June Foray, a.k.a. Rocket J. Squirrel, at 99

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June Foray, from IMDB

June Foray, one of the world’s most versatile voice actors, and the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel as well as the scheming Natasha, died last week at the age of 99.

By coincidence, I just recently started watching some of the old Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle episodes, when my friend Craig started reducing the size of his breathtaking video collection. (These are on VHS, and Craig and I may be among the few in town who still possess working VCRs. He and his wife Barbara watched them one more time, and then passed them on to me.) The cleverness and wit behind this venerable series is hardly at all dated. (When I was a kid, I doubt I would have gotten many of the references, such as the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam, which is a model boat that Bullwinkle has somehow gotten hold of.)

Some years ago, Craig and I went to hear June Foray give a talk, I think at M.I.T. She was smart and funny, and actually had a pretty bawdy sense of humor, which of course had to stay suppressed while she was working in kids’ programming.

The world is a little less funny and creative with her gone. Here’s a lot more about her in the Boston Globe and the New York Times.

A Friend Gone: Cindy Clancy

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Bob and Cindy Clancy wedding getaway in my FordI’ve lost another friend, this time to cancer. Cindy McMahon Clancy was the much-loved wife of my friend Bob Clancy, a classmate from my college days at Brown University. Bob met Cindy early in his working career, and when they were married, I was both the best man and the driver—in my red Ford Fairlane (shown with them in the back seat in this picture). Bob and I were, among other things, scuba diving buddies. In my brief stint as a scuba instructor, Cindy signed up to learn to dive, so that she could join us in our forays in the chilly New England waters. That lasted until they became parents, and diving faded into memory.

Cindy and Bob were both avid skiers, and they tried on a couple of occasions to teach me to ski. I enjoyed the adventure, though I never took up the sport. I vividly remember driving with my family to see them at their ski house in Vermont (Cindy, having studied architecture, designed the house, and it’s a beauty). The driveway was steep and snowy, and I was hellbent for the top in our rear-wheel-drive Aerostar van. Out of the night, Cindy appeared in our headlight beams—come to tell us to park at the bottom. One look at us, and she turned and sprinted back up the hill ahead of us. Who are these lunatics we invited to visit? We fishtailed to the top, where Cindy welcomed us with gales of laughter and open arms.

Those two things about her—her laughter, and her welcoming warmth—were two of her most prominent qualities, which were remembered by a number of other friends and family at the post-funeral lunch we were part of the other day. And they are what we will miss most about her. You can read some of the details of her life in this obituary.

I haven’t seen Cindy and Bob much in recent years, but we did get to see them near the end, but while she was still able to enjoy the company. This last year was tough on both of them. I pray that the coming year will bring rest and healing to Bob, and to their lovely grown children, Steven and Christine.

James Horner, 1953 – 2015

Another heartbreaking loss for film and music lovers. Composer James Horner died in a small plane crash north of Santa Barbara last Monday. He was 61.

James Horner was right up there with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith in my pantheon of beloved composers. I first fell in love with his music with the scores for two of the best classic Star Trek movies, The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. Just as the second movie built on the first, so too did the music, adding depth and texture to the themes introduced in Khan. There was a nautical flavor to the themes, evoking the wonder and peril of deep space like nothing else I had heard.

His credits included Aliens, Titanic, Avatar, Apollo 13, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, and countless other films. He was by all accounts a man of extraordinary generosity.

James Cameron, in a tribute in Hollywood Reporter, recalls beginning work with Horner on the score for Titanic:

I asked if he could write some melodies. I believe that a great score really consists of something you can whistle. If that melody gets embedded in your mind, it takes the score to a different level. I drove over to his house and he sat at the piano and said, “I see this as the main theme for the ship.” He played it once through and I was crying. Then he played Rose’s theme and I was crying again. They were so bittersweet and emotionally resonant. He hadn’t orchestrated a thing, and I knew it was going to be one of cinema’s great scores. No matter how the movie turned out, and no one knew at that point — it could have been a dog — I knew it would be a great score. He thought he had done only five percent of the work, but I knew he had cracked the heart and soul.

Of all of them, though, his haunting score for The Search for Spock is the most memorable to me, and one I’ve listened to countless times while writing.

Farewell, James Horner. May you continue to fill the heavens with your splendid music!

Losing Leonard Nimoy Is Hard. Losing Spock Is Even Harder.

The passing of Leonard Nimoy at age 83 saddens me in much the same way that losing Neil Armstrong did, back in August of 2012. (Has it really been two and a half years?) Armstrong was a space pioneer. Nimoy created the role of a space-fiction pioneer. And both carved lasting places in my heart, and in my view of the world and the century I’ve lived in.

