An Epitaph to Byron Preiss

This was sent in response to a request for commemorations by Science Fiction Chronicle in the immediate aftermath of Byron’s death. I doubt it’s quite what they had in mind, but like many people in the SF and comics fields, I have complex feelings about Byron. Certainly I was stunned to hear that the person who had given me my start in the field – and who was simultaneously lionized and demonized by so many – had been literally hit by a bus, out of the blue on a Saturday morning.


 

July 13, 2005

I’m just heading back from Byron’s funeral, and I thought I’d take a stab at some of the things that probably don’t make a lot of the other tributes. Byron evokes complex emotions in me, as he does for so many other people. We didn’t always get along, but he gave me my start in the field, as he did to so many other editors, writers, artists, and others.

There have been a lot of tributes to the ways Byron changed the field in the last couple of days, and he was a revolutionary in both book and comics publishing. But I thought someone should address the Byron so many of us who are now established in the field first knew when we were neophytes:

He had to be the most passionate person I’ve ever known, able to visualize what was special and exciting about EVERYTHING. I remember going to lunch with Byron and another publisher, in which the discussion hinged on a tired project that the whole staff was sick of dealing with after years of development. By the end of the lunch I was thrilled to be working on such a visionary project…and I’m still not quite sure how he did it.

He was a tangible connection to people we’d grown up thinking about as demigods, humanizing the Clarkes and Asimovs and Ellisons and many many others who he was friends with (and who frequently dropped by the office). Byron humanized the stars without taking away their stardom, and seemed to have so much fun playing in his publishing sandbox that it was impossible not to see how special and exciting working in the field really is. (The moment I knew I was in the right field was the first time at BPVP when Ray Bradbury called for ME…and that was because of Byron.)

Every now and again there were moments of startling emotional generosity to the most neophyte editors, and I know many of the people who worked for him absorbed the importance of supporting the next generation of editors, writers, and artists.

Byron wasn’t just important for the books he created or the people he touched, but also for the incredible amount of talent he fostered, people who passed through BPVP and went on to make their own significant contributions to the field (something he was jusifiably proud of). And those contributions – and contributors – are very much a living part of the field today.


 

Copyright © 2005 by Leigh Grossman