John M. Ford has died

by Henry Farrell on September 26, 2006

Making Light tells us that John M. Ford has died. I didn’t know him at all personally, but I loved his work. “The Dragon Waiting” is perhaps his best novel, but some of his short stories are even better. This extract from “Scrabble with God” (stolen from Brad DeLong ) gives some idea of his sense of humour.

I don’t recommend playing with God. It isn’t that he cheats, exactly. But the other night we were in the middle of a game, I was about thirty points up, and He emptied out his rack. ZWEEGHB. Double word score and the fifty-point bonus.

“Zweeghb?” I said.

“Is that a challenge?”

“Well…” If you challenge God and you’re wrong, you lose the points and get turned into a pillar of salt.

“Look outside,” He said. So I did. Sure enough, there was a zweeghb out there, eating the rosebushes, like Thurber’s unicorn.

“I thought you rested from creating stuff.”

“Eighth day, I did. Now I’m fresh as a daisy. You going to pass or play?”

He was also a fine, intelligent poet. Read 110 Stories or the poem quoted in Teresa’s memorial post at Making Light to see how good he could be when he was being serious. But he also had an extraordinary gift for ex tempore verse that was somehow light, complicated, funny and erudite, all at the same time. One of Kieran’s posts on Thomas Friedman helped indirectly inspire this quickie on mixed metaphor and misprision.

Much have I travell’d on the feet of gold,
And many tumbled walls and maidens seen,
Round many horny Africs have I been
Which bards like bosoms in their welkins hold,
Oft of a spare expanse had I been told
That fence-swung Homer looked on as demesne;
Yet never did I breathe its mountains clean
Till I heard Friedman speak out uncontrolled,
Then felt I like some Cousteau of the skies
When a new bubble undermines his ken,
Or sack-like Falstaff, when with precast eyes
He stared at echoes — and his fellow men
Harked back in multitudes like single spies
Silent, past their peak in Darien.

I don’t think that he’ll ever get the recognition that he deserved; his gifts didn’t fit well with his times. But the world feels poorer and sadder today for his absence.

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09.27.06 at 7:39 am



Kelly 09.26.06 at 10:16 am

Part of the joy of his work was trying to figure out just who and what he was referencing. You could read something for sheer joy, and then go back and read and reread over again, catching new things and people. And really, who else would write a musical comedy Star Trek novel?


kid bitzer 09.26.06 at 1:30 pm

jesus. The density of allusion in there is breath-taking.

Here’s one for the non-US CT’ers: hitting a baseball with maximum force is called “swinging for the fences”. It can also result in a home run, a.k.a. ‘homer’. Thus “fence-swung Homer”.

Hate to ruin it by explication, but I figured if it had me scratching my head for a few beats, it might be utterly opaque to people who grew up on cricket.

Anyhow–damned sad thing that he’s gone.


EWI 09.26.06 at 3:27 pm

“Robert Jordan” posted a moving tribute here


derrida derider 09.26.06 at 6:24 pm

What kid said. But I especially liked that last line.


kid bitzer 09.26.06 at 7:28 pm

right–it’s like a whole John Cheever novel in one line:
superannuated WASPs in Fairfield County, CT.

(where CT not equal Crooked Timber)


Gary Farber 09.27.06 at 11:43 am

Mine briefly and inadequately here.

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