I never knew Nimoy personally, but I do feel that I know, and love, Spock. As a science fictionally literate teenager, my initial reaction to Star Trek in its original 1960s run was that the pointy ears and walled-off emotions were pretty cheesy and unoriginal. But Spock grew on me with time, as did all of the Trek characters. It wasn’t until years later, after countless viewings of the reruns, that I came to appreciate Nimoy’s acting, and to realize that it was Enterprise family I loved, more than any of the much-touted forward-thinking virtues of the show (though those were good, too). And at the heart of the family were Spock and Kirk, with Spock possibly at the heart of the heart. Later came the movies, and the death and rebirth of Spock, and that’s when he really came into his own as a character, and as a friend in my own mind.

We’ll always have Spock with us, of course. And in his own way, Leonard Nimoy will always be with us, even as he journeys now in the beyond. But we’ll never again get to see him play Spock in something new. And that, in a way, is what hurts the most.

Godspeed, Leonard Nimoy. Live long and prosper. And thanks for all that you’ve given us.

Gene Soccolich, 1946 – 2014

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Scattering the ashes of a friend is not my preferred way to spend a sunny afternoon. And yet there was camaraderie and healing in it last Saturday, when Allysen and I joined with my friend’s family and another friend in saying good-bye to Gene Soccolich, who died a week ago of heart failure.

I first met Gene in 1973, when I was heading to the University of Rhode Island to attend a one-year graduate program called Master of Marine Affairs. A mutual friend put us in touch, because Gene was doing the same thing. We rented a place together in Jamestown, RI, on an island in the mouth of Narragansett Bay. For nine months, we lived in one of the nicest places I’ve ever lived in—a glass-fronted summer home overlooking the water, with spectacular sunsets behind the bridge to the mainland. There I introduced him to Star Trek reruns (which did not entirely take), and he introduced me to Pink Floyd’s Meddle album (which did). I sometimes kept him awake typing on my portable typewriter—at least at first, and then he started waking up if I wasn’t typing. He liked to tell people of the time he lay awake waiting for the typing to resume: After a minute of silence, he heard a single keystroke, and then, “Shit!” (I was a poor typist.)

In the years that followed, I went on to become a struggling writer, and he worked first in state government, and then in the high-tech computer industry. Oddly, he barely knew how to turn on a computer himself, though he facilitated million-dollar deals involving the technology. His expertise was in making such deals, which he did by getting people to talk to each other about what they really needed in a product, service, or business partner. He had a remarkable ability to cut through the B.S. (though he could sling a pretty good line of it himself when he wanted to).

He was married for a time, and had three great kids, all adult now. We used to see them during happier days, and then for a time we didn’t. Gene’s later health and financial troubles brought me back in touch with his kids, which is one of the things I’m most grateful for, here at the end.

Gene had lousy genes, when it came to cardiovascular issues. His first heart operation in his forties was just the start. By the end, he’d had his aorta replaced with a Dacron tube, after a ballooning aneurism threatened to drop him in his tracks. (His sister Christina, a rising literary star, had her own career cut short by a brain aneurism that robbed her of the ability to write.) Divorce, loss of work, poor health, and depression led to a very difficult life for Gene in the last ten or fifteen years.

But even while drawing inward and becoming ever more isolated, Gene began writing a novel. Initially he titled it American Spit, but later changed it to Waking Up Down East, which I thought was better, more reflective of the book’s redemptive ending. He asked me long ago if I would please try to find a way to get it into print, if he was gone before he did it himself. I said I would, so that’s something I’ll be working on in the future.

In meantime, though, it was uplifting and healing to spend time with his two sons and one daughter, his sister, and his other good friend Bruce. His ashes went to sea from a gorgeous outlook on the coast north of Boston. Gene always loved the sea, and it seemed a fitting place to say good-bye. Godspeed, old friend.

Frederik Pohl, 1919-2013

We’ve lost another giant—maybe the last of his generation of Golden Age science fiction. Frederik Pohl, along with Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov, occupied a central position in my formative years as a lover of science fiction. More than any of the others, he kept growing in maturity and ambition as a writer—showing a burst of enormous creativity in his late 50s, with two of his finest books, Man Plus (1976) and Gateway (1977). I consider Gateway one of the top five books in all of science fiction, and I’m not sure what the other four would be.

I first encountered his work, I believe, in The Space Merchants, which he coauthored in 1953 with C.M. Kornbluth. (I didn’t read it in 1953; I was only four years old at the time. I started reading him in my teens.) I still have many old paperbacks of his earlier work on my shelf. Just scanning a list of his titles evokes all kinds of feelings of golden-age sense of wonder: Search the Sky, Gladiator-At-Law, Drunkard’s Walk (which I was especially fond of as a teenager because of the tastefully drawn naked woman on the cover), Starchild, Rogue Star, Turn Left at Thursday, Starburst, The Siege of Eternity, The Case Against Tomorrow….

And yes, the title of my own work in progress, The Reefs of Time, is a knowing echo of his The Reefs of Space.

Pohl did just about everything there was to do in the SF world. He was an editor (Galaxy magazine), an agent, a solo writer, a collaborative writer, a futurist, a columnist and blogger, a president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and a SFWA Grandmaster. He was also a perfect gentleman, and a fascinating speaker. I only met him once or twice, but he treated me, a fresh upstart, with graciousness and warmth.

