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July 13, 2009

Charles N. Brown, 1937-2009
Posted by Patrick at 01:46 PM *

Details here.

There’s a very real sense in which the modern science fiction world, professional and fan, can be defined as “the set of people who know what Locus is and care about it.” (Stipulating, of course, that one of the ways people sometimes care about something is to reject it with great force.) These days, SF and fantasy storytelling is a vast, sprawling city, and creators and readers of prose fiction form what is merely one of that city’s older neighborhoods. But Locus has been our neighborhood newsletter for as long as most of us have been around. Having Charlie Brown suddenly not there is like losing one of the landmarks that lets you know you’re home.

UPDATE, 14 July. A sampling of online reactions: Beth Meacham. And Graham Sleight.

Comments on Charles N. Brown, 1937-2009:
#1 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:20 PM:

Yowch. That's terrible news. :(

#2 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:30 PM:

Sh*t. Just saw him Saturday in the bar Saturday; he looked pale but was friendly and alert.

Wondering if "peacefully in his sleep on the way home" means "on the plane"?

#3 ::: Merav ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 02:47 PM:

All our giants fall. Goodbye Mr. Brown and thank you.

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:01 PM:

I'm very sorry to hear that. He was kind to my wife when her agent introduced her to him at a worldcon and that counts for a lot, in my book. As for Locus, it was my first window into the field of SF, back in 1975. My many thanks to Charles for all of that.

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:06 PM:

I only met him once, briefly, at a Worldcon, but people whom I esteem esteemed him and people whom I like liked him. His death is a loss to the community, both on a personal and a professional level. Condolences to all who are grieved.

#6 ::: J. D. Crayne ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:08 PM:

Terrible news! I met Charlie back in the early 'Sixties, when and Marsha were still married and living in the Bronx. I thought he'd go on forever, and I hoped that he would.

#7 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:14 PM:

I never met him (despite also being at Readercon), and I stopped reading Locus a while ago (more for lack of time and energy when I was gafiated than because of any failing in the magazine). All that said: he had a huge effect on SF and the SF community, and the community as a whole has lost something, even for those of us who didn't know him personally.

My condolences to all who miss him.

#8 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:26 PM:

Having Charlie Brown suddenly not there is like losing one of the landmarks that lets you know you’re home.

Yes. Well-put. My sympathies to all who were close to him.

#9 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:27 PM:

This makes me unbearably sad. )-:

I only met him very briefly at Worldcon in '06, but it was a memorable and entertaining encounter, and I'd looked forward to running into him again someday.

My deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and everyone who were blessed to know him better.

#10 ::: Tim Pratt ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:27 PM:

Yes, he passed away on the plane. Fell asleep about ten minutes before landing, and didn't wake up.

He loved Readercon, and had a wonderful time there.

We're all a bit stunned (I'm one of the magazine's editors), and we're dealing with all the practicalities today. Charles made arrangements for the magazine to continue, so things should go on as before...

... except without Charles here, it really won't feel much at all like it felt before.

#11 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 03:39 PM:

Condolences to his friends and family. I didn't know him, but he's left a mighty ongoing legacy with "Locus".

#12 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:02 PM:

It's going to take a while to hit home for me. He's the first person to pay me for writing, IIRC (I was a Locus reviewer in the 70s) and I may be the only person left who collated Locus in all its venues. One of my favorite stories of him is when I dropped by the Locus table at a restaurant in Boston. He asked me to taste two different white wines, and say what they were -- one was a fume' blanc, one a chardonnay, and it was easy for me to tell both that and which was the "better" wine. "See," he said. "Anyone from California knows about wines!"

He was an irascible opinionated curmudgeon, difficult and wonderful at the same time, and a really good person for talking about both collectible and important SF and fantasy. He could go from deep concern to impish smile in seconds, and it wasn't always possible to tell when he was joking. He was unique.

Now we've lost both the people initially named as SMOFs. Good luck, Charles, wherever you are.

#13 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:05 PM:

A landmark indeed. A giant upon the earth.

And all those other things one says about someone who changes the way you look at part of reality.

Not to mention being a nice person and generous with newbies.

We met a few times and talked on the phone once or twice a year.

My condolences to all.

