Monday, June 8, 2009

George Alec Effinger - Part Three

I have completed and shipped (and billed!) my previous project: copyediting By Blood We Live, a reprint vampire anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, to be published by Night Shade Books. I'm now working on copyediting another reprint anthology edited by JJA for Night Shade, this one entitled The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (approximately 230,000 words). I've also completed the second round of copyedits for Judith Moffett's novel Pennterra, the first reprint title I acquired for Warren Lapine's Fantastic Books, an imprint of his Wilder Publications. The second title, novel Fuzzy Dice by Paul Di Filippo, is now ready for layout and then copyediting. So, that's why I only blog about once per week or so. To paraphrase the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam in Frank Herbert's Dune: "The work must flow." And the bills must be paid. Since my blogs tend to be more essay rather than random comments, like blogging about my great cup of coffee this morning, they take longer to compose. If you enjoy reading what I write, then I thank you for your time and patience, and I ask that you just keep checking back -- and/or subscribe to this blog's RSS feed -- for my next entry.

At least for now, this will be my final blog post on author George Alec Effinger; one blog entry for each of the three collections of his work that I acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press between 2001 and 2007. Part One of this series focused on Budayeen Nights; and Part Two pertained to collection Live! From Planet Earth. I have a couple ideas for possible future projects of Effinger's work, but only time -- and the economy -- will tell if these ever come to pass.

In late 2002, once I had completed Budayeen Nights, and the book was in the hands of the typesetter, and then the printer, I began thinking about the next Effinger collection. During my email communications with George between 2001 and 2002, I promised him that I would do my best to help him bring his work back into print -- and even though George was no longer alive at this point in time, I felt a personal responsibility to honor that promise.

Obviously the second collection published by Golden Gryphon Press was George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth -- but this wasn't the book I had initially intended to publish next.

In the latter part of 2002, I had written Barbara Hambly, executrix of Effinger's literary estate, for a list of her favorite GAE stories. On December 2, 2002, Barb wrote: "I've sorted through George's story titles, cut out all the Maureen Birnbaum and Sandor Courane stories (which have or are getting anthologies of their own) and still have quite a few." Of course, I knew about the Birnbaum collection, but a collection of Sandor Courane stories? This was a complete surprise to me. So I inquired further of Barb about the Courane collection, and later that same day she responded: "There's a fellow in the Midwest who's doing Sandor Courane -- George was working on it with him at the time of his death." Unfortunately, Barb could not recall this fellow's name. Now I was intrigued: during my email communications with George before he passed away, when he spoke so personally about all of his work being long out-of-print, he made no mention whatsoever of another editor working on a collection of his short fiction.

And so my search began.

Eventually my net searching found a website for Wunzenzierohs Publishing Company1, which noted a "forthcoming" GAE collection entitled A Thousand Deaths. But then the announcement went on to state that the collection was currently in limbo due to Effinger's passing. Using the "Email Us" link on the home page, I contacted the publisher on December 19, 2002. I expressed my interest in seeing GAE's short fiction back in print, and I asked if the publisher still planned to pursue this particular collection of Sandor Courane stories. I also requested a list of the proposed stories to be included in the book. I was thinking that if the publisher was willing to give up the rights to this collection so that it could be published by Golden Gryphon -- and if he had all the stories pretty much ready to go and was willing to share them with me -- then I could get this book into print more quickly than the other collection I was planning (Live! From Planet Earth), which I was having to start from scratch.

Gordie Meyer, Wunzenzierohs publisher, responded to my email the following day. Apparently, WunzPub (to use Gordie's abbreviation) was more of a hobby venture, and he had, in fact, been considering if he really had the time to do the Sandor Courane collection. Gordie wrote: "I've known George from his being online at Delphi long ago, and we'd occasionally touch base via email or meet in person at a con, but I didn't really know him all that well. Mike [Resnick], however, did, and when I mentioned that I thought it was a shame that all of George's work was OOP, he suggested that I consider a collection of . . . the Sandor Courane stories, as they were an identifiable group to collect and were some of Mike's favorite Effinger stories. So I ran the idea past George at a con, he and Barbara [Hambly] liked the idea . . ." Evidently this all occurred four years earlier, in 1998. Gordie went on to say: "If you'd be interested in taking over the publication of A Thousand Deaths (which both George and I came up with independently -- cue Twilight Zone theme . . .), it'd make my decision a bit easier. . . . It was [always] about getting George's work back into print. So if I can make that happen, even without actually publishing it myself, I'd still feel good about the project. . . . Barbara has already approved having Mike Resnick do the introduction. And actually, Mike threatened physical violence if he didn't get to do the intro. {g}"

And that's how I, and Golden Gryphon Press, acquired George Alec Effinger's Sandor Courane collection, A Thousand Deaths. But the story doesn't quite end there.

