IT COULD BE YOU: CONFESSIONS OF A POD PERSON by CHUCK MCKENZIE

Story number three in my anthology of the mind, and it comes from one of my long-time writer buds, the inimitable Mr Chuck McKenzie.

Confessions of a Pod Person
by Chuck McKenzie

2002 was an odd year. I was struggling and failing to come to terms with the death of my wife, I was struggling and failing to raise an infant daughter on my own, I was struggling and failing to return to work in a meaningful way after months of bereavement leave. And while all that was happening I experienced my first interstate convention and was flown to LA for a week to take part in the Writers of the Future workshops I’d won as part of my prize for the 2001 competition. ‘Highs and lows’ is not an adequate description.

The interstate convention was ConVergence, in Melbourne. I met, for the first time, a whole bushel of people who would remain important to me over the course of the next 11 years– drunken escapades with Claire McKenna; book signing chatter with Kate Eltham and Rob Hoge; post-panel coffee with Dave Luckett. And then there was Chuck: the Monkey God hisself; the King Louie of Australian SF. And, once I’d sorted through the 18 kilograms of books I sent back from the con, author of the story that had me lying on my bed, wrapped around the anthology of allegedly comic SF stories in which it appeared, crying my eyes out.

The book Confessions of a Pod Person first appeared in was called AustrAlien Absurdities, and make no mistake, it is a funny story. Chuck’s a superb joketeller, able to shift gears from absurdity to satire and back again without breaking stride or catching breath. And this ability is in full swing in this tale of classic 50s B-movie monsters suffering through a perfect “Next morning, Cinderella woke up…” scenario. But there’s a double level to this story: it’s unbearably sad underneath the surface glamour, a tale of loss and the slow, inevitable strangulation of identity that resonates as deeply with me today as it did back then. It’s a stunning achievement: richly layered, subtly nuanced, and ever, ever so good.

This was my introduction to the science fiction written by my peers. It has rarely been bettered.

Read Confessions of a Pod Person.

RIP FRED POHL

Saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of Fred Pohl, one of the true greats of the science fiction genre, and one of the most easily readable authors I’ve ever encountered.

Like almost everyone else, I have a Pohl anecdote: one that, to me, highlights the grace of the man. I met him in 2002 at the Writers of the Future workshops then being held in Los Angeles. As part of the awards ceremony, the winners had dinner with some of the judges, and my table was picked to host Mr Pohl and his wife Elizabeth. Even then, in his eighties, he was frail and very hard of hearing, but in a week where I was surrounded by authors– both established and aspiring– making as much noise as possible in order to prove themselves larger than life (a behaviour in which I was an active participant), what struck me most about him was his calm and sense of quiet. Part of that was undoubtedly down to his hearing, but it also struck me that here was a man who didn’t need to make noise to attract admiration. This was Fred Pohl. If you didn’t know who he was and what he’d done, it was you who had the lack.

Sometime during the dinner, Pohl was ‘taken on’ by one of my fellow winners, over a subject I don’t remember. As my colleague pontificated with many a pointed finger and wave of his fork I watched Pohl: he sat calmly, listening intently, as my colleague outlined all the ways Pohl was wrong in the way he approached his writing. At the end, he nodded, and thanked my colleague– some 50-plus years younger and about a million achievements to the shy– and said he appreciated the outlook of someone at the heart of the new way of doing things. he could have crushed his young protagonist. He knew it. I knew it. I’m pretty sure everyone at the table apart from my colleague knew it. This was a guy who’d published his first work in the 30s; had done everything, knew everyone, won it all and was still going, still working at the highest level possible. There was no ‘wrong’ in the way this man worked. He could have squashed my colleague like a bug, in about three words flat. Instead, he’d shown humility, companionship, and respect towards an equal.

The conversation moved on, both participants turned to contribute in other threads, and I was left more impressed by that one response than by anything else I experienced on the night.

Class, dignity, and assurance. I’ve rarely reached that height of behaviour myself, but I damn well know I’ve seen it.

There was only one Fred Pohl. We have lost a giant.