Why I'll never forget Charlie Brown

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Charles N. Brown—Charlie, that is— loved science fiction. He loved the stories, and the books and magazines in which they appeared. He loved the writers, editors and publishers who created them. And he loved the readers, though he wanted to transform them into more than merely readers. He wanted to change them all into fans like himself.

He showed off that love month after month for decades in the pages of Locus, which he edited, published and co-created. And he demonstrated it at hundreds, if not thousands, of science fiction conventions large and small around the world, proselytizing on behalf of the literature he loved.

Most recently, those of us fortunate enough to be in Burlington, Mass., witnessed that love at Readercon 20, which he attended just a few days ago. He offered his usual feisty opinions (what else could they have been with Charlie?) about where science fiction had come from and where it was headed on panels such as "The Year in Novels" and "Reconsidering the Classics."

When not on stage, he was everywhere, zipping around the hallways on the motorized cart he'd taken to using lately to navigate conventions. But he was unable to get very far, for he knew everyone and would be stopped by familiar faces every few feet. He was surrounded this weekend by his friends—his tribe, really, for if we're lucky, SF gets to be a family—and then he died peacefully in his sleep while returning to the home he'd turned into a shrine to science fiction.

I can't remember the exact moment we first met, only where I was when I first saw him, my first Worldcon in 1974. I'd already been reading Locus, ever since I realized I wanted to make a go of this SF thing, and so I knew who he was, but as a newcomer, basically just a kid, I didn't feel comfortable introducing myself. I did step up to him a few years later, and I've learned in the years since, from watching him with others, that he would have welcomed me if I'd come up to him during that earlier con. He'd have shared everything. I've seen him do it many times in the years since, both in the U.S. and overseas.

Charlie was an ambassador of science fiction, traveling internationally to spread his love of science fiction and to foster fandom in those countries where it hadn't yet taken root as strongly it has in the U.S. I was with him on one of those trips, to an SF convention in Cuba, and can picture him now speaking about science fiction to Cubans hungry to suck up his knowledge. His eyes would twinkle as he shared about his favorite books and widen when he spoke of those he didn't particularly care for, but even when talking about those he hated, he was passionate and engaged, eager to show how and why it fit into the mosaic of SF history. As we'd wander the streets, the Havana locals whom we'd pass would often call the stocky, white-haired, bearded Charlie "Papa," as if Hemingway had returned to walk among them.

I particularly remember one warm night at the rooftop bar of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway began writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. Drinks in hand, we sat looking out into the harbor, discussing SF, opera and our lives for hours. That's where I learned, after decades of friendship, that we'd attended the same Brooklyn public school, though more than a decade apart. Ever since that 2002 trip, we'd hail each other as classmates whenever we'd meet.

Charlie loved opera, as those who've read his Locus editorials know. He attended it as often as he could. I'm trying to take some comfort from those twin loves of opera and science fiction. There's a concept often seen in opera and ballet called the apotheosis—though characters may die as the performance nears its conclusion, we see them immediately rise up, ascend to the heavens, become their better selves. They're once more young and healthy, once more surrounded by those whom they love.

Thinking of Charlie right now, that's how I'd like to picture him—not gone, but ascended, and already deep in conversation with Jack Williamson, Isaac Asimov and all the other titans who gave him so much pleasure, and to whom he devoted his life.