John M. ("Mike") Ford, 1957-2006
Terrible news, which wasn't news anymore, except to me: the writer John M. Ford died unexpectedly September 24 in Minneapolis.
I met him briefly at WFC in Wisconsin, long enough to shake his hand and ask him to sign THE LAST HOT TIME. I knew I'd be lugging home boxes of books from the convention, and that was the only book I'd brought from home to be autographed. We chatted about inconsequential things and I didn't get to tell him how good I thought he was, or how I always recommended him when people asked me about books.
I heard him read the next day, and it was my favorite of all those I attended. He read something called "The Fellowship of the Woosters", Tolkein's trilogy if it had been written by P.G. Wodehouse, and Bertie Wooster had been assigned to destroy the Ring instead of Frodo, with the Great War of the Ring another muddle for Jeeves to sort out. Evidently he never published it, just saved it for conventions. I laughed out loud and thought that was unusual for a writer to not try and sell every scrap he produced, but then I read some of his posts at Making Light and incidental pieces elsewhere-- poems with technically proficent meter and scansion, a "Talk Like a Pirate" entry written in the voice of Stephen Maturin-- and I realized his throwaways were as good as most of the things the rest of us sweat over. The voice of the Wooster and Jeeves piece was so letter perfect it should have been given the case of Bollinger and prize pig the Wodehouse estate gives out every year... now I wonder who will ever read it again, will it be saved.
If writers have "chops" like jazz musicians, John M. Ford was the most technically skilled of any contemporary writer I know. Lots of writers are good or great at their own niche; John Michael Ford seemed to be good at whatever genre he turned his hand to, better than Gaiman or Moore or whoever you care to name. He won a couple of World Fantasy Awards and the Philip K. Dick Award, but like R.A. MacAvoy or Thomas Burnett Swann, he deserved more attention than he was given. I hope the regard of a discerning few was enough for him.
One of those things I was going-to-get-around-to was an appreciation on this blog of his short story and poetry collection, HEAT OF FUSION. I was looking forward to meeting him again. This is written and posted in a hurry, without his skill or polish-- if I have any strengths as a writer, they lie elsewhere. It is heartfelt.
Track down THE LAST HOT TIME, the only urban fantasy I know where Chester Himes characters meet Chicago gangland elves, an EMT hero and girls in Louise Brooks haircuts with the best written explication of bondage and discipline sex I've ever read (come to think, it's the ONLY book like that I ever read), or GROWING UP WEIGHTLESS, or HEAT of FUSION, (with a version of Oedipus and Antigone if a Seymour Hersch or Frank Rich were trying to write a profile for the New Yorker); I still plan to write that appreciation of the stories there. I've never read THE DRAGON WAITING or DRAGONS of LIGHT, but I know some people swear by them. He even wrote a couple of Star Trek novels, and one of them, HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET? is considered the best of them all by people who know better than I.
You know that great feeling when you think you've read everything written by all your favorite writers, and then you discover someone new to you and you realize that your finding their work makes you young again like finding an unexplored world...?