SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Tribute to Hal Clement
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
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
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,
Factoring Humanity. His latest
novel is FlashForward.
More Good Reading
Other convention book tributes:
Robert J. Sawyer's Guest of Honorships