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Beth Meacham

Ralph Vicinanza, 1950-2010

Ralph Vicinanza passed away Sunday night, of a cerebral aneurism. He was 60 years old. That’s way too young. I’ve worked with him throughout my entire career in publishing—he was almost exactly my contemporary. He was getting his legs under him as a foreign rights agent while I was learning to be an editor at Ace. I valued his trust and respect, and was happy to see him grow to be so very successful, as his client list grew. Ralph was a bulldog of an advocate for his clients, and I always knew that a deal with Ralph would be as good as it could possibly be for both author and publisher. He took that advocacy with him into television and film production. He enjoyed his life.

Ralph really loved books; he loved his clients’ novels. When we got together over breakfast at conventions, or in his irregular after-hours phone calls, we’d talk about books—what we loved, where we thought a writer was going. He made a lot of money with his bestseller clients, but he also adored his smaller books, his less successful writers. I’m still counting up the authors—everyone will be talking about Stephen King, Peter Straub, but Ralph also represented Jack Vance, who loved him like a son. He represented Connie Willis, Kim Stanley Robinson, David Brin, Steven Gould, Megan Lindholm, Mike Brotherton, Cecelia Holland (for a time), Robert Sawyer, Lucius Shepard…so many more. He took care of his writers; he took them, and their work, seriously.

I know the agency will go on—Ralph trained an excellent group of agents—and continue doing good for writers. But I will miss Ralph, and so will the network of thousands of people that he wove together.

R.I.P. Charles N. Brown, 1937-2009

Photo by Ellen Datlow

We’ve just had word that Locus magazine founder Charles N. Brown has passed away.

I’m in shock.

I’ve known Charlie my entire professional career, and have counted him a good friend. For many years, we had weekly phone calls—”what’s the gossip?” he’d open. I’d counter with “you tell me.” And then we’d exchange news and scandal of the SF and publishing world. Charlie knew everything—I don’t think I was ever telling him anything new, but just confirming. He told me a lot, though. Much of it off the record. My career benefited greatly from Charlie’s friendship.

Conventions always featured a meal with Locus, or if in the Bay Area, a visit to Charlie’s house for dinner or a party. No one could escape a tour of his wonderful house, and no one wanted to escape the tour of the library.

Charlie liked science fiction; the books, the fans, the business, the writers. He also read historical fiction, and military fiction. He liked talking about publishing, the ins and outs of the business. He liked it when people liked Locus—I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve sat down with him to go over the new issue of Locus, the stories, the design, the ads, the reviews. He loved it when people noticed the changes he’d made.

In recent years, Charlie’s health was failing, along with his eyesight and hearing. But he was careful to set up a foundation so that Locus would go on, better than ever, without him. We had a lot of talks about that in the last couple years. He had a lot of confidence in the new editorial team.

I wish he’d taken better care of himself. I wish he’d gotten the knee replacements we talked about so often. But I’m glad he ended his life coming home from a convention about books, instead of in some lingering and sordid way. I know he had a good time at Readercon.

An open window to the past

A few days ago, I discovered via friends’ links that the George Eastman House had uploaded a large number of very old photographs to Flickr. Since then, I’ve been browsing through them, looking up the people who are named, and puzzling over the anonymous, sometimes moving, sometimes creepy, images. There are stories here. And some surprising old friends: There’s an actual photograph of Princess Marie of Romania!

This is a photograph of Louis Jean Lumière. Lumière was a cinema pioneer – he invented one of the earliest motion picture cameras, and produced and directed the very first movies ever shown to the public. But he also invented the still photography process known as Autochrome, an emulsion technique that produced color photography. The George Eastman House photos include 68 early autochromes, and they fascinate me even more than the 19th century black and whites.

There’s something about this one….called only “Woman in a Floral Silk Robe”. It was made in 1915, by a photographer named Charles Spaeth. Beyond that, we know nothing of who this young woman was, where she lived, what she was thinking to create this sly, mischievous pose. Most of the other photos in the set are formal sittings, or still lives. This is an intimate portrait.

Take a look at the collection. It’s a remarkable resource, made available on the internet without restrictions, for our enjoyment. You’ll find some stories there.

All photographs from the George Eastman House collection are made available under a creative commons license. Details here.

July 20, 1969

On the morning of July 20, 1969, I was a seventeen year old girl dying through her last summer at home before heading off to college and the rest of her life. I was reading a lot of science fiction that summer, taking long walks through the woods, fighting with my younger sister, and trying to ignore my parents. Most of that summer has faded into lost time. There’s only one day I really remember. This one.

I was watching the television all afternoon. Apollo 11 was landing on the moon!


