Monday, July 13, 2009

Mr. Brown

Charles N Brown of Locus died today.

Charles was one of those science fiction people who will be very difficult to explain to future generations, a combination of gruff titan and mischievous elf. He began Locus as a one-page mimeographed newszine to support a worldcon bid, and then built it over the years into the premiere--- possibly only surviving--- print news magazine of the science fiction field, all run from his spacious home in Oakland. Locus won 29 Hugo awards, and Charles complained to whoever would listen about the few that he'd lost.

I first met Charles at the beginning of my career, I don't actually recall when. When he first interviewed me for Locus, he made certain to publish the interview with a photo that made me look like a stumbling drunk. (I wasn't, at least for that interview.) This was the first of my many embarrassing photographs in Locus.

Save for the photographs, which he published to keep me humble, Charles was always kind. He bought me the occasional meal and offered career advice and amused me with gossip from the field. (Where will I get my gossip now? I wonder) He was always in New Mexico for the Jack Williamson Lectures, and sometimes we and Connie Willis would drive down together. Connie and Charles had a well-honed routine (Charles provoking, Connie being outraged) that made the drive to Portales seem much shorter than it was.

My contribution to Charles' life, such as it is, was to inadvertently awaken an enthusiasm for modern art. When we were attending the 1992 Worldcon at the Hague, he accompanied me on a trip to a local museum, and for the first time saw the works of artists like Klimt, Cezanne, Mondrian, Picasso . . . Charles had an encyclopedic knowledge of science fiction and fantasy art, and his home was decorated with many originals, but this was new to him. After that, if we were in the same city, we'd sometimes take in a gallery or museum.

Once, when Charles was visiting Albuquerque, Suzy McKee Charnas and I took him to Pueblo Pottery, a gallery in Old Town specializing not just in pots, but in all sorts of Indian art. Charles couldn't make up his mind whether or not to buy a particular pot, and Suzy and I got bored. I noticed that there was a large drum in the corner, and I began drumming and singing the following chant:

Buy the pot
Charlie Brown
Buy the pot
Charlie Brown
Lovely pot
Charlie Brown
Lovely pot
Charlie Brown

Suzy joined in. The saleswoman came up to us and said, "If this works, you can come here any time you like." I believe Charles eventually bought the pot.

My understanding is that Charles came from a family in which heart disease was common, and in which people typically died in their fifties and sixties. Charles outlived the other members of his family, and died at 72.

He had been ill for some time, and carefully organized a Locus Foundation to keep Locus going after his death.

He died on the plane flying home from Readercon. Apparently he went down for a nap and never woke up.

I imagine he would have enjoyed going this way, and being the center of attention one last time.

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