FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about George Alec Effinger 

 

This is a Frequently Asked Questions document (version 3.2) for George
Alec Effinger, an American author who wrote novels and short stories.
Much of his work was classified as science fiction. Latest version of FAQ posted in May 2007.

New this time: Information on a newly-announced third posthumously published  George Alec Effinger
short story collection. (See question 14).

Compiled by Thomas E. Jackson (tom.jackson (at) gmail.com).

1.  Who is George Alec Effinger?
2.  What did GAE write?
3.  Was he a hardcore science fiction author? Was SF the only fiction
he could write?
4.   Did GAE win any major awards?
5.   Did GAE write any series?
6.   Did GAE have any recurring characters?
7.   What's this business about GAE and pink flamingos?
8.   What were GAE's hobbies (outside of literature)?
9.   How do I get copies of GAE's books? Are they in print?
10. What are GAE's best books?
11. Was GAE active on the Internet?
12. What do the titles of GAE's books allude to?
13. Are there significant unpublished or uncollected works?
14. Are there any posthumous publications?
15.. Did GAE use any pseudonyms?
16. Did GAE write any media tie-in novels?
17. Did other writers like his work?
18. Who is GAE's literary executor?
19. Why wasn't he more famous?
20. How can I find out more information about George Alec Effinger?
21. Why did you do this FAQ?

1. Who is George Alec Effinger?

George Alec Effinger (1947-2002) was an American novelist and short
story writer who
was a native of Cleveland but lived for much of his life in New
Orleans.  He was known
primarily as a science fiction author, although he wrote other work.
He was a successful science fiction author, neither very famous nor a
minor author, but well-known to all well-read SF fans. He won
attention early in his career -- his first novel, WHAT ENTROPY MEANS
TO ME, was nominated for the Nebula Award, and early stories such as
"All the Last Wars at Once," also attracted notice. He was nominated
for SF awards throughout his active career, and won for the novelette
"Shroedinger's Kitten" (1988), which won the Hugo, Nebula and Theodore
Sturgeon awards.

2. What did GAE write?

Here is a short bibliography: His novels published as science fiction
were WHAT ENTROPY MEANS TO ME(1972), RELATIVES (1973), NIGHTMARE BLUE
(1975) (with Gardner Dozois), _THOSE GENTLE VOICES (1976), DEATH IN
FLORENCE (1978) (reprinted in paperback as UTOPIA 3), HEROICS (1979),
THE WOLVES OF MEMORY (1981), THE NICK OF TIME (1985), THE BIRD OF TIME
(1986), WHEN GRAVITY FAILS (1987), A FIRE IN THE SUN (1989), THE EXILE
KISS (1991), THE ZORK CHRONICLES (1990) and THE RED TAPE WAR: A ROUND
ROBIN SCIENCE NOVEL (1991) (with Jack Chalker and Michael Resnick). He
also wrote SHADOW MONEY (1988) and FELICIA (1976). Short story
collections include MIXED FEELINGS (1974), IRRATIONAL NUMBERS (1976),
DIRTY TRICKS (1978), IDLE PLEASURES (1983), THE OLD FUNNY STUFF (1989)
and MAUREEN BIRNBAUM, BARBARIAN SWORDSPERSON(1993). A novella, LOOK
AWAY (1990), was published as a stand alone book by Axolotl Press/
Pulphouse Publishing. Three short story collections have been published posthumously: BUDAYEEN NIGHTS (2003), GEORGE ALEC EFFINGER LIVE! FROM PLANET EARTH (2005) and A THOUSAND DEATHS (2007). He also wrote four "Planet of the Apes"
novelizations. This short summary omits short stories, chapbooks,
articles, etc. Incidentally, the book CHAINS OF THE SEA, although
technically not an Effinger book, consists of three SF novellas, one
of which is Effinger's classic "And Us, Too, I Guess."

3. Was he a hardcore science fiction author? Was SF the only kind of
fiction he could write?

No, he published a mainstream novel, FELICIA, and a work of crime
fiction, SHADOW MONEY, and also wrote poetry, although little of it
was published. The three Marid Audran books are detective novels as
much as they are science fiction. While he was generally identified as
a science fiction author, he clearly had other literary interests.

