Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Lloyd Biggle, Jr. -- Dead at 79

Via Cory Doctorow's Boing Boing, I belatedly learned that Lloyd Biggle, Jr. passed away on September 12. He was 79. Here is rec.arts.sf.written on his death.

Lloyd lived up in Michigan. He often attended the Detroit cons. I am proud to say that I met him and got to praise his work. It horrified me that more people my age hadn't ever gotten to encounter his stuff. I literally begged him to write science fiction again, though his mysteries were good -- because his science fiction mysteries are the best ever written, to my taste.

His regular sf was good, too. People talk of Larry Niven's teleporter stories, and about flash crowds. Biggle talked about them first, in All the Colors of Darkness. And that was just at the beginning of the first Jan Darzek novel! There was much more to come. But he came between the Golden Age and the New Wave, and thus has been largely forgotten -- except by the many writers and musicians and artists he inspired.

Biggle could write about love, friendship, beauty, and rhubarb beer. He could write about alien art and make you see it, and what's more, feel something about it. He could do anything, and keep a pleasant, clever, fun, and poetic writing voice all the while. I can quote a few cute bits, but I warn you, the true impact of his work can only be felt by reading a whole story or novel. He loved to build things up so that a simple line took on enormous meaning. Half the stuff I'd love to quote is a huge spoiler. So you'll have to trust me on this: you will enjoy reading his books.

Among the myriads of dead worlds in the universe, few had numbered a private detective among their mourners. This world was one of the rare exceptions -- because it had been murdered.
-- This Darkening Universe, 1975.

"You are a man with a dead violin, and I cannot help you."
-- "Wings of Song", 1963.

It came to O'Brien quite suddenly that he was dying...The boys shouted a song as they dipped their paddles -- a serious song, for this was a serious undertaking. The Langri wished to see the Elder, and it was their solemn duty to make haste.
-- Monument, 1974 (from the 1961 short story).

"Someone has arrived!" he hissed.
"On time? Who would have such filthy manners?"

-- Watchers of the Dark, 1966

The fact was that Gwyll loved art -- good art -- and because he knew that there would be little good art without the striving of a great many artists to become great, he possessed a benign tolerance for sincere mediocrity. He respected any painting, even a bad painting, that was crafted with integrity. It was only artists that he hated.

...tourists milled everywhere, almost, but not quite, outnumbering the artists. For the first time in his life Gwyll grasped the awesome significance of an old Donovian curse: "An epidemic of artists". Zrilund was said to have originated the expression, but a hundred other towns and villages of the world of Donov claimed it or something like it: an epidemic, a blight, an affliction, a scourge of artists; a pollution of artists; a seizure of artists; a rot of artists...

Then he glimpsed a flash of color and forgot the artists.

Fountain at Zrilund! Several great artists had painted it, and thousands of bad artists...But the greatest of the paintings, even Ghord's "Fountain Lights", paled beside the breath-taking, chromatic turbulence of the original. Scientists had tested and analyzed and experimented and explained but never quite accounted for the fact that the rare combination of mosses and fungi and algae in and about the Zrilund mountain turned its quiet mist into brilliant, swirling color.

...Gwyll stood motionless, stunned by the overwhelming beauty of blending, ever-changing colors. They made him aware as never before of an intrinsic weakness in even the greatest painting: only by implication could it show change and movement.
-- The Light That Never Was, 1972.

If you seek his monument, look on the sf shelves around you. You may not see his name, but he's there, in the writers he influenced. So again from Monument, a fitting epitaph for Lloyd Biggle, unsung mastersinger:

"I wonder if you and your people are aware of what a great man Cerne O'Brien was. 'Genius' is something of an understatement for him, considering what he did. I suppose in time you'll have buildings and villages and streets and parks named O'Brien, but he deserves a really important monument...Too late to change it now, but you should have named your world 'O'Brien'."

..."O'Brien?" Fornri asked blankly. "Who is O'Brien?"


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