Friday, October 3, 2008

Algis Budrys

I just heard about Budrys' death (June 8 or 9?), three months after the fact. He started writing in the early Fifties. He had been been praised by Blish and Knight early in his career and by many others later. His style was clean and flexible, poetic when necessary; his dialogue was great; and his characterization and plotting beyond reproach. He made you think about what he wrote; he made you ponder the ideas and situations he showed you. Not all writers have this reflective quality. Many writers are evocative, operating at an emotional level (if that). A few convey images and feelings and make you wonder about their convictions. Budrys' signature novels, such as The Death Machine (aka Rogue Moon), Who?, and Some Will Not Die have this quality: they get under your skin and stay there. He wrote many excellent stories and was also a perceptive and influential critic. His short fiction and criticism cry out for comprehensive collections. He wrote ten novels, mostly published in paperback; several have never been reprinted. An omnibus of his best novels would be nice. I remember one of his critical columns in a sceince-fiction magazine from the Eighties. He was discussing one of the middle novels in Gene Wolfe's magnum opus The Book of the New Sun. He said he could usually look behind the scenes and see how the author was getting the effects the reader perceived. In Wolfe's case, Budrys said he had no idea how Wolfe was doing it! He called Wolfe a magician.

Budrys was Lithuanian, from an important political family. They fled to the U.S. after the Soviets took over, and Algirdas Jonas Budrys (his name translates approximately as "Gordon John Sentinel"--Damon Knight says it was adopted) was raised and educated in America. He worked in magazine and book publishing and advertising and taught writing. He was largely unknown outside the speculative fiction genre, and unsung. He deserves at least a symphony.--Dan Moore

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