Gordon R. Dickson (1923-2001)
(Tributes follow this notice)
I'm deeply saddened to report the death of Gordon R. Dickson early this morning.
He was a prolific author -- with more than 80 books to his credit, including several published in just the past year. I remember well taking his writing home with me from the library in the late 1950s, and savoring it. His short fiction won three Hugo awards ("Soldier, Ask Not," 1965; "Last Dorsai," novella, 1981; "The Cloak and the Staff," novelette, 1981), and one Nebula ("Call Him Lord," novelette, 1966). He edited SFWA's Nebula Awards #12 volume (1978), and served as President of SFWA from 1969 to 1971.
It was in this capacity -- Gordy in his role as former SFWA President -- that I came to know him as a highly intelligent, caring, sensitive person in the last few years. We never met, but our phone conversations about SFWA were always a source of strength and perspective. We also talked about writing -- he was the kind of author who was always running some plot complexity through his head, which he loved to talk about. A true delight was getting an unexpected call from him late in the evening.
Our last conversation was just last week -- Gordy, very ill, made a point of returning my call to cast his vote in our Grand Master selection. He cared that much for our genre and our organization.
He was a gentle man with a real passion for science fiction.
I don't know yet about funeral arrangements -- the OnLine Update will tell you about them if they become available.
Paul Levinson President, SFWA
The funeral will be on Saturday 2/3/01 at Morris Nilson funeral home (6527 Portland Ave.; Richfield MN.) at 2 PM. Calling hours will be for 1 hour preceding the funeral. Gordon's family asks that those wishing to make contributions in his memory send them to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund, 1436 Altamont Ave., PMB 292, Schenectady NY 12303-2977.
Obituary at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
I'm very sad to hear this, because I owe Gordie, big-time.
Many years ago, when I was 15 and attending my first out-of-town SF convention -- Midwestcon in Cincinnati, `73 -- I asked him how to go about sending stories to magazines. Gordie sat down with me and explained the entire submission process, going so far as to sketch out manuscript format on a piece of paper and telling me how to write a cover letter. A small favor for a young fan, but one which helped me immeasurably.
A few years ago, when I ran into him again during a Minicon, I got a chance to thank him. He'd forgotten the incident, of course, but he was as gracious as always. That was the last time I saw him, and now I'm glad I had that opportunity.
Gordie was a fine gentleman, and a wonderful author. We've just lost one of our best people.
I just heard from Dave Wixon that we've lost Gordon R. Dickson. He died at 1:00 this morning. A dear friend for more than thirty years.
We met in the sixties but didn't become close friends until Damon Knight's 1970 Milford Conference. Both of us early risers, we met at dawn in the kitchen and surprised each other by making the same strange breakfast: peanut butter and pickle on toast, slathered with mayo. Probably washed down with a Heinekin, hair of the dog.
That was when I learned about his asthma (which left him virtually housebound this past decade or more) and the odd turning point it provided to his life. At a Milford Conference a few years before, he'd had a bad attack which turned into an exhausted sleepless night Lying awake, he charted in his mind a cycle of at least nine thematically related novels -- three historical, three contemporary, and at least three science fiction -- which would ultimately show the evolution of humanity through the fusion of three kinds of leaders: the man of action, the man of thought, and the man of faith. It was to be called the Childe Cycle, I think in homage to the Child Ballads, a collection of English and Scot folk songs that certainly provided some of the archetypes that he planned to track through the millenniums.
It was a large project for a man in his forties. But he thought he had at least another half century.
Only the science fiction books were published, the successful Dorsai saga. Gordy was disappointed that reallity intruded on his dream -- that no publisher could offer him enough money for the historical and contemporary novels to justify the time they would take to research and write. He was waiting for a windfall, like most writers. With that movie money, he planned to go to Florence to write the historicals, and in my mind's eye I could see him, the big shambling Midwesterner (technically Canadian) in the midst of all that history and beauty, drinking it in with his irrepressible smile and uncontainable chuckle.
He had a great and infectious zest for life. He came to visit in Brooksville, Florida, in 1973, and we celebrated his fiftieth birthday in a seedy bar attached to a seedy motel on the Gulf. We ate all the stone crab claws they had, and then rented a room and iced down a bunch of champagne, and along with wife Gay and poet Bill Nabors, passed the guitar around and sang till dawn. Gay and Bill didn't make it quite that long, but Gordy and I did manage to toast the sunrise and terrorize the fiddler crabs who were not used to company at that hour.
A few years later, when we'd moved to the Atlantic side, Gordy came down to visit for a moon launch, and we decided to splurge on a deep-sea game-fishing expedition, which neither of us had ever done. Gay came along and regretted it -- the sea was extremely rough and she spent most of the eight hours sick -- but Gordy and I made her misery even worse by singing sea shanteys and doing pirate imitations on the pitching deck. Gordy actually caught a sailfish, as well, and had it mounted. He often said that was one of the best days of his life. Mine, too.
