Saturday, January 12, 2013

Happy Birthday, George Alec Effinger (Part 2 of 3)

In memory of author George Alec Effinger (January 10, 1947 – April 27, 2002), who would have been 66 years old this month, I am reprinting a series of three blog posts I published in the first half of 2009. This second blog post, originally published on May 12, 2009, focuses on the book George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth, which I helped a wee bit through publication.

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This is the second of three essays on author George Alec Effinger -- one 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, a compilation of all of George's Marîd Audran and related stories.

Once Budayeen Nights was complete and in the hands of the typesetter, I began thinking about the next collection of Effinger's work. But now that George had passed away, I didn't have his input on this second book as I did for BN. All I had was my commitment to him to help bring his work back into print, and his email of August 30, 2001, in which he suggested a collection featuring "a hefty selection of my 200 stories, with introductions to each one, and calling it GAE: The White Album or GAE Live! At the Village Gate or...GAE: The Prairie Years." When George and I were communicating by email (albeit sporadically, due to his health and domicile issues) between 2001 and 2002, I had asked him to put together a list of the stories he would like to include in a "best of" collection, but time just wasn't on his side. And George wasn't kidding when he referred to his "200 stories" -- I know, as I've tried to track down a goodly portion of them! In fact, I probably have the largest "collection" of George Alec Effinger short fiction, only second to Barbara Hambly, who now has all of George's files and books in her possession.

The Concept
I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, considering it was six years ago [2003], but if ye olde memory still serves me, I came up with the basic idea for the second collection during a telephone conversation with author George Zebrowski. Unlike archived email, I'm not able to replay and quote six-year-old telephone conversations, so memory will have to do. (Maybe AT&T has the conversation archived in some illegal-wiretapping file? GeorgeZ and I may have mentioned the words "Budayeen" or "Islamic" or "Arab" in the course of our conversations about GAE!)

I had worked with GeorgeZ on his short story collection entitled Swift Thoughts (Golden Gryphon Press, 2002). During that project, and for some time afterward, we spoke quite often on the telephone. George had unlimited long distance at the time and enjoyed calling and chatting with his many author friends and editors. It was the "author friends and editors" that gave me the idea. Since GAE was no longer with us, to select the stories for his next collection, I decided that I would ask his peers -- his friends and fellow authors, and editors -- to select their favorite GAE story. And then, once they told me their favorite story, I would ask them -- as a tribute to GAE -- to write a mini introduction to the story. I wanted to first hook them on the story suggestion, and then seek their cooperation to write an intro. GeorgeZ wholeheartedly agreed to contribute, as did many others.

About this same time, in March 2003, I also published a "letter" in Locus online asking fans of GAE to recommend their favorite stories for a collection of his work. This is how I "met" author Andrew Fox, a former student of George's at the University of New Orleans Metropolitan College, as well as a participant in George's writing workshop and critique group. You can read more about Andrew Fox in my blog post about his new novel, The Good Humor Man (Tachyon Publications, 2009); and I'll have more to say about Andy in Part Three of this series.

I also had to come up with a viable title for the collection. All decisions as to content had to be cleared with Barbara Hambly, executrix of George Alec Effinger's literary estate, so I emailed Barb about title possibilities, sharing with her George's suggestions in his email of August 30. In response, on December 7, 2002, Barb wrote: "I know George was particularly tickled at the thought of doing George Alec Effinger: The White Album, with a plain, all-white cover." However, it didn't take much discussion to realize that an all-white dust jacket wasn't going to intrigue reviewers and readers and, ultimately, buyers. So, riffing on George's original suggestions -- and since he now had "shuffled off this mortal coil"1 -- Barb and I came up with the title George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth. We both believe that George would have been quite pleased with this title!

The Process
My next step was twofold: to contact authors and editors to contribute to the collection, and to track down copies of George's many stories. The former proved to be easier than the latter. I already owned George's chapbook collection The Old Funny Stuff (Pulphouse Publishing, 1989); and in preparation for working on Budayeen Nights, I had purchased three of his other collections: Mixed Feelings (Harper & Row, 1974), Irrational Numbers (Doubleday, 1975), and Dirty Tricks (Doubleday, 1978). But these four collections barely broke the surface of GAE's short fiction. His stories had been published in magazines such as Night Cry, Omni, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, and even Playboy, as well as the more traditional SF&F publications; his stories also appeared in the New Dimensions, Orbit, and Universe anthology series, and far too many themed anthologies. I hit on just about everyone I knew who had a book collection of their own or who worked in a library to help me track down copies of GAE's stories. Those folks are too numerous to mention here, but I do thank them by name in the acknowledgments to GAE Live!

