Appreciations for Charles N. Brown, 1937-2009

Appreciations by Jean M. Auel, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Jonathan Cowie, Tom Dupree, Raymond E. Feist, Nick Gevers, Kim Greyson, Beth Gwinn, Marianne Jablon, Ernest Lilley, Lyn McConchie, Jaroslav Olsa, Vivian Perry, Paul Preuss, Mark Rich, Xeu Yao, and Jim Young

(Additional appreciations appear in the September 2009 issue of Locus.)
by Jean M. Auel

I have enjoyed reading science fiction since I was 12 years old when I read my first Heinlein. I have enjoyed Locus since I first picked it up in the home of a friend. I don’t know how long I have subscribed, but I always read it when I get it and enjoy learning about other writers and what’s going on in our world.

I’m sure that you will continue to make this an excellent publication, and of course it will always have Charles Brown’s flavor even though he is no longer here. I met him only once or twice in life, but he was always interesting. You can’t help but feel you know him when you read Locus. Please extend my sincere sympathy to all those close to him.

–Jean M. Auel

by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

I met Charles a dozen times at conferences and conventions; but we only had lunch once, in Bloomsbury in London in 2003, when he interviewed me about the publication of Felaheen, the last of the Arabesk mysteries. Being interviewed turned out to be the least interesting part of that day.

Charles wanted to go window shopping, the stranger the shop and the weirder the window the better. He also needed photographs for the interview. He knew exactly what he wanted as setting. Unfortunately what he wanted didn’t appear to exist… A typical central London location, with interesting background, that also suggested North Africa. When he was window shopping he was happy. When he was looking for locations he was miserable. The two sometimes switching in the same minute.

Finally, with Charles fuming and me tearing my hair out (in the days I had some), we turned back towards his hotel and stumbled over, if I remember, a Lebanese cafe. Which was how I got photographed by Charles swinging off the cafe’s wrought-iron railings, watched through the window by a very puzzled proprietor. Also, if I remember, he used another photograph entirely…

–Jon Courtenay Grimwood

by Jonathan Cowie

This is a very real loss for the North American SF community and, dare I say it, much of the Anglophone SF community outside of that continent. I can’t say I knew Charles well – first met him when he attended the 1984 Eurocon press conference I ran in Brighton, England – but over the years Concatenation interacted with him Locus/Locus Online in various minor ways and personally I had a few articles in Locus the paper magazine over the years. Strangely (or not?) I found the editorial section of his goings-on an enjoyable part of Locus to delve into. For instance, without it I (we all?) would not have known that he was going to get to grips with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in, in effect, a single mammoth video session over a few months (with breaks for work and life of course).

And so another gap has appeared in that grand tapestry that is SF: this one is one of those that will be harder to fill. The best tribute I can think of to the man is for Locus to continue. I hope provisions for this have been made and that enough of the Locus crew are up for it.

–Jonathan Cowie
by Tom Dupree

When Betsy Mitchell left Bantam to take over the Warner SF line in the early 90s, I was editing Westerns. But Lou Aronica knew I was a lifelong SF enthusiast. I jumped at Lou’s offer to work with Betsy’s magnificent list – “but first, right now, you have to go meet Charlie Brown.” The Locus Awards were being held that weekend at Dragoncon in Atlanta, and three days later, at a hastily arranged dinner, I got checked out by Charlie.

Not that Lou would have hesitated, mind you. He just wanted Charlie to know that I had a devoted fan’s knowledge of the field; in other words, that I cared. Authors? Works? Loves? Hates? Non-Genre? Music? All info was expertly extracted at Charlie’s own pace. (Scotch was important too.) About a week later I got my reward: somebody told me that Charlie had casually said, “I like Tom.” There were many subsequent calls and meals, all beginning Whither SF? and devolving into god knows what. You could never predict. I liked Charlie too.

Like, schmike, and Charlie never spared the rod toward us, or anybody else, if he felt it was deserved. He was disappointed in me when I started working on the lucrative Star Wars publishing program; like others in the field, he felt that media tie-ins muscled too much shelf space away from the real stuff.

To Charlie, the sense of wonder was always best expressed in literature. That’s what Locus has steadfastly proclaimed, ever since manual typewriter keys tore through mimeograph stencils to produce it. You can have fun with Star Wars or Buffy (as he did; no sourpuss he!), but the importance of imaginative fiction to Charlie rested with original ideas put on paper by smart, creative people. Imagine someone whose rugged devotion to this oft-maligned field formed an institution that has lived 41 years and will continue for many more. Imagine? No. Behold. Goodbye, Charlie, and thank you so very much.

–Tom Dupree
by Raymond E. Feist

I first met Charlie at the (then) Red Lion Inn in San Jose for Westercon in 1983, after my first novel had been published. I knew little to nothing about fandom, conventions, or even for that matter SF/F publishing. I had never heard of Locus. The first person I met in the bar at the convention was the charming and welcoming late Terry Carr, and the person sitting next to him was Charles N. Brown, who edited what I was told was an important “fanzine.” Charlie asked me a few questions about my first novel which I attempted to answer, and moved on.

The last time I saw Charlie was, I think, at a World Fantasy Convention, and I can’t even tell you which one I did so many over the years, maybe the second Chicago or the one after. But I remember my chat with Charlie. He came over while I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel and sat down, extending his hand in greeting and asked how I was doing. I said fine and was between books and had nothing really newsworthy. He said he just wanted to get a little “face time with Feist,” and that’s when I realized that this charming guy was actually a very shy man who had just found a way to let me know he liked hanging out with me. I then recalled the many conversations I had with him about the business, but moreover, other things than publishing SF/F and realized that his life was about people he admired and respected, but I wonder now if he realized how many of us admired and respected him.

He was the text-book definition of a happy man, doing what I tell my kids to do: find something you love and conspire to get paid to do it.

Damn it, but I wish I had one last chance to tell that man how much he helped me when I was a rookie and how much I appreciated his friendship, infrequent as it might have been. Charlie was a treasure; we’re richer for having had him and poorer for his absence.

–Raymond E. Feis
by Nick Gevers

My deep condolences on the death of Charles. I only spoke with him once, at length by phone early last year; but in all my dealings with him it was clear he was a masterly publisher and editor, more knowledgeable about SF than almost anyone else alive; and his decades of work at the helm of Locus – latterly his positively Seldonian planning for Locus‘s continuation after his departure from the scene – have earned him great respect, including mine. I remember scrambling to look at the latest Locus issue at Cape Town SF Society meetings in the Nineties, especially to see the Forthcoming Books lists… After 20 years as variously a subscriber and reviewer, this loss is a personal blow.

–Nick Gevers

by Kim Greyson

I first officially met Mr. Brown when we hosted Westercon in Calgary and it was an honour to be invited to share wine and food with him. Over the next couple of years I got the chance to talk with him at the various world conventions following our convention. I truly enjoyed seeing him at World Fantasy 2008 and it was a privilege to drive him and members of his staff to and from the airport. His final words of advice to me on that last trip to the airport was to take a break from the next couple of World conventions. Perhaps he felt I would be disappointed. I have taken his advice. Even though I have known Mr. Brown for a short time, I will miss him.

–Kim Greyson

by Beth Gwinn

I met Charles back at the World Fantasy in Ottawa Canada in 1984. We hit it off, and it was then he told me to send him photos. This was the beginning of our friendship. Charles was not always an easy person to deal with, but he became my friend. He opened up worlds to me that I had never even dreamed about. I was a reader before I met him but he opened me up to different authors to read. He introduced me to everybody in the business. He was a very complex man, and I will miss him.

I e-mailed him earlier this year and asked about Worldcon. He told me he couldn’t afford to take me. I sent him an e-mail telling him “Thank you” for all he’d done for me. I am so glad I got to send him that before he passed. He was an amazing man in his way. We will all miss him.

–Beth Gwinn

by Marianne Jablon

For those who know him (and those who don’t), Charles N. Brown died yesterday. He was a good friend of Jonathan and mine, my former boss at Locus, a real character and an important part of the science fiction field for over 30 years. He was kind, generous, frustrating, maddening, cantankerous, and felt very much like family. I worked with him for eight intense years, though we’d only been in touch sporadically for the past ten. Jonathan had become very close with him and spoke to him nearly every week. My condolences to all of his “family” – and you know who you are: the science fiction community he knew and loved and was so passionate about.

I first met Charles in 1989 when he flew me out to his house in Oakland for a job interview. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and I vaguely remember a dinner with him and Bob and Karen and I’m not sure who else (all the dinners over the years blur together in my head, but it’s likely that Shelly and Paul and Scott and Jeff and Faren and Carolyn were there among others). I do recall that every time someone mentioned a name I linked it with a famous science fiction author in my head, and that’s who it was! It was thrilling to me that all of these people I’d read and loved for years were part of the daily life and conversation at Charles’s house AKA Locus. I was so excited, here was a beautiful home/office in the wooded hills of the East Bay with someone who loved science fiction as much as me and came from a similar background (New York Jew) so I felt comfortable right from the start. I would have felt crazy not to accept the job when it was offered to me.