Can you even think the words “Tranquility Base here” without tearing up? I can’t; the surge of emotion is still so powerful. It was the climax of lifetimes of dreaming and working, of sacrifice and lives lost and heroism and hope. It was the fantasies of my childhood made concrete.

[More below the fold…]

I stayed glued to the TV all through the evening. I had a big fight with my father because it was getting so late and he wanted to watch his programs. Only, of course, his programs weren’t on because all three networks were carrying the feed from NASA. Back then, there were three channels and that was it. My parents went to bed.

So there I was, awake alone in a dark house at 10pm, when those first grainy black and white video transmissions came from the moon. The Moon! And Neil Armstrong climbed down that ladder and stepped onto the surface of the moon, and said something that was unintelligible (and probably not what he meant to say). It took Walter Cronkite to tell me what he said: That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind. Buzz Aldrin joined him a few minutes later. I watched all night. My body was there in a suburban house in central Ohio – my heart and mind were on the Moon.

And here we are, 39 years later. There’s no one on the moon today. Hasn’t been for a long time. We have great little robots on Mars, and that’s wonderful (go, Phoenix!) but we went the moon and then we stopped visiting. People in centuries to come are going to wonder what we could have been thinking.

Happy Moon Day!

Little Brother at the Lake

Cory Doctorow will be live online today in Firedoglake’s Sunday book salon, to talk about Little Brother, science fiction, fantasy, the universe, and related subjects. The book salon starts at 5 p.m. EDT in the comment thread of the Book Salon post.

I expect that many of you are familiar with FDL – I know some of you are members of the community there, as am I. Some of you might even be principals there (Hi, Christy!). Firedoglake is a big part of the progressive blogosphere, a place for sharp political and legal analysis, progressive activism, and warm community. It’s a natural venue for Cory and I expect that the conversation today will turn from his marvelous novel to the issues of privacy and surveillance that he’s talking about. It’ll be great.

So come dive into the Lake this afternoon! The water’s fine.

Southwestern Seasons

I live in Arizona, in the Great Southwestern Desert — specifically the northern Sonoran Desert. The Sonora is a green desert, a rich biome of drought-adapted plants and animals and birds. Most people think of the southwestern desert as a hot, dry place, with glaring sun beating down. And it is, but not always. The big secret of the desert-dwellers is that the dragon-breath season of high summer gives way in July to monsoon. The National Weather Service’s overview of monsoons says

“The word monsoon is derived from the Arabic word mausim, which means season. Traders plying the waters off the Arabian and Indian coasts noted for centuries that dry northeast winds in the winter suddenly turn to the southwest during the summer, and bring beneficial yet torrential rains to the Asian subcontinent. We now know that these large scale wind shifts, from dry desert areas to moist tropical areas, occur in other parts of the Earth, including the Oceanic subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia, North America, Africa and South America.”

That “North America” part? That’s here. Morning comes cool and damp, with the rising sun lighting up the new flush of green that covers the basins and creeps up the sides of the mountain ranges. We do most outdoor activity in the early mornings. During monsoon, what comes up as the day wears on is the humitidy, not the heat. Unlike high summer, when afternoon temperatures routinely head for 110 degrees (F), during monsoon we rarely see 100. This last week, afternoon highs have been below 90. But the humidity! That moist flow from the Sea of Cortez sweeps over us, and with that much humidity, even temperatures in the 80s will start a thunderstorm going.

[More after the “read more” link below.]

As the sun moves higher in the sky, the clouds start forming. First they come marching up the San Pedro River Valley, the Tucson valley’s pipeline to the sea. They pile up on the mountain ranges — the Santa Ritas to the south, the Rincons to the east, the Catalinas to the north. And then the sun starts working on them, adding energy to the moisture, and blowing them up into thunderstorms that come sweeping down the mountainside with a flash and a roar and a downpour of rain.

If it got hot, it cools down fast. It’s not unusual to see the afternoon temperature drop from the 90s down into the low 70s in just a few minutes as the storms come through. Where it was dry, there are now raging rivers (more YouTube). The storms continue on into the night, the lightning strikes threatening fire, and power overloads. The phones go out. If you’re lucky your power stays on, but anyway you can turn off the air conditioning and open up the doors and windows to let the cool damp air flow through the house so it doesn’t really matter.

I go to bed early, often while it’s still raining; many desert dwellers do, because we get up with the sunrise to enjoy the lovely cool mornings. And since I telecommute to NY, I’m a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe and my workday begins at 6 a.m. local. Monsoon will continue through the middle of September, off and on, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker. We’ll get half of our annual rainfall in these two+ months. And I’ll be getting quick at unplugging the electronics.

If you’re visiting Tucson this summer, check out the Summer Saturday Evenings at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

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