Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

more A.J. Budrys thoughts

In last night's post about A.J. Budrys, I mentioned that I met the man at WindyCon 20. Here's a bit of an insight into who he was:

A.J. was on a panel of SF giants including Frank Kelly Freas, Joe Haldeman, and Frederik Pohl. The panel's topic along the lines of "SF greats talk about their heroes." This took place in a major auditorium holding perhaps 400 spectators. The moderator was a much younger, less-experienced editor whom I shall call "Billy Doe."

Billy posed a question early in the discussion, something like, "Tell us why you call this person your hero." The guests told their stories one by one, A.J. second to last. When it came his turn to talk, A.J. described how Lester Del Rey took him under his wing, inviting the young A.J. to live with him, how Del Rey taught him everything A.J. knew about editing.

In the middle of an anecdote about how Del Rey helped shape the SF genre, Billy interrupted. He did not interrupt to add evidence supporting Budrys' argument, which was reasonable in light of all Del Rey did for SF, nor did Billy add another anecdote about how kind Del Rey was to beginning authors like A.J. In fact, Billy interrupted one of the panelists talking about another great who had helped him not only become a fine editor but who also helped him on a personal level, how they had become friends: This he interrupted to describe how Del Rey had "ruled science fiction with an iron fist," and how Del Rey's editing harmed SF. He didn't just interject this; he ranted about it for a couple of minutes.

Billy was supposed to be the moderator, a relative unknown compared to the towering figures around him. Instead, he drew the focus to himself while tearing down one of the panelist's heroes. The audience, shocked at first, began to murmur as Billy continued to speak.

Many people might have reacted indignantly to such an interruption. Many others would have waited for Billy to finish, perhaps refuting him after Billy had finished his ill-timed interruption. But A.J. Budrys was not someone to shrink into the background.

All during Billy's commentary, A.J.'s face grew redder. Mind you, this was a man of Eastern European descent, with very pale skin and pure white hair: He could not hide his blossoming blush. When the redness had spread from the centers of his cheeks across his face and brow, he slammed down one big hand on the table and shouted, "Billy Doe! Lester Del Rey forgot more about editing than you'll ever know."

He began shoving papers into his bag as he went on to describe how Billy "couldn't edit his way out of a paper bag" and so forth. Finally, after putting all his materials away, A.J. stood, whirled in place, and pointed at Billy.

"Billy Doe, don't you ever speak to me again." Then he descended the stage and threaded his way out of the silent auditorium.

After the door closed, Billy tried to regain his long-lost composure and said, "What was that all about?" The audience began to discuss Billy's thick-headedness, and Frederik Pohl wore a small grin.

That scene gelled my image of A.J. Budrys as a man of principle who loved his friends, someone with strongly held beliefs who understood powerful feelings, a literary giant who took no shit from anyone.

I wish I had visited him during the time he was mostly confined to his Evanston, Illinois home. We're losing more and more of those who founded science fiction. Don't miss the opportunity to spend some time with them, because when they're gone, we lose access to the nuances of history they experienced first-hand.

Tags: science fiction

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