When I came into active fandom in the 1970s—my first con was Westercon 28 in 1975—it was impossible to miss William Rotsler, at least in West-Coast fandom; seems he was everywhere and had done everything. If you subscribed to any fanzines you’d likely have seen a bunch of Rotslers (that’s how they were referred to); he drew (cartoons) compulsively—not only quickly, but accurately—every cartoon (often using stock characters he’d made up years ago) was not only funny but right. He must have drawn (and given away) a couple of hundred thousand of them; he carried a manila folder with him, often, and if you asked him for a fillo (filler illustration) he’d pull out a few and just give them to you. (I have a small sheet of Rotslers in a drawer somewhere.) He won the best fanartist Hugo five times, yet his serious SF drawings were (in my opinion, at least) even better.
He was, as is mentioned in the foreword for Patron of the Arts, a sculptor, filmmaker, writer and artist, yet most fans never saw much of his film work; a lot of it was in the erotic categories. He was gracious; when Zandra was published, I wrote to him about a somewhat minor scientific error I noticed (I did the same thing to Arthur C. Clarke with Imperial Earth—I was a lot brasher when I was in my twenties) and he wrote back and not only acknowledged his error, but thanked me for it. (If you would like to own some original Rotsler art, James Van Hise is selling quite a few b/w pieces on eBay for about $32 each.) Of himself, he said, in part, “I’ve written in the Star Trek, Marvel, and Tarzan universes. I’ve written comics and animated shows. I’ve published novels, poems, epigrams, photographs, drawings, and fanzines. I’ve made over 6,000 pieces of sculpture and hundreds of thousands of drawings. I’ve been a fast gun and a slow burn. I’ve been shot at, laughed at, and laughed with. I’ve had a Corvette, a lot of laughs, and been house hunting with Marilyn Monroe.” (From both the foreword to Patron of the Arts and eFanzines.)
His books are now being re-released as ebooks by Strange Particle Press, an imprint of Digital Parchment Services. If you visit http://www.williamcharlesrotsler.com/ you’ll find much more information about Bill Rotsler. His first book, Patron of the Arts, was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards. I wish I had known him better.
CAPSULE REVIEW: PATRON OF THE ARTS by William Rotsler (©1974, renewed 2002 by the Estate of William C. Rotsler)
It is the near future—Earth’s population is over 8 billion; we have bases in space, on the Moon, settlers on Mars, and Brian Thorne, one of the hundred richest men on Earth wants a sensatron cube made of his lover, Madelon Morgana, by Mike Cilento, possibly the greatest sensatron artist. Years later, after Mike has made the one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life cube for Brian, he and Madelon disappear, leaving only a breathing, but unliving, facsimile of the most beautiful woman Brian had ever seen. Brian continues to subsidize the arts and to make money hand over fist—he has the “Midas touch” when it comes to business—and to cover his emotional loss by submerging himself in a tide of beautiful, sensate, throbbing flesh. Then, on a trip to Mars, hiding his identity by using the persona of Diego Braddock, he meets Nova Sunstrum and becomes embroiled in a fight for his life in the ancient Martian ruins that may hold the key to immortality—or to the stars! An adventure that examines the role the arts may play in the lives of some men, or in the whole human race; this book brought Bill Rotsler to the attention of the SF-reading public, and deservedly so. He describes a vivid future and a Mars that (alas!) we now think must take its place alongside the dreams of such visionaries as Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett and Robert A. Heinlein. I might even call this one a classic. Recommended!
Patron of the Arts review, continued: Not content to just be an adventure, or an examination of the future—complete with enough SF-y ideas to fill a dozen other books, from “shimmercloth” to quiver music to giant arcologies—Bill Rotsler had to take the time to examine what he (in the persona of his protagonist, Brian Thorne/Diego Braddock) thought perhaps was the role of art in not only contemporary life, but in Man’s whole existence:
I found that I was wondering why man – and the long-dead Martians – created art at all. You didn’t need art to feed your body or to keep you warm or sheltered from the rains. But from the caves onward man had created art with a persistence second only to his desire to feed, to sleep, and to reproduce.
To deny food to your body is to die. To deny sex to your body is to deny life. To reject art is to impoverish yourself, rejecting pleasure and growth. We always think of those who have minimal interest in the arts as dull clods, as insensitive beasts. But to accept your sexual self, and to accept art, is to add to yourself.
Art depicts the inner and outer manifestations of sex and living and feeling and dreams and frustrations. It reveals us to ourselves, or should.
