Today marks two years since I received the phone call you never want to get, especially at 5:30 in the morning.
Michael Gibson was a very good friend of mine, even though we’d never met in person or even spoken a word to each other. It is a testament to the age of the Internet that we live in today that strong friendships can be formed in cyberspace.
We were both avid fantasy football players and met on an old BBS-style site devoted to the hobby called The Asylum. We both started writing our first novels at about the same time and often e-mailed chapters back-and-forth to be critiqued. While I decided to write under my real name, he decided to go with a pen name. I sometimes wonder if he had the right idea all along on that decision.
About the time my first novel, Reservations, was released by Oak Tree Press, Michael released his first novel, Storm Clouds Gathering, the first of the Sentience Trilogy. The third book, Wrath of an Angry God, was nominated for Best Military Sc-Fi Novel in the first-ever Dragon Awards in 2016.
Unfortunately, David Weber was also nominated in that category that year. Mike was just happy to be nominated. And he was the first to commiserate with me the next year when Escaping Infinity, a 2017 Dragon Award nominee for Best Sci-Fi Novel, was similarly steamrolled by James S.A. Corey.
We were supposed to finally meet in person in March of 2017, but my trip to Texas was canceled when I got very ill and could not travel. He was supposed to fly out to Santa Barbara, California on Sept. 14th and I would drive up from Thousand Oaks and meet him.
Then came the phone call.
He had started his day off as usual, in his office getting ready to resume working on his fourth novel with a cup of coffee on his desk. He was talking with his son one second and then dead from a heart attack the next. If there was any comfort to be found that morning it was that it was that sudden and he did not suffer.
His family and many friends were left to do all of the suffering. All of us still miss him terribly to this very day. I was the eldest child of three in the family. The older brother to my siblings.
Mike was my older brother. His council and humor more valuable to me than any amount of gold you would choose to name. It has been two years now and I still find myself wanting to drop him a message or ask his advice online.
So when his family asked me to help finish his fourth, and what will be his last, novel there was no chance I’d say no. His novel, Eerie, has taken longer to get through the final steps before being released. But it is hoped to be out before the end of the year. It will be worth waiting for, I promise.
As I reflect on my lost friend, it is hard to believe it has been two years since he was taken from us. I wonder, after Eerie what he would have done next. We were cheated out of a great voice in SF/F.
So that this doesn’t end in sadness, I want to share a somewhat lengthy joke Mike once shared with me. I don’t know where he found it. I just know that by the time I get to the end I am in tears, laughing so hard. Those kind of tears are the ones I want to shed when I think of my friend.
* * *
Texas Chili Cookoff
Recently, a visitor from the Mid-West named Frank was selected as a judge at a Texas Chili cook-off, mainly because no one else wanted to do it. Also, the original person called in sick at the last moment and Frank just happened to be standing there at the judge’s table asking directions to the beer wagon when the call came in. Frank was assured by the other two judges that the chili wouldn’t be all that spicy, and besides they told him that he could have free beer during the tasting, so he accepted.
Chili # 1: Mike’s Maniac Mobster Monster Chili
JUDGE ONE: A little too heavy on tomato. Amusing kick.
JUDGE TWO: Nice, smooth tomato flavor Very mild.
FRANK: Holy shit, what is this stuff? You could remove oil stains from your driveway with it. Took two beers to put the flames out. Hope that’s the worst one. These people are nuts.
Chili # 2: Arthur’s Afterburner Chili
JUDGE ONE: Smoky (barbecue?) flavor with a hint of pork. Slight Jalapeño tang.
JUDGE TWO: Exciting BBQ flavor, but needs more peppers to be taken seriously.
FRANK: Keep this out of reach of children! I’m not sure what I am supposed to taste besides pain. I had to wave off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver. Shoved my way to the front of the beer line. The barmaid looks like a professional wrestler after a bad night. She was so irritated over my gagging sounds that the snake tattoo under her eye started to twitch. She has arms like Popeye and a face like Winston Churchill. I will NOT pick a fight with her.
Chili # 3: Fred’s Famous Burn Down the Barn Chili
JUDGE ONE: Excellent firehouse chili! Great kick. Needs more beans.
JUDGE TWO: A beanless chili, a bit salty, good use of red peppers.
FRANK: This has got to be a joke. Call the EPA, I’ve located a toxic chemical spill. My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano. Everyone knows the routine by now and got out of my way so I could make it to the beer wagon. Barmaid pounded me on the back; now my backbone is in the front part of my chest. She said her friends call her “Sally.” Probably behind her back they call her “Forklift.”
Chili # 4: Bubba’s Black Magic
JUDGE ONE: Black bean chili with almost no spice. Disappointing.
JUDGE TWO: A hint of lime in the black beans. Good side dish for fish or other mild foods, not much of a chili.
FRANK: I felt something scraping across my tongue but was unable to taste it. Sally was standing behind me with fresh refills so I wouldn’t have to dash over to see her. When she winked at me her snake sort of coiled and uncoiled. It’s kinda cute…. Damn, that 300 lb. bitch is starting to look HOT, just like this nuclear waste I’m eating.
Chili # 5: Linda’s Legal Lip Remover
JUDGE ONE: Meaty, strong chili. Cayenne peppers freshly ground adding considerable kick. Very impressive.
JUDGE TWO: Chili using shredded beef; could use more tomato. Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.
FRANK: My ears are ringing and I can no longer focus my eyes. I belched and four people in front of me needed paramedics. The contestant seemed hurt when I told her that her chili had given me brain damage. Sally saved my tongue by pouring beer directly on it from a pitcher. Sort of irritates me that one of the other judges asked me to stop screaming. Screw these rednecks!
Chili # 6: Vera’s Very Vegetarian Variety
JUDGE ONE: Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili. Good balance of spice and peppers.
JUDGE TWO: The best yet. Aggressive use of peppers, onions, and garlic. Superb.
FRANK: My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous flames. No one seems inclined to stand behind me except Sally. I asked if she wants to go dancing later. Is chili an aphrodisiac? I’m getting shit-faced from all the beer.
Chili # 7: Susan’s Screaming Sensation Chili
JUDGE ONE: A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned Peppers.
JUDGE TWO: Ho Hum, tastes as if the chef threw in canned chili peppers at the last moment. I should note that I am worried about Judge Number 3, he appears to be in a bit of distress.
FRANK: You could put a hand grenade in my mouth and pull the pin and I wouldn’t feel it. I’ve lost the sight in one eye and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water. My clothes are covered with chili which slid unnoticed out of my mouth at some point. Good, at the autopsy they’ll know what killed me. Go Sally, save yourself before it’s too late. Tell our children I’m sorry I was not there to conceive them. I’ve decided to stop breathing, it’s too painful and I’m not getting any oxygen anyway. If I need air I’ll just let it in through the hole in my stomach. Call the X-Files people & tell them I’ve discovered a super nova on my tongue.
Chili # 8: Helen’s Mount Saint Chili
JUDGE ONE: A perfect ending, this is a nice blend chili, safe for all, not too bold but spicy enough to declare its existence.
JUDGE TWO: This final entry is a good, balanced chili. Neither mild nor hot. Sorry to see that most of it was lost when Judge Number 3 passed out, fell over and pulled the chili pot down on top of himself. Not sure if he’s going to make it. Poor Yank… I wonder how he’d have reacted to a really hot chili?
FRANK: (Unable to report.)