A Fannish Tribute to
Samuel Edward Konkin III
July 8, 1947 - February 23, 2004
by J. Neil SchulmanOn the properly Discordian 23rd of February, 2004, at age 56, libertarian/science-fiction fan/writer/activist/publisher, Samuel Edward Konkin III, passed away in his apartment in West Los Angeles, California, apparently of natural causes.
Sam's influence on libertarian science fiction was pervasive. In 1973 and 1974 Sam serialized my 25,000-word interview with Robert A. Heinlein across six issues of his semiprozine, New Libertarian Notes, combining publication with J.J. Pierce's Renaissance, which increased circulation of both publications by ten times. SEK3 published 101 weekly issues of New Libertarian Weekly from December 1975 through January 1978, and subsequently New Libertarian, which devoted a yearly issue to libertarian science fiction, and published significant contributions by such writers as Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, Brad Linaweaver, L. Neil Smith, Victor Koman, and me, all of whom were represented in a widely distributed Heinlein memorial issue in 1990, SEK3's largest circulation magazine issue, period.
Sam considered that fiction and drama -- in particular science fiction and fantasy -- were more important in changing society than nonfiction, and he made it a point to surround himself with talented novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters. He did not consider science fiction and fantasy peripheral to his work as a libertarian, but the centerpiece of it. His fannishness was not his hobby but was the core of his libertarian mission. SEK3 published, made editors of, and inspired the current generation of libertarian science fiction writers, who have won media and publishing credits, critical acclaim, renown, and sales equaling or exceeding that of our generation's libertarian nonfiction lights.
SEK3's writings on countereconomics were the deep background for my novel, Alongside Night (Crown, 1979), which I dedicated to him, and which went on to win endorsements from Milton Friedman, Thomas S. Szasz, Michael Medved, Anthony Burgess, Robert Anton Wilson ... and the Libertarian Futurist Society's Hall of Fame Prometheus Award.
He also inspired Victor Koman's Prometheus-award novel, Solomon's Knife (Franklin Watts, 1989). Three-time Prometheus winner Koman, says, "I am grateful to Sam for inspiring my novel, Solomon's Knife, but what I most will remember him for is his complete, total, and utter fannishness."
Double Prometheus Award winner, Brad Linaweaver, co-editor of the Prometheus-award SF anthology, Free Space (St. Martins, 1997), called Konkin the "spiritual cheerleader" of that book as well.
Other than a few long letters I'd written at age 16 for my high-school underground newspaper, Sam was my first publisher. He published my first short stories (which is why he's on the dedication page of my short story collection, Nasty, Brutish, and Short Stories) and my first articles in his magazine, New Libertarian Notes, and Sam made me one of his editors.
From 1974 until his death SEK3 made his living as a pre-press production specialist in magazine and book publishing, beginning as a typesetter and layout specialist, and eventually becoming an accomplished graphic artist and book designer, skills that served him well in his fan activities, including publishing Libertarian APA Daily FreFanzine at various SF conventions, including Worldcon, since 1996. He was the book designer and producer of over 60 hardcover and trade-paperback books, many of them for Pulpless.Com's science-fiction and fantasy line.
Born July 8, 1947 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, SEK3 earned a BS(Hon) from the University of Alberta, attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin for two years, then moved to New York City in his twenties to seek a doctorate in theoretical chemistry at New York University, achieving a Masters Degree there but refusing to turn in his doctoral thesis, after he had completed all work, because "I didn't want to spend the rest of my life working for the military-industrial complex." (SEK3's NYU thesis advisor, Mark Ratner, subsequently went on to win the 2001 Feynman Award.) SEK3 took a vast cut in security and lifetime pay when he chose to walk away from a doctorate that would have allowed him to teach, design weapons of mass destruction, and other lucrative enterprises. In his later years, unwilling to abandon his principle of living without State subsidies or permissions, he sometimes lived just above poverty level.
Michael Moslow, a roommate of his while Sam was at NYU, tells me Sam's post-graduate research solved a problem in theoretical chemistry that later resulted in several Nobel prizes. Since Sam never wrote up his dissertation, much less turn it in, we'll never know for sure, but he may also have walked away from what might have been a career leading to a Nobel Prize.
SEK3 was an unending fountain of out-of-the-box thinking, wherever he was. Brock d'Avignon, who worked with Sam in the early 1990's at an Orange County company selling satellite-TV broadcast services to presidential candidates, ascribes Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential election victory to SEK3. He writes, "Sam's action in proposals to presidential candidates with the satellite PhoneVoter Television Network starting in 1992, changed history from uplinking an obscure Arkansas governor with $50K to Senator McCain in 2000."
Already an active libertarian anarchist before getting involved in fandom, he is credited with coining the fan term "frefan" (libertarian SF fan), and is credited in libertarian circles as the father of "Agorism."
SEK3 was one of the founding members of the Libertarian Futurist Society, which gives the yearly Prometheus Awards usually at worldcons. He was an inveterate participant at science-fiction and fantasy conventions, often throwing room parties, was 1984 Fan Guest of Honor at Coppercon, and regularly attended meetings of the LASFS in Los Angeles and SNAFFU in Las Vegas. Though an atheist since 1970, SEK3 was a lifelong fan of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, attending many Mythopoeic Society functions, and serving on the Council of the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society for many years.
