Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

Algis Budrys (1931-2008)

Posted on by arlen

Just read in Locus about the death of Algis Budrys. Ruined what was promising to be a perfectly good day.

Some will write about how good of an editor he was. And there will the obligatory homages to Rogue Moon and Who?, his classics in the genre. All of that will be covered by others who will do it much better than I, so I will leave them to it.

Instead I’ll talk about Michaelmas, a flawed book with a conventional alien invasion plot, but with a more personal meaning. It was the novel that brought me into the computer industry. Besides being a forerunner to (and better than 99% of) the cyberpunk subgenre in science fiction, it was the first novel to explore the potential of human/computer teams, without making either one the slave of the other. Oh, there was no doubt who was in charge (Michaelmas, the human). But he listened to and often accepted the advice of the computer (Domino) and in general treated Domino as he might a human member of his staff.

That was what excited me. It made real to me the possibilities of computers not as calculators, but as assistants in the real meaning of the term: as things to assist us in what we do best. It was the synergy between Domino and Michaelmas that excited me. I wanted to make that happen in real life.

I was happily on my way to becoming a chemist when I read that book. It was a life-altering experience. Call him cranky, curmudgeonly, call him whatever you want. Just remember it takes a whale of a writer to reach into someone’s life like that.

I never knew Budrys the man, but that doesn’t matter. My world is a little darker today for his absence. And for the umpteenth time, I’m going to re-read Michaelmas.

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June 2008
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