[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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Tribute to

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1999 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Hal Clement (the pen name of Harry C. Stubbs) was Fan Guest of Honor at the science-fiction convention Armadillocon 21, held September 10-12, 1999, in Austin, Texas. The organizers wanted Hal to suggest someone to write a tribute to him for the convention's program book, and he asked for me. I was delighted to prepare the following about one of my favorite writers and favorite people.

In April of this year, Hal Clement and I were both guests at Eeriecon One in Niagara Falls, New York. Eeriecon held a game show called "What Line's Mine?" A panel of authors — including Hal and me — were read lines out of context from our books, and we had to try to identify which of us had written each line.

One of the lines was this: "Which would you rather do: solve ten quadratic equations or write a one-page essay on one of Shakespeare's plays?"

Hal bet that this was one of his own lines — but it's a bet he lost (in fact, it's from my novel Golden Fleece). But no one could blame Hal: it sounded like something he might come up with, and I don't think there's any doubt what Hal's own answer to that question would be. This is a man who revels in science, a man who inspired decades of students with his love of chemistry, a man who pioneered the concept of world-building back, as he says, before slide rules had grown buttons.

The last thing I did before I left office as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America was tally up the results of the vote by the past presidents and current directors to determine who SFWA's next Grand Master would be. Hal thinks I had to twist some arms to get him named Grand Master; that's typical of the man's engaging humility, but it's also one of the few times he's been wrong in a factual matter. Although I was indeed fully prepared to exert a little pressure — SFWA's president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary were all members of the Analog MAFIA, and we had all agreed it would therefore be appropriate for a hard-SF writer to be honored this year — Hal Clement nonetheless won by a landslide without any interference from any of us. And well he should have: Hal is one of the most important SF authors ever, and indeed, the honor from SFWA was long overdue. (And, of course, Hal is still very much an active writer, with a new novel, Half Life, coming this September in hardcover from Tor.)

But Armadillocon is giving Hal a different sort of honor. You've named him Fan Guest of Honor, and I know that means at least as much to him as the Lucite block SFWA presented him with. You see, even more than he's a pro, Harry Stubbs is a fan. When I phoned Hal to tell him he was going to be SFWA's next Grand Master, I gave him the dates of the 1999 Nebula banquet, at which the trophy would be bestowed. Hal didn't commit to coming immediately — he had to check his calendar first; he wasn't about to miss one of his favorite cons, even for that. For, make no mistake, we're talking about a man who loves SF conventions. It seems that at just about every con I show up at in Eastern North America, Hal is there, smiling, chatting with fans, and having a good old time.

I finally asked him about this. He told me he goes to as many as twenty-six cons a year; his wife says as long as he can pay for it out of his income from writing, she doesn't mind. Now, I'm just about half Hal's age, but a convention every other week is a pace that I couldn't manage. But Hal does, and he's always cheerful, upbeat, and accommodating.

And, of course, he doesn't just take it easy all weekend long. Our Mr. Clement works for his supper. Every year, he puts together a new slide show about astronomy and he takes it on the road with him. It's always one of the best pieces of programming at any convention.

I know it won't be long until I run into Hal again at another con. And I have to confess that I'm one of those annoying people who always asks, "How are you?" when I see someone, even if I've already bumped into them earlier that day. Hal always has the same answer to my question: "As far as I know," he says, "I'm doing fine."

You certainly are, my friend. You certainly are. Congratulations on being Armadillocon's Fan Guest of Honor. I can't think of a better choice for that honor — or for the other one SFWA gave you earlier this year.

Robert J. Sawyer is the author of the Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment, and the Hugo Award finalists Starplex, Frameshift, and Factoring Humanity. His latest novel is FlashForward.

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