Monday, July 13, 2009

Charles N. Brown, 1937-2009

Our friend Charles N. Brown, editor and publisher of Locus, has died at age 72, Locus Online reports.

Looking through my digital photos of the past few years, I could turn up only this photo of Charles, snapped as he was threatening to bash me with his walking stick if I didn't put the camera down. I guess that's one reason I don't have more photos of him.When Sydney was attending a conference at Stanford a few years ago, and I was tagging along, Charles kindly invited us to dinner at his house, a.k.a. the Locus office, and we had a most enjoyable time with Charles, the Locus staff and the other guests. Charles loved entertaining and was entertaining, and he made sure all his guests were entertained, or else!

A mutual friend who knew Charles much better than I did, and for a lot longer, told me once that he always believed Charles had constructed a life in emulation of Jubal Harshaw in Robert A. Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land, and nothing I saw at Charles' house that night contradicted that impression.

One of my favorite memories of Charles is from that evening, as he roared in laughter when his extraordinary collection of autographed first-edition books eventually reduced me to a sputtered stream of obscenities, just as he had intended.

I also remember my Locus interview. I followed Charles to his hotel room -- where proofs of the next issue were strewn about every flat surface -- and watched him switch on a hand-held recorder.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Now you talk," he said. So I talked, while he leaned back in his chair, fingers intertwined across his belly, and watched me -- at least, I assume he was watching me; with Charles' cocked eyes, it was hard to tell, sometimes. Two or three times during the hour, he interjected an observation, such as: "So you don't believe in the Singularity, then." He took no notes. Eventually he nodded his head and turned off the recorder.

"That's it?" I asked.

"That's it," he replied.

"Well," I said, "good luck getting a coherent article out of that."

"Oh, you're easy," Charles said, "like Bruce Sterling. Talkers are easy. Let's go downstairs and get a drink."

Charles accurately thought Sydney was gorgeous, and instead of "Hello, Andy," his standard greeting was usually "Is Sydney here?" If my answer was, "No," he'd make a dismissive sound with his mouth and turn his back on me. So instead of saying, "Hello, Charles," I took to greeting him with, "She's upstairs!" or "She's in the dealer's room!" Whereupon he'd smile broadly and be very friendly indeed.

When he did talk to me, he usually needled me about not writing more. When he found out I had started a blog, he cried out in dismay. "That's not writing!" he said. "Now you'll get even less accomplished."

I saw my first copies of Locus in the dormitory living room at Clarion West in 1994, and once I got home to Raleigh, N.C., I bought the subscription that I've kept up ever since. When the first issue arrived -- its cover story, I think, an obit of Robert Bloch -- I thought, "OK! I'm a member of this community now!" That's still what I think, every month when Locus arrives. I hope it keeps arriving for many years to come. Soon the cover story, I suppose, will be an obit of Charles N. Brown himself. I'll miss him.


Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

Andy, your thoughts reflect a lot of my own. Charles was a "friend" for years, even though I actually only met him last August. I was given a gift subscription to Locus before I began submitting works anywhere. But it gave me the nudge to take my writing more seriously, as I learned a lot about the business from Charles and Locus. Hell, I first heard about Clarion through the interviews in Locus, which is how I met you. (grin)

So despite being invited to WOTF XXIV to give "the Reality Speech", my getting into SF writing is, in part, all Charles' fault. (double-edged-grin)

Dr. Phil

Haddayr said...

This is my favorite tribute to him thus far.