I got to know Charles Sheffield when I was living in the Washington, DC area, and he and Roger MacBride Allen and I used to get together for lunch. During that time Roger dedicated a book to Charles, calling him "e;the sanest man in the business."e; Either this is wrong or else the business is even stranger than I thought. Charles may seem normal-a British space scientist with American daughters, who knows a great deal of poetry by heart and writes surrealist hard sf novels-but behind that ordinary seeming exterior lurks a truly unusual man. Actually I do not know exactly how unusual Charles is because he is British and it's hard to tell. He has never told me anything about his past and from that I deduce that he had a typical British education, public school and Cambridge perhaps. This education was designed to stiffen the upper lip sufficiently to run the empire without undue sentimentality, and it works quite well, although afterwards the products of the system, like Spock, have to reconcile their human and Vulcan sides. It was characteristic of Charles's generous thoughtfulness and also his unwillingness to intrude that when Lisa and I had our first child he saw our beginner innocence, and went out and got us some diapers and threw them in our door, and indeed we had forgotten we would need these and were very grateful, but we had to shout our thanks at Charles's back as he receded down the street. Thanks again, Charles!
Now Charles writes hard SF, which as you know is science fiction played with the net up and with a handy portable device that will shrink any balls actually hit at the net so that they will pass through without impediment. This of course makes for a great game, in which anything is possible but everything seems real. Charles is one of the best currently working this game, extending its limits and testing the possibilities. Once he entered a utopian novel contest by submitting a dystopia, and though the book did not win the utopia contest it did win an unrelated award for literary excellence. As a result the prize changed from half a million dollars to a trip to Kansas, but I am sure Charles enjoyed the trip to Kansas very much.
Since then he has made other trips to collect other awards, given for other stories that have tested boundaries and charted new ground. Once in conversation he observed to me that one could quantize SF aesthetics by creating a two-axis grid in which literary quality was charted along the x axis, while scientific understanding and originality were plotted along the y axis. We both sat stunned as we contemplated the awesome power of this graphing, its clarity such that neither one of us dared to suggest the location on the grid of even a single fellow sf writer, but only hoped that we could both hanglide out there into the northeast quadrant as far as we could go, for a few more passes.
You will enjoy him as toastmaster.