Since his birthday, July 8th, was the day after Heinlein's, Sam threw an open Heinlein-Konkin Birthday Party for libertarians and science-fiction fans just about every year.
I first met Sam in 1971 in New York City, at the first libertarian meeting I ever attended, the New York Libertarian Association, in libertarian attorney Gary Greenberg's living room. I'd already started a campus libertarian group at the branch of City University of New York I was attending. Sam, a believer in the "libertarian alliance" concept of stringing together libertarian groups, immediately found this naive 18-year-old worth talking to.
We found out almost immediately that we shared an interest in science fiction (particularly Robert A. Heinlein) and the works of C.S. Lewis, whose Narnian chronicles I'd read as a child. Sam was only the second other person in my life I'd met who had read Heinlein, and the first other person I'd met who'd read Lewis. It was Sam who told me that Lewis had written more than the Narnian children's books, introduced me to Lewis's nonfiction and adult fiction, and took me to my first meeting of the C.S. Lewis Society of New York, which we attended together regularly. Sam also took me to my first science-fiction convention, 1971's Lunacon, in New York City, to my first world science-fiction convention, Torcon, in Toronto, ON, in 1973, and to my first meeting of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS). We joined the just-formed Southern California C.S. Lewis Society together in 1975, and Sam and I each served on its governing council for a number of terms.
In New York, Sam took me to lectures where I met Murray Rothbard, introduced me to the writings of Ludwig von Mises, took me to my first libertarian conference at Hunter College in New York City, where I first met Robert LeFevre, and we audited recorded playings of the Brandens' Basic Principles of Objectivism lectures together, also at Hunter College.
And, Sam and I tooled around New York City, searching out "underground gourmet" restaurants, and always (on the first day when possible) catching the latest Woody Allen movie or the latest James Bond movie.
Sam was a speaker at both of the libertarian CounterCon conferences on countereconomics I organized in 1974 and 1975.
We left New York together to come out to the promised land, Southern California, where he lived the rest of his life, except for two years in Las Vegas. Our automobile journey west with two other libertarians (Bob "Kedar" Cohen and Andy Thornton), in July and August 1975, took us to the Rivercon science fiction convention in Louisville,KY, and to the home of science-fiction magazine publisher Richard E. Geis in Portland, before we arrived in Los Angeles on August 10, 1975, where we spent our first night sleeping on the apartment floor of Dana Rohrabacher, Sam's libertarian mentor, and now U.S. Congressman from Orange County, CA. Even today Congressman Rohrabacher still speaks fondly of Sam's genius and imagination.
Dana introduced us to independent filmmaker Chris Schaefer, who managed an apartment complex in Long Beach. This became the AnarchoVillage (named after Sam's recent six-floor walk-up apartment on East 11th Street in NYC which he'd dubbed the AnarchoSlum) and we lived two apartments away from each other until 1984. Many, many days were spent collating, folding, stapling, and mailing out magazines (many with articles of mine) with eating and drinking afterwards. When I was broke in those days, Sam was always happy to pick up the check and lay a "meal ob" on me, a concept we got from Eric Frank Russell's libertarian SF novel, The Great Explosion.
A few years later I returned the favor when I set Sam up in an apartment he dubbed the AnarchoVilla, on Overland Avenue in Culver City. That apartment was production central for my book publishing. Sam was the production backbone and book designer for every book that came out from Pulpless.Com, and a talented graphic artist for many of the covers.
He is survived by his 13-year-old son, Samuel Konkin IV, his mother Helen, and younger brother Alan. He was buried in a private service next to his father, Samuel Konkin II, in Edmonton, on March 5th. A memorial with over 100 of his many friends and admirers attending was held in Torrance, CA on March 28th.
Sam may only have had one biological brother. But he was my brother, also, in every other sense. I would not be who I am, what I am, or where I am if it were not for Sam. With rare exception, I would not have met my current friends, including a long list of prominent authors, starting with Victor Koman and Brad Linaweaver. If I had succeeded in becoming a writer, I would not have written any of the books I've written. I would be living an unrecognizable life in an alternate universe. I know lots of other writers who can make the same statement.
One of my last extended conversations with Sam was my using knowledge, logic, and vocabulary I learned from Sam to challenge his premise that there was no reason to consider the existence of God. At the end of that conversation, Sam was left without challenges and said that he thought I'd made a comprehensive case. If my case was correct, then Sam already knows it.
We'll resume that debate whenever Sam and I find ourselves on the same side of that Great Divide ... and wherever that might be, as before, I am confident there will be plenty of dark beer to lubricate the philosophy.
A Memorial was held for Samuel Edward Konkin III on March 28, 2004, at the Alpine Village in Torrance, California. I acted as Master of Ceremonies. Paying tribute to SEK3 were his brother Alan and many of SEK3's closest friends and admirers, including Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Victor Koman, Brad Linaweaver, J. Kent Hastings, Jeff Riggenbach, and many others.
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