Sci Fi

Greg Bear, prize-winning sci-fi creator and Comedian-Con co-founder, dies at 71

Greg Bear, the affable San Diego native who wrote such highly acclaimed and plausible science fiction novels as “Blood Music,” “Darwin’s Radio” and “Eon” and who helped create San Diego Comic-Con, died Saturday in Seattle. He was 71.

Bear passed away “following a stroke after complications during heart surgery,” according to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, or SFWA. He served as the group’s president from 1988 to 1990.

The news spread quickly on social media, leading to an outpouring of tributes from colleagues in the sci-fi community, including Encinitas author David Brin who, like Bear, won many of the field’s highest writing honors.

“Greg had the gift of being able to ask really good questions,” Brin told the Union-Tribune. “Like ‘What if nanotechnology was combined with the fantastic computational power that resides in each human cell’ and ‘What if urban populations found ways to make neighborhoods into many versions of paradise?’

“He was one of those writers who learned by questioning scientists over beer and never letting go,” he said. “They would draft their first chapters, circulate them to the experts, and iterate them to create a plausible world.”

Robert Sawyer, another top sci-fi author, said in an SFWA tribute “What I loved about his work was that it freely embraced the entire scope science fiction has to offer: from the far future (Anvil of Stars), through the present day (Quantico), to cavorting with creatures we know only from the distant past (Dinosaur Summer), he took us on a grand tour of his boundless imagination.”

Bear was so highly regarded that the estate of the late Issac Asimov authorized him to write a book that would extend Asimov’s famous Foundation series of stories, which involve the fall and rebirth of an enormous interstellar universe. The book, “Foundation and Chaos,” received positive reviews when it was published in 1998.

He had a deep sense of himself and the role of sci-fi writers, saying in one widely noted remark, “We’re not prophets. We’re not here to inform the rich people of the world on how to make more money, or to inform governments on how to direct themselves.

“We are here to allow you to dream your dreams and make them happen, and have your nightmares a little in advance so you can prevent them from happening.”

Bear — known to many for his deep, hearty laugh — was born in San Diego on Aug. 20, 1951, the son of Dale F. and Wilma M. Bear. His father was in the Navy, which meant the family moved a lot. Greg Bear lived, for varying periods of time, in Japan, the Philippines, Alaska, and other parts of the U.S. by age 12. In 1964, the family permanently settled in San Diego, where Bear attended Crawford High School. He later earned a bachelor of arts degree at San Diego State University.

Bear says in his biography that he started writing at age 7 or 8, finished his first story when he was 10, began sending stories to magazines in his early teens and published his first short story when he was 15.

His early interest in sci-fi was in high gear by the time he got to high school, where Bear and others thought about creating a film version of author Ray Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder.”

Bear co-wrote a screenplay and was so passionate about it that he handed it to Bradbury after the legendary writer spoke at San Diego Auditorium in 1967.

The film did not get made, but it led to a long friendship.

“Bradbury taught us do not give up on what you love,” Bear told interviewer Jonathan Valdez during San Diego Comic Fest in late 2012.

“Love is what you must follow,” he continued. “Ignore everyone who tells you otherwise.”

That helped him tap into a passion that came, in part, from his father.

“My dad liked scary movies, and he took me to see things like ‘King Kong,’” Bear told the Union-Tribune in 2017.

“In the Philippines, I got to see ’20 Million Miles to Earth,’ which was a Ray Harryhausen movie. It had a monster from Venus that doubled in size every day. That thing came out of my bedroom wall that night and threatened to eat me. That confirmed my love of all things science fiction. That was pretty much it for me.”

Bear developed a reputation as a “hard” sci-fi writer, someone whose musings were based on known or emerging facts, rather than entirely on imagination or whimsy. He’d run ideas by scientists.

“The best example was the ‘Darwin’s Radio’ (series of) books, where I was looking at my own crackpot theories of biology and saying to myself, ‘You know, this stuff might be correct,’” he told the Union-Tribune.

“We were coming up on a time when we were going to be finding out more stuff about the genome,” he added, “and I thought it was time to write a rabble-rousing book that knows what it’s talking about and points scientists into areas they may not have been reading much about.”

The book series is about a rapid, unexpected and scary change in human evolution. It was published in 1999, less than a year before scientists released the first draft of the human genome.

Over the years, Bear won many Hugo and Nebula awards, establishing him as one of sci-fi’s best and busiest authors. The highlights include winning the Hugo for the novellette “Blood Music” and the short story “Tangents” and the Nebula for “Tangents,” the novel “Darwin’s Radio,” and the novella “Hardfought.”

Bear also broadened the field in other ways. In 1970, he helped launch the Golden State Comic Book Convention at the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego. His collaborators included a long list of locals, including such people as Mike Towry, Ken Krueger, Barry Alfonso, Shel Dorf and Richard Alf.

It wasn’t entirely obvious in the moment. But they were putting together an annual event that would become San Diego Comic-Con.

“All of these folks had one thing in common — they wanted to do a celebration of the arts — the arts we loved,” Bear told Valdez. “Of comic books, of science fiction, of fantasy, of movie-making, special effects and films, illustration.

“By all of us interacting, we kind of came up with this overall scheme to put a convention together. Kind of like putting a show on in a garage … Now, it’s more than 130,000 people showing up.

The SFWA said that Bear is survived by his wife, Astrid and their two children, Chloe and Alexandra.

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