Since all the stories would need to be scanned, I didn't have an accurate word count at the beginning of the process, so I invited more contributors than I may have actually needed. I also had to consider the possibility that one or more of the contributors might back out of their commitment due to scheduling conflicts, deadlines, personal issues, etc. However, the sixteen authors and editors who committed to contributing to the collection all came through; of those sixteen, thirteen appear in the book and their names appear on the wraparound dust jacket.

The author names, in descending alphabetical order, fade from large to small on the back cover; those thirteen names are: George Zebrowski, Howard Waldrop, Pamela Sargent, Mike Resnick, Lawrence Person, Barbara Hambly, Richard Gilliam, Neil Gaiman, Gardner Dozois, Bradley Denton, Jack Dann, Michael Bishop, and Neal Barrett Jr. In addition, Richard Bleiler, Paul Di Filippo, Barbara Hambly, and Gordon Van Gelder provided introductions to stories that were not used due to space limitations.2

And if you haven't guessed who the cover artist is from the style and use of colors, then let me introduce you to another wonderful cover painting by the delightful John Picacio. I'll have a bit more about John and the cover art later in this essay. The George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth full cover art is copyright © 2004 and reprinted here with the most gracious permission of the artist.

The Content
By far, the story that was recommended the most by friends and fans alike, was "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything," which was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1984. Between 2001 and 2002, while I was communicating with George about BN and a follow-up "best of" collection, I was also working on an anthology of sardonic fiction with co-editor Claude Lalumière. The anthology, entitled Witpunk (Four Walls, Eight Windows, 2003), was comprised of both original and reprint stories. Claude is also a huge fan of Effinger's work, and one of the reprint stories I had my eye on, for inclusion in the antho, was "The Aliens Who Knew..." I emailed George on March 29, 2002, regarding the use of the story in Witpunk, and on April 2 he responded: "I recall it was a Hugo nominee. [editor's note: also a Nebula finalist] It's one of my best stories, but you don't win awards with funny stuff, no matter how good it is. I'm glad you'd like to anthologize it. It deserves a resurrection." Unfortunately, George passed away just three weeks later, at the time Claude and I were pulling together the contracts for the individual stories, and thus "The Aliens Who Knew..." was not included in Witpunk.3 But, the story is included in GAE Live! -- and due to its popularity, it is the only story in the collection with an introduction as well as an afterword -- each by a different contributor.

Well, if you've stuck with me this far, then I indeed want to thank you. The first post of this series contained a number of quotes from emails between George and myself, which I felt were quite interesting in retrospect. However, I'm not able to really quote from George with regards to this second collection, and quoting from my communications with all the contributors wouldn't be very exciting or entertaining either. So let me conclude this essay with a number of anecdotes, if you will, concerning a few of the contributors to this volume, and their special relationship to George Alec Effinger. (I wish I could write about every contributor, but space -- and my time -- simply won't allow it.)

  • Neal Barrett Jr.'s novelette "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" was in the running for the Nebula Award the same year as Effinger's "Schrödinger’s Kitten." Here's what Neal had to say about George in his introduction to "Everything But Honor": "I met George in New York at the 1988 [calendar year 1989] Nebula Awards banquet. We were both up for best novelette... George won. We rode out in the airport bus together. George let me hold his award.... Though we only saw one another at conventions, we became good friends.... I liked George’s work, and he liked mine. In fact, when my novel The Hereafter Gang came out in 1991, George not only told everyone to read it, he made people sit and listen to him read from it.... It’s one of the nicest things anyone ever did on my behalf." George's "Everything But Honor" was also a 1990 Hugo Award nominee for best novelette.

  • Michael Bishop wrote the introduction to the story "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything." (George Zebrowski wrote the afterword.) Though GAE Live! wasn't published until 2005, Michael actually wrote the intro in 2004. Shortly after his work on "The Aliens Who Knew..." Michael went on to write his own story, an homage to GAE entitled "The Angst, I Kid You Not, of God" (originally published as "The Angst of God"), and published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October/November 2004.

