Saturday, April 11, 2009

George Alec Effinger

This is part one of a planned three-part blog posting on author George Alec Effinger, one part pertaining to each of the three volumes of his work that I acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press. In this first part, I'd like to step you through my correspondence with George leading up to the publication of Budayeen Nights, the first collection, published in hardcover in 2003 and reprinted in trade paperback this past September.

I've always been a fan of George Alec Effinger's work (as if you couldn't tell from reading my previous blog entries). His Budayeen novels (When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss) did indeed impress me, but I was more captivated with his short fiction: the subtlety of his writing, his sardonic wit, his very unique craft and range. In my opinion, George is (was) one of the most underrated and underappreciated authors within the science fiction and fantasy genre, and much of his lack of notoriety was due to his chronic illness, which affected his output over the years. By 2001, when I first made contact with George, I believe all of his published work was out of print, though all were obviously still available through the used book market. As an acquisitions editor with Golden Gryphon Press, from 1999 through 2007, I was finally in a position to do something about bringing attention to his work once again.

I knew that George surfed the Usenet groups and thus I was able to track him down in this fashion. Between late July 2001 and early April 2002, I received a total of eleven emails from George. I probably sent him three times as many in return, but I was grateful to have received the few emails from him that I did. At the time, I knew somewhat of George's medical problems and financial difficulties; what I didn't know is that, because of past due medical bills, a local (New Orleans) hospital had threatened ownership of George's intellectual property in order to recoup their expenses. Because of this, for a number of years, George only wrote stories for themed anthologies so that he would at least have some income, while refusing to write any further work involving his own characters and worlds. He should have written the fourth Budayeen novel, continuing the tale of Marîd Audran -- it's what his fans and readers were clamoring for, and the only real source of income before him -- but George didn't want the hospital's lawyers to become any wealthier off of his work, and so he continued his "for hire" writing. Fortunately, the legal case was dropped when the lawyers failed to appear for a court hearing, and George finally got his life -- and his characters -- back. But the damage was done; the best writing years of George's life were now behind him, as I would soon learn.

In my first email to George, I introduced myself and provided some details on books that I had previously edited, and then I presented a couple ideas to him. George's response, on July 31, 2001, was very brief but to the point; he wrote: "I am flattered by both your suggestions. I've been frustrated by how the whole body of my 30-years' work has already disappeared. Please let me know how I can help you in your projects."

I was so excited, I responded that very same day, but it was another month, on August 30, before I received a reply. George 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." I again responded immediately, but a number of months went by with no word from George. In fact, I had to go through another individual in New Orleans who tracked George down and told him that he needed to contact me. I learned much later that during these months George's health and housing issues had once again returned to impact the quality of his life; he had no regular Internet access because he was being shuffled from one residence to another.

Finally, on February 25, 2002, I received an email from George. He informed me that he's "online regularly now and back to work, too," and concluded his brief email with: "Let's get to work! I could use... a good project to work on, and something to put out so that people will realize I'm still around and kicking. Typing, I mean." Even in the few short sentences contained within this communication, I could sense his new-found energy, and I was anxious to get to work on a project with him as well. Earlier, George had also suggested a collection of his Budayeen stories, and since I felt these stories had the most commercial potential, given the continued popularity of his Budayeen novels, this was the book we began work on first.

