Garwulf’s #11: Changing the Guard

    Well, as I write this, it is the day after Ad Astra, and I’m still processing some of what has happened.

    Let me just say that I had a wonderful time; I got to meet some of you, and I got to spend time with some of the better authors in the industry. Whether it was wandering around towards the end with Robert J. Sawyer while wondering what to do, having lunch with Hal Clement (an author who started in the golden age of science fiction, and is still writing; perhaps his best known work is Mission of Gravity), meeting Guy Gavriel Kay during a party, or sitting around during a signing and chatting with Ed Greenwood (the man who created the Forgotten Realms setting for TSR), it was an incredible convention; I will remember it for a long time.

    Well, there is another reason that I will remember Ad Astra 2001, and it gave the entire event a twinge of sadness for me. It was during this convention that I learned that one of the longest shining stars of the fantasy genre had passed into the night.

    (I’m sorry, my dear readers, but this won’t be a terribly funny one; the subject matter is too serious for that.)

    L. Sprague de Camp died on November 6, 2000, just a few days before his 93rd birthday.

    He was a remarkable figure; most people my age aren’t terribly familiar with his work, although we cannot imagine the genre without him. Although his stories covered everything from historical fiction to time travel, he is perhaps best known for The Compleat Enchanter, co-written with Fletcher Pratt, but that isn’t in general print right now.

    This was a man who had been writing for longer than most people have been alive. Regardless of his original fiction, he managed to preserve the memory of some of the great authors of the 1930s, namely Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. It’s because of Sprague that we still remember them, because of him that when you watch a Conan movie on the television set, they haven’t butchered the world beyond belief. Regardless of if it is Conan or Kull, watch the closing credits: you’ll find him there.

    L. Sprague de Camp might not have been an overt presence in fantasy in his remaining years, but he had certainly left his mark. I, for one, cannot imagine fantastic fiction without him. The fact that he is now gone has left a hole in the genre, one that will not easily be filled again.

    As Ed Greenwood says, “Most of all, he was a gentleman. Really. A kind, polite, dignified friend to everyone, who liked to befriend the lost and lonely at cons in years past and make them feel welcome.”

    Before I segue off, I would like to ask everybody to just take a moment in honor of Sprague. Pay tribute to this remarkable man who managed to preserve so much of the heritage of the genre. It’s the very least he deserves.

    All right, back to the column. Shortly after I learned of L. Sprague de Camp’s passing on, I had the pleasure of eating lunch with Hal Clement. As I mentioned earlier, Hal was an author who had come up during the golden age of science fiction, and he told me several stories about some of the great authors and what they were like. As we parted to go to our various events (for Hal, a speech; for me, a book signing), I said that I hoped to see him again next year, and Hal joked that he hoped he would be there next year. It got me thinking.

    So many of the old guard of fantasy and science fiction are gone. L. Ron Hubbard, who started a religion to bring in some extra cash, but kept putting out some rather good SF while he was doing it, passed away in 1986. Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Fletcher Pratt, Frank Herbert, L. Sprague de Camp, they’re all gone. Even Gordon R. Dickson died on January 31 of this year. Poul Anderson has terminal cancer, and may not be with us for much longer. Those who remain, such as Harlan Ellison and Andre Norton, are getting on in years. David Eddings is in poor health, and even my friend and mentor, Dennis L. McKiernan, will not be around forever.

    I think that the next decade or so will be the changing of the guard. Sprague may be gone, but Tad Williams, Ed Greenwood, and George R.R. Martin are still here, and will be writing for decades to come. And even as they are scribing their prose, promising new talent such as Jo Walton, David Farland, and (hopefully) myself are being lined up to take our place when the time comes.

    Speaking as a writer, it is intimidating; I wait in dread for the next obituary, praying that it won’t be a bright star like Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison. Fantasy does have a legacy, and it is one that includes Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, and L. Sprague de Camp, among its most illustrious. They are the ones who made it possible for the rest of us to keep writing and forge ahead, and we can only hope that one day our own names will be as bright in memory as the masters who went before. It is their legacy that we authors will inherit, and it will be a very difficult one to live up to. But at least we will have the chance.

    In the end, there is hope: one bright and long lived star has winked out, but who knows how many new ones have blazed into existence, just waiting to be discovered so that they can shine with their own light? The genre will survive, the changing of the guard will take place, and so long as we remember and cherish those trailblazers who went before, the speculative fiction genre will continue to flourish, and be a good place for those whose minds delve into the fantastic.

    (I would like to thank Dennis McKiernan and Ed Greenwood for reading the rough draft and making certain that I was doing the subject matter justice.)


    Disclaimer: Garwulf’s Corner is written by Robert B. Marks and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.

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