I’ve just learned of the passing of my lifelong friend Eric Flint.
Eric was a fine friend and I am lucky to have known him for so many years. It is very hard to say goodbye to someone you have known for 59 years, so I will tell you a little about Eric’s earlier years that you are unlikely to hear from others.
Eric’s father was a go-getter and a visionary and exited WWII with an idea to use helicopters to explore for oil, such a good idea that Eric found himself at age 5 living on the Avenue Foch, forgetting English when his parents decamped to Egypt for a couple of months. Eric roundly denounced his father’s poor timing that left him with little of Paris beyond a taste for baguettes, especially since Flint pere’s next move was to buy a ski resort in the Sierra Nevadas that succumbed to too many warm winters in a row, leaving Eric and his Mom in a two-bedroom apartment two blocks from me.
Eric and I thus met as senior transfers to a giant LA high school in 1963. We lived close to the closed campus and scored lunch passes; we would blast to his house and smoke cigarettes and drink beer if there was any to pilfer from his mother’s frig.
Even in those early days Eric wanted to be a writer. We collaborated on a bunch of very juvenile 10-minute plays our drama friends would perform at lunch. Eric wrote his first science fiction book in those years, a coming-of-age story that I liked.
By a weird alignment of forces that involve Eric’s co-writer Richard Roach (Forward the Mage) Eric and I would up college roommates in a little one-bedroom apartment, one of three separate little dwellings at the corner of Ocean Park Blvd and Bicknell St, directly across the street from the Pacific Ocean, for $25/month. We took care of a very stinky and aged german shepherd, which is to say we opened the door to let her out and fed her.
My first girlfriend was Eric’s girlfriend’s best friend, so we made a tight foursome for a number of years. Eric’s girlfriend happened to be the daughter of a Life Magazine Staff Photographer and through that connection I got my first experience of professional photography and basically got hooked, though it took 20 years before I did anything about it.
My girlfriend and I bought a 35mm camera and Eric and his girlfriend built a darkroom on his back porch so we had a place to actually print.
Eric became a history star at UCLA, publishing a long article as an undergraduate in the leading Journal of African History. He routinely received packages from Blackwell’s of London, usually photo-reprints of long-forgotten journals of various imperialist colonizers.
Eric veered into historiography during his graduate years at UCLA, from which he had graduated Summa Cum Laude, under the impact of (I believe) Hayden White, who provided a handy road into Marxism. In those days graduate student teaching assistants often would lead 3 or 4 weekly discussions groups of 15-20 undergrads centering on whatever Professor X had talked about. Unless you were Eric, who would lead the discussion to Marx in the second paragraph.
All of this evaporated with the Kent State Killings and subsequent country-wide student rebellions that very quickly, within days, led to the wholesale closure of American higher education and, at UCLA at least, the sudden retreat of authority from the campuses. Teachers taught or not, student attended or not, demanded on-the-spot curriculum revisions. In the midst of this some wildcatting truck drivers approached one the myriad tables at UCLA and asked if we could walk their picket lines for them, since they were prohibited from doing so. We responded with alacrity and soon had several hundred people who would show up wherever they told us in LA’s City of Industry at 6am. This changed both Eric’s and my life irretrievably.
It was so much fun we decided to do it again and formed an ongoing strike support organization with its own monthly newspaper, The Picket Line. It covered the trial of the wildcat strke members accused ot taking potshots at scab trucks in the mountains, so when they finished their short sentences we were invited to the celebratory welcome back party and had many friends among the rank and file.
These events moved many of us to obtain commercial drivers’ licenses so we could foment from the inside, including Eric. Meanwhile, many of us from the strike support group joined the International Socialists. Speaking for myself, I was impressed with their willingness to participate in actual work of the coalition, but Eric was far more aware of where the IS sat in relation to other left groups.
After various splits we found ourselves to be 20 people in 2 cities in a political environment that was already cooling off. We amalgamated everyone in Detroit, Eric and I driving a 40-foot-trailer’s worth of everything everyone in LA wanted to take to Detroit in a move with a certain panache. We had some roadies in a trail car.
Within 2 years we grew to 45 and joined the Socialist Workers Party primarily because of agreement on the Black Struggle and orientation to workers in basic industry. Until we dispersed from Detroit I had lived in the same city and been friends with Eric for 15 years, often in daily and always in weekly contact. Eric moved to Birmingham and our day-to-day friendship moved to the phone, so I will end this little recollection here since there are many with more recent memories of Eric’s highly original work in the field of science fiction who will contribute to the remembrance of his life.
I will offer this comment on Eric’s science fiction life:
The originality of Eric’s contribution to the world of science fiction was to open up “his” universe to all comers. Literally hundreds of individuals have written for the Grantsville Gazette, the on-line periodical devoted to the world of 1632. Eric has collaborated on scores of books with dozens of co-authors in highly varied world-universes.
I was party to the creation of Eric’s first Universe, Joe’s World. Eric, I, and 2 friends got together almost nightly for a year or so in 1969-1970 and bullshitted about stories of that world. For me, these were as much bonding experiences as anything else. Writing fiction has always been agonizing for me.
Not so for Eric: he carried the ideas and fragments of text around in his head for 20 years and multiplied and multiplied the experience.
After a magnificent first novel, Mother of Demons (I plan to write a review of this book), Eric began collaborating on what became the Belisarius series, a five-book long romp beginning with a “singularity”, that is to say, a one-off non-explainable event that wrenches world history delightfully off-course.
All of Eric’s writing is informed by his immensely deep, lifelong study of history and histories. His basement writing cave contains well over 10,000 books, maybe 100 on Indian history alone. When I first met him he was deep into Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of Civilizations, a highly scholarly but now not-well-regarded dissection of 21 (I think) dead civilizations. I believe it was his emphasis on moral decay that led to his eclipse but truly I know nothing here. I tried to read it but got lost. He was interested in conservatives like Burke for a while.
But, like any good red-blooded American would-be hell-raiser, Eric knew the real thing when he saw in May ’68 in France and moved politically accordingly.
Here’s the earliest pic I could readily lay my hand on. It expresses a salient fact about Eric, that he was always a curmudgeon-in-waiting. You can see his pre-professorial vibe in the pipe, the box of kitchen matches and the bottle of Inglenook, which was pretty good compared to most of what we drank in those days, his feet up on his stool, reading a book.
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