Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wilson "Bob" Tucker 1914 - 2006

Science Fiction conventions are a good place to meet the science fiction writers and one of the first I met was Bob Tucker. He was surrounded by fans, many of them young and female and some known as granddaughters. He held a White Owl cigar and a bottle of Beam’s Choice was being passed around. When everyone of legal age had a taste, we all yelled out, "Smooooooth!"

I had a chance to meet Bob Tucker at his home in Illinois after Bob Cornett and I had received another rejection for our novel Seeds of Doubt. We began to suspect it might be fundamentally flawed. We talked to Bob on the phone and he said he would be happy to meet with us to discuss the book. Such was the kindness of one of the old masters.

When we drove up, he met us at the door and before we could say a word to him, he said, "I have to tell you guys one thing."

Naturally, I suspected the worst. We had screwed up the book in some fashion. But no, Bob, said, "I really enjoyed the book. Which one of you is the helicopter pilot?"

We talked about the book and then we toured, okay, looked around his study. We saw the "Bobby Block Black Block" which looked to be a hunk of two by four that had been painted black and had come from Robert Bloch of Psycho fame. We saw the original of a comic strip that had featured Bob (Tucker... yeah there are a lot of Bobs running around in this). He showed us foreign editions of his books, even gave us a couple of signed volumes (as seen here) and we talked science fiction... and movies.

Bob had been a projectionist during his life. I remember talking about Zulu, a film that somehow became important in Science Fiction Fandom for a while and it appeared on the movie programs at many conventions (I once stayed up all night to see it ... it began at something like four in the morning and the room was packed). Bob Tucker remembered when it played at the theater where he was a projectionist. He said he seen it everyday for two weeks and didn't care to see it again.

I saw Bob at many conventions after that. Yes, he had his cigars, he had his Beam’s Choice and he had his business cards for "Natural Inseminations." But I never saw him take an unwanted liberty with anyone. I never saw him drunk. I just saw a man who enjoyed Science Fiction like the rest of us and wanted to share that enjoyment with as many as he could.

Yes, I knew about the "Tucker Transfer" which was a benefit to raise money so that Bob could attend the World Science Fiction Convention, I think, in England. Bob never made much money as a writer and he had children to raise. In fact, his son, Robert, was the "real Bob Tucker," and the writer we knew was Wilson Tucker.

Anyway Bob (Cornett) and I wrote a time travel novel we called Remember the Alamo? (But the publisher changed to Remember the Alamo! for some strange reason and it was published under that name... it’s the exclamation point she added). In it we used Bob Tucker’s name, and the lead scientist was meant as a tribute to him, and, of course, the time travel process was called "The Tucker Transfer."

Bob (Tucker) was always interested to hear how we, Bob (Cornett) and I were doing with our writing. Yes, the novel he had read for us, after nearly thirty rejections, and several offers to publish (David Hartwell wanted to buy it twice and lost his job both times... no, I don’t blame the book) Ace finally published as Seeds of War... I once explained to the editor why we had called it Seeds of Doubt and she said I should have told her sooner and she wouldn’t have changed the name...

In the last ten years or so, I didn’t make many Science Fiction conventions. Other things got in the way (George Bush called me to active duty for the War in Iraq for example) so that I didn’t see much of Bob Tucker. I knew his health was getting bad and that he had been forced to give up cigars and Beam’s Choice, but not his love of Science Fiction or Fandom.

I was at home when friends from St. Louis called with the sad news that Bob had died. They asked that I call Bob Cornett because they had been unable to reach him. Bob Cornett called me a day later with the same sad news.

I never understood why Bob’s books hadn’t been better received in Science Fiction. He was a superb writer who understood the craft. Some of his books are classics. Maybe it was his slow output, or maybe it was his rather laid back presence. I don’t know. I do know that there isn’t a book of his I ever gave up on and I know that they hold there own in today’s world... okay, Year of the Quiet Sun is outdated because it is a look at the future of our world at the turn of the century and we have passed that now... but the story still works well and the ending is a surprise.

For those interested in this sort of thing, he was born on November 23, 1914 in Deer Creek, Illinois and died on October 6, 2006 in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was married twice, the first ending in divorce and the second when his wife, Fern, died in 2006.

He retired as a projectionist in 1972 and as a writer in 1981 with the publication of Resurrection Days.

He was a fine writer, a good friend and I regret that I waited until nearly the first anniversary of his death to say any of this.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you Kevin for your comments. Bob was a good friend and I still miss him. He was full of wonderful stories until the day he died. You just had to be there to listen to them.