April 10th, 2007


REVIEW: All the Songs of Heroes

Disclaimers: Unlike many of my readers, I did not know the late John Milo “Mike” Ford. I first encountered his work in Neil Gaiman’s blog and in his inimitable contributions to Making Light. If he ever posted to any of the Usenet groups I used to frequent, it’s so long ago that I don’t recall it.

When, several years ago, I picked up The Dragon Waiting, I didn’t even realize that the John M. Ford was the Mike Ford who was so often mentioned by my friends in fandom, nor that he was elisem’s “dear Mr. Ford.” The book looked interesting, and it was on the fiction shelves of alanbostick and wild_irises—a sure guarantee of literary quality.

I devoured it—gulped it down, and read as much of his work as I could find in the succeeding weeks. It was subtle, brilliant, complex, and humane. I wished I could meet an author capable of writing such a dazzling novel in his mid-twenties. Our one chance was spoiled when he broke his foot just before he and elisem were to meet alanbostick and me in Las Vegas.

Literary criticism can be a touchy business, especially when the late author is widely known and loved. But criticism is the wrong word here; I’ll leave that to Derrida and nagging parents. Call it literary commentary. Worse, this commentary is not even a broad survey by an expert in the field or a definitive summing-up of a career. It’s a brief look at a single facet of a highly complex oeuvre. Death in the work of Mike Ford.

Mike Ford died young, and he spent four-fifths of his life dealing with chronic illness. From age 11 on, he had severe Type I diabetes. Eventually it wrecked his kidneys; a transplant gave him six extra years of life. Many of the people who knew and loved him say he lived a good ten years beyond what he expected, and they all credit his longterm partner elisem for saving his life. (alanbostick also says his writing was just the icing on the cake—that knowing him was even more rewarding than reading him.) Mike would have been fifty years old today.

I returned to Mike Ford’s work because I’ve been trying to whip up a certain rage at encroaching death. If I could feel it on his behalf, maybe I could learn to feel it for myself. Things did not work out that way. I found something infinitely more precious and joyful there.

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