My friend David A. Kyle died at 4:30 September 18, 2016 at the age of 97. We knew each other for a little over seven years. I met David at the 67th World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal where he was holding court in the hall outside the party suites, chatting up attractive ladies, and anyone who liked to talk about science fiction.
Before long David and I were talking, and I was surprised to find out he lived in Potsdam, New York where my daughter Shannon attended college. I asked if he might want to appear on the podcast I cohosted. He said yes, but that it would be better if I came to his house in Potsdam and brought Shannon along for the interview. I’m not sure he thought I would follow through, but that fall when Shannon was returning to college at Clarkson University I gave him a call, and we made an appointment. He gave me directions to “the big white house at the corners”. There was no particular street address for the GPS.
So Shannon and I drove out to the big white house in the middle of nowhere. It would have been a great setting for a contemporary rural fantasy. David greeted us, and introduced us to his wife Ruth who joined us for the interview. I set up the recording equipment in the spacious living room and began, thinking it was time to ask questions. But that’s not how it worked with David Kyle.
First he interviewed us for forty-five minutes. He wasn’t going to give us an interview until we proved we were “genuine science fiction people”. The fact that I was at a convention for which I was on the organizing committee when my wife’s water broke and we had to rush to the hospital where Shannon would be born certainly was a good credential. But he asked a lot more.
Once our status as members of his tribe had been established he was very forthcoming telling countless wonderful stories. I thought it was telling that once the recording devices were turned off, David and I exchanged scurrilous stories about Isaac Asimov and Judith Merrill whom we both knew. Throughout, David and Ruth were warm and friendly and accepting. And David wouldn’t let us leave without giving us signed copies of several of his books. Treasures, to be sure.
For anyone interested, but especially those friends of David who would like to hear from him one more time, those audio podcasts are archived at: http://www.herbkauderer.com/orthopedic-horseshoes.html. So that you don’t have to wade through the show descriptions, the episodes with David & Ruth Kyle are episodes 27, 30, & 31.
I never made it back to David’s house. Soon thereafter I had to enter a Ph.D. program to continue my career. At times it threatened to suck the life out of me. I saw David regularly at conventions, and he invited me to visit again with prepared questions about the first World Science Fiction Convention and the great political divide that happened there. I was excited by the idea. He also suggested I might want to organize his papers and put together a scholarly book or two from them. I was excited by that idea, too.
But years passed while I was busy with career, family, and education. The excess at times took a toll on my health, and there were a few times when I saw David that I wanted to limit the contact because I didn’t want to take any chance of making him sick. But I didn’t say that to him because David would have pooh-pooed it. He was a ‘life-is-for-living’ sort of person.
As my health improved I started finding reasons to go to conventions that David might get to. David continued to hint that perhaps I should visit again, and brought up his papers. I would have loved to do that.
I know there is a level at which David understood that I have spent the last seven years doing important work on my life and family, and so chose not to take time away from that. David was a family man, and active in his church and community.
On another level, David was a major contributor to American SF which has become the dominant cultural power in the world. While SF and its relatives Science Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are lots of fun, SF is also about looking forward, and doing so without limits. In this era of rapidly advancing technologies, looking forward is important.
The Asylum Street Spankers once sang “the ones who make a difference are few.” David A. Kyle was one of the few. He made a difference and he was important as a publisher, editor, artist, writer, organizer, fan, and spokesman for SF.
And he knew I might take him up on his offer to organize his papers because, like him, I believe that SF is important, worthy of study, and I understand his role in the creation of the field. His life in science fiction is important in the larger sense, while my life in family and academics is important in the smaller sense.
The last time I saw David on March 5th, 2016 at Albacon, the papers were casually brought up again and he told me, “you’d better get to it! How much time do you think I’ve got?” We talked for about two hours as he started by keeping me company at my book signing, and then we just kept talking.
One of the gracious things about David is that he wouldn’t let anyone in the discussion sit back. He would offer his thoughts only as long as everyone was willing to share. Through the years he has shared thoughts and memories with me because he knew I would understand; because I had known the cast of characters in his life.
This time I got to tell him one of those things. I said “it’s funny how encompassing SF is. I’ve gotten to do so many amazing things in my life, I’ve known so many amazing people, and against great odds I grew up to be an English professor. But selling to Asimov’s and Analog in the last year was really special.” I could see he understood. And after nodding and thinking he told me a story about Isaac Asimov, one I’d heard before, but was happy to hear again.
This is the short form remembered six months later. “Isaac wouldn’t allow a formal religious service when he died, but we had a memorial where a lot of the people who loved him showed up to talk about him and his life and science fiction. When I left the memorial I walked around the corner and there was a man sitting on a bench waiting for a bus, and he was reading Asimov’s magazine. I was overwhelmed. This is what Isaac cared about. And I went to the man and said, ‘do you know what you’re reading? I just came from a memorial gathering to recall the man who founded that magazine.’ And the man listened and we talked, and the man loved the magazine but didn’t know about fandom. So I told him.”
As we continued reminiscing, at one point David said, “so much of the past was the future.” “Hey, that’s pretty good! Write that down and send it to me would you?” I did send it to him via Facebook. And now I’ve written it down again, this time for you.