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More Than A Light Gone

John M. Ford--known familiarly as Mike--died this morning. If you knew Mike or his writings, you have some idea of what a loss this is to the world. Mike was one of the fastest thinkers I've ever met, and funny in a dry, walk-ten-paces-before-you-get-the-joke sort of way. Like many people in the SF community, Mike had a range of knowledge and a range of interests that was damned near breathtaking. And talent. We won't even mention the talent. He wrote the single best commentary on 9/11 I've seen, a poem called "110 Stories," and, in an entirely other vein, the weirdest and most wonderful Star Trek novel I've ever read, How Much for Just the Planet (in which a planet's government puts on a musical as a way of deterring colonial overtures by the Romulans and the Federation). That should give you some idea of how Mike's mind worked. Or one way of the many.

Mike in person was, um, unassuming. A slight, fair guy with thinning hair and a stoop, he always seemed to be smiling about something he'd share with you in just a moment. You'd never know by looking at him how fierce and funny he could be. Example: a couple of decades ago, he came to a party; it was a role-playing party with a medieval fantasy sort of setting (in this case the setting was supposed to be an inn at which various people met up). I, and several other of the people in attendence, were studying stage combat or doing some acting, and the idea was to come in costume and in character and see what happened. Mike came as "a pedant." Not a scholar, a pedant. And his specialty was fish. Any time anyone spoke to him, he would start spinning expository lumps about the local fish; later he admitted he was making it all up, but it was damned convincing, and mesmerizing in its weirdness and dullness. There was another guest, a stage combat teacher and actor, who had come in character as a mercenary, and Mike latched on to him and followed him around the party explaining the mating behaviors of the slung-jawed Skuudefish (or something like that...it was a long time ago). After half an hour the other guy (who was a good foot taller than Mike and looked like he could have made a pretzel of him) had a desperate look in his eye; no matter where he went, there Mike was, in character, waving his beer mug and talking inexorably about fish. Finally one of the women at the party took pity on the other guy and bought Mike's character a beer, and he talked about fish to her. It was a bravura performance, and weird, and I treasure the memory.

The other memory I love is of Mike, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and my husband at a Fourth of July party, setting off fireworks with singleminded glee and attention. It was as if the three of them had discovered that they were long-separated members of the "lets blow things up!" clan, and they were full of joy.

I wish he'd had a few more decades to write and to look at the world in strange new ways. Mike was never robust--he had a budget of health woes, and there were several close calls. But he was an unsung national treasure, and we're all poorer this morning.

For links to Mike's work and comments on the man and his work, check out Making Light: John M. Ford, 1957-2006.


Thank you for the stories.