Monday, October 30, 2006

Howard Miller, R.I.P.

Those who bother to read the Acknowledgements in my novels may have notice the name Howard Miller there; it's in just about every novel of mine starting with The Terminal Experiment (and will be in the Acknowledgments of my upcoming novel Rollback).

Howard read and commented on those books prior to publication, as well as End of an Era, Starplex, Frameshift, Illegal Alien, Factoring Humanity, Calculating God, Hominids, Humans, and Mindscan.

Howard passed away last week. We'd been friends for at least fourteen years, maybe longer. We'd met through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Forums on CompuServe, and kept in touch by email -- which, for Howard, was the best way to communicate, for he was both deaf and blind ... not to mention confined to a wheelchair.

Howard died from respiratory failure, after being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. He made the decision himself to halt treatment, and, according to his grandmother and his cousin, was conscious and lucid to the end. The funeral was on Sunday; Howard was buried on Long Island, New York.

He read my novel manuscripts on an electronic Braille display -- and always managed to catch typos that every one of the sighted people who read the books in manuscript missed. Indeed, in December 1994, Howard asked me to write him a letter of reference about his skills as a proofreader, which he was hoping to develop into a business. Here's what I had to say (and I meant every word):

To whom it may concern:

I've been fortunate enough to have Howard Miller proofread diskette copies of the manuscripts of my last several novels prior to their typesetting. Even though the manuscripts had already been read innumerable times by myself, my wife, and several writing colleagues, Howard nonetheless found errors that had slipped by everyone else (not to mention having eluded my word-processing program's spelling checker).

These days, I wouldn't want my editors to see a manuscript that hadn't first been checked by Howard. He is fast, efficient, accurate, and pleasant to deal with. I wholeheartedly recommend his services.

But Howard's contributions went far beyond just catching typos. He had an extremely sharp intellect, and was always quick to debate issues and ideas. And he was constantly sending me links to interesting web pages and news stories.

Howard wrote science fiction himself. Checking my notes I see that on October 29, 1992 -- exactly 14 years before Howard's funeral -- I wrote a critique of the first 4,200 words of Howard's science-fiction novel Beneath the Martian Crust.

We only met in person once, and that was at ConAdian, the 1994 World Science Fiction Convention in Winnipeg (which he'd learned about from me). I was privileged that Howard considered me one of his favorite authors (he sometimes ordered autographed copies of my books from me to be sent to his family members); another of his favorites was Anne McCaffrey, and I had the honor of introducing Howard to Anne in the flesh at that same Winnipeg con.

As some of you know, my current writing project, the novel Wake, features a deafblind character. Although in my book the character is a young woman, there's no doubt that she is in large part inspired by Howard, and I was so very much looking forward to having his feedback on the manuscript. He was my dear friend, and I shall miss him.



At October 30, 2006 10:42 PM , Blogger Josh said...

Beautiful. Thanks, Robert.

At October 31, 2006 12:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that Robert.I've beeen having vision problesm myself over the last 2 years, what with a bioptical cataract operation. My vision began to get worse last year and more so recently. My Ophamologist
last week said he couldn't see by my retinia area and refered me to a specialist Nov. 20th. We think there could be Diabeties damage
to the retinia area, and maybe even (shudder) Macular Degeneration. I think it's a Yag laser type of thing but my Doctor did not broach the subject. Having scoliosis of the spine is one conditio after the other. But at 55 years old, I never thiought I could be faced with the possibility of going blind.
I could never face the prospect of not being able to write or read.

However reading about Howard gave me some hope that if he can write while being blind, there's hope for me too. Thanks for sharing that.

Sorry for the typos.


At October 31, 2006 6:11 AM , Anonymous Darrell Bain said...

I began corresponding with Howard shortly before he had his cochlear implant. He read most of my books and was very astute about catching inconsistencies that I and my editors had both missed. He was a fine person and I thoroughly enjoyed my correspondence with him.
Darrell Bain

At October 31, 2006 6:33 AM , Blogger Lou_Sytsma said...

Beautiful tribute. Very touching indeed.

At October 31, 2006 8:15 AM , Blogger Michael A. Burstein said...

Rob, I'm sorry for your loss.

At October 31, 2006 10:06 AM , Blogger Emily Miller said...

Thank you so much for those wonderful words, Robert. I am Howard's sister. I am the honored recipient of novels by both you and Anne McCaffrey. My brother knew I liked science fiction, and the personalized nature of those gifts was always very touching to me. I still find it incredible that my deaf-blind crippled brother was able to make friends with published authors and help them with their books. I can barely make friends. :-) I am so glad I still have those books, and I would really appreciate it if you could let the family know when Wake comes out. I know we would all want a copy. Howard certainly would! Thank you so much for being such a good friend and colleague to my brother, and for telling the world about him.