On March 3, George wrote: "Regarding the collection of Budayeen stories: I've got most of the book on this computer... I can send you the files and print them out, too. I'd like to do introductions to the stories, sort of explaining where they came from and how they fit into the Budayeen future world. I've tried to come at that world from different directions that I don't have time for in the novels.... I'd be glad to do an original [story] for the book, too. I have a story planned out that I've never written. It's about Marîd Audran's brother (I've mentioned in the books that their mother sold the younger brother when they were young). He's grown up now and becomes the ruler of Algeria. I don't think Marîd ever meets him, though. The story's about the official acceptance of the brain-wiring technology in the Islamic world, which is pretty slow to accept stuff like that. Somebody comes up with a personality module of the perfect Islamic governor, and that leads to a battle over who is qualified to wear it. I've been meaning to write that story for years.... Oh, btw, I've always figured to call the collection Budayeen Nights."
Then, on April 2, 2002, George wrote: "I'll get to work on the new Marîd story ('The Plastic Pasha' is the working title) as soon as possible. In another file I've sent you another unpublished chunk plus 'Marîd and the Trail of Blood' from Barbara's anthology. Hmm, I wonder if Barbara [Hambly] would do the introduction. I'll have to remember to ask her. I should be giving her a call tonight or tomorrow. We're pretty close, for divorced people."

When all was said and done, George provided me all but one existing story that was included in Budayeen Nights -- and that one missing story, "Marîd Changes His Mind," I was able to scan in from my own copy of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Some of you may know that this story was simply the first two chapters of A Fire in the Sun. But the way Marîd describes his mother upon seeing her for the first time in, well, let's just say, a number of years, is worth the price of admission alone, and I certainly wasn't going to exclude this story from the collection. Let me set the scene: Marîd shows up unannounced at his mother's flat, with his best friend, the Half-Hajj, in tow. After knocking on the door several times, he can hear bedsprings, and finally Angel Monroe, his mother, answers the door. She's dressed, but looks a mess, having been lying in bed sick; read Marîd's description:
She was a full head shorter than me, with bleached blonde hair curled tightly into an arrangement I would call "ratty." Her black roots looked as if no one had given them much attention since the Prophet's birthday. Her eyes were banded with dark blue and black makeup, in a manner that brought to mind the more colorful Mediterranean saltwater fish. The rouge she wore was applied liberally, but not quite in the right places, so she didn't look so much wantonly sexy as she did feverishly ill. Her lipstick, for reasons best known to Allah and Angel Monroe, was a kind of pulpy purple color; her lips looked like she'd bought them first and forgot to put them in the refrigerator while she shopped for the rest of her face.... She was clad now in shorts so small that her well-rounded belly was bending the waistband over. Her sagging breasts were not quite clothed in a kind of gauzy vest. I knew for certain that if she sat in a chair, you could safely hide the world's most valuable gem in her navel and it would be completely invisible. Her legs were patterned with broken veins like the dry chebka valleys of the Mzab. On her broad, flat feet she wore tattered slippers with the remains of pink fuzzy bows dangling loose.1
After reading that description of Marîd's mother, how could you not understand my passion for George's writing!

Also included in the files that George sent me was the original uncut version of the story "The City on the Sand"; the version that appeared in the April 1973 issue of F&SF probably had about a third of the text cut. The original, longer version was the one that George preferred. And the "unpublished chunk" to which George referred in his email of April 2 was a story entitled "Marîd Throws a Party," which was actually the first two chapters of the fourth, albeit unwritten, Budayeen novel, Word of Night2. George also sent me the book's dedication: For Nell, Denise, Helen, Valerie, and all the others / without whom there would be no Budayeen.

I'm sharing these emails from George with you, including the files and stories and dedication -- and even the book's title -- so that you understand that George Alec Effinger played a vital role in the creation of Budayeen Nights. This being contrary to what John Clute said in his review of the book in his "Excessive Candour" column for Clute obviously did not do his homework when he wrote: "We owe this immensely sad book, which George Alec Effinger almost certainly did not sanction in the months leading up to his premature death, to science fiction itself..." But don't get me started on Clute's review of Budayeen Nights (though I will come back to it in a later blog post, trust me).

The very last email I received from George was dated April 9, 2002, in which he wrote: "I'll work on that 'Pasha' story next week, after I finish Chapter Three of this novel3. We'll get the whole package finished quickly. My ex, Barbara Hambly, said she'd be happy to write the overall preface to the book, too."