Gordie sent me a list of all the Sandor Courane stories he was aware of, and included the text of an email he had received from Effinger regarding the list of stories. Gordie stated that he received the email from George "when he was still in rehab the last time" so I'm guessing this was between late fall and early winter 2001. George wrote: "I'm sure there are plenty more Courane stories ("The Wicked [Old] Witch," for one, which is when he starts being aware of what's been happening to him), but I don't even have a bibliography, and in a day or two I'll be denied access to this computer. Go ahead with that stuff for now -- I'd love to see WOLVES included, because it's an important part of his, um, 'mythos.' I'm wondering if I'm developing my own mythos (shudder, etc.)."

Gordie had hardcopies of most of the stories on the list, and scans of a few of them. He offered to send all of this material to me, but when lengthy delays occurred due to multiple computer crashes and other priorities in his life, I decided to pursue Live! From Planet Earth as the second collection, and save A Thousand Deaths for book number three. It was published on June 1, 2007.

George himself always believed that his novel The Wolves of Memory, featuring Sandor Courane and the computer overlord TECT, was his best work. The first Marîd Audran/Budayeen novel, When Gravity Fails, may have been his most popular and most widely known and read novel, but Wolves, he felt, was his best. That, along with the fact that Wolves had been out of print since the early '80s, inspired me to include the novel in the collection. But here was my dilemma: Wolves clocked in at approximately 88,000 words, and I only had a maximum of about 130,000 words to work with for the entire collection....

For those who knew George Alec Effinger, Sandor Courane is obviously one of George's many alter egos. Yet, contrary to the title A Thousand Deaths -- and regardless of what George said in his email to Gordie about there being "plenty more Courane stories" -- after all my research, I could only find a total of thirteen stories2 in which Sandor Courane made an appearance, or was even mentioned at all. And of these, Courane only dies, or faces death, in probably two-thirds of them. So, in keeping with the title A Thousand Deaths and given the available word count (approximately 30,000 words), it is these stories that I included in the collection.

I commissioned yet another wraparound dust jacket cover from artist extraordinaire
John Picacio. I thought the previous two Effinger covers, for BN and GAE Live!, were some of John's best work -- until he turned in the artwork for A Thousand Deaths. The final front cover of the book is shown above, but this is one of those wraparound pieces in which the front cover alone doesn't do the artwork justice; you need to see the full wraparound art:

This artwork is, of course, copyright © 2007 by John Picacio, and is reprinted here with the most gracious permission of the artist. In The Wolves of Memory, Courane wanders the desert, first searching for a woman, and then, upon finding her corpse, strives to bring the body home -- at times carrying the body, more often dragging the body -- with no food or water, for days under the desert sun, and with his mind near complete deterioration.

So I now had the contents of the Sandor Courane collection: the novel Wolves plus seven stories, six of which had not been previously included in an Effinger collection. Then, not wanting to incite physical violence, I asked
Mike Resnick3 to write the book's introduction, to which he readily agreed; I also asked Andrew Fox4 to write an afterword. Andy was a student of George's "World Building: Writing SF and Fantasy" course at the University of New Orleans Metropolitan College, and he later joined George's monthly writing workshop and critique group (which still meets today). Andy had written an essay entitled "Remembering George Alec Effinger," which he had posted on his website for many years; unfortunately, his website is not currently active, so with his permission I made this essay available in Part One of this series. For the afterword to A Thousand Deaths, Andy rewrote that essay, expanding it to 10,000 words; it's a sincere look at his relationship with Effinger and the city of New Orleans, and the impact GAE had on his writing, with lots of personal insights and commentary along the way.

The review in the May 7, 2007, issue of Publishers Weekly praises ATD: "A heartfelt homage to the late (and largely underappreciated) SF author Effinger (1947–2002), this intimate collection of stories revolving around his literary alter ego, hapless genre writer and editor Sandor Courane, offers a poignant glimpse into the author’s psyche. Central to the collection is The Wolves of Memory, a deeply allegorical novel in which Courane, banished from Earth by the computerized overlord TECT after numerous career failures, finds himself exiled on a bleak world where he and other outcasts slowly succumb to an alien neurological disorder. Struggling with increasing memory loss and the deterioration of his body, Courane finally finds what he has been seeking all along: fulfillment.... A touching afterword by Andrew Fox as well as visually stunning cover art by John Picacio make this bittersweet collection one to be cherished."5

When have you ever read a PW review in which the book's cover art was so strikingly acknowledged? It's a testament to the quality of John Picacio's work.

