David Feintuch

Author of the Seafort Saga
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David Feintuch, lawyer, antique dealer and writer: born New York 21 July 1944; married (two sons, three daughters); died Mason, Michigan 16 March 2006.

David Feintuch once recorded that he died of a heart attack just after completing his first published novel at the age of 50. Luckily, two doctors were at his side and performed artificial respiration till the defibrillator arrived. A decade later, after gaining considerable success in his writing career, he has died of a heart attack. He was 61.

No matter when they begin to publish, most writers start young. Born in New York but raised in Yonkers, David Feintuch was - like many writers-to-be - an avid library user from childhood, and soon began to draft unpublishable stories. He took a BA from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and while he was finishing a law degree at Harvard Law School he wrote a first novel that he never submitted. He graduated in 1970 and began his career as an attorney, with sidebar excursions into the antiques trade, only turning to writing full-time after the publication in 1994 of the first of his popular Nicholas Seafort novels, Midshipman's Hope.

He was a reader of science fiction from an early age, but it is likely that his choice of a science-fiction venue for the Seafort Saga came after he decided to create a sensitive, intelligent, guilt-ridden military protagonist forced to make hard decisions by interpreting the letter of the law so as to gain his humane ends in a rigid, hierarchical world. The influence of Captain Hornblower is abundantly clear, and Feintuch openly acknowledged the importance of C.S. Forester to his work.

By putting his Hornblower character into a space-opera framework - Seafort's adroit manipulations of bad laws take place in a local galactic region dominated by an Earth itself dominated by the religious right - Feintuch was following the example of several earlier writers. But he was unique in giving Seafort an intelligence of Hornblower calibre, and by making him a kind of lawyer.

In 1996 Feintuch won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and over the next decade continued to produce Seafort novels, seven appearing by the time of his death, with a further title awaiting release. As well as Forester, he cited as influences the brilliant popular historian Barbara Tuchman, whose example may have helped shape his careful attention to the ebb and flow of large-scale events in the making; and Robert A. Heinlein, who adroitly used every narrative trick available to make his far-flung venues seem both natural and inevitable.

Far more successfully than other writers of what has become known as military SF, Feintuch managed to impart a Heinleinesque domestic verisimilitude to the exorbitant action arena Seafort comes to govern, as the years pass and he becomes a kind of dictator. Feintuch was no radical, but, in later volumes of his ongoing saga, environmental concerns began to figure significantly.

A large, shambling man, with a cheerful if rather dogged manner, David Feintuch often spoke openly about his work, but rarely about his private life. He had gone through a divorce in about 1994, but was with his family, including his wife Leianne and five children, at his death. He leaves behind his work, which was still evolving in 2006; and the memory of Seafort, convincingly wracked by conscience as he steers his ship of state through tough seas.

John Clute