#14 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:19 PM:

We were friends; sometimes very close, sometimes not.

Excuse me, I have to go cry now.

#15 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:34 PM:

Alas, Charlie Brown.

You'll be missed. But thanks for giving me a decade of reviews, fun, interviews, pointers to good books, and news.

(Makes note to renew subscription.)

#16 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:40 PM:

I didn't get to know him nearly well enough. Which I now have a long time to regret ...

#17 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:47 PM:

I never met him, but Locus is a huge legacy.

#18 ::: Gardner Dozois ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:48 PM:

He certainly had his enemies, but Charlie was kinder to more people in more ways than anyone will ever know. He was certainly kind to me, and I'll miss him. He was a good man, and LOVED science fiction with a very real passion.

#19 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 04:53 PM:

It has been all over the SF community. I'm sorry to see him go.

#20 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:00 PM:

I was never close to him personally. For some reason he never figured out I was close geographically and could have helped collate. But I started reading Locus as soon as I got in fandom and found out about it. Paraphrasing Patrick, there is a very real sense in which modern science fiction can be defined as "the set of things covered in Locus." And I don't know of anyone else who was so good at what he did, we had to create a Hugo Award category just for him.

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:06 PM:

I didn't know him, but I offer my sincere condolences to all who are now mourning him.

#22 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:26 PM:

As Gardner says, Charlie was kind to more people in more ways than anyone will ever know.

Tim, thanks for confirming that he passed away on the plane, and swiftly. I'm glad it happened that way.

#23 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:40 PM:

Locus is a landmark indeed. We owe him plenty for its existence.

#24 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:41 PM:

I saw him at Readercon just this weekend and he was his usual self.

I'm quite speechless.

And what Tom Whitmore said about him too.

#25 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 05:46 PM:

I didn't, "know" him. But I knew him.

He wasn't a stranger to me, I knew his face, his laugh. I've seen his impish smile, and his angered face. We chatted a few times, and I said hello more than that.

A fixture, a piece of the firmament, and I am diminished for his passing.

I think I shall go take a walk, and some photos and ponder my navel for the betterment of mankind a bit. Lots of dead friends. I'll drabble my feet in the water, and listen to some music.

Then, I shall go back to living, working for more impish smiles, fewer occaisions for the angered voice. In that strange way in which people ought to be there, I will notice his absence.

#26 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 06:01 PM:

My condolences to all who knew him.

This is a major shock. Somehow, I thought he was eternal.

#27 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 06:09 PM:

Oh, Hell.

I'd really only gotten to know him a bit in the last few years, since we moved out to SF. It's a little like finding that a support wall has been removed as part of ongoing remodeling; there's likely something taking its place, but the world feels a little less stable, somehow. Damn.

#28 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 06:29 PM:

Like Velma said, it's a major shock.

#29 ::: sdn ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 07:13 PM:

other people have already said what i feel, especially you, patrick. a sad silence. a gap in the world.

#30 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 07:14 PM:

I never met him, but I'm well aware of the prominence of Locus in the fannish community. Personally, I can think of few better ways to go than quietly, on the return trip from a con where I had a good time. My condolences to his family and friends.

#31 ::: Geri Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:25 PM:

Back before convention-running fans were called smofs, Charlie Brown was SMOF1 and Bruce Pelz was SMOF2. As Tom Whitmore said, now they're both gone. Fandom is the lesser for it, but it's also ever so much the greater thanks to the decades of their presence, of their remarkable contributions.

Condolences to Charles' family, friends, and colleagues. Condolences to fandom and to the entire field. Yes, it was a good end, gentle and swift, but it came way too soon.

#32 ::: Ellen Asher ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:42 PM:

I'm still in shock. I saw him at Readercon, and he seemed much as usual, although, as someone above noted, very pale. Back when I was a newly hatched editor with bits of shell clinging to my feathers, he was one of the pillars of science fictional knowledge, and "Locus" was and continued to be indispensable. He'd already moved to California, so I never got to know him well, to my regret. I find it impossible to imagine the SF world without him

#33 ::: Lawrence Person ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:52 PM:

A damn shame. I knew him, though not as well as many here. It's strange to have been on a panel with him at Readercon, only to find out he died so soon after. I think the last I talked to him was in the dealer's room Saturday, where he and I were discussing classic SF first editions in the Somewhere in Time booth.

