Posts tagged ‘Brian W. Aldiss’

Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

When Harrycon in Ireland came to pass, it was a blast. A couple of dozen top sf writers showed up-— even Alfie Bester, who was getting into the more serious phases of his blindness — as well as numbers of editors, fans and general hangers-on from all sorts of European, North American and South American countries.

And from the Soviet Union a party of four: my own personal best Russian friend, Yuli Kagarlitsky, the USSR’S only author of a scholarly book on science fiction, Shto eta fantastika?; Vasili Zakharchenko, editor of a boy’s magazine that sometimes published translated American sf stories, and paid for them in cash — in rubles and kopecks; a young woman with an unclear role; and a dark, heavyset man from the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic who claimed, in Russian, to be a writer of children’s stories but was considered by everyone else to be the group’s KGB minder. He didn’t appear particularly menacing His principal activity seemed to be sitting in the hotel lobby and watching Irish TV.

Harry Harrison (the Harry of Harrycon) had planned a program for the opening day which mostly comprised introductory remarks by the principal attendees, starting with our Soviet guests. At first that did not go well, because the first up was Comrade Probable KGB, who spoke, fortunately quite briefly, in his own tongue, which even the Russians had trouble understanding. After a few moments of everybody looking at everybody else the young woman got up from where she was seated at the back of the audience to say, in English, that he had just told us that this was a historic event and he hoped it might be a first step toward a better understanding between our peoples. Everybody clapped briefly.

Next was Vasili, who also elected to speak in Russian and was not at all brief. By then we had a system going, with Vassili pausing frequently to let the young woman put his remarks into English. That was understandable, if bit tedious, because Vassili too chose to comment on the historic aspects of the meeting.

Then another problem came up. There was a small group from Brazil who had managed to get themselves to the meeting in spite of the fact that none of them spoke English. No one present but them spoke Portuguese, either. Gay Haldeman solved that crisis for us. She spoke idiomatic Spanish, and so then after the young woman had put Vassili’s remarks into English, Gay, turning around in her chair to face the Brazilians behind her, gave them a Spanish translation, which one of them understood enough to pass on the gist to his fellows.

Well, that was amusing, but Yuli had yet to speak. Fortunately, he chose to do it in his quite serviceable English, and, even better, what he talked about was how he discovered sf, first through H. G. Wells, whom he called “The Master,” and then, one by one, the great Americans. That was at least a subject everyone was interested in, and when Yuli was followed by Brian Aldiss, everything was going smoothly at last, both then and for the next day.

Then Harry laid on a fine Irish dinner for everybody, complete with some moderately fine Irish wines, and a small Irish orchestra, playing on traditional Irish instruments, to entertain us. This they did, although to be accurate I should say that the most entertaining part might have been when the musicians let some of the authors try to play their instruments. I got the Irish bagpipe. After considerable experimenting, I did get a couple of blood-curdling yawps out of the thing.

(Oh, that bit about the Irish wine. I should mention that a few centuries earlier, when Europe was enjoying the Medieval warm period, Irish people did make wine out of grapes they grew locally, and apparently the art was not entirely lost.)

Most of us hung around another day or so to see the sights of Dublin — some to check the museum’s collection of early books, others to recap Leopold Bloom’s 24-hour roam around the city in the pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses — and to get to know each other a little better. All in all, I would call it one of the best cons ever.

 
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Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

After the Harrison family settled in, just outside of Dublin, I feared we would lose touch with them again. That didn’t happen. Those were the years when the airlines were cutting their prices and increasing their amenities every week or so; world travel became easier for many of us, and tempting science-fiction cons and other events kept cropping up in all sorts of foreign settings. Both Harry and I took full advantage of the new opportunities, and if I didn’t run into him in Rio de Janeiro I was likely to have another chance before long in Milan.

We weren’t the only sf jet-setters, either; fans and writers like Brian Aldiss in England and Sam Lundwall in Sweden covered about as much of the Earth’s surface as Harry and I. We were together in some town when Harry got a truly brilliant idea. We all, on one occasion or another, had visited the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries, and we had all had the experience of meeting a local or two who turned out to become a friend.

And then one of us said, “What a pity Russians can’t get visas to come to Worldcons.” And Harry spoke up, with a sudden big smile, “You know what? Your countries and theirs wouldn’t give them visas because of the Cold War. But I’m from Ireland, and Ireland isn’t a member of NATO!”

And as soon as he got home he began talking to some friendly Irish diplomats. They all confirmed that there wouldn’t be any political problem to inviting Russians to a Dublin con.

So Harry immediately set about creating one.

 

When Harrycon happened, it was a blast. A couple of dozen top sf writers showed up, as well as numbers of editors, fans and general hangers-on from all sorts of European, North American and South American countries. And from the Soviet Union, among others, my own personal best Russian friend, Yuli Kagarlitsky, author of the USSR’s only scholarly book on science fiction, Shto eta fantastika, and Vasili Zakharchenko, editor of a boys’ magazine that sometimes published translated American sf stories, and paid for them, in rubles and kopecks, in cash. And when it was over four of us — Harry and I, plus Brian W. Aldiss and Sam Lundwall — kept wishing we could do it regularly, and among the four of us, we thought up a way of getting it done.

The USSR, and indeed almost all the Stalinite countries, wouldn’t let their people go abroad just for fun. But if the purpose was to be delegates to some world literary or scientific societies, well, certainly they wanted the hammer and sickle flag displayed on the world stage.

