Tuesday, March 4, 2014

In Memoriam: Aaron Allston

Game and novel author Aaron Allston passed away Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, at the age of 53. I knew Aaron from our involvement in the adventure games hobby and the Star Wars fiction franchise, though our acquaintance wasn’t as deep as I would have liked. He was a quiet yet significant contributor to numerous games throughout his life; he also published novels in his own, original settings in addition to his involvement in the Star Wars and Terminator licenses.

Fly casual, Aaron.
In the few days since Aaron’s passing many friends and colleagues who knew him better have offered their fond memories and condolences, including game industry luminary Allen Varney (who broke the news to much of gaming fandom and drafted the earliest obituary), the prolific Matt Forbeck, and Bruce Heard, who provided a comprehensive, impressive game and fiction bibliography of Aaron’s work. No doubt more will follow my meager contribution to the many internet missives remembering Aaron’s life and work.

Ironically our family was thinking fondly of Aaron the week he passed away as we endured a long car ride home from a wedding. My aunt had given our four year-old “Little Guy” a bag full of toys, including a Playskool Clone-Wars-era pull-back starfighter for young Obi-Wan; unfortunately the Obi-Wan figure with lightsaber was difficult to fit into the cockpit, so the Little Guy pulled out his Playskool Wicket the Ewok figure he’d brought along for the journey and fit him perfectly into the cockpit (except for the spear point). We immediately thought of Aaron with a smile, remembering how he incorporated the humorous image of Ewok “pilots” into his X-Wing: Wraith Squadron novels.

Aaron’s Star Wars novels were just hitting publication when West End Games folded, so I never had the privilege of working with him as a game or Journal editor, but we knew each other through occasional meetings at conventions and rare correspondence on Star Wars matters. My wife and I were fortunate enough to get to know him at several conventions we attended in North Carolina where, with fellow authors Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole – with whom I had worked at the Journal – he was part of the always entertaining “Tim, Mike, and Aaron Show.” Aaron was incredibly intelligent and witty, quietly listened to folks he met, and always had at least one, if not a flurry, of puns handy to break the ice among new acquaintances. In his self-effacing demeanor he sometimes referred to himself as the “pun-gent.”

In reflecting on Aaron’s life and his passing I arrive at several realizations, many relevant to anyone’s passing and some unique to Aaron’s. Two particularly stand out: be friendly and be playful. Aaron’s friendship – whether in a brief convention exchange or throughout a career – displayed a quiet intelligence and a positive outlook. He always had a kind or encouraging word for people, and I never recall hearing him disparage others...not an easy feat in a niche hobby where numerous, contentious small factions build themselves up by tearing others down. Aaron also reminds us to maintain a playful spirit; whether writing for games, infusing Star Wars novels with his agile wit, or simply cracking numerous, groan-inducing puns to share some laughs and set folks at ease. Aaron shared his playfulness with everyone.

At these times we often say we regret not getting to know people better during their time among us. Aaron’s passing reminds us to appreciate people in our lives, from our closest loved ones and friends to casual acquaintances and even those in the adventure gaming hobby whom we admire from afar. Take a moment to drop an e-mail to someone who’s made a positive difference in your life and thank them. Drop a +1 onto someone’s deserving Google+ post to show them their ideas and opinions matter. Reach out and engage someone in an informed, respectful discussion with the aim of forging a positive connection and a greater community.

I think fellow Star Wars novelist and Aaron’s friend Timothy Zahn put it best in his Facebook post regarding Aaron’s passing: “Aaron was a wonderful author, a devastating punster, an erudite teacher, and – most of all – a wonderful friend. His humor in the midst of his pain and medical difficulties was an inspiration to everyone around him.”