At October 31, 2006 9:06 PM , Anonymous Sarah Moore said...

Thank you for the fitting tribute of Howard Miller. He was indeed one of a kind and all of us who lives he touched, will most assuredly miss him.

At October 31, 2006 9:08 PM , Anonymous Sarah Moore said...

Thank you for the fitting tribute of Howard Miller. He was indeed one of a kind and all of us who lives he touched, will most assuredly miss him.

At November 06, 2006 7:09 PM , Anonymous Wilma Deutsch said...

Thank you so much for the beautiful tribute to my son, Howard Miller. Howard was was a man of courage, strong spirit, wonderful wit and artistic talent. Although he lived with a debilitating, degenerative disease that stole his sight, his hearing and the ability to use his muscles, he almost always kept his wonderful wit and used his fine intellect to devise ways to function in spite of his physical challenges. Thank you for sharing his wonderful attributes and accomplihments on your blog page. I know his life can be an inspiration to those whose fine minds may be trapped in a body with sensory or muscular handicaps.

I am looking forward to reading "Wake" and meeting the character that Howard inspired.

At November 07, 2006 10:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard and his family-- David and Candice, and his sister Emily-- have been not only dear friends, but a source of inspiration for us for years, through their spirit, intellect, humor, compassion, and joy of living. Our hearts and love are with them now and always. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

At November 07, 2006 3:24 PM , Anonymous Philip & Siga Roy said...

Robert, a truly beautiful tribute to a young man who despite his disabilities made such valuable contributions to your works, and apparently those of others. We did not know Howard, sadly to say, having met him only once and then briefly, however we do know his father, David, and step-mother, Candice, and consider them as dear friends. They always spoke of Howard in very loving and caring terms and although we knew Howard was disabled, we didn't know the full extent of those disabilities nor that despite those disabilities he was being so productive. Finally, as fellow Canadians we are pleased to know of his Canadian connection through you.

At November 08, 2006 11:58 AM , Anonymous janice mizrahi said...

I am so sorry about hearing the passing of Howie Miller.I offer my condolences to his family.Howie lived across the street from my family when he was a small child.he was often in my house playing with my daughter lisa.this was before he lost his sight.I remember his mother trying to always get to the bottom of this mysterious illness.wilma ,you should be very proud of your boy that overcame a lot and didn't let it get in his families thoughts are with you at this.

At November 11, 2006 7:19 PM , Anonymous The Caltas said...

We thank you, Robert, for this lovely tribute to Howard. We are sure this has been wonderful affirmation to those who raised such a special person that his professional contributions have been acknowledged. Just as we extend condolences to the family we extend our sympathies to you on the loss of your friend and colleague.

At November 14, 2006 5:38 PM , Blogger Derryl Murphy said...

Jeez, Rob, I'm sorry to hear this so late. I remember conversations with Howard from my old Compuserve days; unlike many, he actually usually had something to say. Wish I'd been able to meet him in Winnipeg.


At November 15, 2006 10:55 PM , Anonymous deerhouse said...


your comments about howard,(i am his father and candice is his stepmother) are beautifully stated, articulate, heartwarming and cherished by us. on father's day this year he sent me an autographed copy of "mindscan" with his poem to me in it. the next time we spoke (by email and his braille computer) he asked me if i would opt for the choice presented in your fabulous book. i said i would not, and i believe howard felt the same way. thank you so much for your wonderful tribute.

david and candice

At November 16, 2006 9:14 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, David. A pleasure to hear from you! I well remember writing out that poem for Howard in that copy of my book. I'm glad you were pleased by it.

Again, please accept my condolences.


At November 16, 2006 10:37 AM , Anonymous david miller said...

hi robert

we were very touched by the comment of janet mizrahi, who has suffered through some unimaginable family tragedies of her own. they are a wonderful family. we ran into their daughter at the dutchess county state fair several years ago and she recognized me. i didn't even recognize me. those friends and family who leave these notes perhaps do not realize how meaningful they are to howard's family. they are. and we appreciate this more than you can know. we too would sure like to know when wake is available for purchase.

david miller

At May 16, 2007 7:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the passing of Howard Miller. I used to work at the Helen Keller National Center in NY where Howard attended in 1988-89. We spent a lot of time together, and I remember that he was intelligent and funny, not to mention sarcastic as heck. I enjoyed talking with him.


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