Algis Budrys: Science-fiction writer and editor

As with so many exiles, his name tells a tale. The American science-fiction writer and editor Algis Budrys was born Algirdas Jonas Budrys in Königsberg in East Prussia, to a family which identified itself as Lithuanian rather than German. But his father, Jonas, who had been intimately involved in the troubled political and military history of Lithuania, was sent with his family in 1936 to New York, where he served as Consul-General for Lithuania while it existed, and subsequently on behalf of the Lithuanian government-in-exile. One consequence of this was that, for several decades after 1945, his son was stateless.

In an environment so politically heightened and emotionally fraught, it is noteworthy how swiftly and fully the young Budrys became Americanised, attending the University of Miami, 1947-49, and Columbia University, 1951-52, and beginning his main career as a science-fiction writer and editor in 1952, aged 21, with the first of a flood of highly influential short stories.

For all his work, he signed himself Algis Budrys, a form of his name he used for the rest of his life; it was a name that, for young readers in the early 1950s, seemed mysteriously alien, as though this new author had come from afar, bearing strange news. In his personal life, however, he was known, familiarly, as "AJ". He married early and well, settling in Evanston, Illinois. He was a writer, editor, publisher, advertising executive, and minor entrepreneur. He was a hard worker, a convivial mate, a good friend to many. Like so many who shared his immigrant background, AJ became a good American.

This good American was pleasant to meet, faithful to his friends, a stocky, smiling figure recognised and respected by the many fellow professionals and readers he encountered as editor and colleague and (latterly) spokesman for the science-fiction culture he had inhabited since 1950 or so. But it was also immediately apparent that AJ held something in reserve; something granitic, icy, distanced, perturbed. AJ was very clearly also Algis Budrys, who was Algirdas Jonas Budrys, whose sense of exile was profound.

His short stories are incisive, intellectually challenging and highly professional; but now read too often as though they are bursting at their seams, as though they should have taken longer to tell. Although some of them, like "Nobody Bothers Gus" (1955), remain intensely readable, they are the work of a man intent on proving himself against the challenge of other new writers like Philip K. Dick and Richard Matheson.

But it is with the novels that Budrys's full, obdurate, gripping, hard-thinking intensity as a creative mind fully blossoms. Even the first version of his first novel, False Night (1954), manages to portray to scarifying effect a plague which triggers an American holocaust – clearly not dissimilar to the total war which so devastated Budrys's extravagantly tortured homeland. His second novel, Who? (1958), which was filmed in 1974, is a stunning parable of isolation and internal exile: a scientist, rebuilt into a masked cyborg after a terrible accident, must attempt to prove his identity. As with most 20th-century tales of existential despair, there is in the end no safe identity to prove.

Budrys's early masterpiece, Rogue Moon (1960), soon followed. In the guise of a science-fiction adventure in matter transmission, the novel gazes scouringly on the fate of humanity as we become our tools, progressively losing the thread of ourselves. In the end the tale describes modern civilisation as a dance of death; its depiction of modern humanity lost in deadly labyrinths of its own making has been influential on at least two generations of science-fiction writers, including Greg Bear, William Gibson, Dan Simmons. Its relentlessless arguably underlies the work of a writer as recent as the British China Miéville.

There would not be another novel for almost two decades. During these years, Budrys served as editor in various Chicago firms, including the Playboy Press; he worked for the large Chicago advertising agency Young & Rubicam until 1974; he published a great deal of non-fiction, some of his critical work on science-fiction topics being assembled in Benchmarks (1985). At the same time, he began to be recognised as one of the two or three best teachers of writing in the field, and as a story-doctor of genius. Michaelmas (1977) marked a brief return to fiction; its portrayal of a sentient Artificial Intelligence, housed worldwide through a network of distributed computers, was prescient. A final novel, Hard Landing (1993), returns pithily to the theme of exile.

In the early 1980s, a new professional role began to occupy Budrys's time, and changed his life. His involvement in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future brought him far too close, in the eyes of many, to Scientology, both as a controversial religion and as the corporate backer of the series of anthologies Budrys edited – 18 of them in all between 1985 and 2007. This programme was of immense use to many young writers, which goes some way to justifying Budrys's sometimes strenuous defence of his advocacy, in word and deed, of Hubbard himself.

It was also in the 1980s that Budrys decided to come to England for the first time, to attend the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention being held that year in Brighton. To do so he had to modify his technical statelessness, and gained an American Green Card to make the trip (in the 1990s he took out American citizenship). Unfortunately the Brighton experience was shadowed by a perception on the part of British science-fiction professionals that the Church of Scientology, which maintained a highly visible sponsoring presence at the convention, was attempting to take over the event.

Increasingly immobilised by bad health, whose effects he furiously resented, Budrys did not ever return to Britain. Although he gave up some of the administrative burdens of Writers of the Future in 1991, the annual anthologies, carefully edited to promote the careers of its young contributors, remained a full-time enterprise. They became his life, except for time taken to edit the 24 issues of his own magazine, Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, from 1993 to 1997. For his earlier, voluminous work as a critic, Budrys was given the 2007 Pilgrim Award.

John Clute

Algirdas Jonas Budrys, writer: born Königsberg, Germany 9 January 1931; married 1954 Edna Duna (four sons); died Evanston, Illinois 9 June 2008.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits