Goodbye, My Friend

I’ve been away from the net.

The quick summary: the new house (well, it’s my age, but it’s new to us) had some issues that home inspection failed to reveal. Or IOW we came in and turned a tap on and acquired a pet wall geyser.

We’re still mostly in Colorado, but had to be here for the plumbers, today. (Note this is not our first rodeo, and the seller bought us a home warranty at our request.)

So Friday and Saturday we were loading a second truck while I nailed down painting in the Colorado house (done) and then yesterday we spent 12 hours on the road. (LONG story.) Most of it without net access.

Today, first time I connected to the internet in the new house, I found out that L. Neil Smith had died.

This is not how I wanted to start the week… Or– Well, I knew he was having health issues, but I assumed he was as immortal as the Republic. (Yeah, I know, I know….)

I can’t remember when I met Neil. I’ve been cudgeling my noggin, and I just can’t remember. I know it was sometime before I won the Prometheus for Darkship Thieves.

But in my mind, it’s as if I’d always known him. (Probably because I’d read him before we met, and we emailed back and forth before we met in person.)

We didn’t agree on everything (I don’t agree on everything with myself, frankly. There are issues on which I have at least four opinions.)

I know we were exchanging emails encouraging the other on by … 2010?

The one thing we both agreed on is that we had each other’s back. That we agreed on, always. And after that we agreed pretty consistently on individual Liberty. There was a fight for individual liberty going on, and we were comrades at arms, even if mostly we fought with words.

I think everyone here knows that my decision to vote for Trump in 2016 was the joint work of L. Neil Smith and Jerry Pournelle in the week leading up to the election. For one thing if those two could agree that hard on something, and work that hard to change my mind, I had to examine their arguments and consider them.

Jerry, alas, left us shortly after.

And this year, since November, L. Neil Smith and his optimism “well, then we’ll work for Liberty harder” were one of my touch points to remain sane.

I won’t insult his disbelief by positing an afterlife for him. (Yeah, maybe he’s already found out differently, and if so, G-d is probably being asked some pointed questions… And is probably highly amused.)

But if he has one, I hope it’s something like the last time we met in person: when he received the Prometheus for lifetime work. Afterwards we were “kidnapped” for a party thrown by his fans, in which he got to speak at length and receive admiration for his work. And where the rest of us could bask in not feeling out of place for once and being able to bandy intellectual arguments without crying or denounciations.

I know this isn’t particularly coherent.

All I can say is I feel as though the guy next to me in the trenches had just been shot.

I’m going to miss his encouragement and his optimism, but most of all I’m going to miss him.

Rest in peace, old friend. Even indefatigable warriors get their rest in time.

Those of us who remain must fight on. But you won’t be forgotten.

57 thoughts on “Goodbye, My Friend

  1. “When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
    When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
    We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it — lie down for an aeon or two,
    Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.
    And those that were good shall be happy; they shall sit in a golden chair;
    They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.
    They shall find real saints to draw from — Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
    They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

    And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame;
    Andd no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
    But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
    Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!”

  2. I won’t comment on his fiction but it is sad to hear that he’s gone.

    1. I will. “The Probability Broach” and “Their Majesties’ Bucketeers” are masterpieces of insight, invention and entertainment. If he had written nothing after, it would be enough to keep him in memory. I thank him for those, at least.

      Also for providing the litmus test (“Why Guns?”) I use to vet public figures of all stripes.

  3. I read The Probability Broach when I was fourteen and I can still reconstruct most of the plot from memory. Lines from it still pop into my brain from time to time:

    “I waved my Webley at him”
    “Forty thousand federal marshals would charge out and arrest everyone”
    “Boy, I hope you shoot straighter than you punch.”

    RIP Mr. Smith.

    1. Someone did a comics adaptation of it once, bog-standard art, but they did one panel that will crack me up forever: when Win and Ed introduce themselves to a beautiful woman and say in unison “We’re detectives!”

      The artist nailed their expressions of dopey unity perfectly.

    2. Is that the Scott Bieser version? He also did a graphics-only novel, “Roswell, Texas”. Highly recommended.

      I hope that at some point there will be posthumous books. I remember he mentioned that “Ares” is finished and now in the hands of the editor. And the sequel to “Sweeter than Wine” may be finished as well? If not then close to it.
      The obvious question is who would be the right author to ask to carry these through. For the Sweeter than Wine sequel, Sarah Hoyt seems like a natural. For Ares perhaps also, or maybe Daniel Suarez?

      1. Scott Bieser has a lot of good libertarian comic work out there, including the online comic “Quantum Vibe”

  4. May he rest in peace.

    I don’t much follow authors, mostly because names are…not a thing I’m good at, but you know a guy is good when just searching for their name brings up several covers you recognize from over the last couple of decades.

    …given the whole “author” thing, I suspect he’d appreciate that.