About once a year, in the 70s and 80s, we met in New York to go bother editors. Gordy showed characteristic generosity, and introduced me to everybody in town; he even got me my first agent. He didn't have a grain of selfishness. "Nobody picks up a Dickson book in one hand and a Haldeman book in the other," he said, "deciding which one to buy. If they like them both they'll buy them both."
I don't know whether that was ever true, but it was so like Gordy to say it. Steady friend and optimist to the core.
It was still possible to afford the Algonquin in those days, and it was still a literary hotel, with a special card file for writer guests. "Welcome back, Mr. Dickson." We'd sit in the overstuffed chairs in the lobby, sipping our martinis, listening for Round Table ghosts. Gordy was not an intellectual, as she is spoke, and never pretentious, but he had some sophisticated literary tastes. He knew the modernists (sharing my Hemingway enthusiasm) and read Proust over and over, and said his favorite story was Joyce's nouvelle "The Dead." I suspect he might ditch them all for a Hornblower novel, though, headed for a plane. We had a lot of great meals together, two of which stand out as particularly odd. Once he invited me to lunch at his club in Minneapolis, and steak tartare was on the menu, a rarity then in the Midwest. We sort of dared each other to order it, and watched in appreciation while the tuxedo-ed waiter chopped the raw beef and molded it and cracked a raw egg into the top of the mound. It was no doubt good, but it was still raw hamburger with a raw egg. I think both of us ate it all, but we couldn't stand to look at it. We ate by touch, staring into each other's eyes like long-lost lovers.
And then there was the discovery of sushi. Years before anybody outside of California even thought of raw fish with rice, Gordy was leading a bunch of writers and fans through the streets of Toronto, loping through the raw cold in search of a bar. He saw a red neon BAR sign and bounded up the stairs.
It was a _sushi_ bar, and there were no other Caucasians in it -- just a frightened-looking Japanese guy with a big knife in his hand, presiding over an iced bed full of things without backbones. We looked kind of strange and hippy-ish, and spoke no more Japanese than he did English, but he warmed to Gordy's infectious enthusiasm -- the big bear pointing to this and that, trying nearly everything, all washed down with a couple of sake martinis.
(Gordy did once characterize the mind/body duality that way to me. He said he felt as if his body was a big clumsy bear, with _he_, the actual Gordy, perched on its shoulder, trying desperately to control it.)
He used to travel a lot, but in the eighties that tapered off, a combination of ill health and increasing filial responsibility. He cared for his aged mother in his home, which eventually was tantamount to running a one-patient nursing home.
We kept in close phone contact over the years; I was his science guy and Gay was hislinguist. He'd call to find out how bright Arcturus would be from ten astronomical units, or to get the translation of a snatch of Spanish song, and we'd wind up trading stories and gossip for an hour.
Gay credits his business acumen for helping her to keep her sanity over all these years. He taught us about record-keeping, itineraries, travel agents, and budgeting your time and money.
Some years back, in Illinois, we were both asked to talk about "Writers' Tools." We set it up in the hotel bar a few minutes beforehand. We sat down in front of the auidience and wordlessly held up our pocket tape recorders to the microphone. The machines held a dialogue about their masters.
When that bit of foolishness was over, I improvised. "Seriously, Gordy," I said, "what kind of a bear do you use?" He didn't miss a beat. "Grizzly," he said. "Polar bears get lousy mileage."
As Gay said this morning, it's not possible to believe that he's gone. He was too alive for this.
Robin Wayne Bailey
Some days you just regret sitting down at the computer. When I checked my e-mail, the news of Gordy's passing was the first message that came up. I see it's made its way to sff.net, too, which is a good thing.
I used to see Gordy a lot when he was a regular on the midwest convention "circuit." He was a fan, as well as a writer, and loved the sf community. He loved to filk and played guitar enthusiastically, if not too well. He had some trouble with steel strings, so he showed up at a con one weekend with nylon strings on his guitar exclaiming what a wonderful discovery it was. He loved to sing in that fake-Scottish brogue that drives me nuts, but he had a good voice and always told funny stories with his songs.
When his asthma and health problems increased, he cut his traveling back and I only saw him occassionally at Minicon. He'd take a suite at the hotel there and have just a few people up at a time, sort of a series of small parties. He was always gracious and jovial.
He loved good food and good wine. At a Kansas City Conquest some years ago, a "big fan" of his arranged to take Gordy to the American Restaurant, one of the most expensive and up-scale places in the city. As fans sometimes do, this had gotten in over his head, because Gordy loved his food and drink. It didn't matter, though, and Gordy picked up the checque and thanked the kid for introducing him to the restaurant.
At some point, Minicon stopped being fun, and I stopped going. I haven't seen Gordy for some years, and I'd basically lost contact with him. He was one of the inductees for the SF Hall of Fame 2000, and I know Keith Stokes spoke with him. His health didn't allow him to travel to KU for the inductions, but he expressed some wish to consider it this year, health allowing. He had, at one time, been a regular at James Gunn's Campbell Conference at KU.
Gordon R. Dickson at a Icon in 1975
Photo courtesy of David Truesdale