Vale Robert N Stephenson

I’ve just seen the distressing news that Australian science fiction and horror author, Robert N Stephenson, has died. Deepest sympathies to his family and close friends.

I’m stunned but not surprised. For as long as I’ve known him, Robert fought many demons. His demons were particularly fearsome, but his force of personality always seemed to hold them in check. His passing has upset me more than I expected, perhaps because I saw the signs on his Twitter but was too consumed by my own demons to say anything. I think I assumed that big personality would always outweigh the demons, but as I know myself, it only takes a series of bad moments to lay even the strongest of us low.

Looking back over his tweets, it’s obvious his suffering had been acute, and the Robert I knew didn’t deserve to wrestle with demons that relentless. Some of the stuff he said in his final tweets has really rocked me as they are things I’ve said and thought about myself.

Robert was such a profound influence on my early publishing and writing career. Not many people know, but he mentored me through an Advanced Diploma of Arts back in 2004, when he was a tutor at the Australian College of Journalism. His no-nonsense but encouraging guidance was invaluable, and he gave me a lot of confidence as a novice writer setting out to prove myself. I’ll always owe him for that, and even though I told him this many years ago, it’s the kind of thing that bears repeating. There can never be too much kindness and gratitude in the world.

From that experience, we worked together on the anthology Robots & Time. It was a fascinating experience, and it was my first anthology – the very first book to ever bear my name on the cover. What a thrill it was, and I thank Robert for that.

Robert was a giant of the overlapping Australian science fiction and horror scenes. Some say his voice was too loud, but I thought he was always spot on. He had a way of cutting through the bullshit, and he often didn’t care about people’s contrived sensibilities. Perhaps it was because of his own struggles that he recognised and dismissed people’s airs and pretensions.

Robert was the founder and publisher of Altair Australia Books – a legendary name in Australian small press publishing. He had written and published multitudes of short stories, collections, and anthologies, and his creative mind was resonant with colours few could dare to imagine. It was good to see he was getting some awards recognition in recent years. He deserved it. The quality of his work was such that it cut through the petty bullshit usually associated with such literary awards. He was a unique talent.

Speaking of awards, Robert was effectively the founder of the Australian Shadows Awards, now today Australia’s top honour for horror fiction, and to this day I love the sexy Brom statues for the awards he commissioned out of his own pocket. Naysayers be damned, the man had taste!

I remember Robert fondly for his defence of me last year through some censorship related drama with the AHWA. While others were quick to baselessly villify, he jumped in and had my back.

I can’t say I was close to Robert, but I knew him for 15 years, and that’s the kind of guy he was. He freely gave of his time and his money, he stood up for the little guy, and he had a huge altruistic streak. I’ve tried to emulate his approach.

Robert N Stephenson is gone too soon, and his unique presence on the Australian horror and science fiction landscapes will be missed.