Another in a year of lost lights: Jim Rigney, who wrote under the name Robert Jordan, died on Sunday.
He was, by all accounts, a fine human being as well as an accomplished writer: kind, funny, generous, and even in his declining health larger-than-life. The late John M. Ford thought the world of him and his work, and drew the map at the front of the Wheel of Time books; now they are both gone into the Mystery, alas, and the world is poorer.
He was also one of those names who polarized fandom, with his work often seeming to generate praise and vitriol in equal measure, and the reflexive slagging of his books got to be unfortunately popular in a lot of circles. And certainly it's possible to go on at length about his flaws and excesses (I myself drifted away from the series a few volumes back, when the event-to-page-count ratio seemed to be steadily decreasing), but I think, as Elizabeth Bear once said of another popular author, that it doesn't matter what he did wrong in light of how many things he did right. If nothing else, the criticism of his work as generic and derivative was undeserved; he did an awful lot to drag epic fantasy out of the Tolkienian mold, engineering a world that was neither medieval nor strictly western European in its inspiration, rich and evocative and wonderfully strange. (And on top of all that, he also wrote Conan just about as well as anyone since Howard himself.)
He inspired me to write one pretty good song, which I think was the first I put a barre chord in on purpose, and made an enormous impression on the way I think about epic fantasy and its possibilities. Despite not having kept up with the books themselves, I've continued to admire their imagination and ambition (and I've never stopped wanting a heron mark sword, either). I'm very sad to learn that he didn't get to see his grand tale through to the end (though there are rumors that he disclosed the secrets of the final volume to his wife and a few close friends, so it's just possible the rest of us will, after all), but I hope he knew how deeply his creation touched the people who loved it, and how much joy it gave his readers to have his world take up space in our heads.
Some remembrances of note (among many others) here, here, here, and here.