#34 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2009, 11:54 PM:

As Geri mentioned, one of the friends I thought of when I heard this news was Bruce. God, how I miss him.

He introduced me to Zeelazny (when I was 11?), with the book club edition of The Chronicle of Amber.

A fellow of infinite jest. I can only hope he now has Charlie to swap stories with.

I knew them Horatio.

#35 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 03:57 AM:

I heard this morning when I opened my email. And now I realize I can never go to dinner with Charlie again, or sit on his lap in a car (a bizarre story) again, or argue with him when he wanted to tell me how I should write my next book, or. . .

Yes he was funny, dear and annoying in equal measure. And a great drinker-in of life. That's why thinking of him dead is simply not possible.


#36 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 04:44 AM:

I didn't know him, but what I knew of him and his works constituted a very large part of the SF universe for me. I've been more or less gafiated for decades (in recovery now); Locus was how I found out what was going on. The universe will be quite a bit different (and much the poorer) without him.

#37 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 05:55 AM:

I only saw him a couple times after he moved to California, but I contributed to Locus back in its mimeographed days, and since then he always treated me like a distant cousin who was welcome anytime. I'm sorry "anytime" didn't come around often enough.

#38 ::: Timo Lagus ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:37 AM:

Condolences to Charles's family and friends and everybody at Locus.

I never met Charles, I only knew him through Locus, but I'm certainly aware of his role in SF fandom in the US. In fact, thanks to Charles and Locus, I actually feel a little bit a part of the US scene (I live in Finland). This has been one of my main pleasures in reading the magazine over the years. I'm sure I will continue to derive this same pleasure from Locus, but I am going to miss Charles's writings, particularly his quips in Editorial Matters. As I said, I only knew him in an extremely limiter manner, but I still feel I knew him at least a little. I liked that very much.

#39 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:41 AM:

What Timo said. Locus was a window on the world of US science fiction and fandom to tthis Dutch fan as well. He will be missed.

#40 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:47 AM:

Locus was, oddly enough, just that. I read it, almost religiously, through the '80s and into the '90s. The webs has done a lot of what Locus did (foster a sense of community among groups of the like-minded).

In some ways this is APA-Making Light, with a much shorter schedule, and more active LOCs.

One wakes up, and the world is changed.

#41 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:52 AM:

Damn. Another friend I won't meet in this lifetime.

Heartfelt hugs to all for this Charlie-shaped hole in our lives.

#42 ::: David Lubkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:29 AM:

Or, to paraphrase, There’s a very real sense in which the modern science fiction world, professional and fan, can be defined as “the set of people who know who Charles Brown was and care about his death.”

He actually seemed haler at Readercon, able to walk through the lobby. (I observed to Amelia at the time that he was one of the few people one could reliably recognize from behind, more for that little grey ponytail than anything else.)

#43 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 10:53 AM:

After Liza called me with the news yesterday morning, it did leave a gaping hole in things, and that vacuum still hasn't filled despite 20-plus years of memories returning. Tom Whitmore and Lizzy give a good picture of his complex personality -- something like a force of nature back in 1981 when I joined the small staff as a newbie.

I still have dreams about those early days at Locus, but now Charles seems most present in the magazine itself as it carries on. (And I'm grateful for that for more than a reviewer's selfish reasons!) It's *his* dream, manifest and evolving.

#44 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 11:18 AM:

Or, to paraphrase, "There's a very real sense in which the modern science fiction world, professional and fan, can be defined as 'the set of people who know who Charles Brown was and cared about his death.'"

Oh, yay (she said sourly), that means I can count myself in that number, the reward of which is I get to share in feeling terribly, terribly sad that I'll now never meet the man behind the name that cast such long shadows over my sense of tribe.

This is horrible news. I can only imagine the shock and grieving felt by those who were lucky enough to know him personally and/or enjoy his company at Readercon.

At least Locus will continue to exist, no? Though surely it will never be the same.

#45 ::: Gregory Benford ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 12:11 PM:

I learned more from Charlie about sf than from anyone. Force of nature, yes. If we had a Mt. Rushmore...

