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LoneStarCon 3: The Howard and George Show

Howard Waldrop and George R. R. Martin really do like each other
Robert Faires, 11:30am, Sun. Sep. 1, 2013
Photo by Robert Faires
Friends through thick and thin, time and space: George R. R. Martin and Howard Waldrop

To commemorate their half-century of improbable friendship, writers George R. R. Martin and Howard Waldrop spent an hour in front of several hundred people at LoneStarCon 3 telling the kind of stories on each other that made you feel they should have given up on one another or else fallen to fisticuffs long, long ago.

Waldrop stands up Martin the first time they're due to meet in person. Waldrop promises Martin a free room if he can make it to a convention in Kansas City only to find he's also promised it to a half-dozen other friends. Waldrop adamantly refuses to allow Martin to adapt one of his short stories for television – come to think of it, most of the stories were about Waldrop screwing Martin in some way or other. But in the context of The Howard and George Show, as this hour at San Antonio's current World Science Fiction Convention was billed, the stories had been burnished by time to a golden hilarity, and whenever Martin gleefully exposed another instance of Waldrop's bad behavior – and he managed to pack a lot of them into 50 minutes – no one, but no one laughed louder than Howard himself.

The improbability of their friendship goes back to the beginning, when both were teens deep into comics: Texan Waldrop writing to New Jerseyan Martin after seeing a letter of comment he'd had published in issue 20 of Fantastic Four. ("The context of which," Martin said, "was 'Shakespeare better move over, 'cause Stan Lee is here!'") Their first exchange involved Waldrop selling Martin his copy of The Brave and the Bold No. 28 – the historic first appearance of the Justice League of America! – for a mere quarter, which Martin taped to an index card and mailed to Waldrop. (To be fair, the book was only three years old at that point, and who knew it would someday fetch five figures in sales?) That led to a regular correspondence between the pair, cemented by their shared love of superheroes, science fiction, fantasy, pulps, and writing, and they wrote each other letters – sometimes as much as twice a week – for the next decade. That was before they ever met in person. But through their connection, Martin ended up finding his way into Texas fandom, writing for some of the prominent fanzines that sprang up in the Lone Star state during the Sixties and early Seventies.

The two entered the profession side by side, selling their first stories within months of each other. (Waldrop claimed that his first story, purchased by John W. Campbell, killed the legendary writer and editor, and that he, Waldrop, subsequently killed the magazines Galaxy, Orbit, and Amazing. In fact, of the last, he told the crowd: "The thing I'm proudest of after 67 years: I killed Amazing … twice!") And though their encounters with each other, after they finally did meet, seemed invariably to leave Martin holding the bag somehow, they kept up with one another. They have tried to collaborate on stories but are so at odds from a creative point of view – Martin favoring straight-ahead narrative, Waldrop always exploring some odd tangent – that their attempts to work together were always abandoned, unfinished.

That has never stopped Martin from soliciting work from Waldrop, as with his commissioning of his Texas friend to write the first tale in the successful Wild Cards anthology series about superheroes. Their accounts of that event called up the bizarre epitaph for Waldrop's hero, Jetboy, that he lifted from a remark by one of the Three Stooges ("I can't die yet – I haven't seen The Jolson Story!") and how Waldrop "reduced Roger Zelazny to quivering rage" after he insisted that the historical date Jetboy died fell on a Tuesday and Zelazny built his follow-up Wild Cards tale around that fact. When it was later discovered that Waldrop was wrong but it was too late to change the story, Martin says the ordinarily calm and gentle Zelazny pulled the pipe he was smoking from between his clenched teeth and threw it across the room.

After much time in the program in which Martin teased Waldrop about his "legendary stubbornness," refusing time and again to allow his work to be adapted for TV, even by his good friend George, and repeatedly insisting that the story of his that should be adapted for the tube was the one involving Isaak Walton and John Bunyan fishing in the Slough of Despond from The Pilgrim's Progress – imagine that as a Twilight Zone episode! – Waldrop came up with a mighty rejoinder. After he had agreed to write a novella for an upcoming anthology about Mars that Martin was editing and delivered a story about "20,000 words short" of the expected length, Waldrop said, "Unlike George and other people, when I come to the end of a story, I stop writing." Then, when asked by an audience member if he knew how his friend's epic Song of Fire and Ice series would end, Waldrop replied, "I told George in 1992, when he started this nonsense, if he would tell me when the last book was almost finished, I'd go out and buy the first one and then read all the rest." Martin laughed along with the rest of the audience, and one couldn't help but be cheered by the way these two got in such digs without any hint of resentment or bellicosity. Their friendship looked every bit as enduring as their prose.

Of course, at the end of it all, as the audience applauded them, Martin pulled out a raygun and fired it at Waldrop. Zap!

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