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May/June 2011
 
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Editorial - May/June 2011
by Gordon Van Gelder

FOR MOST readers, F&SF is an assemblage of stories, columns, and cartoons that comes out every two months. But for a few readers, each issue is more like a family gathering.

This editorial is for the latter group of readers.

It's about a contributor we lost. Following it, we'll have another piece about one who got found.

The one we lost was Fergus Gwynplaine MacIntyre. Be warned, his story has some grim and disturbing elements to it.

Froggy (as he liked to be called) never published any fiction in our pages, but he was a prolific contributor of "Curiosities" columns over the past decade. He lived somewhere in New York City, I thought, and I saw him at local events frequently: a burly man in his fifties with mutton-chop whiskers and an eccentric affect about him. He often wore high black boots and a black coat and always wore black gloves.

His emails and letters were interesting and entertaining, brimming with colorful anecdotes about his life—he'd been born in Scotland but at an early age he was separated from his parents and shipped off to Australia, where he had a rough upbringing. People who knew Froggy in the 1970s and '80s said he used to tell real whoppers about his past, including claims that he was descended from Sawney Bean and stories involving Idi Amin, so I viewed his personal history the way I view fiction: as an important story.

On June 24th, he sent me this email:

Friend Gordon:

You can try contacting me but I'm unlikely to reply. On VERY short notice, I've asked Xxxx Xxxxxx in Xxxx to act as my agent until I return from Borroloola, and he has accepted. I regret that I've dumped this chore on him so abruptly. Please assume that I can be reached only through him.

Several years ago I was represented by the Marianne Strong Agency; I amicably parted company with "Mimi" a while back but the SFWA directory continues to list her as my agent. She isn't. She worked with me on non-fiction projects which I wrote under another identity.

I've a titchy wee glitch in my DNA which has caused me health problems all my life, and just lately all hell's broken loose in my genome. When I EVENTUALLY die, the doctor who does my post-mortem will make several interesting discoveries. I'm hoping to stabilise my health long enough to settle all my affairs as gracefully as possible.

I am IMMENSELY proud to have been published in F&SF, and I only regret that all my sales to you so far have been non-fiction. I was truly hoping you'd want my story 'How Skinman Fought the Soul-Thief', which I think is the best thing I ever wrote. Perhaps I'll sell a story to you once I get back.

Straight on till mourning!

Gwynplaine, L'Homme qui Rit

Froggy sent similar emails to other people in the science fiction community and posted some valedictory comments on various message boards. One writer grew alarmed by them and called the NYC police.

Here's where the story grows dark.

The police went to Froggy's apartment (in Brooklyn, it turned out) and found a disturbed man who barricaded himself in the place. Eventually, the police gained access and took the man to a nearby hospital for evaluation.

On the morning of June 25th, Froggy posted online to say he was out of the country but his housesitter had been severely disturbed to have the police break into the apartment. Froggy then went on to rail against the "busybody" who phoned the police, threatening him with legal action.

Early that afternoon, the so-called "busybody" phoned me to say that he'd heard from the police that there was a fire in Froggy's apartment and they had a badly burned corpse on their hands. Could I help?

Thus began my twelve-week adventure of learning all about Froggy.

When I phoned the police, they were as helpful as they could be, considering that I was no relation of Froggy's and didn't even know his given name. The detective with whom I spoke felt certain that the dead man in the apartment was the apartment's resident and the man who'd been admitted to the hospital earlier that day. The Medical Examiner's office couldn't identify the body positively. I gave them what help I could, including directions to Froggy's Website.

Ah, Froggy's Website. Even by the standard of your typical F&SF contributor (if such being exists), it was a hodgepodge, jammed full of puns, stories, autobiography, and photos. Amid all that was mention of Froggy's two adopted children, now grown. It was for them that I persevered. Shouldn't they be notified? Froggy had never mentioned the kids to me.

Well, I talked with various friends of Froggy's, tracked down some of the people on the Website. Kids? Froggy had been married but his wife died in 1994 and no one knew of any kids.

I tried tracking down some of the people whose pictures graced Froggy's Website. Some were acquaintances, including at least one writer who had never met Froggy in person. Others were old friends to whom I had to break the news about the apartment fire. One of Froggy's old friends thought the cops were all wrong about this matter and hired a private investigator to look into matters.

Weeks passed without any further developments. Eventually, the ME's office were able to identify the body positively—it was Froggy (though I still don't know what his real name was). His brother came forward, and they were able to put me in touch with him. He confirmed it: none of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre's autobiography was true. "We do have Scottish ancestry," he told me, but the rest of his persona was as much a work of fiction as anything that has ever appeared in the pages of F&SF. (In fact, it turned out that the person Froggy named in his email as being authorized to act as his agent had not agreed to any such thing, which is why I've used x's in place of their name.) When I mentioned the whole story about the housesitter, I was told, "Froggy was always inventing people." At which point I brought up those two adopted children and yes, they too were fabrications of Froggy's imagination.

The New York Times ran a piece about the whole incident, including the questions of identity surrounding the man I knew as "Froggy." The piece ran in the Sept. 10, 2010 issue and is online at www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/nyregion/12froggy.html. It's fairly sensational and includes a lot of troubling comments from his neighbors.

We've got one more "Curiosities" piece by Froggy in inventory, but I thought it best to publish his piece on The Beetle in this issue. It was the last piece Froggy sent me; in fact, he sent me corrections to it just five days before he began sending out those farewell emails.

So now it's my turn to say farewell to Froggy. We weren't close friends, but I find myself going through his letters, postcards, and emails to me and thinking his correspondence represents F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre as he wanted to be remembered. In one email he's asking me about the difference between Mephitis and Spilogale, in another he's quizzing me about prolific New Yorker cartoonists. There's a postcard from Venice with a cartoon frog face drawn on it and here's an email questioning my taste in physical comedy and instructing me in how to do a pratfall without spilling a glass of water. Another looks at our online bibliography and wonders if Paul Blaisdell and Tex Blaisdell were related. And here's one signed "Froggonium" that ponders the Ace doubles and how the accounting department paid different royalties to the "A" side and the "B" side authors of the same book. And here's another....

Yes, this is definitely how I wish to remember F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. Fare thee well, Froggy. Straight on 'til mourning, Sir.

On the brighter side, please read Maria Alonzo's article about one of our founders.

Gordon Van Gelder

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