Fast forward to 19 years later. It’s Thanksgiving again, or nearly. I am visiting the US on my own after living in Australia for 10 years. I ring Charles and say I’m coming to California and would like to see him, and he says they are planning a staff Thanksgiving dinner the week before Thanksgiving – just when I will be there – and arranges to have it on a night that I can make it. It’s just like old times, but with a (mostly) different cast. Charles, who has not had much to do with any blood relatives for years, manages to surround himself with warm and lovely people who care for him, warts and all. I loved being able to share one last family dinner. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see Charles, but it was good.

From what I understand, Charles died in his sleep in space… he was on an airplane, just returning from Readercon where he’d had a great time. I’m sure that’s the best possible ending he could have imagined. My condolences to all the members of his staff and family, past and present – Amelia, Liza, Kirsten, AAron, Teddy, Shelly, Gary, Mark, Marina, and so many more…
I literally would not be where I am today if I hadn’t met Charles and worked at Locus. I would never have met Jonathan – who came over to the Locus table when I was working there at ConFrancisco in 1993 – so we would not have gotten married and had two beautiful daughters. Charles had a party at his house that weekend in ’93, and ours was not the only love connection started. If I have the stories right, that was also the weekend Jack and Janeen met, and the convention where Kirsten and AAron became romantically involved. Funny, I never thought of Charles as Cupid!

Charles liked to credit himself with changing the science fiction publishing field, and I’m sure he did. He felt that science fiction literature was important, and Locus was a way of having a continuing conversation about it. Yes, the magazine reflected his personal opinions and prejudices, but that was his editorial vision. He was a joy to talk to about science fiction, always passionate, always knowledgeable. I’m so glad I was part of the Locus gang. I loved him and I will miss him.

–Marianne Jablon

by Ernest Lilley

We are in a time when many of the people who created the genre are leaving us. Usually it’s a favorite author from our own golden years that goes, and while we can sigh and reminisce on what they meant to us, it’s generally a recollection of days past. Charles was giving to the field unto the last, and I’m selfishly glad that I got to spend some time with him at Readercon, both bantering in the green room and working with him on “The Year in Novels” panel. He noted that since the panel topic didn’t say what year we were talking about, he’d picked 1953. Though he had no trouble reeling off the best of ’53, which was indeed a heck of a year, he was thoroughly prepared (with cheat sheets for us all) to talk about the past year… and the coming one.

To me, Charles was like a favorite uncle. Often a Dutch uncle, but one I paid close attention to and whose advice I’d take it to heart. I’ll be forever grateful for having known him.

–Ernest Lilley

by Lyn McConchie

I was horrified to receive an e-mail from SFWA and to hear that Charles had died. I’d met him a number of times over the years since I began writing professionally in 1989 and I liked him. In fact the highlight of 1995 (while staying with Rachel Holmen and visiting MZB) was spending half a day at Locus, meeting the Locus staff, seeing where it all happens, and admiring Charles’ library while chatting about books. For me, his departure is all the more poignant in that every time he met me he encouraged me to write in my own world. As I told him, I did, the problem was selling it to a publisher. But as you recorded in the magazine, last year I sold (to TOR) my first solo fantasy book set in my own world, and I’d planned to dedicate it “to Charles, who always said that I should do this.” I’d looked forward to sending him a copy – and probably being told everything wrong with it in a review, but I wouldn’t have minded that. It just isn’t going to be the same without him, and I can only say I’m glad that at least Locus will continue, losing both would have been insult on injury. I know you’ll all be devastated too, and I’m so sorry,

–Lyn McConchie

by Jaroslav Olsa

It was for me a sad and shocking news, when I learned about untimely death of Charles Brown. He did so much for promotion of science fiction not only in the USA and the United Kingdom, but even in the remotest corners of the world. As a Locus reader (and occasional contributor) from 1983, I am sure, his work will become a part of the history of science fiction. Without him and without Locus, rarely could anybody hear about the existence of SF in many places in the world, including my homeland – the Czech Republic. Science fiction writers and fans from all over the world will remember him.

–Jaroslav Olsa, jr.,
Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the Republic of Korea

by Vivian Perry

I was sad to hear of Charles’s death; but only because of how we all will miss him; we all should be so fortunate as Charles, to die peacefully, coming home from a convention he particularly enjoyed, sleeping next to a brilliant, lovely young woman who admired him as a mentor and friend. Much better than a hospital, to be sure.

