In Memoriam – Frank M. Robinson

Frank M. Robinson (b.1926) died on June 30.  Robinson worked as an office boy at Ziff-Davis in his native Chicago in the 1930s before being drafted and serving in the Navy during World War II.  Following the war, he attended Beloit College and attempted to establish a career as a writer, only to end up serving in Korea.  He began publishing fiction in the science fiction magazines during his tour of duty, beginning with “The Maze” in the June 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine.

Following his Korean tour of duty, he was able to find work as a writer in Chicago, eventually writing for men’s magazines Rogue and Cavalier before Playboy offered him the Playboy Advisor column, which he wrote from 1969-1973.

In the 1970s, Robinson published several novels co-written with Tom Scortia, most famous of these being The Glass Inferno, which was filmed as The Towering Inferno.  Their other collaborations included The Prometheus Crisis,The Nightmare Factor, The Gold Crew, and Blow-Out!.  In 1991, Robinson published the solo novel The Dark Beyond the Stars, which he followed with Waiting and The Donor.  He also published three non-fiction works about science fiction, Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines in 1998, Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History, and The Incredible Pulps: A Gallery of Fiction Magazine Art.  

Robinson, who served as a speech writer for San Francisco politician Harvey Milk in the 1970s and was on the board of directors of the Trevor Project, recently finished writing his autobiography.  He was named an honored guest at the 2014 Nebula Awards in San Jose, but was unable to attend due to health reasons.

Steven Gould, current SFWA president, reached out to past SFWA president Robin Wayne Bailey for a statement as it was Bailey who introduced Robinson to Gould thirty years ago. 

With Frank Robinson’s passing, the sf field has lost one of its treasures today, and I’ve lost a long and dear friend.  I know I’m not alone in this grief, though, that I share it with a lot of others who knew Frank well — Mike Resnick, Steve Gould and Laura J Mixon, Derryl Murphy, David Hartwell, and so many others.  

I feel this loss acutely.  Frank, or “Frqnkie,” as many of us knew him, was friend, mentor, and “grandfather” to me.  An extraordinarily versatile writer himself, he taught me one of the most important lessons a writer can learn, never to put all your eggs in one literary basket, to stop thinking of myself as a science fiction writer and start thinking of myself as a writer.  Frank exemplified that advice, writing mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, screen plays, and non-fiction all equally well with dazzling skill and enthusiasm.  His unpublished memoir sits here on my desk with a personal note, “Well, what do ya think?”

I think I shall miss him dearly.  I think I’d better keep this short.

— Robin Wayne Bailey