All in all, I think I did okay on behalf of George Alec Effinger: three archival-quality hardcovers with wraparound cover art by John Picacio. The collections include his favorite novel, The Wolves of Memory, plus thirty-eight stories, only a few of which had been previously collected. These stories include all eight "O. Niemand" stories, one story returned to its original text ("The City on the Sand"), one previously unpublished story ("Marîd Throws a Party"), and one beginning fragment of a story ("The Plastic Pasha") that would never be. And fourteen different authors, editors, students, and friends of GAE provided content to support these three collections. At this point in time, the best I can do is to ask all those who have read this blog to go read some George Alec Effinger if you haven't already done so -- it doesn't have to be these three collections necessarily, just anything written by him. And if you've already read some of Effinger's work, then go read some more; he's written more than a dozen novels (not counting media tie-ins) and enough solid, quality short stories to fill at least two more volumes.

So, George, what do you think, did I do okay?

Notes and Footnotes:

The photograph in which George Alec Effinger is wearing his Cleveland Indians shirt was taken in 1986 by Carolyn F. Cushman and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the photographer, and Charles N. Brown and Locus magazine. Effinger was born in Cleveland in 1947, and was always a huge sports fan, and an Indians fan in particular. In fact, his entire collection Idle Pleasures (Berkley Books, 1983) is comprised of science fiction sports stories.

The second photograph first appeared on the back cover of the original hardcover edition of When Gravity Fails (Arbor House, 1987) and appears here with the very kind permission of the photographer, Debbie Hodgkinson. In an email on May 23, 2009, Debbie wrote: "The photo was taken at the Napoleon House bar in the French Quarter, George was very self-conscious for the first half hour or forty-five minutes, not about wearing the keffiyeh in public, just about the camera. He finally got bored enough to relax, and that shot was near the end of the roll." And her follow-up email on June 3: "Sorry I can't tell you what year the photo was taken, but it was after the [Louisiana] World's Fair in 1984, since that's where he bought the keffiyeh... Call it circa 1985."

1 The Wunzenzierohs website hasn't been updated since April 2003, which is why I haven't linked to it in this essay. The home page states that the Effinger collection ATD has been transferred to Golden Gryphon Press for a possible 2004 publication date. As previously stated, the book was published in 2007.

2 Of the Courane stories not included in this volume, two in particular deserve special recognition: "The Pinch Hitters," the story of five writers who, while attending a science fiction convention, find themselves transported into the bodies of major league baseball players. In addition to Effinger himself, as Sandor Courane, of course, the other four "characters" are based on the real-life SF writers Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois, Jack C. Haldeman, and Joe Haldeman. Read the story and see if you can figure out who's who. The second story, "Strange Ragged Saintliness," is narrated by Courane, in which he tells of his childhood friend and roommate, Robert W. Hanson (another recurring Effinger character), who tried to help "plugging"-addicted street people kick their habit before it killed them (given George's own history of drug addiction brought on by chronic pain, this story is indeed very personal).

3 Is there anyone not familiar with Mike Resnick's work? He's been nominated for thirty-three Hugo Awards, and won five times. According to his Wikipedia entry: "Except for 1999 and 2003, he has received at least one nomination every year to date since 1989." In fact, Mike has two stories nominated for this year's awards: "Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" (Asimov's, January 2008) for best novelette, and "Article of Faith" (Baen's Universe, October 2008) for best short story.

4 Andrew Fox is the author of Fat White Vampire Blues (Ballantine, 2003), Bride of the Fat White Vampire (Ballantine, 2004), and most recently The Good Humor Man (Tachyon Publications, 2009), edited by yours truly.

5 Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. [Note: This review was back in the day, before the $25.00 fee for a PW freelance review!]

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  1. excellent writer. And I love Picacio's cover for A Thousand Deaths.

  2. Hey, John D. --

    Always appreciate your comments. There are just so many facets to Effinger's writing, that every reader will find at least a few great stories that suit their tastes. And yes, Picacio's cover is to die for (pun intended!).

    - marty

  3. I figured posting a follow-up comment to my own blog entry would be a better way to add content rather than editing the entry itself (because those who have already read the blog wouldn't know that content had been added).

    I mentioned in the blog post itself about Effinger's special fondness for the Cleveland Indians baseball team. Following is a link I came upon for the "Chicago in 2000" WorldCon bid: the George Alec Effinger collectable trading card -- GAE in all his Cleveland Indians finery. The photo was taken by the late Ross Pavlac.

    - marty