#46 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 12:28 PM:

I never got the chance to meet him, and now I never will, and that saddens me. Condolences to all who miss him.

#47 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 01:19 PM:

He was able to take a hobby and turn it into, not only a living, but a pretty comfortable living.

I think he was the first person able to do that* in the science fiction world, without being a fiction writer or editor. (I suppose booksellers might count, tho' self-supporting sf-specialty booksellers are still pretty thin on the ground.)

Part of this was because of the post-ST/Tolkien growth in SF/Fantasy and fandom. But other people than Charles Brown have tried to do things similar to LOCUS. None have been as successful, or shown the staying power. Luck certainly played a part in this, but it was also because Brown was a pretty good businessman. He saw a niche forming, saw what needed to be done to fill that niche, adjusted the contents of LOCUS as the field changed over the years, and pretty much made that niche his own.

*One might be tempted to count Richard Geis and SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW as self-supporting, but I'd say "not quite". Geis lived a fairly poverty-line lifestyle -- living in his mother's home, riding bicycle or bus rather than having a car, etc. -- plus he always supplemented his SFR income with his porn writing.

#48 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 01:23 PM:

me at #48:
"Geis lived"

Less that be confusing, Geis is still alive, and posting his cranky personalzines on

#49 ::: Adam Niswander ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 03:22 PM:

Alternately intimidating, friendly, grumpy, cheerful, smart, sarcastic, generous--someone I saw, and looked forward to seeing, at the World Fantasy Conventions. As I have been wheelchair dependent the last few years, I always had a careful eye out for Charlie since we shared mobility issues. We never tried to get both machines into the same elevator at the same time. I can’t believe he won’t be there in October. He was an institution all by himself and his mark on the field will never disappear. But I think I will miss that devilish grin from the next table over in the bar the most. He always seemed to be there.

#50 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 04:13 PM:

This is a shock. Condolences to all who knew him.

I only met him a couple of times and remember him as utterly charming. Very good at putting you at your ease and still keeping you on your toes, he was. There's a reason why his Locus interview style worked.

#51 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 07:54 PM:

It's the end of an era. Locus was how I learned of awards and new magazines and such when I grew beyond just reading the stuff and became active in fandom. I only met him once, but he was friendly in a small group when I arrived an evening early for the first convention I attended (Deep South Con in Birmingham, 1977).

#52 ::: Cecy Pelz ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:08 PM:

Terry Karney @34

Thank you for that; it made me smile. I never met Charles, but I'm sure he and Daddy are having a wonderful time catching up on everything.

Condolences to all the friends, family and fen who will miss him.

#53 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:22 PM:

I got the email reminder of our bookgroup discussion for Saturday (Brenda Cooper's The Silver Ship and the Sea) and our librarian told us to wear Aloha shirts and sandals to remember Charlie. I don't have an Aloha shirt, but I have something close.

#54 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:23 PM:

Appended to the original post, a sampling of online reactions: Beth Meacham. And Graham Sleight.

#55 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 08:44 PM:

Cecy Pelz @ 52 -- I'd mentioned Bruce over on the SMOFs list, as he was SMOF2 when Charles was SMOF1; don't know if you remember him having that license plate on the Red Ox.

#56 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:28 PM:

Cecy Pelz: You are most welcome.

Thom Whitmore: I remember it. I am having wistful memories of the both of them... thanks to both of you for that.

Intimate sorts, and larger than life. What a piece of work is man (as Hamlet comes back to the fore).

What a pair of men were they.

#57 ::: Cecy Pelz ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2009, 09:39 PM:

Tom Whitmore @55

I do! I think I have at least one picture of him standing with me by the Ox, although the plate probably isn't visible.

J.D. Crayne @6 is my mom, btw. *waves* Hi, Mama!

#58 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 01:23 AM:

I had no idea Dian read here! Boy, it's old home week.... (Looks for copy of Way of the Dove).

#59 ::: Bob Garcia ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2009, 03:50 PM:

The first things I had published were ABA reports for LOCUS. Charlie didn't know me from Adam when I approached him about doing them. And yet, he took the chance. He was always generous and supportive. He did things like that all the time. He's going to missed. SF has lost its most fervent champion.

#60 ::: cecelia ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2009, 05:03 PM:

good-by, charles

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