Jay Lake was something of a wonder in the genre community. He was an incredibly prolific writer, with a wild imagination and a versatile talent that allowed him to range freely in his fiction. He was also one of the most vibrant and generous people I’ve ever known.
His conversations were like his fiction, full of sundry, rich, and engrossing details about life. He told stories about his past adventures, his work, his daughter, of whom he was so proud and for whom he worked so hard. He would talk late into the night and had no inhibitions about telling the private and entertaining details of his life. He was passionate about the things he believed in, but he also tried to find wisdom in the world around him and that made him a kind friend and counsel. He befriended people easily and made clear efforts to “pay it forward” to the science fiction community.
As to his writing… In the short time from his first publication in 2001 till his death in 2014, he published ten novels, five collections, and over 300 short stories, with his first novel, Rocket Science, coming out in 2005. I remember Jay telling me once that while writing he always held the whole story inside his head—beginning to end. He described building that capacity to contain story from when he was first starting to write, working up from short stories to novelettes and novellas, and when he finally could hold a whole novel in his head, he seemed unstoppable. Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2008, he kept up a mighty pace. The first year he had chemotherapy, he wrote about a quarter-million words, despite painful and disconcerting disruptions to his ability to write. His final work, which, unfinished, will undoubtedly never see print, was a massive space opera trilogy, the Sunspin series, planned at over 600,000 words with 11 points of view and 25 significant characters, broken into three books each in three parts. In 2011, he told me, “Essentially I’m writing nine 60- to 80,000-word novels… What I’m really doing is giving cancer the bird.”
He left us a legacy of intimate details of his fight against the cancer that finally killed him, blogging about his experiences with cancer treatment and writing stories about grief and sickness. He and friends crowdfunded to have his entire genome sequenced, and then he made the data available to the public, the first time that has ever been done, in hopes that the information might help future cancer research. He openly described online the rollercoaster his life turned into once his mortality was brought close, to bring understanding to people who had never experienced cancer. An entire generation of the SF community watched his struggle with cancer on his blog and were brought closer together because of it.
Our friendship’s native habitat was at conventions; as a result it has not fully sunk in for me that I won’t have any more long, late-night conversations with him, or run into him at a party, or be swept into a crowd of laughing people in a hallway with him at the center. We’ve all seen a huge outpouring of affection and remembrance for Jay since his death, but his work as a SF writer, as an anthologist, an essayist, his contributions to the field, and the impact he had on the community will not go away. His works will live on and be read, and we will remember this exemplary writer and friend who lived his life fully and left us a legacy of story. Vale, Jay.
From the Tor/Forge September newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from the August Tor/Forge newsletter:
- My Friend, Jay Lake by Ken Scholes
- Missing Jay Lake by J. A. Pitts
- On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events in September