Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Howard Miller, R.I.P.

by Rob - October 31st, 2006.
Filed under: Deaths.

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.

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