Gore Vidal is dead

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by stj, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Dec 27, 2006
    the real world
    Eminent writer and TV personality Gore Vidal is dead at the age of 86. Although not commonly considered a genre writer, Mr. Vidal, in addition to being a mystery novelist under the pseudonym Edgar Box, was indeed a SF and fantasy writer. Also, a good proportion of his works included historical fiction, including some of his most famous, such as Julian, Burr, 1876, Creation and Lincoln.

    His SF works included the remarkable fifties novel Messiah, about the rise of a new religion replacing Christianity, and the SF play (originally television, then stage, then motion picture) Visit to a Small Planet, about the visit of an alien to Earth. Mr. Vidal revisited the genre with the end of the world novel Kalki, where religious fanatics genetically engineer a genocidal strain of E. coli. He also appeared as a genre actor in Gattaca.

    His fantasies included Myron, Duluth, The Smithsonian Institution, The Golden Age and Live from Golgotha. They were of the absurdist or metafictional extravaganza type of fantasy. In Myron, for instance, the protagonists is trapped in a B movie. Siren of Babylon, starring Rhonda Fleming, if I remember correctly?

    Despite the large number of genre works in his oeuvre, Mr. Vidal successfully avoided being typed as a genre author, due largely to his political and social engagements. His many television appearances as commentator included a notorious public quarrel with William F. Buckley during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. His feuds with Truman Capote and Normal Mailer were also highly publicized. His plays, the award winning The Best Man and An Evening with Richard Nixon, as well as he then contemporary political novel Washington D.C., as well as the historical novels garnered much attention. Mr. Vidal excelled as an essayist, often on political topics.

    Politically Mr.Vidal came from a patrician (if personally impoverished, he always had to earn a living,) background. Coming from a more time when politics were not so narrowly constrained, Vidal harked back to old traditions that seemed in more retrograde times almost leftist. A traditional isolationism for instance carried on in an anti-imperialist politics. His militant atheism as well carried on a very old and honorable tradition in democracy dating back to the seventeenth century. The modern notion of atheism as highly antithetical to democracy is a redbaiting innovation. Very late in his life he was engaged in a notorious correspondence with Timothy McVeigh. People were somehow surprised that Mr.Vidal's old conservative politics led him to find affinities in McVeigh.

    However, in his writings on sex, Mr. Vidal's homosexuality did lead him away from the old conservatism, if not entirely. His later boast of more than a thousand sexual contacts seemed to reflect more of a patrician disdain for middle class propriety, a would-be aristocratic libertinism. Still, this membership in a minority was probably what kept him from being nothing more than a Menckenesque curmudgeon from the beginning.

    His novel The City and the Pillar was a milestone in gay writing. His Myra Breckinridge displayed some conservative panic at the blurring of gender identities, but Vidal's essays on sex were in the context of any time before rather progressive. It would be ungenerous to cavil at the imperfections of a pioneer, even though, as so often the advent of change left him behind. He lived with Howard Austen for some decades, mostly in Ravello, Italy, til Austen's death. He boasted once that he and Howard did not have sex. It is hard to know what would be sadder, lying about such a thing, or such a thing being true.

    At the age of ten, Mr. Vidal was in the newsreels for flying a lightweight plane. His father was an aviation official in the Roosevelt administration. His grandfather was a Senator. He shared a stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss with Jacqueline Kennedy, which connection probably did more to bring him social celebrity. He ran for Congress in New York in 1960 and for the Democratic Senate nomination in California many years later as well.

    As a screenwriter, Mr. Vidal argued the case for the priority of the screenplay in the movies' creative process. His line "The director is the brother-in-law" of course must be amended to "The director is the producers' man," since the decline of the studio system.

    Finally, as a writer, Mr. Vidal had an unfashionable taste for dependent clauses. Even worse, Mr. Vidal had a distinct fondness for the ever contemptible adverb. Presumably these wickednesses, plus his dubious politics and damnably open sexual heterodoxy combined with the labors wasted on genre works and television placed him very low in the acceptable pantheon of literary writers. As a public novelist, however, he was no doubt the preeminent US writer. As such, his loss to age and the grave is a grave loss for the age.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2012
  2. ManOnTheWave

    ManOnTheWave Vice Admiral Admiral

    Feb 10, 2005
    I will miss his words, his wit, and the way he totally destroyed opponents in debate.
  3. arch101

    arch101 Commodore Commodore

    May 3, 1999
    Quincy, MA
    Julian and 1876 are excellent reads and I recommend them
  4. P Tom

    P Tom Commander Red Shirt

    Mar 28, 2004
    I live on Earth !
    Gore Vidal appeared in the sci fi movie "Gattaca" as a mission director of the space agency.
  5. Drago-Kazov

    Drago-Kazov Fleet Captain

    Jul 26, 2012
    A true loss. He was an eloquent counterbalance to today's terrible mainstream commentators.
  6. Gary7

    Gary7 Vice Admiral Admiral

    Oct 28, 2007
    ★•* The Paper Men *•★
    PBS authored a very thorough documentary on Gore Vidal. It has numerous clips of interviews with the man by many respected people from the news industry. What a fascinating man. Pragmatic. Calls it like he sees it, or "just the facts, ma'am".

    I had heard his name here and there in the past, but never paid any attention. But wow, this man was quite the spectacle from the pool of unusual people. He was controversial in a very good way. He made people think about reality. Heroes have dirty laundry too. Sometimes filthier and stinkier than we'd care to believe. I'd heard some bits about FDR's manipulations to get us into WWII, but never really took it seriously. But Gore Vidal got right to the point and brought much to the surface worth looking at. He has written numerous novels, most considered historical fiction interlaced with significant facts.

    United States of Amnesia. Holy crap, was he so right.
  7. OmahaStar

    OmahaStar Disrespectful of his betters Admiral

    May 15, 2002
    I think my best memory of Mr. Vidal isn't actually from Vidal. It's from Lily Tomlin. In her standup from the 70s - some of which is out there on CDs like "This is a Recording" she did bits as Ernestine calling celebrities of the day, often getting their names wrong. For example, J. Edgar Hoover was "Mr. Hoover? Mr Jedgar Hoover?"

    For Vidal, he was "Mr. Vee-dil". Ernestine (Tomlin's character) called to collect since he wasn't paying his bill, and used "over a hundred hours" of recorded telephone conversations to blackmail him into paying his bill. That routine always leaves me in stiches, especially her line "You're not talking with just anyone's fool. I am a high school graduate."