David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines
hradzka

RIP: John M. Ford and Col. Jeff Cooper

Today I got the news that two of my favorite writers had died.

The SF writer John M. Ford, whom I referenced a couple of weeks ago, will be remembered for a ton of things. In media fandom, however, he will always be loved as the writer of How Much For Just the Planet?, the most utterly wonderful and insane STAR TREK novel ever written. As I always heard it, Paramount pretty much ignored the Trek novels at that time, seeing them as nothing more than a license to print money. They put 'em out, they sold, Paramount never looked at 'em. And then Ford wrote HMFJTP, and a couple months later somebody from Paramount glanced through it and said, "WHAT?!?!?!?"

I mean, all he'd done was write a balls-to-the-wall parodic farce that ends with the Klingons and the Federation in a pie fight. With musical numbers.

They started paying closer attention to the novels after that. Really, there's just no pleasing some people.

(That might not be the true story, understand, but that's the way I heard it, and dammit, that's the way it oughtta be.)

To lift from a comment I posted at brown_betty's, Ford was a terrific talent. In addition to his skill as a poet, SF and fantasy writer, and parodist, he was an accomplished writer of role-playing games and games scenarios. His PARANOIA adventure, "The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues," is an all-time classic.

The game is set in a hilariously totalitarian society, where life is so dangerous that players have six cloned characters, so they can make swap-outs as each dies. In Ford's contribution, the players get a briefing from an individual using a malfunctioning microphone. Of course, given the nature of the society, if they point out that maintenance is anything but perfect, they will die. Of course, if they pretend nothing is wrong and go on the mission but don't do what the higher-up wanted, they will *also* die...

Ford's stage directions stipulated that the gamemaster produce the malfunctioning microphone effect by wrapping his lips around a styrofoam cup and speaking through it.

John M. Ford: a brilliant, bizarre, hilarious mind. Damn good writer, too. I miss him already.

The other writer I'll miss very much is Colonel Jeff Cooper.

Most of the people on my flist won't have read him, or have heard of him, so it's hard for me to explain just how big a hole his passing leaves in the firearms world. Cooper, a veteran of World War II (and other conflicts, including cold ones), formulated modern pistol shooting. The techniques, the stances, the methods; Cooper assimilated and developed a wide variety of material and stated it in eminently memorable terms -- a Marine, he was big on simplicity and the virtues of memorable principles, in everything from basic firearms safety to combat shooting. Modern shooting, combat and otherwise, owes him more than can easily be expressed, because he didn't just formulate stuff: he taught it. Cooper, who had a teaching background in addition to his gazillion other credits, formed a shooting school and trained instructors to teach his methods; he also travelled the world, giving instructions in small arms all over the world, sometimes at some risk. One of his essays details an experience he had while training bodyguards in South America, when he realized that he was under surveillance by men who were making serious plans toward kidnapping or killing him.

Cooper wrote voluminously. You can find many of his short commentaries, which he sent to firearms magazines for use as three-dot columns, online here -- but his best writing was in his books. Cooper was a wonderful essayist and storyteller; his personal reminiscences and adventures, the great deeds of history (which he'd taught), bits of folklore, anthropology, and natural history, hunting, and ever and always guns were the subjects of his musings. He was impressively erudite, and especially well-read on history and philosophy. He was also spectacularly politically incorrect; even sixty years after WWII he commonly referred to the Japanese as "Nips." At the same time, he was smart enough and honest enough to recognize and acknowledge his own bigotry. One of his most remarkable writings was about a hunting trip in which he shared a lodge with a German who had served in Hitler's army and another fellow whose background I can't quite recall (Basque, perhaps?). At any rate, Cooper wrote very honestly, and very movingly, about the various prejudices their camp contained; the German hated Jews, and the other fellow had his hatreds. And then Cooper wrote -- I'm paraphrasing here -- "For my part, I fought the Japanese too long and hard in the Pacific to ever feel positively toward them again. I have tried to get past the hate and bury it where it belongs, but I know that it is there."

It was a frank, sad acknowledgment, and Cooper's regret is palpable. The piece is very moving, and I would type it up and post it if I were anywhere near my library. (He also had an essay on the Berlin Wall that was brutal, angry, and intensely scary.) All I have to post, however, is a paragraph I posted once before, from Cooper's book To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth:

The Ba Yei -- the water people -- live with the crocodile, and because they are more careful than other tribes their casualty list is not high. When a particularly big crocodile becomes an intolerable burden they have a curious way of dealing with him. They cut a buffalo hide into one long continuous spiral strip. ("First catch your buffalo.") This strip is about one-and-a-half inches broad and perhaps sixty feet long. To one end they tie a couple of pounds of spoiled meat, and leave it in the water's edge. If the plan works the croc swallows the meat and eight or ten feet of the hide strip, but he cannot get the rest of it down. He cannot bite the strip off because his teeth are not arranged that way, and he cannot close his gullet because the strip holds it open. Thus when he submerges he drowns. As with all best laid plans, this one does not always work, but the Ba Yei feel it is worth a try, assuming that they can organize that buffalo, which is no minor operation.

Jeff Cooper's gun writing was a real education for me. As the best authors do, he dropped references constantly; this gave me a lot of other people to read. I came to such diverse writers as Elmer Keith, Robert Ruark, and Jose Ortega y Gassett through Jeff Cooper. That's what Cooper did with his writing: he wasn't just a writer. He was a teacher, and he never stopped. Not even today.

Happy trails, Colonel.
Tags: obituary
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