(Click here for a larger version of the image. Image property of Carl V. Anderson)
Tonight after the sun is well and truly down here on a bitterly cold January day, the moment will come that will mark two years since the unexpected death of a long-time friend, Jerry Schattenburg. Two years ago tonight I answered an unfamiliar number to find a detective on the other end of the line, inquiring whether I was familiar with Jerry, if I had a way to connect the detective with next of kin, and then he proceeded to tell me that Jerry had suffered a heart attack, just outside his apartment door. Despite the heroic efforts of a neighbor that really didn’t even know Jerry, he was unable to be resuscitated. He was 63 years old.
The book pictured above is the anthology The World Turned Upside Down, edited by David Drake, Eric Flint, and Jim Baen. The choice of photographing the Table of Contents will be discussed near the end of this post and should make a lot more sense.
I say his death was unexpected, but in many ways that is untrue. Jerry had experienced a massive heart attack years before I knew him, he had other health issues that he did not treat seriously, and he carried a significant amount of excess weight in the one area that is most potentially deadly to men: around the middle. A couple of years prior to his death he had fallen and had pinched part of his spinal cord. He was steadily losing the use of his fingers and it was also affecting his balance and after a couple of hospital visits failed to show any reason for this, he wisely chose a different hospital which did the proper tests and discovered the damage. They were able to do surgery and it took about a year before he was largely back to normal. During that year I spent a lot of time being a caretaker for Jerry, but I had known him for years before this happened.
Jerry was the oldest of a small group that would hang out around the local comic shop, A to Z Comics, here in Blue Springs on Wednesday nights from around 4:00 p.m. until the shop closed at 8. Jeff Smith, who I got to know through his part time job at A to Z, became (and still is) a very dear friend and I took to spending my evenings on Wednesdays….new comic book day…hanging out with him. In doing so I got to know Cameron Robinson and Jerry Schattenburg, Debbie (the shop owner), and numerous other like-minded souls. But on Wednesday evenings, as others rotated in and out of our conversations, Jerry, Jeff, Cameron and I would have wonderful in-depth conversations about comics and about science fiction and fantasy novels and films, and those relationships grew to be incredibly meaningful to me.
In her novel Among Others, Jo Walton introduces the idea of a karass, a term borrowed from a Kurt Vonnegut novel, as a group of people with like minded goals and interests, and that was certainly the case with us on those Wednesday nights. We were kindred spirits who bonded over shared interests, which grew to introducing one other to books and films, authors and filmmakers, that the others hadn’t experienced. I grew up reading a lot of science fiction but did not have anyone in my life who shared that interest. Like Mori, Walton’s protagonist, this discovery of others who loved the same type of stuff I did was a revelation. This happened both in becoming a book blogger and in meeting and getting to know these guys.
Jerry was perhaps the biggest influence in this arena because he had a good 15 years or so on us and had spent much of his life collecting, trading, buying and selling classic science fiction. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of books and stories and authors. He knew so much about the history of conventions and SF fandom, and he was also very skilled in the art of finding rare and valuable books, in knowing how to best prepare and preserve books, and in knowing where to search in the pre-internet days. Jerry loved to take the opposite side of anyone else’s opinion just to keep the conversation interesting and lively. Over the years I grew to really love this raconteur.
There came a time when, for some reason, things changed in our friendship and he began bringing boxes of his SF books to the store to show me his collection, and in the process taught me about how to recognize first editions, educated me about small publishers who were now out of business, and generally taught me about the history of collectors who couldn’t just get online and track down books, but had to travel the world to feed their desires to add to their collection. We had a shared love of short science fiction stories and he introduced me (and the rest of the gang) to so many authors we had not read.
Jerry knew what he loved and he wanted others to experience those same works. While I had already read some of Robert A. Heinlein’s more adult works, it was Jerry who fueled the desire to read his juveniles and those stories that came in-between Heinlein’s juveniles and his more bizarre and frankly sex-obsessed later work. The Day After Tomorrow was one of Jerry’s favorites.
I remember quite clearly the day Jerry brought in a copy of Space Lords by Cordwainer Smith to have me read the dedication and he told us about the first story in the collection. He let me borrow the book, the first book he ever gave me, and I devoured it and have been a Cordwainer Smith fan ever since.
Jerry shared how much he was a fan of Keith Laumer and when I found and read a copy of Bolo: The Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade, I remember being so excited to talk to him about it. He often talked about his affection for Andre Norton’s science fiction and The Time Traders was one of his favorites. I began collecting volumes of James White’s Sector General novels on Jerry’s recommendation, and he gave me a copy of Alan Burt Akers’ Transit to Scorpio because he knew I loved Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat books and thought I might find a kindred spirit in Aker’s Drey Prescott.
I could go on and on about books and authors I may have never read but for Jerry’s passion and enthusiasm. One of the last short stories he asked me to read was in one of Jerry Pournelle’s There Will Be War volumes. It was called “The Highest Treason” by Randall Garrett. I took it along on an in-the-city vacation weekend and when I read it I was blown away and could see why he was so desperate for me to read it. We had a great conversation about it when I got back.
Several years prior to his health crisis, Jerry had found copies of The World Turned Upside Down for something like a buck a piece. He bought four copies and set about reading and rating each story, and writing a little mini-review to go with his rating. He then copied each of these into the other three volumes and gifted them to us. His hope was that we would each do the same thing he did and then we could borrow each others books and copy out the ratings and reviews so that each of us would have an edition with all four of our thoughts and ratings in them. It was a clever idea and I set about reading a handful of the stories very quickly after receiving the gift. Then, as I’ve always had a habit of doing, I got sidetracked by numerous other books and did not get back to it.
Not long prior to his accident Jerry invited me over to his apartment and I was finally able to see his massive collection of books and pulps in person. I’m so glad that ice was broken because I lived close and when he got really bad I was able to see him 2-3 times per week, getting him groceries, taking out his trash and just doing whatever he needed, including the most important thing: just being a friend. We grew a lot closer during that year and when he finally recovered and was back to driving we kept up the tradition of meeting a couple of times a week at his place, where I was often treated to his latest acquisitions. That is why his death was so unexpected. While he had a long way to go in his health journey, no one thought that he would suddenly have a heart attack and this time it would get the best of him.
I have regrets, as you do when someone you love passes away. One of those is never finishing this book and returning it to him with my thoughts. I had shared with him about the 5 or 6 stories I read right away, but I’m sorry I didn’t honor the spirit of the gift. I picked up the volume last week and have been making my way through it, re-reading it from the beginning to re-examine my thoughts on the stories I had rated and getting to the ones I haven’t. I’ve been recording my ratings and thoughts directly to Jerry in the margins. I may not finish the whole thing this year, but I am determined to finish it. Which isn’t really a big sacrifice. I love classic SF short stories and many of these authors are ones I truly enjoy.
I miss Jerry. He has left a void in my life and the lives of the rest of the people he knew from the comic shop (and certainly elsewhere) that cannot be adequately filled by anyone else. As much as I love classic science fiction, I know I read less of it now in part because I don’t have that “I’ve got to finish this so I can talk to Jerry about it” drive. And that’s okay, but I just miss it, and am really missing him this week in particular.
You never know for certain who will have an impact on your life, and whose life you will impact. That is why it is so important to just be yourself. Jerry was very much who he was, warts and all, as they say. By being himself he exposed me to so much more of science fiction’s past than I ever would have experienced without him. I’m glad Jerry was Jerry, as in doing so he has made me a better me.
I miss you, Jerry, most of all on this day of remembrance.