scottedelman (scottedelman) wrote,

Algis Budrys 1931-2008

Algis Budrys, or Ajay as he was known to his friends, passed away earlier today. His father was the head of the Lithuanian government in exile, so when Ajay came with him to the U.S. in 1936 at the age of five, he received an early education in seeing the world with outsider eyes. That sense of the alien helped him well in his future writing career. Ajay went on to write many classic novels, notably Who?, Rogue Moon, and Michaelmas.

But he was also a teacher, and that was his role when I first met him in the flesh, as opposed to on the page. It was 1979, and I was a student attending the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop. (My other teachers were Robin Scott Wilson, Carol Emshwiller, Thomas Disch, Damon Knight, and Kate Wilhelm.) Before Ajay decided that Writers of the Future was the preferred path, he had been a strong proponent of the Clarion workshopping method, and he was a wonderful teacher.

But aside from having an excellent understanding of how to build a story, he also helped provide one of the more memorable incidents of my six weeks in East Lansing. Ajay's week was early on in the term, and so he surprised us by returning for the final week of Clarion, at which time Damon and Kate were the scheduled teachers. During workshopping one morning, after all of the students had taken their turns commenting on the story at hand, when it was Ajay's turn to critique the manuscript, he spent what seemed like half an hour (though I know it could never have been that long) explaining in great detail why the story under discussion could never be sold in its current state, why it wasn't working, and how it could be turned inside out and fixed.

He then handed the story on to the next critiquer, who happened to be Damon Knight. Damon looked at Ajay, looked at the manuscript, grinned with great amusement (any of you who ever had the good fortune to meet Damon know exactly the look I mean), and then told us that he completely disagreed with Ajay. He was buying the story for the final volume of his Orbit anthology.

I was flabbergasted at the time. We all were. How could this be? Whom were we to believe? Was Ajay right, in which case Damon had bought a story that was not up to snuff and could have been made better? Or was Damon right, which meant that Ajay was off-base about both the story's quality and its chances in the marketplace? We students were baffled, and talked about this for the rest of the day, and late into the night.

It wasn't until years later that I realized it was a set-up. Had to have been. I'm convinced of that now. Damon and Ajay didn't want us making them into gods. They wanted us to learn to think for ourselves, to make our own choices instead of blindly following them, and so decided to play with our heads a bit and create a contradictory bit of theater, orchestrating the order of their critiques for maximum effect.

I wish Ajay could be with us to play with our heads still. And though he can no longer do so in the flesh, he will forever be able to do so on the page. So please pick up one of his classic works over the next few days and help him live forever. I know that I'll be doing so.
Tags: obituaries

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