It is a regrettable fact that authors are mortal. This year has seen at least sixty SFF-related authors, artists, and editors die, some of natural causes, some due to the ongoing pandemic. Here are five books of interest by five different authors we lost in the last few months.
Ben Bova (1932–2020) — Millennium (1976)
A relic of short-lived American-Soviet cooperation, the American moon base and Soviet Lunagrad are forced to coexist by their intertwined design. Awkward, given that the latest twist in the Cold War, a race to complete duelling orbital antiballistic missile networks, is supplied and managed from the conjoined moon colonies.
Given escalating resource shortages, many expect that whichever power completes their network first will make a bid for planetary domination. Even given functioning ABM networks, the results will no doubt be catastrophic.
Chet Kinsman, commander of the American moon base, does not care to see how World War Three might play out. Neither, as it happens, does his opposite number in Lunagrad. Unlike the majority of humans, the two commanders are uniquely placed to alter history: between them, the Soviets and Americans have enough lasers in orbit for a full AMB network. All the two officers need do is hijack the military resources with which their respective governments have entrusted them—and survive the consequences.
Debra Doyle (1952–2020) — The Price of the Stars, co-authored by James D. MacDonald (1992)
As the daughter of renowned war heroes Jos Metadi and the Domina Perada Rosselin, Beka Rosselin-Metadi could have a life of high rank and public service. She doesn’t want it. Instead, she runs away from home to be a star pilot.
Jos approaches Beka with an offer she cannot refuse: she can have Jos’ justly famous starship, Warhammer. All she has to do for Jos is determine who ordered the recent assassination of Domina Perada Rosselin. Beka is very keen on seeing the mastermind behind her mother’s murder pay for their crime.
Beka has a ship, skill, determination, and a mentor named the Professor. All she needs now is a ragtag band of adventurers and a series of plans, each scheme more audacious than the one before!
The final desideratum: for her unseen enemy not to lead Beka into a trap.
Dean Ing (1931–2020) — Soft Targets (1979)
Late Disco-era America is a potential payday for a visionary terrorist looking for quick, easy fame and funds from approving supporters. Hakim Arif, leader of the notorious Fat’ah terrorist group, bears Americans no particular animus. Killing unprepared citizens in large numbers is simply a necessary step to enhance his organization’s revenue scheme. Hakim’s business case is convincing and he manages to assemble a surprisingly inclusive alliance of terrorists drawn from countries ranging from Ireland to Japan, with the USA in their crosshairs.
There are many ways the US could react. It could, for example, invest heavily in laws both draconian and ineffective, which might offer Americans the comfort of ritualistic security theatre. Comedian Charlie George has a better idea. Comedians like George and their journalistic allies (including a thinly veiled Walter Cronkite) will kneecap the terrorists by turning them into laughingstocks.
Mockery is an effective weapon, effective enough to ensure that George and his allies have the full attention of their heavily armed, easily enraged, casually homicidal foes.
Richard Lupoff (b.1935–2020) — Space War Blues (1978)
Humanity has spread to the stars and with humans go human prejudices. The bounty of habitable worlds means each group can have their very own planet on which their particular foibles can flourish. N’Alabama has taken the more bigoted proclivities of their ancestors and dialed them up to eleven. Perhaps hilarious for onlookers but quite vexing for the N’Haitians, with whom N’Alabama is at war.
N’Haiti takes the bold step of reassembling and reanimating its war dead to face the enemy once more. N’Alabama, for its part, decides that the best solution is to try to steal the immunity to space radiation used by the peaceful Sky Heroes (descendants of Aboriginal Australians) to brave the vacuum of space, calculating that the pacifist space-nomads will be incapable of resistance. This is a terrible miscalculation with tragic consequences.
Phyllis Eisenstein (b.1946–2020) — Born to Exile (1978)
In addition to his musical skills, Alaric the Minstrel has a special talent, a talent so very special that if his audiences ever discovered it, they would immediately commemorate the event with a lavish bonfire with Alaric as the fire’s centerpiece. Alaric can teleport vast distances.
His inborn seven-league boots have saved his life from time to time. Still, the minstrel cannot help but wonder where his gift comes from. His curiosity will lead him to useful information, not least of which is the knowledge that one should be very, very careful about asking questions unless one is certain one can survive learning the answers.
As I said, this is just a small sampling of the SF writers we lost in 2020—along with those discussed above, we’ve collectively mourned the passing of authors Mike Resnick, Charles R. Saunders, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Susan Sizemore, Terry Goodkind, Rachel Caine, and just in the past week, Anton Strout, as well as many others. (For a much more comprehensive list of the writers, editors, and artists, and other creators who’ve died in 2020, please note that Steven H. Silver will be publishing his annual In Memoriam list at Amazing Stories in the next few weeks.)
Please feel free to reminisce, or add the names of other writers and stories not discussed above, in the comments below.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF(where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.