Algis Budrys (Photo by William Shunn).

Algis Budrys
(Photo by William Shunn).
 

By the mid-1960s, Algis Budrys had become a darling of the critics. In the field of science fiction, two of the most respected at that time were Kingsley Amis and James Blish. Kingsley said that the way A J was going, he might become the most honored sf writer since H. G. Wells. Jim was less restrained. He thought that A J was becoming the finest writer in a second language since Joseph Conrad. One of A J’s stories had already been made into a film, though not a particularly good one, and his future was bright.

It was at that point that A J basically stopped writing science fiction and went off to Chicago to get into the public-relations business.

Why?

Well, I don’t know why. When A J took off for Chicago and a brief career as Mr. Pickle in a relish promoter’s PR campaign, it was a surprise to me. Perhaps it was because of the merciless difference between salary income and writer income that I alluded to earlier. By then the Budrys family census stood at six, with four healthy infant sons that needed to be fed every day — and would inevitably need more and more as the years advanced. But I lost touch with him for a year or two.

When I reconnected with him he had escaped from advertising and gone to work as the book editor for Playboy.

That made a certain amount of sense to me, particularly as he was showing signs of getting back to doing writing for me again. I was still editing for Bob Guinn, who had gradually enriched my expense account enough to permit annual trips to spur authors along . When in Chicago, I always spent some time with the Budryses. Their lives appeared to have slowed down and smoothed out.

But in that, too, I was quite wrong.

One day, back at home in New Jersey, I got a phone call from A J. He had news. The Church of Scientology had decided to honor their founder and principal sage, the science-fiction (and everything else, but best known for his science fiction) author L. Ron Hubbard, by establishing a new contest for talented entry-level sf writers that would pave the way for some of them to make the transition to professional success. Since none of the Scientology people knew much about publishing, they needed to find someone who did to save them from making too many blunders, and they had found A J.

“What I’m trying to do for them now,” he said, “is to try to find them major writers who —”

“No,” I said.

“— would be willing to be judges — what did you say?”

“I said, ‘no,'” I told him.

“But you didn’t let me tell you the good parts,” he said,

“That’s right,” I said. “I said, ‘no.’ ”

See how I handled it? A quick, firm decision, and then on to the next thing. No looking back, either.

Except that a few months later, when A J called again to tell me that Theodore Sturgeon, who A J had taken on as my replacement, was gravely ill, and A J was in a really tough spot, and if I could just help him out until he could find someone else. . . .

So I did it. I helped him out, and kept on doing it for the next thirty years.

 
In my defense, I will say that Writers of the Future, now broadened to include artists of the future, is indeed a good thing for beginning writers and artists, who can use all the help they can get. But there it is.

A J didn’t confine his efforts to Writers of the Future for the rest of his life. There was a prolonged, and expensive, period when he tried his luck as publisher of his own magazine Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, but what happened at the end was simply that his health gave out. For the last several years of his life he was housebound in his home in Evanston, Illinois, where he complained that illness had so sapped his strength that he didn’t have energy for anything. Once he said, “There’s a novel I started in January and I’m not even a quarter through it.”

This was sometime in late spring. I said cheerfully, “So keep on plugging away. Sooner or later you’ll get it written.”

“Written?” he said, “I’m not talking about writing a novel. I’m talking about reading one.”

What was wrong with A J’s health was not a single, simple thing. I believe it was diabetes that kept him housebound for so long, but think it was metastasizing cancer that took him away in June of 2008.

He is missed.

 
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4 Comments

  1. Robert Nowall says:

    My mother once saw a head-shot picture of Mr. Budrys in one of the SF “history” books I had. Said she dated a guy who looked just like him. She eventually showed me a picture of the guy—she was right.

    It wasn’t Mr. Budrys, of course—but, given that I don’t get around and don’t seek anybody out, that’s probably as close as I’ve ever come to having a personal connection with an SF writer…

  2. Mike says:

    When I was a student at MIT they had a program whereby one could take summer humanities courses at Harvard. I took two – The Bible as Literature and Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. The latter course was taught by Mr. Budrys.

    I truly enjoyed his course, mostly for the wonderful stories he told about his early days as a writer and all the wonderful people he met along the way. I also learned I am a much better reader than writer, but I don’t mind. Writers need readers, and I’m glad to be one of them.

  3. Johnny says:

    AJ taught courses in Science Fiction writing at Chicago’s Columbia College during those 70’s Chicago years as well. I was honored to have been one of his students in that course. In fact I loved the course so much I took it twice even though I’d passed it the first time.

  4. Johnny says:

    One more note of interest is that one day I had learned that SF author Anne McCaffery (sp?) was doing a book signing at Kroch’s and Brentano’s, a now defunct Chicago book seller, but it was during AJ’s class time. I told him about it and asked if I might have an excused absence to attend. He cheerful complied and gave me a message of greeting to her. When I came to Ms. McCaffrey and handed my copy of her then new book, The White Dragon, for her to sign I explained who I was and gave her AJ’s greeting. She was very happy and delightfully told all there that he’d bought her first published story when he was editing some periodical which I forget now. The other authograph seekers looked at me with admiration, as she asked me to step onto her side of the table and talk about AJ and the class while she went on signing. It was a great experience which I never forgot.