores destroyed that. Unlike today, the internet was small and Amazon didn’t exist, by the time that had changed you no longer remembered to look for authors that weren’t in the forefront of your mind.
Chris looks like the stereotype of the avuncular college professor, from the white beard to the sports jacket worn over an open necked shirt. His mind seems as sharp as ever and his reminiscences of the world of SF are sharp and to the point. He smiles and genuinely enjoys meeting fans and talking about SF and it’s past. He is exactly the sort of person one hopes to meet when going to a con to fanboi.
One of the joys of talking to him is the forgotten history of SF that he still remembers. I recently reviewed The Camelot In Orbit series by Arthur H. Landis. When I did, I noted that it started from a very similar premise to the Warlock books. A brave adventurer from the civilized galaxy lands on a medieval planet with magic and tries to uplift them. Where Landis used derring-do Stasheff used humor. Since the Landis book was published in 65, four years before the first Warlock book, I asked Chris if it had inspired him. He was actually unaware of the Camelot series and laid the similarity at a very different door. It seems that Lester Del Rey, who was a powerful editor and voice in the era, had decreed that SF must not be used to write Fantasy. I assume this was in response to Robert A. Heinlein’s Glory Road, published in 1963. A number of writers, as writers are wont to do, took del Rey’s pronouncement as a challenge, with wonderful results. As a side note , when I mentioned that the books had nothing more than the seed idea in common, the Camelot books being more about over the top derring-do, Chris said he would have to look up a copy, he likes over the top
Since the Hugos are on everyone’s minds right now I would like to point out a travesty, Chris never got a nomination. I know that is because he wrote humorous books and fandom has always been leery of humor. Oddly enough Chris didn’t even realize he wrote humor at first. He tells the story of going to a con as a young writer and discovering he was on a panel about humor in SF. He asked why, until then he never realized that his humor, endemic to the stories was humor. He simply wrote and the humor came through. Isn’t that what we all read SF, for stories that make us happy. Chris has always done that, in spades.
Yes, Chris is one of my all time favorite authors, if you don’t know his work you are in for a treat, if you do know his work there may be more than you realized. Go to his site http://christopher.stasheff.com/ find out more about him, and read him. Oh, and if you have a young person in your household that you want to introduce to SF/Fantasy Chris makes a wonderful family-friendly starting point into this wide new world.
8 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Christopher Stasheff”
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A fine man and an excellent writer! He will be missed!
I first read his stuff in the 70s. I was impressed, He must be much older than I, he writes so well. Ran across some of his stuff and checked the copyright page, Thought for sure it would be ‘Estate of…” but I was mistaken (how how how how, Ahem, a how how how how how). I bounced in my chair to the sound of the Lone Ranger to find that there was a new series (to me). I thought for sure he was an old dead guy, like Bobby Heinlein or Piper . Or Zelazny. Chris did a lovely poeticlicish prose, and did a wonderful play on players.
I have a story about his kindness. I attended Montclair State College, where he taught for many years. I wrote my first fantasy novel, and when it was about half-done, I showed it to Muriel Becker, an English professor of mine who was a big SF and fantasy fan. She read it and asked if she could give it to Dr. Stasheff to critique. Of course I said yes. So he called me to his office and told me the writing was fine, he liked the characters, but the story needed more conflict. It was a good, positive critique with good advice, and I, being the inexperienced know-it-all that I was at the time, ignored all his advice. I never finished that book, but I did ultimately go on to become a better (and published) writer. Also, he was dead right about the novel. (If I ever do pick it up again, I’ll have to name the antagonist Stasheff in his honor.)
May his memory be a blessing. I will always remember his kindness to a young writer.
I loved to read his novels in airports. It made my piddly movements so much more
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