I met the somewhat shy Gordon Eklund at the 1964 world sf convention, then again at the 1968 one. By then I had begun a postdoc with Edward Teller so was often in Berkeley. My friend Bill Donaho hosted parties at which I met Bill Rickhardt and Danny Curran, two affably drunken welfare kings . . . and Gordon, who was resting up from four years in the Air Force. He wanted to write sf, and unlike the layabouts, actually did it.
For a while he worked for the post office, until he realized he could make the same $500/month writing 40,000 word porn novels for Bill Hamling’s operation (that in time delivered him to Federal prison, one of the last pornographers ever to do hard time.) After a few months of that Gordon turned swiftly to his real dream: writing sf.
Like me, he had already written his reams of lousy sentences, seeing their effect in the sweatshops of fanzines, getting reader responses, learning intuitively what worked from the superior fanwriters of that era (some of whom went on to become pro writers, too).
Bradbury said to me once he figured he had written a million bad words before any good ones came out, a truth for all of us.
We had much in common. We both sold our third written short story, Gordon to Ted White’s Amazing Stories and me to F&SF. He was plainly influenced by social critical sf and Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts—see “Dear Aunt Annie.” Both of us found Ted and Terry Carr friendly editors, since we’d all been fans in the 1950s-60s. Drawing from our immersion in sf, Gordon took the social criticism path; I chose the science path, physics, getting my PhD in 1967. Still, we saw the rapidly changing zeitgeist of the 1960s much the same way—the Apollo program ran happily alongside the Age of Aquarius.
So why not collaborate? Writing is a lonely business, and simply talking through a story before you lay down a single word speeds your intuitive energies. Our first story together was “West Wind, Falling“, the opening story in Terry Carr’s Universe series.
A bit later we wrote a story for Terry’s Universe 4 together that won a Nebula and became a novel: If the Stars are Gods. (I like cosmic titles, for which English is more resonant. That story comes through as Wenn die Sterne Götter wären in German. Lacks a certain something, nicht wahr?)
By this time we had gone separate ways, Gordon to San Francisco and me to a professorship at UC Irvine. We did hammer out another novel, a hard sf/noir Find the Changeling, but by then I was off on trajectories in physics and fiction, while Gordon continued his arc as one of the most original, different sf writers of that rapidly changing time in sf’s evolution. His experimental work such as Ramona Come Softly, in Quark 1, 1970 brought much notice. His Vermeer’s Window (Universe 8, 1978) is my own favorite, though Pain and Glory (New Dimensions 12, 1981) is another great, unusual story.
Those are in this volume, but coming in the next is White Summer in Memphis, (New Dimensions 2, 1972) and much else in Volumes 2 and 3. Gordon’s chosen to present the stories in the order of his own liking, but authors are notoriously inept at evaluating their own work, including me. So delve where you like. I prefer to read according to titles, but I urge you to just amble through the rich record Gordon has laid down, collected here for the first time.
He has an unusual ear, a slanted sense of humor (irony alert!) and a deft sense of scene. His early novels (regrettably out of print) have these qualities in spades, too. We may find the arch humor of his “Dear Aunt Annie” rings true in these days, too.