Over the weekend I attended the Charles N. Brown memorial, which was held in San Francisco at Borderlands Books, Sunday beginning at noon. That event was preceded by a smaller ‘memorial bar-b-q’ at Brown’s house in Oakland on Saturday evening, for the extended staff and a few guests who had flown in from out of town. I drove up from L.A. with Yeong on Saturday, arriving at the house just as the smoke from the grill began seriously billowing.
The mood was congenial and even festive, considering the circumstances, with people reminiscing about Charles, of course, but also catching up with friends they hadn’t seen in months or years. Locus staff were there, along with spouses (including the husbands of Liza and Amelia, Matt and Mars respectively, whom many of us had heard about for years but never met), as were Bob Silverberg and Karen Haber, Connie Willis and husband Courtney, Cecilia Holland, Eileen Gunn and John Berry, Mark Budz and Marina Fitch, and others. Gary Wolfe had flown in Thursday, partly to meet with the lawyer handling the estate. Gary, Liza, and Kirsten were named trustees of the estate in Charles’ will, and will handle the transition of assets to the Locus Foundation, which has a couple loose ends to tie up before becoming an official nonprofit organization.
It had not been announced, but Charles had been cremated, and his ashes were in a box inside a velvet bag, on one of the Craftsman tables in a corner of the living room.
Charles’ estate will be left to the “Locus Science Fiction Foundation”, as it’s formally known. The intent by everyone in the Foundation is to leave the house and collection intact, indefinitely, as a working space and as a resource. The magazine will go on, with no changes anticipated in the near term, though some changes are bound to occur in the longer term as others will necessarily replace what was Charles’ guidance.
Saturday evening the bbq focused on grilled meat — chicken, ribs, sausage, tri-tip — as Charles would have wanted it, someone said. Beer, wine, champagne, and single malt scotch flowed. Stories were told and memories shared.
The crowd at Borderlands on Sunday was somewhat larger — 50 or 60 people, I’d guess, with store managers Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman ably stage-managing, and providing tables of hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. The crowd mingled for some time before Liza called everyone’s attention and introduced Gary Wolfe, who spoke briefly about the “Magus of Oakland” and then introduced the principal speakers, Bob Silverberg, Dick Lupoff, and Connie Willis. They talked about Charles, his place in the field, related memories, told some jokes. A central Silverberg incident (paraphrasing in the 3rd person)–
Charles was an autograph hound early on, and every time he saw Silverberg would present him with three or four of his latest books for signatures. On one occasion Brown and Silverberg were late for an appointment, but Brown insisted on getting an autograph in a particular rare first edition right away. So Silverberg obliged, a bit irritated.
A few months later Silverberg suffered the famous fire that burned his mansion in New York, including the top floor with his office and book collection. He set about rebuilding his collection of his own books, with help from friends — including Brown, who gave to Silverberg the rare first edition he’d gotten autographed.
Which is why someday Silverberg’s executor will wonder why his library contains a copy of one of his own books signed “Here’s another goddamn autograph – Robert Silverberg”.
Dick Lupoff also related memories, and told about being locker buddies with Charles at the local YMCA until just recently. Connie talked about doing the Locus Awards with Charles, and driving…
On one trip to New Mexico for the Jack Williamson Lectureship, Connie was driving with Charles in the car and three other cars following — and she got lost, in Portales, confused by the angled grid of some of the town streets. She made a few turns trying to orient herself, with the other cars following, then finally pulled over and got out to tell the car behind her to lead the way.
She got back in her car and Charles asked what she was doing. She explained that she didn’t know where they were and told the other car to lead. I know exactly where we are, Charles said. You do?? Why didn’t you tell me? Charles replied, Because it’s so much fun watching you get exasperated!
Despite the humor, Connie finally broke down and finished through tears.
Liza followed, also fighting tears. Amelia read an email from the airline, apologizing to passengers for the delay upon landing because of a medical emergency, an email that had been sent to everyone aboard — including Charles. A few others spoke — Ellen Klages, Rina Weisman, Carol Buchanan — and then everyone crowded together for what was called the final Charles Brown photo op. Liza took a couple photos, Amelia a couple, and Alan Beatts a couple — I think they plan to photoshop them together, so that everyone present will appear in a single photo.
Look for it in an upcoming issue of Locus Magazine.