Inhuman Swill : Obits

To Young Men Only by Boyd K. Packer
A handful of links have been accumulating in my to-be-posted queue over the past couple of weeks. Time to toss them out there for consumption.

First, longtime Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer died last Friday at the age of 90. To many of us who grew up in the church, Packer was the "scary apostle," the one most likely to give talks on uncomfortable topics, and to do it in frightening ways. He was the closest thing we had to an old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone preacher.

Packer will long be remembered for his influential talk (later published as a pamphlet) called "To Young Men Only," which could have been subtitled "Why You Should Feel Like an Evil Dirty Shit If You're Weak Enough to Masturbate." And this is the same talk in which he unconvincingly pretends not to endorse violence against men who make passes at other men. "I am not recommending that course to you," he says with a broad wink, "but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself."

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My grandmother, Elsie Marie Rigby Partridge, passed away early Sunday morning. She was 95 years old, going on 96. She was raised in the farmlands of Idaho, where she had seven brothers and one sister, not to mention five stepbrothers and a stepsister. She had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood, including my mother. She had 18 grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren.

She suffered a stroke about ten years ago and had been in a wheelchair ever since. Her mind was still mostly sharp, but she had gradually lost the ability to much for herself. Between that and my grandfather's passing five years ago, she had been praying for the end to come—mostly with good humor, at least on the occasions when I was able to visit her.

Grandma Partridge was a strong, funny, acerbic presence, one of the few people who could go toe to toe with my dad in the sarcasm sweepstakes and put him in his place. (She was his mother-in-law, after all.) She trained as a nurse before getting married and having kids, but I'd never call what she did settling down. As a child when we would visit, I remember all us kids looking forward to when Grandma would get home from work in her nurse's uniform. We were also always delighted to hear her talk about how she'd trained herself to say "shhh-ugar!" when she was mad, instead of the farm word she'd picked up from her many brothers.

One of my clearest memories of her comes from when Laura and I last visited her together, in early 2011. She would usually tire after a brief visit, but that day she was on, and she told us stories for a couple of hours. My favorite was about when she was a young mother living in Queens, where Grandpa's job had taken the family. This had to be sometime in the mid-1950s. She was driving with her three kids in the car on one of those outer-borough parkways that are still confusing to this day if you don't know your way around. She missed her exit and rather than risk getting lost put the car in reverse and tried to back up to where she had needed to get off. When another driver stopped and chewed her out, she played the just-a-lost-farmgirl-from-Idaho card and managed to escape the parkway unharmed.

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Swan song

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I can't believe it's been two years already.

My friend Scott Swanson passed away on January 11, 2010. He had battled a severe heart defect his entire life, and in fact his poor circulation made it so that he could never walk very fast in the time that I knew him. Complications from those heart problems eventually took his life. He was 36.

I first met Scott in 1998, when I joined the online department at the Children's Television Workshop in New York City. (Our group were the ones who built the Sesame Street website.) I was one of the programmers, while Scott was essentially our IT department. He scared me at first. His tolerance for stupidity was low, and his tongue was as scathing as his wit, and I admit I bore the brunt of both as I learned the ropes at CTW. But before long we discovered a large set of geeky mutual interests, and that in turn led to a genuine friendship.

Scott was pained and bitter in a lot of ways, especially when it came to matters of the figurative heart, an area in which he never got particularly good treatment. (By contrast, his medical treatment was probably the best anyone could have received.) But underneath the gruffness, it was not hard to to see that he was one of the most caring people around, who took more responsibility for the people around him than certainly his job required.

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Jack Williamson, 1908-2006

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I just learned about Jack Williamson's death. I find myself much sadder than I imagined I would be.

I first encountered his work as a young teenager, when a friend of the family gave me a whole stack of science fiction novels that included an omnibus edition of Williamson's Legion of Space books. I devoured them greedily, and that sort of grand, cosmic space opera was what my very earliest stories (now justly lost and forgotten) were striving to be.

I was lucky enough at the 1996 WorldCon to have M. Shayne Bell drag me along to breakfast with Williamson and a group of other folks one morning. I didn't say much to him, but I felt as if I were sitting in the presence of nearly the entire history of the SF genre. He was born in 1908 and published his first story in 1928. His final novel was published 77 years later, in 2005.

I wish he had lived to be 100. R.I.P.

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William Shunn

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