  5. Oh crap. We had been friends for many years. He even dedicated one of his books to me.
    We hadn’t spoken for a long time because I was led to believe that was very hard for him after his stroke, but I have thought about him often.
    Words are insufficient.
    We will miss you, my friend.

  6. There was a time, many years ago, when we drafted “el Neil” as our presedential candidate. The ballot access belongs to the state party, not the National one. And the national party had pissed us off. So on the AZ ballot, L. Neil Smith was the Libettarian candidate.

  7. Well, damn.

    I just packed The Probability Broach the other day for our move (nothing like Sarah’s move — we’re only going about five miles to a place we’ve owned for the last 20+ years).

    I hope it wasn’t me.

  8. The entire Libertarian Futurist Society is much in his debt. We would not even exist had he not sponsored the original Prometheus Award. He very definitely deserved his Lifetime Achievement Award. I remember finding The Probability Broach on the book display at my neighborhood supermarket, picking it up on a whim, and then discovering the long series of libertarian in-jokes.

    I must say that Smith himself would be a fine addition to his list of libertarian figures who became presidents of the North American Confederacy.

  9. My sympathies on the loss of a good friend, Mrs. Hoyt.

    And again, good luck on the move.

  10. My copy of Probability
    Broach was worn to the point of being held together by rubber bands by the time he and I communicated via the internet. He offered me advice on getting published…. this was over twenty years ago. And we sometimes agreed on things on Facebook in the last few years. This is a woeful; shock to me too. Do remember, even for nonbelievers, a literary legacy is a form of immortality.

  11. so we’re never gonna find out what Berdan Geanar and Lysandra Nahuatl were gonna do about the Hooded Seven conspiracy ? AAAAAUUGH !

    RIP, L. Neil Smith !

  12. Aw crud. I’ve never picked up one of his books that I didn’t like. Once again, the world is a poorer place.

  13. There are lots of excellent writers, and many of those excellent writers are SF writers. But I can think of only three in the past 100 years that are really good writers consistently able to wrap a message for freedom in such a good story that the reader is thoroughly entertained while quietly absorbing the message along with it. Those three are George Orwell, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Neil Smith.

  14. I never communicated with Smith, but I’ve bought many copies of The Probability Broach and The Nagasaki Vector and passed them out to unsuspecting victims. “Here, read this book. It won’t hurt you.” I converted three non-readers into hardcore SF fans that way.

  15. I am very sorry for your loss. I own — but haven’t gotten around to reading yet — one of his novels, but from his non-fiction he seemed like a very intelligent guy.

  16. This has been a bad week. Wife lost her aunt, my uncle passed, and now Mr. Smith.
    I am not going to get depressed.
    I am not going to get depressed.
    I am not going to get depressed.

  17. Well, s***!

    I was lucky enough to meet him at a couple of World Cons (Denver ’08 and Reno ’11) got a few words and a few sigs…

    He will be missed.

    “Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should be a shopping list, not a government agency.”

  18. I only got to meet him in person a few times (we lived several hundred miles apart) but I was in communication with him for years. Like you, I didn’t agree with absolutely everything he said, but 95% of the time we were in agreement. I’d known he had health problems, but I’d hoped he could overcome them and go on. I hope the books he had on the way will appear. He’ll be missed.

  19. Damn that’s a real kick in the teeth. Pallas was one of my favorite books. And his collection of essays called Lever Action still has a prominent place on my shelf.

  20. Absent companions, lads and lasses. The lives he touched and the worlds he built yet endure, and the friends that now mourn him are passed the torch. We get but one life to live, and fortunate are the souls that finds such worthy companions.

    Back to the mud with ye, Mr. Smith. The earth is the richer, and we the poorer this day. May Himself grant those who knew him and loved him comfort, may they meet again in that infinite future we’re all bound for one day.

  21. L. Neil Smith. Well Sarah, at least you got to hang out with the guy. And Jerry Pournelle too.

    I never met Mr. Smith, never spoke to him, but he spoke to me. The Probability Broach was exactly what I needed to read, waaaaay back in the mists of time when I first found it. He was really the first author I’d ever found who questioned the One World Government craze of mainstream science fiction. He challenged that boilerplate in a way that was delightful.

    Here we are, ~40 years later. The US government is pretty much following Mr. Smith’s template to the letter. They are behaving precisely as described. The Canadian government is way ahead of them down the same glidepath.

    L. Neil Smith was one of those hidden prophets. I’m glad he stayed out there all that loooong time in the publishing wilderness, writing those books. Godspeed, sir.

  22. “Once out of nature I shall never take. My bodily form from any natural thing, But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make. Of hammered gold and gold enamelling. To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; Or set upon a golden bough to sing. To lords and ladies of Byzantium. Of what is past, or passing, or to come.”
    We will see this friend of liberty again….

  23. Neil was a great friend, though I didn’t see him nearly often enough, and a wonderful inspiration. I miss him very much. It’s very painful that I’m about to finish writing my first sf novel, and he won’t be here to see it. I truly hope there is such a thing as reincarnation.

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