4. Did GAE win any major awards?

GAE won the Hugo, Nebula and Sturgeon awards for his 1988 novelette,
"Shroedinger's Kitten." He was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula many
other times, both for novels and for stories.

5. Did GAE write any series?

He wrote at least two: The three novels about Marid Audran, WHEN
GRAVITY FAILS, A FIRE IN THE SUN and THE EXILE KISS and the two
time-travel novels, THE NICK OF TIME and THE BIRD OF TIME, both of
which would make a nice omnibus (hint, hint, Science Fiction Book
Club.) A fourth Marid Audran novel was never completed. The only material actually completed for the fourth novel was published as a short story, “Marid Throws a Party,” in BUDAYEEN NIGHTS, a short story collection published in September 2003 by Golden Gryphon Press.  

6. Did GAE have any recurring characters?

Yes, often. Here are some examples. An angelic character named Glorian
of the Knowledge appears in two of the best early novels, WHAT ENTROPY
MEANS TO ME and HEROICS, and in the later THE ZORK CHRONICLES. A
computer, TECT, appears in some of the stories and is the villain in
THE WOLVES OF MEMORY.

Many of the later stories include a group of characters that Effinger
used over and over. He explained them in this way in the introduction
to THE OLD FUNNY STUFF, a short anthology he did in 1989 for Pulphouse
Publishing's "Author's Choice Monthly" series: "I think of the
characters as my repertory company. They usually play the same kind of
roles in each appearance, although what happens to them in one story
doesn't  usually affect them in the next. I mean, Henry Fonda could
die in one movie and come right back in the next." In the same
introduction, Effinger termed the recurring character Sandor Courane
as "kind of a jaundiced self-portrait. He's usually a science fiction
writer of only moderate success, and he tends to die a lot." Sandor
Courane is the protagonist of THE WOLVES OF MEMORY. Effinger also
wrote a series of stories about a college coed, Muffy Birnbaum.

Some of the works feature a recurring university, Ivy University,
obviously Effinger's Ivy League alma mater, Yale.

So far as I know, however, Effinger is the only author to ever feature
a recurring pop quiz in his novels. DEATH IN FLORENCE includes a test,
Have You Been Paying Attention?, about three-quarters of the way
through the novel, promising autographed copies of the short story
collection DIRTY TRICKS to the first ten readers to send in correct
answers. (The back of DIRTY TRICKS lists the correct answers and the
ten winners.) In THE NICK OF TIME, a follow-up, Son of Have You Been
Paying Attention, invited readers to "spot the fallacy in the nuhp's
solution to instantaneous interstellar travel." The back of THE BIRD
OF TIME solves the problem and lists 11 winners. The quiz illustrates
Effinger's absurdist humor and to my mind tops such postmodern
literary tricks as including a character named after the author in
novel (as in Martin Amis' MONEY or Richard Powers' GALATEA 2.2). The
nuhp, by the way, recur as the insufferable know-it-all aliens in the
short story "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, EVERYTHING," which was
nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula awards.

7. What's this business about GAE and pink flamingos?

After GAE completed the manuscript of FELICIA, his publisher
complained that the
hurricane in the novel had not killed enough people. Effinger resented
having to revise his
novel and reacted by adding a scene in which a pink flamingo lawn
ornament blown by the wind hits a character in the head, knocking him
unconscious so that he slips beneath the floodwaters and drowns.
Effinger's friends ribbed him about the incident by giving him pink
flamingoes. (I read about this in an article Effinger wrote for the SF
fanzine "Thrust," although I cannot give an exact citation yet.)

8. What were GAE's hobbies (outside of literature)?

Effinger was a sports fan who particularly loved baseball. His short
story collection, IDLE PLEASURES, was the only SF collection I have
heard of that was devoted solely to SF sports stories. His sports
allegiances included the Yale Bulldogs, the Cleveland Indians and the
New York Knicks. When he finally received a Hugo Award, in Boston in
1989 (after being repeatedly nominated for the Hugo or Nebula and
always losing)  he quoted Lou Gehrig's famous farewell line: "Today I
am the luckiest man in the world."