  • The June 2002 issue of Locus magazine featured a George Alec Effinger obit along with remembrances. One was written by Gardner Dozois in which he spoke highly of the "O. Niemand" stories, noting that they called out to be collected in a small-press edition. Effinger wrote eight stories under the pen name "O. Niemand," which in German means "nobody" or "no one." These stories showcased Effinger's authorial mastery as each story was written in the style of another writer, including Hemingway, Steinbeck, Thurber, Twain, and others. I asked Gardner if he would write one introduction for all eight stories, and thankfully he agreed. As the former editor of Asimov's Science Fiction, Gardner had published two of these eight stories in the magazine. In his intro, Gardner wrote: " their own way, the 'O. Niemand' stories are small marvels...they are unlike anything ever done in science fiction before, and you will never see their like again."

  • In an email to me dated May 25, 2004, John Picacio attached a black-and-white sketch of the cover for GAE Live! along with the following comments: "I've taken the suggestion of 'evoking New Orleans' and brought that into the alien image on the front cover with the street sign and street lamp that we see in the background (as inspired by the Bourbon Street sign in front of Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop)...a suggestion of not only New Orleans, but the urban and earthly juxtaposed with the alien. While I was in New Orleans...I thought a lot about this cover and about these stories. I went and visited Octavia Books and visited with one of the managers, Tom Lowenburg, who knew George. I even set up a Sunday brunch with one of George's old students, Andrew Fox, who is a sweetheart of a guy. He told me stories about George and took me to some of George's old apartments and favorite haunts." You can see the final cover results, above, and make your own decision. By the way, John lives in Texas, not Louisiana. How many artists do you know who would make this type of effort for a cover painting?

  • Pamela Sargent introduced "Target: Berlin," which she describes as one of her favorite GAE stories because "it’s such a prime example of the deliciously skewed perspective he brought to his writing, the ability to take an idea and twist it in ways that wouldn’t have occurred to anyone else. I mean, major air battles of World War II fought with automobiles because of an oil shortage?...Even while seeing the world’s absurdities, George was well aware of its inexorable tragedies, in his fiction and in his life." Pam was working on themed anthology Conqueror Fantastic (DAW, 2004) at the same time I was working on GAE's Budayeen Nights. George had promised Pam a story (as he had promised me one, "The Plastic Pasha"), but he wasn't sure he could deliver -- but, according to Pam, "I got that story from him, 'Walking Gods,' an elegiac tale narrated by Saladin at the end of his life." This was the last complete work of fiction that George Alec Effinger was ever to write.

Happy Birthday, George Alec Effinger,
Concluded in Part 3

Notes and Footnotes:

The photograph of George Alec Effinger is reprinted here with permission of the photographer Charles N. Brown [June 24, 1937 – July 12, 2009], publisher of Locus magazine. In the photo GAE proudly displays his Nebula Award for best novelette for "Schrödinger's Kitten" (included in Budayeen Nights). The photo was used on the dust jacket for George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth.

1  This quote is taken from Shakespeare's Hamlet, act three, scene one, from the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy.

2  Should I find an interested publisher, I have enough contributors and stories for a follow-up volume entitled George Alec Effinger Live! Encore. In fact, one of GAE's most profound and best stories, novella "And Us Too, I Guess," from 1973, was simply too long to be included in the present volume. Paul Di Filippo wrote a stunning 800-word introduction, which I still have in my safe keeping. Paul's intro was most apropos because in 1996, more than two decades after he had first read the story, he published an "answer" story entitled "And Them, Too, I Hope." Though about his "answer," Paul humbly wrote: "a story which, I am the first to admit, is but the palest shadow of the original."

3  Including "The Aliens Who Knew..." still wouldn't have helped Witpunk's sales. Even with a great Kirkus review ("ringingly brilliant"), sales of the anthology were mediocre at best. If ever a book cover killed the sales of a book, this is that cover! But it sure beats the first cover that publisher John Oakes presented to Claude and me: a huge, yellow smiley face that filled the entire front cover! (And not one with a bullet hole in the forehead, either -- that, at least, would have been sardonic!)

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