Times-Picayune Feature Article



Author leaves lasting legacy

Last words

When George Alec Effinger died in New Orleans in April 2002, readers mourned, both for the lost man and for the lost potential.

The writer had long struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, yet continued to write, creating an enormous body of work — hundreds of short stories and more than 20 books in various genres — in his 55 years. And he received ample recognition for his talent: His short story "Schrodinger's Kitten" won both the 1988 Hugo and the 1989 Nebula, science fiction's most prestigious awards.

Though most of his work has been long out of print, it will continue to appear, thanks to the efforts of his literary executrix and former wife, novelist Barbara Hambly. The first posthumous volume, Budayeen Nights (Golden Gryphon Press, $24.95), appears this month.

The fictional Budayeen is a walled city, the setting for three of Effinger's novels, When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun and The Exile's Kiss. It is a complex creation, part New Orleans French Quarter, part Islamic, Algerian mystery city, part underground anywhere. The novels' main character, Marid Audran, is a street punk who went to work for the Budayeen boss, Friedlander Bey, then struggled onward — for independence, for free will, to define his identity. This last struggle was complicated by Effinger's brilliant invention of a world in which characters could pop in brain "moddies" and alter personality and identity at will.

Budayeen Nights collects nine stories set in this intriguing environment, and they reflect Effinger's off-the-wall inventiveness, his exquisite craftsmanship and his distinctive humor.

Marty Halpern, who edited the book for Golden Gryphon Press, met Effinger at ArmadilloCon, an annual science fiction and fantasy convention in Austin, Texas. He became an editor for Golden Gryphon, which specializes in literary science fiction and fantasy, in 1999, and became intrigued with the prospect of publishing Effinger's work after he saw that, 10 years after Effinger had published a book, fans were still discussing it on the Internet. He contacted George in 2001 and asked for a short story collection, which eventually became Budayeen Nights.

Progress was slow, Halpern said, because Effinger was in and out of drug rehab during the later part of 2001, but "by the end of February he was online nearly every day." He sent Halpern seven of the eight previously published stories and came up with the title for the book, and began working on the final story, "The Plastic Pasha," a fragment of which was found on the hard drive of Effinger's computer after his death.

Hambly took on the sad task of writing the introduction to the book, as well as introductions to each story, brief narratives that reflect her complex feelings about her ex-husband as well as illuminating the nature of the work, the struggles of his life.

"Those introductions feel a little too open to me now," she said in a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles, "too emotional, not analytical enough, because all of those stories tell so much about what was going on in George's head and George's heart. In 'King of the Cyber Rifles,' the character doesn't know who they're fighting or why they're fighting. He's doing this tiny stupid little job the best way he possibly can and everybody's throwing rocks at him. That's how George saw his life. He had a tremendous sense of futility and that's why he was depressed. . . . Life was a tremendous struggle and that's what comes through in these stories."

Hambly will read from and sign Budayeen Nights at 7 p.m. today at Octavia Books. This trip will be her first real visit to the city since a memorial service last October, though she was briefly here in February for a steamboat cruise, researching Dead Water, a forthcoming novel in her historical series featuring Benjamin January, a free person of color and a physician/detective in mid-19th century New Orleans. The most recent in the series is Days of the Dead, which Hambly also will read from and sign tonight.

New Orleans has been important to her professionally, but personal memories are intense. After their divorce in California, Effinger returned to New Orleans.

"When I walk past that building on Chartres Street where he lived the first year he was back, it's so hard," Hambly said. "We lived in New Orleans part time for about three years. We were living in two places — my house in L.A. and George's apartment in New Orleans. We lived together and worked together. I still can't drive past that house. It's part of our lives and part of our hearts.

"We were married an embarrassingly short span of time — 15 months — but we lived together for about four years. Even during the separation we were best friends, and we still dated every time I was back in New Orleans. I think in our hearts we were still married. He was a special person and he was certainly a wonderful experience."

Hambly takes her responsibilities as literary executrix very seriously, and she and Halpern already have the next Effinger collection in the works, George Alec Effinger Live! from Planet Earth, which will appear in 2005 — "if not sooner," Halpern said.

"In order to make this volume special, and a true tribute to George and his work," Halpern said, "I asked a number of authors and editors to contribute introductions to the various stories; all of these individuals were personal friends with George and/or had worked with him in an editorial capacity. The contributors to the second volume are Neal Barrett Jr., Michael Bishop, Jack Dann, Bradley Denton, Gardner Dozois, Neil Gaiman, Richard Gilliam, Barbara Hambly, Lawrence Person, Mike Resnick, Pamela Sargent, Howard Waldrop and George Zebrowski.

"Those readers unfamiliar with George's work, other than the 'Budayeen' novels and stories, are in for a grand surprise, given the quality of the stories in the second collection."

And given Hambly's fierce determination, Effinger's work will live on.

"I live with a strong feeling of George's presence," she said. "I feel that he's saying, 'I can't be there; you sign for me.' That's the way I look at it."

— Susan Larson, Book editor, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 17, 2003

Copyright © 2003 NOLA.com



 

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