Effinger liked to collect Depression glass (much of which was lost in
a disastrous apartment fire in 1986) and he contributed to "Depression
Glass Daze," a Depression glass trade paper. (The heroine of the novel
HEROICS is a Depression glass collector.) He read plenty of SF and
mysteries, but his literary references in his stories also mention
classic authors such as Jane Austen, beatnik writers such as Jack
Kerouac and pulp heroes.  He was seriously interested in food: He
wrote a detailed guidebook to New Orleans restaurants for Nolacon II,
the World Science Fiction Convention held in New Orleans in 1988.
Effinger enjoyed music; he played the guitar and particularly liked
The Who and the operas of Richard Wagner.

For more than 25 years, Effinger was a fan of the TV soap opera, "Days
of Our Lives." (It is a very long-running afternoon soap opera in the
U.S. that is still on the air.) According to a Usenet posting by Dave
Slusher, "I recall him being out of town for a few days and sheepishly
admitting that he had been at a DOOL convention (which he said was in
no way more "normal" than any SF convention.) Not sure of the exact
nature of what he did, but I think he was a researcher or something
similar for the DOOL website at one point. I also recall him posting
that he found trying to untangle DOOL continuity to be far more
difficult than writing the trickiest time-paradox SF."
Effinger also was a fan of movies made by the Coen brothers and would
post messages at the Usenet newsgroup alt.movies.coen-brothers.

9. How do I get copies of GAE's books? Are they in print?

At the time of this writing (May 2007) many if not all of Effinger's
books are out of print. A few are listed as still in stock at Amazon
(www.amazon.com) and the Barnes and Noble We site (www.bn.com).
However, you can obtain them at public libraries (nearly every public
library in the U.S. offers a free interlibrary loan service for titles
that are not in stock) or buy them used   -- good sites for finding
used books are the out of print section at the Barnes and Noble Web
site (www.bn.com),. Abebooks (www.abebooks.com), Fetch Books
(www.fetchbooks.info) . In addition, the Fictionwise e-book Web site
(www.fictionwise.com) currently offers 12 works by Effinger --  eight
short stories, three novels, THE NICK OF TIME, THE BIRD OF TIME and
WHAT ENTROPY MEANS TO ME, and the short story collection, DIRTY
TRICKS.

10. What are GAE's best books?

This is necessarily a subjective judgment, but some answer should be
attempted to aid readers who want to sample his work. The most
commercially successful were the three Marid Audran books, the science
fiction detective novels WHEN GRAVITY FAILS, A FIRE IN THE SUN and THE
EXILE KISS. In the opinion of the FAQ author, THE WOLVES OF MEMORY was
perhaps his best novel. The two playful time travel novels, THE NICK
OF TIME and THE BIRD OF TIME are well-regarded. All of the short story
collections are good. HEROICS is another good, neglected novel.

11. Was GAE active on the Internet?

Effinger had e-mail addresses and made some postings on Internet
Usenet newsgroups, which can be accessed by searching for his name on
the Usenet archive at Google (www.google.com). He did not have an
official home page on the Internet, as far as I am able to determine.

12. What do the titles of GAE's books allude to?

WHEN GRAVITY FAILS is derived from lyrics to a Bob Dylan song ("Just
Like Tom Thumb's Blues"), as is "A FIRE IN THE SUN" ("It's All Over
Now, Baby Blue") . The title to THE EXILE KISS was apparently inspired
by the quotation from Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" quoted in the
epigraph in the front of the book ("O! A kiss/ Long as my exile, sweet
as my revenge," Act 5, Scene 3).  THOSE GENTLE VOICES would appear to
refer to a Moody Blues song, "Tuesday Afternoon." DEATH IN FLORENCE
plays off the title of the famous Thomas Mann novel, DEATH IN VENICE.

13. Are there significant unpublished or uncollected works?

When this FAQ was last published, many of the best short stories had not been published in book form. This has been remedied by the publication of the two Golden Gryphon press anthologies, which do a fine job of gathering up most of the best material that needed a book home; see question 14. There are still quite good short stories which have not been collected yet. I do not know how many unpublished stories Effinger left
behind.

