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.
That’s a lovely story, Chris. Sounds like he was an incredibly sweet guy.
I am saddened to learn of Algis’ recent passing, only a few short weeks ago. It was a disturbingly quiet passing, I fear. I only learned of it because I happened to be searching for copies of the Writers of the Future volume in which one of my stories appeared. It was very much by chance that I learned of Algis’ death.
Because I placed in the WOTF in 1992, I received a trip to Washington, D.C. to the WOTF workshop. I fear that the trip was wasted on me. I was both young and undisciplined. The workshop was structured for new writers who have a grasp of what the heck the instructors (Algis being one of them) were talking about. I hadn’t any real education in writing, except in my undergraduate classes. So I wasn’t prepared and could not perform for the workshop. This, of course, was a golden opportunity which I wish I cold have taken full advantage of. The whole experience saddens me as I look back. I wish I had been wise enough to recognize the opportunity that had presented itself, dropping out of the sky as it were.
Though I did not perform well at the workshop, I have a firm memory of Algis at the workshop. I admired him a great deal. He was a great human being…i.e. he cared about his fellow men, particularly his fellow writers, which is clearly expressed with your experience with Algis. If only there were more Algis’s to mentor new writers.
I am thankful for the WOTF series, and particularly Algis’ contributions in that regard. I look forward to reading more of his work (I own a few novels that I have since lost, such as Rogue Moon and Michaelmas). I remember “Master of the Hounds” for its last moments. Until today, I had forgotten its title. I do not know where I first read the story. And I did not realize that Algis at the workshop was the same fellow who had written the story. Weird and amusing at the same time. I did not say I was smart or brilliant.
Thanks for sharing your story about Algis. I wish there were more of these around to honor his memory and contributions to the business of writing and the SF genre in particular.
Yeah, I just got to the news as well. I’ve been reading his stories as a part of my ‘science-fiction’ course at school and have been liking them much. He had been a man of big achievements.
he was lithuanian scientologist also.translated hubbards books.thanks god,scientology is not popular in my country,just few broken lifes.we are ashamed of his bad works.
Nice story, Chris .. it is good that we realize, at all times, that our iconic fellow humans – despite their achievements, share all of the essential aspects of our common Humanity -There ARE no priveliged frames, pillars or thrones of reference .. just other humans that have learned or seen more, perhaps, than we have. The great thing is that, as you point out … he taught you, at least a little of what he had learned/gained .. and that is the great things about humans .. we can learn from our betters .. if we try. Ignorance can be cured, but arrogant certainty locks one into ignorance forever .. we properly call that not “ignorance” – but “Stupidity”: for examples of this see all fundimental religions, and most of the laws currently being passed in the USA.
Good fortune, Chris .. for a good read try Ayn Rand ..