It turned out to be the easiest revolution we ever caused. We constituted ourselves a scholarly body called World SF, printed up letterheads with Harry listed as president and the other three of us, our countries of origin prominently displayed, listed as vice-presidents and began mailing invitations to people of interest. And almost at once they began to arrive.

Of course, to invite people to speak at international meetings required that we cook up meetings for them to address. But that was easy to do, and, somewhat to our surprise, the World SF meetings themselves became important annual events. Some were quite small, involving twenty or thirty, or rarely even fewer, in attendance, but some were huge, for example the one hosted in Chengdu, China.

World SF kept going until the collapse of the Soviet Union began the changes in many of the world’s repressive governments that eased travel restrictions. Then it wasn’t needed any more and it gradually withered away, but it did the job Harry wanted it to, and without his driving energy, it might never have happened.

Harry was a good and crowd-pleasing writer. He was also a human being who did his best to make the world a kinder place. We’ll miss him.

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Ion Hobana

        Ion Hobana

So long, old friend.

Twenty-some years ago a few writers and editors from assorted parts of the world — Harry Harrison from Ireland, Brian Aldiss from England, Sam Lundwall from Sweden and your servant from the U.S.A. — got together to form the organization World SF. Its primary purpose was to constitute a formally existing organization of science-fiction professionals, with regular meetings all over the world, since a formal organization would help our fellows in countries like the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union get through their travel barriers to join the rest of us in truly international meetings.

It worked pretty well much of the time, with science-fiction writers turning up in several score of the countries of the world. One of the most active was Ion Hobana, from Bucharest, Romania, and it was with real sorrow that we learned that he died in a Bucharest hospital in February, at the age of 80. Some of his stories that were translated into English appear in anthologies, including The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction.

The Demolished Man was worth all of Horace Gold’s editorial aggravations. The Demolished Man was fresh, adventurous and beautifully written, and it began a stretch of five years or so during which Alfred Bester was turning out what was arguably some of the best writing in the sf field, right up to his second great novel, The Stars My Destination, sometimes called Tiger! Tiger! in 1956.

But, as far as great sf novels were concerned, that was it. Alfie did produce a group of first-rate short stories and novelettes around that time — “Fondly Fahrenheit,” “5,279,009” and my own personal favorite, “Disappearing Act,” for example — and he did write more novels later on, but I don’t think anyone has ever argued that they came up to the standards of those first two terrific books. Maybe Alfie really needed Horace’s nagging to make them great.

And, actually, science fiction lost a lot of its interest for Alfie Bester.

Alfie hadn’t stopped being a money writer. He had returned to science fiction because the money had got better — magazine word rates had tripled after World War II, and now the stories were being picked up by book publishers for even more money. And Alfie had just gotten some significant Hollywood money (for a film which, of course, was never made), which gave him and Rolly the chance to live in Europe for a while.

This suggested to him that he try a little nonfiction travel writing for a magazine named Holiday, which he discovered was just as painless to write as anything else, provided you were Alfred Bester. That paid pretty well. In fact, the magazine’s editors liked his writing so much that they offered him an editorial job, at quite a decent salary, and Alfie suddenly had a new home.

That is, for eight or nine years he did, up until the time when the magazine, as magazines do, went bust.

And then, after he and Rolly had been happily married for forty-eight years, Rolly died. And he began to lose his vision. And things, which had been going quite well for Alfie Bester, were beginning to be less idyllic.

Continue reading ‘Alfie, Part 2: When Bester was the Best’ »

From the blog team:

By popular request, here is the table of contents for Gateways, an anthology of original stories inspired by Frederik Pohl, edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull, and due out this summer from Tor:

Gateways, original stories inspired by Frederik Pohl, edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull

  • Elizabeth Anne Hull, Introduction
  • David Brin, “Shoresteading”
  • Phyllis and Alex Eisenstein, “Von Neumann’s Bug”
  • Isaac Asimov, Appreciation
  • Joe Haldeman, “Sleeping Dogs”
  • Larry Niven, “Gates (Variations)”
  • Gardner Dozois, Appreciation
  • James Gunn, “Tales from the Spaceship Geoffrey”
  • Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre, “Shadows of the Lost”
  • Connie Willis, Appreciation
  • Vernor Vinge, “A Preliminary Assessment of the Drake Equation, Being an Excerpt from the Memories of Star Captain Y.T. Lee”
  • Greg Bear, “Warm Sea”
  • Robert J. Sawyer, Appreciation
  • Frank M. Robinson, “The Errand Boy”
  • Gene Wolfe, “King Rat”
  • Robert Silverberg, Appreciation
  • Harry Harrison, “The Stainless Steel Rat and the Pernicious Porcuswine”
  • Jody Lynn Nye, “Virtually, A Cat”
  • David Marusek, Appreciation
  • Brian W. Aldiss, “The First-Born”
  • Ben Bova, “Scheherezade and the Storytellers”
  • Joan Slonczewski, Appreciation
  • Sheri S. Tepper, “The Flight of the Denartesestel Radichan”
  • Neil Gaiman, “The [Backspace] Merchants”
  • Emily Pohl-Weary, Appreciation
  • Mike Resnick, “On Safari”
  • Cory Doctorow, “Chicken Little”
  • James Frenkel, Afterword