As I said, that was the last communication I had from George; I was busy working on the files that he had already sent me, and I felt it best to give him the time and space he needed to write that new story. Three weeks later, it was Nebula Awards weekend, and after I awoke Sunday morning, April 28, I decided to log onto Locus online in order to learn who had won the Nebula Awards. As the home page loaded, the first headline that caught my eye was the announcement that George Alec Effinger had died (in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 27). That moment was nearly seven years ago now, so I can't really express how I truly felt at the time, other than to say that I was literally shocked. George hadn't had any recent health issues, he was writing again, his communications were not just positive, but one could even say vibrant -- and then this. The world responded, with obituaries in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and even the London Guardian, as well as remembrances and tributes in both Locus magazine and Locus online.

As she had promised George, Barb Hambly wrote the foreword to the book, and in his stead, she also wrote the individual story introductions. She had found the beginning of "The Plastic Pasha" on George's computer, when she retrieved his belongings after he passed away; unfortunately, less than 2,500 words had been written, but oh, you could just feel the potential that this story had, if only George had been able to complete it. In his honor, as the last piece of fiction that he would ever write, I included this brief piece in the collection as well. And award-winning artist John Picacio provided the book with one of his wonderful painted covers.

Well, Budayeen Nights was published on schedule, in the fall of 2003. When my copies of the book finally arrived, it was with bitter-sweet emotions. In my heart, I knew that George Alec Effinger would have been extremely proud of this book (we all were); but I was truly saddened by the fact that, after having his work out of print for so many years, George wasn't here with us to share in this moment.

One thing more... After Budayeen Nights was released, author Andrew Fox arranged a memorial reading from the book; the event was held at Octavia Books in New Orleans on October 17, 2003. Barbara Hambly was in attendance, as was NO author Laura Joh Rowland, in addition to Andy Fox and others. You can read about the event in more detail in Fox's "Remembering George Alec Effinger"4 -- a nearly 8,500-word essay that Andy had originally posted on his web site, which, sadly, is no longer active. And as you can see from the accompanying graphic, artist John Picacio most graciously donated his time to create an 11" x 17" poster to advertise the event; enough posters were printed to hang in the bookstore as well as in key locations around town.

I want to take this opportunity to thank both Barbara Hambly, executrix of George Alec Effinger's literary estate, and his agent Richard Curtis, of Richard Curtis Associates, for their continued support of my work on behalf of George throughout these past years.

Notes and Footnotes:

The photograph of George Alec Effinger is reprinted here with permission of the photographer
Patti Perret. The photo was used on the dust jacket of George Alec Effinger's A Thousand Deaths (Golden Gryphon, 2007). Perret is the author of The Faces of Science Fiction (Bluejay, 1984) and The Faces of Fantasy (Tor, 1996).

1 The excerpt from "Marîd Changes His Mind" is copyright © 1989 by the Estate of George Alec Effinger and is reprinted here by permission.
2 In a post on Usenet group rec.arts.sf.written, dated November 8, 1998, George Alec Effinger wrote: "The still unfinished fourth book, Word of Night, is taken from an Arab proverb: The word of night is written in ice / And melteth upon the dawn."
3 I believe the novel to which he referred was the story of Renfield, Dracula’s bug-eating henchman. George had outlined this novel with Barbara Hambly, but at the time of his death, only a few chapters had been written, which were largely unusable.
4 "Remembering George Alec Effinger" is copyright © 2003 by Andrew Fox and is provided here with the permission of the author. Andrew Fox is the author of Fat White Vampire Blues (Ballantine, 2003), Bride of the Fat White Vampire (Ballantine, 2004), and The Good Humor Man (Tachyon Publications, 2009).
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  1. I love your review here. great post! I learned a lot too about George Effinger. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. "Poster Printing" --
    Thanks for your kind words. Though I helped bring a bit of George's work back into print, I just wish I could have done more... I'm hoping this blog series will again bring attention to GAE, and folks will go out and buy and read his work. And believe it or not, yours is the first Comment on my blog so your kudos are even more appreciated.
    - marty

  3. Hi, I've just read the entire Budayeen trilogy and "Budayeen nights" - thanks to this blog post!

    I'm absolutely distraught that the final two books shall never be written - now I'll never know how Marîd and Papa get royally screwed by Reda Abu Adil... it's bugging me really more than it should!

