Thinking About Jay Lake’s Birthday Tomorrow

Many of us involved in science fiction and fantasy — whether readers, writers, or publishers — have been coming to grips with Jay Lake’s recent passing. Even those of us who were at best casual acquaintances could not help but be aware of, and moved by, his valiant struggle with the cancer that took him. He let us see into his experience with levels of openness and honesty that are rare but were altogether inspiring.

Jay Lake
(“Jay Lake,” by Johan A, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I only met Jay once, at an “open dinner” in Greensboro, but had exchanged notes with him via social media for some time before that. I read some of his fiction, and we both had stories appear in the same issue of Asimov’s.

He was an engaging fellow, and we corresponded intermittently as his condition declined. Since he had written a good deal of steampunk fiction, I sent him a free download of my album and pointed out the opening number, “Steampunk Pirates.” He accepted it graciously, but then he seemed to be gracious in everything he did. For instance, he thanked me effusively (and gave me more credit than I was due) when I suggested how he might circumvent bad weather to make it to his NIH appointment on time; I regret that he did not allow me to drive him there.

We did not agree on many issues, but I appreciated that our disagreements never became rancorous. We could not have lived much more different lives, or indeed been much more different people, but each of us knew the other was sincere and serious, and we respected one another. He even encouraged me to run for public office despite our divergent viewpoints, though I ultimately decided against it; for my part, I made sure to tell him how much I applauded his courage and his candor. He was a good man.

Tomorrow¬†would be¬†Jay’s birthday — he was only 17 days my elder — but now he is gone. I would like to have gotten to know him better. And though he expressed no hope for a life after this one, he did not begrudge me mine; therefore, I do not think he would mind my expressing the hope that he — or whatever essence of him remains in the universe — has a full measure of joy and peace now that he knows the answer to the ultimate, mysterious question.

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