I recently learned of the death of Algis Budrys, and was immediately struck by the unfortunate news. For readers who don’t recognize his name, he was a science fiction writer and editor. I never met him myself, but I do have one Algis Budrys story despite that.
When I was eighteen years old and an aspiring writer, I came across a magazine called Tomorrow that piqued my interest. It was a speculative fiction magazine from the 90s, and Algis was its editor. After reading several issues of the magazine, I decided to send one of my own stories to the magazine because I enjoyed reading the stories in it. It was the first submission to a magazine I’d ever made, and I didn’t know what to expect from the process of submission. When, several weeks later, I hadn’t heard anything back, I worried that the submission had been lost in the mail. This was in the days before the internet had really taken hold as a communication tool throughout the broader spectrum of society, and so magazines didn’t list websites or email addresses in their pages. They listed physical addresses, and sometimes, in the case of Algis, a phone number.
Around the time the manuscript had been gone for six weeks, I decided I should contact the magazine. When I dialed the number, I imagined a skyscraper in Chicago, where the address of the magazine was listed. I imagined a floor of cubicles and lots of officey type people scurrying around in there, busily creating the next issue of the magazine. What I discovered when I phoned, though, was that the very man who picked up the line was the editor himself, and that there was no officey noise in the background. I explained why I was calling, and Algis apologized for not having got back to me yet. He explained he’d recently had surgery and was in the hospital for a while and was home again, and trying to catch up on his work. He said my story was probably in a stack on his coffee table in front of his couch, where he was sitting at that moment. I had a sort of reality breakdown at that moment and realized that my idea of how magazines were produced was not always, or probably not mostly, what I thought it would be.
I apologized for bothering him at home and felt like a right stupid git, as my granddad might say, but Algis took the time even then to say that there was no need for an apology, and he began asking me questions at that point. Where did I live? How old was I? How long had I been writing? Had I been to any writing workshops before? Who were some of my favorite writers? We had a nice chat, and at the end of it he said he looked forward to reading my story and would try to have a response for it as soon as he was able. A week later, the story showed up in my mail with a detailed rejection letter from Algis, who talked me through what he thought was good in the story and what he thought needed more work, and he attached a set of manuscript submission instructions that would be generally good for me to follow for most magazines unless they specifically had different manuscript format procedures. I had done mine fairly accurate, but there were some quirks to it because I’d followed advice I’d found in a Writer’s Market that was fine but a little over the top on how to submit a story to a magazine. He also said that, while my story had speculative elements in its make-up, the way I had written it was in a more literary style, and he thought I should send it to literary journals in the future as well as sf magazines. I wasn’t sure what a literary journal was at the time. I discovered those shortly afterward, taking his suggestion and seeking them out. I wasn’t as impressed by them, but did like the writing style of many of the stories in those journals. Even then I was writing somewhere in between what many readers would perceive as separate genres or kinds of stories. It was the first time someone had told me anything helpful about my writing, and I realized soon after that I’d be a hard sell to a lot of places, literary journals and genre magazines alike, because I didn’t do either one the “right way” apparently. Things have changed a lot since then, in terms of what readers expect from a “sf” story or from a “literary” story, but it was definitely the first time I had a sort of “You Are Here” moment in trying to find my place on the writing map, thanks to Algis.
When I think back to that phone call and my eighteen year old, naive self phoning Algis Budrys at his home in Chicago about a story I’d sent him, I still laugh. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him. He was just one of the many people within the sf community that did something, said something, to provide me with a sense of a writer’s reality and community, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
SF author, critic, and editor Algis Budrys, born 1931, died this morning, June 9, 2008, at the age of 77. He began publishing in 1952 with short fiction in Astounding, Galaxy, and other magazines; notable stories include “The End of Summer” (1954), “Nobody Bothers Gus” (1955), “The Edge of the Sea” (1958, a Hugo nominee), “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night” (1961), and “The Silent Eyes of Time” (1975, a Hugo nominee). His first novel was False Night (1954), revised in 1961 as Some Will Not Die; later novels included Who? (1958, a Hugo nominee), The Falling Torch (1959), classic Rogue Moon — about matter transmission and an alien labyrinth on the moon, an expansion of novella “Rogue Moon” included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1960, a Hugo nominee as a novel), The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn (1967), Michaelmas (1977), and Hard Landing (1993, a Nebula nominee). He wrote critical reviews for Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1960s and ’70s, many collected in Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf (1985, a Hugo nominee and winner of a Locus Award). Since the mid 1980s he was associated with the Writers of the Future program for new writers, and he edited many of the annual L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future anthologies from 1985 to present. He was also editor of magazine Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, which lasted 24 issues from 1993 to 1997, and was twice nominated for a Hugo Award in the semi-professional magazine category. In 2007 Budrys won a Pilgrim Award from the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) for lifetime contribution to SF and fantasy scholarship.