Apparently there are some unpublished novels. In a letter dated Dec.
2, 1986, Effinger wrote that he had sold several books "to various
publishers that, for one reason or another, never appeared. They're in
limbo now. One has been resold to TOR and should be out in '87; the
others may never see the light of day. My agents thinks they may be
too clumsy, haven been written early in my career; I'm supposed to
become a big success after WHEN GRAVITY FAILS comes out in January,
and my agent doesn't want any old crummy books diminishing the
effect." [The reference to TOR probably refers to SHADOW MONEY, which
was published by TOR in 1988].

Barbara Hambly, Effinger’s literary executor, reported on August 13, 2005, that she is attempting to get two novels published and that in 2006 she was publish a novel under here own name that actually is a collaboration between Effinger and herself. Hambly explains:

“There were two unpublished novels by George that I think are worth seeing print, and the Golden Gryphon folks and I have just began to talk about what it would take to untangle the rather messy rights situation of the first (a story far too long to go into here.) (Since they’re Books 1 and 2 of an unfinished trilogy, there’s no point in publishing 2 without 1.)

“Also, starting when he got the idea in 1995, George had been talking about writing a novel about Renfield, Dracula’s bug-eating henchman. We outlined it together, and he got about two chapters finished, which were largely unusable because by that time he was too ill to really focus. However, as soon as I cleared a little time for myself after his death, I took over that manuscript and rewrote it from his notes and our remembered conversations. Since I did most of the work, though the original idea was his, RENFIELD is coming out under my name (for reasons having to do with publishing and marketing – I wanted to have both our names on it and the publishers nixed that very firmly), probably next year sometime.”

Effinger’s literary papers were left behind in an unorganized state, and Hambly is still trying to get them organized.

“George left a filing-cabinet full of papers with me that I haven’t had the time to go through (except for a search for some manuscripts that he sold to someone over the Internet and never delivered – I never found them, either, and can only assume that he took them with him to New Orleans and they were lost).

“For the rest, eventually I’ll sort them out, but being a full-time self-supporting writer myself, I really have simply not had the time to devote to the project. (I’m still working on triaging the cubic mile of books he left with me – some useful, most crap.)

“As far as I know, he gave up actually filing things in that filing cabinet sometime in the mid-1980s. After that it simply traveled with him, and everything else got slung into boxes.”

14. Have any books been published posthumously?

Three books have been published so far.

GEORGE ALEC EFFINGER LIVE! FROM PLANET EARTH, edited by Marty Halpern, was published in May 2005 and is a good introduction to his career. Copies are available from Amazon if you can’t find it in your local bookstore.

The book reprints many of Effinger’s best-known stories, including “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, EVERYTHING,” and “All the Last Wars at Once” and also reprints stories which appear in book form for the first time. All of the previously uncollected stories written under the “O. Niemand” pseudonym are reprinted in it. Each story was chosen as a favorite GAE story by a science fiction author and editor and includes an introduction written by the “guest editor.” The participants are Michael Bishop, Mike Resnick, Howard Waldrop, Pamela Sargent, Barbara Hambly, Lawrence Person, Neal Barrett Jr., Bradley Denton, Jack Dann, Richard Gilliam, Gardner Dozois and Neil Gaiman. For more details, see www.goldengryphon.com/gaelive-frame.html.

Intriguingly, Halpern notes in his introduction that additional stories picked by Richard Bleiler, Paul Di Filippo, Barbara Hambly and Gordon Van Gelder were squeezed out for lack of space. “However, these stories, and introductions, may yet find a home,” Halpern  wrote.

In addition, Golden Gryphon Press released a new George
Alec Effinger story collection, BUDAYEEN NIGHTS, on Sept. 1, 2003. The collection includes all of the Budayeen-related and Marid Audran stories that
Effinger wrote, including "Shroedinger's Kitten," a Hugo Award
winning story. The anthology also includes previously unpublished material, including the beginning section of a fourth Marid Audran novel.

