IN MEMORIAM: Aaron Allston

It is our sad duty to report that Aaron Allston passed away yesterday. 

While heading in to be the guest of honor at Visioncon, a convention held in Branson, MO, he collapsed in the airport and was taken to the hospital where the cause of death was said to have been massive heart failure. He was 53 years old.

He was the author of 13 Star Wars” novels and a number of short stories in that universe. He was also a legendary game designer. If any of you have any books from the “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” era, open them up. Chances are Aaron’s name is in them. 

He was an excellent writer from a line of journalists and was a dedicated student of puns, B-movies, and laughing.

It’s difficult for me to write this objectively, or to keep myself out of it. I counted Aaron as a friend and mentor over the last five years. He was a member of my writing group where he regularly tore my words a much needed new one. We’ve attended dozens of conventions together as authors, always hanging out in the down time, and we’ve been on more panels together than I can count.

Aaron’s loss is acute. 

He was fiercely independent and probably wouldn’t feel comfortable about everyone making a big to do of him now, as he seemed to want no big to do over him in life, either. The most he’d ask for is a pause to breathe on walks, and anything more than that was making a fuss. He did love working a crowd over with his charming personality and terrible puns, though. Whether that crowd was Origins Game Fair, Dragon Con, or Star Wars Celebration, Aaron wanted to tell everyone stories and make them laugh doing it.

In his “Star Wars” novels, he was able to capture the humor of the saga almost better than any other writer working in the series and some of his books count among my very favorites in the Expanded Universe. 

His most recent, “Mercy Kill” capped off the X-wing series of books and proved he was still at the top of his game.

It’s hard to believe he passed away last night. Yesterday morning I was hassling him about being past deadline on a short story. 

When asked about his past in gaming, Aaron shirked away from it, telling me he’d much rather be known as a novelist than a gamer. He recounted a story about the first time a convention referred to him as a novelist as opposed to a game writer or designer and it was one of his proudest. At a convention we were both guests at a couple of years ago I’d tracked down a copy of his “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Design Kit,” read it, and loved it. It was a thrilling read for any writer or gamer and I told him as much. He signed it willingly, but seemed sheepish about it.

“I’ve got a plan for a lot of the ideas in that book, for another book, about writing. It’s one of the supplements I’m still very proud of.”

Not just a friend of Aaron’s, I was a fan of his, too. I loved his insight, his terrible puns, his taste in B-movies, and his love of pulp heroes. I loved the way he so lovingly tore all of my writing apart to the point where to others we’d seem almost adversarial, but when asked to say something nice about my work, he couldn’t have been more gracious. 

“Bryan Young is an imaginative writer who has a director’s eye, a film historian’s perspective, a critic’s cynicism, and a genre fan’s enthusiasm. It’s an interesting mix. I look forward to seeing everything he writes.”

It saddens me that he won’t read anything else I’ve written, even the final draft of my next book that his input basically saved. His perspective has helped me correct so many mistakes I would have made. In fact, he was fond of saying how much he looked forward to what new mistakes I was making now, because I’d corrected all the old ones.

More than that, I’m saddened that I won’t be able to read any more of his work. He was a true artist, a clever spinner of words and tales, and we’re all poorer for his loss. I’m saddened that we won’t get together for all night conversations about books, writing, publishing, terrible movies, and disagreements about the prequels. I’m sad that I’ll never hear the clever squeak in his voice when he’s let loose an awful pun. I’m sad that I’ll never be able to poke really good fun at him to his face again.

I’m grateful that we hugged the last time we parted, just a few months ago at our writer’s workshop. He’d run an RPG for those of us in attendance, a zombie survival story. His skills as a GM were stunning, and I learned a lot even from that one session. As I left, he told me, “Maybe you’ll have to run the session next year, Bryan.”

Maybe he knew what was coming. 

But none of that matters because his spirit will still live on. His encouragement and his teachings and his work live on, and we’ll spread it around in his name. Though we no longer have the benefit of his conscious wisdom, we do have all of it that he set down to paper and left behind. And for that, Aaron’s legacy will live on forever.