On Charles Brown

People have been asking if I have any particular memories of Locus editor/publisher Charles Brown, whose death on the way home from ReaderCon has prompted a flood of reminisces and tributes in the science fiction quarters of the Internet. My own memories of him are relatively few; I’m closer to the younger members of the Locus staff, among whom I count several friends, and the time I had with Charles was relatively limited.

Nevertheless, a couple of years ago I was at a book fair in Oakland and while I was there I was invited up to the Locus office, which is also Charles’ house, to be interviewed. The house is absolutely lovely, filled both with art and with Hugos (one had to be careful not to stumble, lest one be impaled by a rocket) and Charles was a gracious host, giving me a tour of the place and in particular letting me visit his legendary archives, which to any science fiction writer with a sense of history is like being a kid allowed into the candy store.

As someone who has himself interviewed hundreds of creative people, I found his interview style interesting, since it largely consisted of the two of us having a conversation, me on a couch and him at his desk, and him seemingly being a bit grumpy about it. At the time I wondered if it was something about me, but I’ve come to understand this is was his usual mode, and in any event the interview, when it appeared in Locus, made me look good. So as an interviewee I certainly couldn’t fault his technique.

One of the things that always puzzled me about Locus interviews was that the printed articles are always the responses to questions, but never the questions themselves. I can’t speak definitively as to why Charles chose that method, but over time I guessed it was because he preferred the focus be solely on the author rather than shared with the interviewer. I think this says quite about about Charles, his respect and understanding of authors and his love of the genre of science fiction and fantasy.

Aside from the visit to the Locus offices, his path and mine crossed a number of times, generally at the year’s Worldcon but at a couple other conventions as well. He was always interested in what was going on with my career, and was never shy in his opinions, which as you might imagine I valued in someone like him, whose opinions of the state of the genre were vastly informed both by his sense of history and his understanding of what was going on in the genre now.

Although Charles was near-synonymous with the magazine he founded and published, I am genuinely delighted to hear that he made provision to have Locus continue in his absence. It would have been a shame to lose that voice and resource in science fiction. As I’ve mentioned before, I know several members of the staff as friends and think the world of them, and it’s grand that they’ll be keeping the magazine going. I’m doing my small part for Locus by finally purchasing a subscription, which I have been meaning to do for some time, but which I’m now motivated to do as much as a vote of confidence in the staff as anything else. Good luck to them going forward. I know they’ll do their founder proud.

13 Comments on “On Charles Brown”

  1. Knowing the Locus staff, I’m sure they’ll continue to keep his legacy going well. Charles was a great guy. I just cant get over having seen him so recently.

    Still, passing away after having been at a readercon is a good way for him to be remembered – passing on after being among friends and colleagues, doing what he loved.

  2. I only got to met him once, at a party during World Fantasy. He was quite a character. He talked about about the history of conventions. I’m lucky I had a chance to met him.

  3. Locus gave me a window into the genre publishing industry — including introducing me to that meteoric rise of some new guy who wrote about Old People’s Wars — and prodded me into submitting. My subscription had been a gift and it’s the one magazine I read cover to cover when I get it. I can think of no finer memorial to Charles N. Brown than picking up a subscription and helping keep the magazine going.


    Dr. Phil

  4. Thanks for that, John.

    We were joking that we should say, “In lieu of flowers, send subscriptions.” General consensus was that Charles would’ve approved.

  5. Out of sheer laziness on my part, I let my subscription lapse a couple months ago. I just renewed it.

    Sorry to see you go, Mr. Brown, but if you had to leave us, I’m glad you went the way you did — on your way home from a Con.

  6. I was first given a copy of Locus in 1979, and have been subscribing- off and on, since the mid-80’s. Even when I’ve been gafiating, I’ve liked to know what’s going on in sf, and Locus has been the place to get that knowledge. Charles’ comments on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress last month made me think about appreciating the classics- and Charles was one of those.

  7. I’ve been meaning to pick up a Locus (and reup) since hearing about Charles. (Incidentally, I totally remember you explaining the interview when I got to meet you in Oakland. It became one of the things I associated him with, although for some reason I never did get that issue of Locus.)

  8. My favorite accolade for Charles Brown is from Cory Doctorow on Boing-boing: “Forry Ackerman without the id.”
    Definitely not a wishy-washy Charlie Brown…

  9. You know, I think a lot of people, when writing about the death of someone notable with whom they have a somewhat passing acquaintance, would either exaggerate their closeness to the deceased, or would fall into platitudes that, really, anyone could say.

    Instead, you gave us a sincere and, honestly, touching look at Mr. Brown, through the lens of the relationship you did have with him. I didn’t know him; didn’t even know of him (please don’t excommunicate me from the rolls of SF fandom). But you’ve told me something real about him that makes me appreciate a part of his life – which is an honor to him.

    Very nicely done, sir.

  10. I know that Tim was joking when he wrote that people should subscribe instead of sending flowers.

    I however think that it is an excellent idea. I know that Locus’ subscription numbers have been steadily declining over the years. It would be an incredible tragedy to lose both Mr. Brown and the magazine.

    While my subscription is current right now I am going to throw another year on there. It would be nice if something like this got some legs behind it. Spread the word.

  11. I only met him a couple of times at Worldcons, most memorably at MilPhil. I’ve been a loyal Locus for close on two decades.

    When I had to renew my subscription a few years ago at the last minute, I called the listed subscriber services number and Charles picked up. We chatted a bit, with me commenting on whatever excellent interview du jour had recently passed my purview.

    That was Charles and the magazine he created in a nutshell: a labor of love by a man dedicated to an ideal of excellence, who kept his hand in every aspect of his venture.


  12. I was so very sorry to hear of Mr. Brown’s passing. I renewed my subscription of Locus this year after a number of years absence. I only met him one time at a worldcon and he was very nice. We have lost some others who were important to fandom, Southern fandom at least, we lost Ken (Khen) Moore from the Nashville area and Dr. Jack Stocker from my home area of New Orleans. Now we have lost Mr. Brown. I’m glad that Locus and his legacy to science fiction will continue. Somewhere in time and space I can just imanage Mr. Brown, Dr. Stocker, and Ken Moore, “the great Condor”
    sitting around a tabel and talking about s.f.
    p.s. For those who do not know, Ken Moore stated the Kubla Khan conventions in Nashville. Here’s to you guys!!
    I’ll have a beer for yall tonight!!!!

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