Monday, June 9, 2008

Algis Budrys (January 9, 1931 – June 9, 2008)

Budrys, born Algirdas Jonas Budrys, was one of the school of writers mostly of science fiction who came of age in the earliest 1950s; he, along with Michael Shaara (who hit big with THE KILLER ANGELS), Harlan Ellison and Robert Sheckley and some others, 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, Jr. 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 BEYOND FANTASY FICTION and FANTASTIC UNIVERSE, and not a little borderline-horror sf, most famously in short form “Nobody Bothers Gus.” [This was originally written for the "Horror in Literature and Film" list at Indiana University.] 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, to edit 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 reviewer for THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and published 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 MICHAELMAS).

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. Real Life Horror, indeed.

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


C. Margery Kempe said...

And thanks to you for doing so -- there are so many folks who would be forgotten but for the kindly efforts of folks like you. You are too kind -- and thoughtful for those who labour in far too much obscurity.


Todd Mason said...

Oh, my, Kate...Budrys was and is world-class...I was simply moved to quickly put together some thoughts, and slant them for Horror List. I see LOCUS finally has an obit up.

Do see Ed Gorman's reminiscence on his blog, links on the main page here...

And thanks.

Anonymous said...

Dear Todd,

Beautiful tribute to Algis, however,
he did not "step away from Writers of the Future". In fact he has been "editor" to the end and wrote a touching essay for the volume that
we will release this fall. He finished it quite recently.

Also, the contest was sponsored by Mr. Hubbards estate, after his passing, not the church. Mr. Hubbard was a writer of hundreds of
fiction works quite in addition to
Scientology, just to clarify it.