Charles and I shared a friendship of various levels for over 20 years, not so long as some, but important to me. We traveled together laughing almost all the way, and his friendship took me places beyond my expectations. I shall always remember the New Years Eve Fireworks in 2002 in Perth Australia, and all of our wonderful adventures there, including the most elegant barbeque it could ever be my privilege to attend.

And how wonderful it was to be able to make Charles laugh out loud – I shall miss our times driving into the city (“We’re going to be late” “No, Charles, we’ll be right on time – but please worry if you would enjoy that more…” “That lane would be faster”) his acute and funny intelligence, determined (but not very) resistance to my optimism, and surprisingly (to listen to him talk) deep affection for the people who constituted his family –- all of you who helped him realize Locus magazine and enjoy many of his dearest desires.

Charles had a wonderful life, not maybe everything he wanted (because then how could he complain – how he would have missed that!) but many of the things that he loved and enjoyed; he leaves behind him not just my life that I can say he changed for the better, but many more than he would ever claim. My very best wishes and sympathy to all of you who knew him as part of your daily routine; you honor him with your carrying-on.

–Vivian Perry

by Paul Preuss

Almost everything I would have said about Charles was said better, and with more wit and humor than I could have mustered, by Gary and Bob and Dick and Connie and the others, so what I have to add is a mere underline. Like them, I knew Charlie when he was still Charlie, if not back in the days of actual collation, at least when we were still pasting mailing labels on Locus by hand and sticking the right zip codes in the right mail bags. He was a difficult friend – a terrible backseat driver who steered me to meet with wonderful people. A grouchy contrarian, too free with advice that was often hard to take, but he had terrific instincts and knew the field like no one else. He had an astonishing memory, an astonishing library, an astonishing collection of art and artifacts and videos, and he was an astonishing, if not always great, cook. And yes, he could be astonishingly generous. All true. But as I drove home from Borderlands, what occurred to me was not another anecdote about Charles but a personal revelation. To be around Charles was as exhilarating as it was hard; whatever his mood, being with him was to be with someone who was going for broke. To be in his presence was to be in the presence of life itself.

–Paul Preuss

by Mark Rich

Your encouragement was vital to me, in pursuing my work on Cyril Kornbluth that led, at last, to the upcoming biography. It was heartfelt encouragement that helped me go on when dealing with discouragements elsewhere. I am deeply grateful to have had your direct assistance during the manuscript stage, and deeply saddened that you will not see the results. You would have seen them quite soon.

I remember your telling me, not long ago, that of all the people who have written about the early days of science fiction, the only one whose accounts matched the way you remembered those days was Dave Kyle… and remembering this makes me hope that somewhere in your papers are organized memoirs of your own. I believe you stood higher in your chosen field than many people realize. Your way was a quiet, soft-voiced one, not trumpety and full of frumpery as might have been the case had someone else occupied your position. I enjoyed hearing that quiet voice of yours, which carried in its quietness perspectives born of long years of experience and observation. I will enjoy hearing that same, quiet voice in my mind for as long as I have the mind for doing so. That quiet voice gave strength, once upon a time, to one particular listener who had too little of his own.

–Mark Rich

by Xeu Yao

On behalf of Science Fiction World in China, I want to express our deepest sympathy at the loss of your editor-in chief. We are greatly shocked and in great sorrow on hearing the sudden death of Mr. Charles N. Brown; he is such a fabulous editor and a truly wonderful friend.

Our ex-president Ms. Yang Xiao, Ms. Qin Li, and our chief editor Mr. Yao Haijun still remember their meeting with Mr. Brown in several Worldcons, his friendliness and humor impressed them a lot. Chinese sci-fi fans will cherish his friendship and remember his contribution to build the bridge between western and eastern sci-fi world all along. We wish that we can carry on his enthusiasm and spirit to continue to promote the communication between us.

Though it is a great loss, I sincerely hope that you can restrain your grief and recover from it soon. Please convey our condolence to his family.

–Xeu Yao and All Staff of SFW

by Jim Young

It’s very sad to hear of Charles’ death. It seems like only a brief time ago that I was still a high school student doing illustrations for the old, fanzine version of Locus, and the Minneapolis in ’73 worldcon bid was a real, on-going effort instead of the long-lasting joke we made of it afterwards. Charles was one of our mentors then, and I will always retain a debt of gratitude to him for that.

–Jim Young

One thought on “Appreciations for Charles N. Brown, 1937-2009

  • September 4, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Charles would have loved these.


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