You can read more about his life and work at the New York Times and the Guardian.

I hope he’s enjoying a perfect view of the stars from where he is right now, perhaps sitting around a table with some of the other departed greats, in the observation lounge of a heavenly starship. Godspeed, Frederik Pohl, and thank you for all of the visions.

Another Loss: Film Critic Roger Ebert, at 70

I’ve never been a regular reader of the Chicago Sun-Times, but when it comes to checking reviews of movies I might be interested in (especially movies that show up on cable), the first reviewer I check is always Roger Ebert. I’ve trusted his reviewer’s eye and sensibility ever since I first encountered him with Gene Siskel, on Sneak Previews, on PBS. He died yesterday at age 70, after a long struggle with cancer. The Sun-Times has a detailed obituary, and Blastr has one that focuses more on his interest in science fiction. He was a lifelong SF fan, as well as a  perceptive reviewer of movies of all genres.

Along with millions of other moviegoers, I’m sure, I mourn his passing. But I’m grateful for the legacy he’s left us of intelligent, compassionate, critical thought about the movies. I’ll keep checking for his reviews as long as they leave them up on the web.

Neil Armstrong, 1930 – 2012

A giant of a man died today, and I feel great sadness, even as I celebrate my own birthday. Neil Armstrong has left us.

I remember it like it was yesterday: July 20, 1969, holding my breath as the Apollo 11 Lunar Module finally landed on the Moon, with Neil Armstrong at the controls. And then, some hours later (late at night in Huron, Ohio), watching the grainy black and white TV images of Armstrong, and then Buzz Aldrin, stepping onto the surface of the Moon. I knew then that the world would never be the same, and that history would forever be divided between the time before humanity walked on another world, and after.

Neil Armstrong steps off the Eagle

Neil reads the plaque declaring that Apollo 11 has come on
behalf of all Mankind.

A defining moment for humanity, but also one for me personally. Many of my friends lost interest in the space program soon after, but I never did. To me it was, and will always be, one of mankind’s grandest adventures.

Others will write more knowledgeably of Armstrong’s life and career. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: a thousand years from now, if we’re still around, the name Neil Armstrong is one that people will remember.

One small step… and another, and another. Godspeed, Neil Armstrong.

Bootprint on the Moon

Sally Ride, 1951 – 2012

America’s first woman astronaut died Monday at the age of 61, of pancreatic cancer. Sally Ride was an inspiration to millions, and not just girls and women. I remember what a triumph it felt to me, back in 1983, when she rode Challenger into space, ending once and for all the perception that American space travel was solely the domain of men. Nowadays, women fly missions all the time, and sometimes command them. It’s easy to forget that as recently as the early 1980’s, women were simply not part of the NASA equation. The Soviet Union had sent a woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space twenty years earlier, but that had not signaled a general welcome of women into the Soviet space program. In the case of Sally Ride, it really was the shattering of a glass ceiling. After the loss of Challenger in 1986, Dr. Ride was named to the presidential commission that investigated the cause of the tragedy. She later went on to found Sally Ride Science, an organization devoted to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology.

Here was a woman who made a difference. It’s sad to see her passing. Godspeed, Sally Ride.

Ray Bradbury, SF Master (1920 – 2012)


Ray Bradbury, the last of the Big Four in science fiction, died today. Over the years we’ve lost Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and now Ray Bradbury. We’ve lost many other great writers, of course, but few would argue with placing those four at the top in their influence on the literature, and influence on young writers. It’s like the passing of a Great Age in Middle Earth.

Bradbury was a master of the short form, and probably the first acknowledged science fiction writer to gain the respect of the mainstream literary world. (Probably because he was at heart really a fantasist more than an SF writer. He was also a remarkable stylist.) Did your high school literature book have any science fiction In it at all? If it did, it was probably by Ray Bradbury. “The Pedestrian,” maybe. Or “The Veldt.”

He wrote for the screen, as well. I’d been a fan of his fiction for many years before I discovered that he’d written the screenplay for the 1956 John Huston-directed adaptation of Moby Dick, with Gregory Peck and Richard Basehart.

I was one of probably thousands of young writers who found both encouragement and frustration in reading his work. (My favorites: The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes.) The encouragement is from the delight in reading his visions. The frustration is from the illusion he cast that it was all so easy. He really made storytelling look simple. And that is a mark of a master. I never knew him personally, though I saw him a few times at Nebula Awards events. The last time, I think, was when I saw him accept his SFWA Grandmaster Award in… you know, I don’t remember the year or the city, but I can see him inching his way up to the stage, with the assistance of his son, as though it were yesterday. Edit: I also remember that he had a sense of humor about his infirmity. When he finally got to the microphone, his words were, “Do you ever have the feeling that everyone’s watching you?”

There’s a fine remembrance at the Washington Post, and all kinds of interesting details on his Wikipedia page

Godspeed, Ray Bradbury!

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