    I was almost going to send a polite note to Barbara Hambly to see if she could fill in the gaps!

    Many thanks for introducing me to Mr Effinger's work - I still have all of the non Budayeen based stuff to locate and read.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Hi, Brian,

    Thanks for your most kind comments, really. I shared my experiences here on the making of Budayneen Nights for the sole purpose of keeping George's name -- and his work -- visible to new readers. Knowing that I accomplished that is most rewarding. Assuming you read part three of this series on GAE, then you know that his favorite book is The Wolves of Memory. You can easily find it new or used, in hardcover or paperback, from many booksellers online, or you could always pick up the 2007 title A Thousand Deaths, which contains Wolves as well as a number of other unrelated Sandor Courane stories. Or, if sardonic wit is more your style, there's always Effinger's first novel, What Entropy Means To Me, which was also a Nebula Award finalist. Not too shabby for an author's first novel!

    Cheers, and thanks again.
    Marty Halpern

  5. About five years ago I approached Barbara Hambly about the posibilty of allowing me to write my own novel using the Budayeen setting as, I'm my opinion, his trilogy is one of the finest sets of fiction ever written. My purpose was to introduce a new era of readers to theBudayeen.
    Ms. Hambly informed me via an email that there were already two or three known authors doing just that. Do you know anything about these? I've gone ahead and wrote the book (short novelette) and for now am looking for a good fan fiction site to post it on.

    1. Anonymous -

      Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately I have no knowledge of other writers who may be "officially" (i.e. with the Estate's okay) writing in the Budayeen world.

      Good luck with your writing, and should you find a site apprropriate for your Budayeen story, please feel free to post a link here and let me know.

      Cheers, and all best,
      - marty

  6. Thank you for this blog post. Oddly, I am sitting in the Atlanta airport where I believe I met George. It was during the time when planes were hijacked, and there was I a big storm that delayed everyone for an extended time. I was a young teen and he was "older." Maybe late 20's or early 30's. We talked for a long time. His wife was with him, but she slept mostly. They were very nice. Even went out of their way to walk me to my gate as my flight was called up first. On the way, we stopped at a magazine shop, and he bought me a book of short stories. I can't remember if it was a book of his short stories or if the book contained one of his short stories. Perhaps you can tell me if he had a collection published at that time, as I don't know what happened to it. This would have been in the early 70's. Oddly, I am terrible about names (and pretty bad about faces) but Effinger just stuck with me. He signed the book and my memory keys are visual.

    What made me look up your article? I was traveling with my sister (who is an author now) to the Assoc. of Jewish Libraries conference. I help her with the marketing part of being an author and was commenting to her that I would have been a hell of a lot more impressed that George's book had been in the airport, now that I know how hard this business is. This may sound like a very small thing to you (and I'm a bit embarrassed not to have a better story), but he made a great impression on a very shy teenager and, at almost 60, I still think of that night on occasion. So I was going to look him up and was so sad to find that he had financial and personal trouble in his life and had passed at an early age. He was a lovely person. I guess I just wanted someone to share a tear with.


    1. Hi, Laura,

      Thank you for sharing this with me and the other readers of this blog. It is amazing how such a brief encounter can affect one's life in this way.

      As to the book you mention: I can't believe that any of Effinger's short story collections at the time were well known enough to make it onto an airport shop's bookshelf. However, he did write some excellent stories at the time that were included in anthologies such as Universe, Orbit, and The Best Science Fiction of the Year. Do any of these titles ring a bell? Or the names Terry Carr or Damon Knight? I assume the book was a small (i.e. mass market) paperback.

      Anyhow, it's remembrances such as yours that help keep the spirit of GAE with us always.

      Thanks again. Cheers.
      - martyh