Early in 2006, Golden Gryphon Press announced plans to publish a third collection, A THOUSAND DEATHS. The book, a collection of the Effinger's stories about Sandor Courane, will include the novel THE WOLVES OF MEMORY and seven short stores.  Mike Resnick will write the introduction, Andrew Fox will write the afterword and John Picacio will do the cover art. The book is being released on June 1, 2007.

15. Did GAE use any pseudonyms?

Two early pseudonyms for short stories were John K. Diomede and Susan
Doenim (look closely at that second pen name). Later in his career, he
wrote literary pastiches in the style of famous authors and published
them as by O. Niemand. "Niemand" is the German word for "no one."

16. Did GAE write any media tie-in novels?

GAE wrote four novelizations from the "Planet of the Apes" TV series.
Effinger did not recommend them to his fans. "I did it to pay for
three major operations I had in 1975-76," Effinger wrote (personal
correspondence.)

17. Did other writers like his work?

Throughout his career, Effinger was a "writer's writer" who was
well-appreciated by other authors. Perhaps because he was particularly
well-regarded for his short stories, he was often lauded by other
masters of the short form.

Mike Resnick, for example, wrote a forward for the last book published while Effinger was alive,  MAUREEN BIRNBAUM, BARBARIAN SWORDSPERSON. Theodore
Sturgeon wrote a forward for Effinger's first story collection, MIXED
FEELINGS. Harlan Ellison often tried to promote his fellow Ohio native
with contributed laudatory quotes for the covers of some of Effinger's
books, including one for HEROICS that labeled it "the best Effinger
yet."

18. Who is GAE's literary executor?

His literary executor is his ex-wife, author Barbara Hambly. Hambly worked closely on the two Golden Gryphon books mentioned in question 14, contributing unpublished GAE material and introductions for the two books.

19. Why wasn't he more famous?

It wasn't a lack of talent. I believe he would have been more
successful if he had not suffered from painful chronic illnesses.

A science fiction writer in the U.S. who has not become hugely famous
(i.e, he isn't a household word like Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein was)
has two main methods of keeping his name before the science fiction
public -- the constant publication of new books, and frequent
appearances at science fiction conventions.

Effinger often had serious health problems and had huge hospital bills
he was unable to pay. (Health insurance in the U.S. is generally
obtained through one's employer and can be expensive for self-employed
persons, such as novelists.)  Consequently, he often could not afford
to travel to conventions, and he at times was too incapacitated by
illness (or accompanying problems, such as substance abuse) to do
serious work. There are serious gaps in his production when he wrote
little or no important novels, particularly in most of the 1990s. He
also was forced to write a series of "Planet of the Apes" books in
the 1970s to earn money, works that had little chance of winning a
major award or enhancing his reputation.

I have been told that at one point Effinger had to declare personal
bankruptcy and was in danger of losing control over the copyrights to
his works (a quirk in Louisiana law, which is derived from the
Napoleonic code rather than English common law.) Effinger retained
control over his copyrights when he won the trial by default when his
creditors didn't show up (personal correspondence from Lawrence
Person.)

It also has been asserted that Effinger's work suffered from "too
much" originality -- it was difficult for marketers to categorize.

20. How can I find out more information about George Alec Effinger?

Information about GAE is available at the Science Fiction Writers of
America Web site at www.sfwa.org/News/effinger.htm. A Wikipedia entry is available at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Alec_Effinger.

Much of the available material on GAE can be found by running searches
for "George Alec Effinger" and "George Alec Effinger bibliography" at
Google.

21. Why did you do this FAQ?

George Alec Effinger was one of the best writers in the SF field. His
stylish stories, sometimes written with a flavor of surrealism and
often featuring humor, were unlike anyone else's. Effinger's clean
prose was always easy to read. His subject matter never bored, because
it was never hackneyed or trite.

If you want to see for yourself, try one of the works referenced under
the question, "What are GAE's best books?"

Credits: I appreciate the information and suggestions I received from Barbara Hambly,
Marty Halpern, Ann Morris, Lawrence Person and Dave Slusher.

Updated in May 2007 

FAQ Maintainer
Thomas E. Jackson
tom.jackson (at) gmail.com