Goodnight, Charles

When I got to work yesterday morning, I heard the bad news: my boss, Charles N. Brown, was dead. For those who don’t know, Charles was the founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher of Locus, the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field; basically the trade publishing magazine for the SF business. Also my day job for the past, oh, seven years and eleven months.

I owe Charles a lot. First of all, he gave me a job when I desperately needed one, having just moved to Oakland with no prospects. I was lucky; one of my Clarion workshop teachers happened to be one of Charles’s best friends, and she vouched for me, so I basically had the job as soon as I interviewed.

I started out driving the boss around, which was the low-man-on-the-totem-pole job, but it was also an opportunity to hear all his stories about the field. And since he was a fan from, oh, 1947 or so (he read his first issue of Astounding at age 10 and was a science fiction convert for life), he had a lot of stories. He seemed to know everybody in the business, where all the bodies are buried, and he was an endless fount of fact, opinion, jokes, and (occasionally) withering disdain. Over the years I moved up the ladder, doing more and more writing and production work for the magazine, and eventually became senior editor, where one of my responsibilities is writing obituaries.

And so, yesterday, I started writing Charles’s obituary. I hope I do it well. I’m trying to write it as he would have wanted.

I had issues with the man sometimes, certainly, and he could be cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and stubborn, and had a tendency to demand things be done his way and his way only — I won’t pretend he was perfect. (I noted to some other staff members yesterday that we who worked so closely with him are unlikely to descend into hagiography now that he’s gone.) But he was also a friend and a mentor who helped my career in immeasurable ways. He connected me with my agent, Ginger Clark. He gave me a valuable and astute critique on my first novel, even though angsty fantasies about art students and magic doors and coffee shops were pretty far away from the conceptual, sociological, and hard SF he most loved. He introduced me to more people in the business than I can count. He taught me to edit, and to write copy very quickly in a way that requires minimal editing afterward. Access to his research and fiction libraries expanded my horizons beyond my ability to describe.

And on a more personal level, he taught me how to make a moist Thanksgiving turkey, taught me about wine and Scotch, shared my love of screwball comedies and barbecued meat, and was never stingy when it came to bringing vast platters of dim sum into the office. We had champagne when we finished an issue, and in the summers, we’d sit on the back deck after work and drink wine I could never afford otherwise and ate cheese and told bad chokes. He threw great parties.

He gave me a job working in a beautiful art-filled house in the hills. A job that, in many ways, defines a lot of my adult life.

It’s hard to imagine that life without him.

1 Response to “Goodnight, Charles”

  1. July 14, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Thanks for sharing that, Tim. I only met Charles once, back at the 2000 Nebulas when my only connection to the field was as a fan, and he was friendly and interesting to talk to. I still envy his description of his library, and I wish I’d had a chance to see it in person.

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