The following is taken from Fantasy For Good: A Charitable Anthology, edited by Richard Salter and me. All proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to the Colon Cancer Alliance. Colon cancer is a silent killer that disproportionately affects writers (and others who sit for a living). Many people aren’t aware that Roger Zelazny passed after a long battle with colon cancer and the disease has recently claimed another contributor to this anthology, Jay Lake. Paul Pederson (who donated the cover) has a brother-in-law who is fighting it; and the wife of Richard Salter, my co-editor, was diagnosed with it as we were putting the anthology together. Please consider supporting the fight against colon cancer by buying a copy at the link below.
Horseman, Pass By
An Introduction by Trent Zelazny
I lost my father when I was 18. Kidney failure associated with cancer. Colorectal cancer. Colon cancer. He was only 58 when he died. I’d known he was sick for quite some time, but he’d asked his kids to keep it quiet, not wanting the SF&F community to know about it. Also, he was foolishly certain that he would beat it.
He didn’t. I wish to God that he had, but no dice. I honestly believe that a part him truly thought he was immortal. He often wrote about immortals, but he was not immortal himself. He was a human being, just like the rest of us.
For years after, I thought about something a lot, and I still think about it from time to time. What if he hadn’t insisted on keeping his illness a secret? This, of course, was in the early and mid-nineties, before the Internet was in virtually every home on the planet. But news could still get around in those days. I remember, at the hospital, a few hours before he died, a close family friend and member of the community, heartbroken and pissed off that they didn’t know a thing about it. “You should have told us,” she said.
And so I’d ask myself, why didn’t they know about it? Because they should have known about it. A lot of people should have known about it, because if people had indeed known about it, more could have been done. That, however, is the only result I can promise would have been different.
More could have, and would have, been done. This is not to say he didn’t have good care. He had probably the best available. But I’m not talking about medical care here, or the few who did know, who busted their asses, going through their own utter hell to help him.
It had to be a secret, and so three Zelazny children wandered around, harboring this painful secret, instructed not to talk about it, which we didn’t, or we did very little, and only in the strictest confidence. I don’t recall a single conversation with my brother or my sister about it. It could have been a time for much needed family bonding, but instead it caused us all to sort of drift apart, each trapped in a personal daze with a hefty dose of denial.
It was inadvertent ignorance on my father’s part, and—while unintentional—it was cruel. Cruel in that we had to walk around and pretend everything was hunky-dory, while inside, just like my father, we were being eaten alive.
I’ve never been angry at my father for this, however, and there’s certainly no point in being angry with him now; but that question still comes along and revolves round in my head. What if his friends and colleagues knew about it? Speculative fiction is all about the question, “What if?” and so I speculate, and most every scenario I come up with is more positive than the actual outcome, whether he had lived or died. He wouldn’t have hurt his family and friends so much; he would have known more fully just how deeply loved he was—by a whole lot of people. He was a well-loved man, but I’m not sure he ever really knew just how loved he was.
I loved him deeply. I still do. While I don’t think he ever would have been a candidate for Father of the Year, his intentions were always good. He was a good man, a very good man, and those he touched he touched deeply.
But he kept his cancer a secret, and in my opinion, he shouldn’t have. He had his reasons, though I don’t personally find them to be good reasons. Well intended, maybe, but not good; and so I admire, respect, and support anyone brave enough—and compassionate enough—to let their friends and peers know that they are sick. This in no way means I didn’t or don’t respect my father. I did, and do, very much. But in this situation I learned what not to do. Don’t keep something so important a secret.
Just as the wonderful editors and contributors did with Horror for Good, I’m thrilled beyond comprehension by these editors and contributors. And talk about the talent in this collection… well, I can’t, really, as I am speechless, but I will say I’m grateful to both Richard Salter and Jordan Ellinger, as well as to every author who took the time to contribute to this collection.
In your hands you hold a book that does more than entertain, more than give the reader a little something to ponder. Like Horror for Good, this book has an additional magic power. It has the power (and the want, maybe even the need) to help, and who it wants to help most are those sick with the same thing that ended my father’s life too early, because colorectal cancer is treatable. Having it does not automatically put one in the grave. Diagnosis is quite different from burial.
I could go off about healthcare in this country but I’m not going to. This introduction would be as long as the entire book, if I did. Instead I’ll offer a couple of simple items that can do wonders for those diagnosed and for their loved ones: communication, openness, love, support, strength, and books like this one. Every author in this book (myself included) cares. Yes, they care about you, deeply, whether you are the diagnosed, or a family member or friend of the diagnosed. Everyone in this book cares about you.
I promised the editors that I would keep this short, so in closing, I simply want to ask three small favors of you.
First, please don’t do what my father did. Don’t keep something of such importance a secret. Reach out. Don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed, and don’t be embarrassed. I promise that you and your loved ones will be thankful, if not immediately, most certainly in the long run.
Second, enjoy the wonderful stories collected in this book, and know that the stories here were contributed out of love, compassion, and the desire to make a difference.
And finally third, thank yourself, both for buying a wonderful collection of stories, and for simultaneously contributing to a wonderful cause.
My father may no longer be with us, but wherever he is, I know he is very pleased that this book has been compiled, as am I.
January 5th 2014