Rest in Peace, Professor

IMG_0720Didn’t I just do one of these?

Sadly, time refuses to stand still…and death to stay his hand.

This time it was a titan not of the smaller world of sci-fi, but one that strode the entire world: Stephen Hawking.

Now, unless you live under a rock — or are just totally divorced from popular culture — you know who Hawking was, at least in a general way.

Take what you know and multiply that a hundred times.

Many of us know Hawking as the man who managed to “boil down” the incomprehensibility of astrophysics and cosmology in A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell.  More, even, know of him from The Simpsons and Star Trek and Big Bang Theory.

Hawking was a great communicator, yes, but he was no vapid, empty suit who could talk only about others’ theories and accomplishments. His (all-but-incomprehensible-to-normal-humans) work on the Big Bang and on blackholes provide some of the very building blocks in their respective areas of cosmology and astrophysics.  He challenged theories and thought — even his own! — and he changed things.  In the process, he left an intellectual legacy that will last for generations.

But he was (still) more than that.

He was one of the bravest, and most driven, humans to ever live.

Most saw the wheelchair, and the attached computers that allowed him to communicate, and saw shackles and limitations.  Hell, the doctors who gave him two years to live — in 1963 — saw only death and failure.  Hawking, however, saw past those limitations and found reasons to live, and to thrive: “However difficult life may seem,” he said, more than 50 years after his predicted demise, “there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

So, to the man who was “supposed to die” in his twenties, I say this: Congratulations, sir, on a life well and truly lived.  Thank you for surpassing every boundary, whether theoretical or real, and for teaching others to follow.

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The Loss of a Titan

IMG_0720One of the all-time greats is gone: Ursula LeGuin has died, and the world of sci-fi & fantasy — hell, the world in general — is far the poorer for it.

As a kid, I didn’t care if my favorite writers were men (Zelazny, Heinlein, etc…), couples (David & Leigh Eddings), or women (Cherryh, LeGuin…), I just loved to read.  Hell, did it matter to me that Samuel Delaney was a gay, black man?  No, not then…and not now.  The man could write, and that was all that counted…

I never thought then about who my favorite writers were, but now…now, I know so much more.  That’s why I call LeGuin one of the true titans: Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books that anyone who wants to claim a breadth of knowledge and experience needs to read.  It is not only brilliantly written, but is also one of those key stories that is about far more than it is “about”.

LeGuin, when you get right down to it, could flat-out write. She wrote with an honesty, and an energy and strength, that are damned near perfect.  Her career, beginning in the 60’s when women “didn’t write sci-fi/fantasy,” very much helped to change the landscape.  She had an effect then, and is still doing so now.

Hell, even those to whom the 90’s and 00’s are “ancient history” owe her a massive debt: you would not likely have Harry Potter without the Wizard of Earthsea series…

LeGuin lived to a great age, and had a life of success and influence, but her death is still a blow.   As great a blow as the early losses of Douglas Adams and Roger Zelazny, as great a blow as the losses of the likes of Dick, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein.

That pantheon of the true greats is getting awfully thin on the ground…and I’m struggling to find the new writers who can truly fill their shoes.  Oh, there are very good writers out there, writers with talent and vision and a true gift, but who can truly stand among those names who are gone?  Gaiman…Cherryh…Butler…

A few, there are, that I think could also rise to be among that pantheon, but they aren’t quite there yet: Scalzi…Rothfuss…Sanderson…Stephenson…*

*Great, so now I have a new challenge; it’s time to go hunting for new writers, and new greats.

But the one thing I ask — hell, the one thing I demand — is that those writing now acknowledge and understand the debt we owe to the past.  As writers and dreamers and creators, we stand on the shoulders of giants…and yet one more of those giants is gone.

Be at peace, LeGuin, and rest well, you have earned it.  And thank you.