Man persistently creates art under the most depressing as well as the most enjoyable circumstances. Some men and women create art as easily as breathing. For them, not to create would be to die. (From Patron of the Arts ©Estate of William Rotsler)
As an artist himself, I think perhaps that last sentence might sum up Rotsler’s whole creative persona. When I think of the times I saw him, I have two “typical” mental visions: one is Bill laughing, surrounded by a group of laughing people, and the second is Bill, sitting at a table either in the bar or in the Art Show at a con, with a pen and a piece of paper, intent on the drawings that flowed from his pen. And I think perhaps that is the truer vision—remembrance, if you will—of William C. Rotsler.
CAPSULE REVIEW: THE FAR FRONTIER by William Rotsler (Copyright ©1980 by William Rotsler, reprinted courtesy The Estate of William Rotsler )
Who says “space opera” is no longer relevant? Who says that all SF/F books have to be deep, with more layers than an onion; with a psychological/socialogical/ecological point to make? Sometimes a book can be an adventure and something with socio-ecological points to make, y’know! The Far Frontier is such a book. It starts out with a bang (figurative), as Wolf (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) Briggs, on a planet named Zikkala, way out at the end of the Orion spur of the Perseus arm, umpteen light-years from Gauguin III, his home planet of Matisse, is pinned down in some boulders by the native Kaleen, who have already killed his horse. Wolf is down to the last five charges in his laser. Wolf, however, is not the protagonist of this book; Rader is. We follow Rader and his companions, the burly Korda and his female companion Liana Chang as they seek to fight Lockhart and the star-spanning corporation Startrade, who wish to take over the planet and eliminate its unruly native population. (In some ways, this is a reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke or James Cameron’s Avatar in its treatment of natives, though it precedes both by 20 years or more.) Rotsler’s descriptive powers are at their height in describing the people and settings of this book; if you’re looking for a fast and fun read with more than a hint of depth, this just might do it for you! Recommended!
The Far Frontier Review, Continued: There are two ways to write an SF/F adventure novel that’s set in the far future, where hardened “space cowboys” ride the space equivalent of horses, trading laser shots with “space Indians” (excuse the expression; but I’m trying to make a point here). This kind of book is usually referred to as “space opera,” a take-off on the old “horse opera,” or “oater” (because one feeds oats to a horse, y’see), that used to be one of the mainstays of paperback/pulp fiction. Back in the days when a paperback cost a quarter or so, and no attempt was made to get any deeper than the usual formula of a cowboy/spaceman comes to town/planet and encounters a rancher/settler with a beautiful daughter, and had to fight off rustlers/Indians (sic)/outlaws/aliens with guns/lasers a-blazing. Oh, there were variations—sometimes the cowboy/spaceman was fleeing from a wrongful accusation of doing something wrong back in his hometown/planet or sometimes he was the Marshal/Sky Marshal trying to capture a gang of outlaws/zwilniks, but you get the idea… it was all formula and, with few exceptions, was written quickly and cheaply. Readers ate it up; it was all “mental popcorn,” intended to be a fun and quick read. (Back when both oaters and space operas were common, TV was filled with the same kinds of stuff, but you couldn’t carry a TV on the bus to your job/school/whatever; a paperback was small and would fit into a pocket and while you were reading these quickies, your imagination was free to roam the plains or the universe, whatever you desired. Later, there were Harlequins for the romantically-inclined.) Why, when I was about 12, I read 14 Ace doubles—both sides, 28 “novels”—in one night. I think they averaged something like 160 pages each.
The Far Frontier fits comfortably in this mold; however, it reminds me not so much of the aforementioned ecology-themed adventure movies, but more of one of Louis L’Amour’s Western novels. These were “oaters” with a difference; L’Amour boasted that everything he wrote about in the West was as accurate as he could make it; if he wrote about a stream, it was there where he said it was. His figures were always a bit larger than life—like this book’s protagonist, Rader—and his descriptions, while not as florid as, say, Zane Grey’s (some of his descriptions of the Old West were as purple as the sage blossoms he described) were, nonetheless, complete enough that you could visualize the people, the land and the accouterments thereof, even if you had no idea what a soogan was! (The soogan often mentioned in L’Amour’s books was a kind of sleeping bag that the cowboys kept rolled up in a slicker—to protect it from the rain—behind their saddles so they could sleep warm out on the trail. Just thought you’d like to know.) Like Bill Rotsler was, I’m a L’Amour fan myself. But I digress. You’ll find this book on Amazon as well as through the home page mentioned above.
Rader’s involvement with Lockhart and the Startrade Corporation takes into account the enormous distances between stars and the effects of time dilation; Rotsler has thought out how a company can profitably expand across star systems given those things; and like Miyazaki, Cameron and yes, Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, has enormous sympathy for the places and native peoples he writes about. I had originally read many of Rotsler’s books back in The Day, and it is a pleasure to be able to reread and to comment upon—and perhaps bring new readers to enjoy this talented writer (and artist) who left us way too soon.
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