The vision of a better future worth fighting for
Never Enough Time
by Thomas Andrew Olson
/Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
My first exposure to Neil, as was probably true for many people, was The Probability Broach . I think I got the first edition hot off the press, around 1980. That copy became wrinkled and dog-eared, surviving many moves to multiple states over the decades. But then sometime in the late “aughts” I loaned it out to someone, whereupon it disappeared. I have a reprint, in pretty pristine condition, but it’s not the same. I have most of his other works on my shelf as well, and I never miss an opportunity to extoll those works to potential future fans. (But I’ll never loan them out again.)
I was fortunate enough to have the privilege to have met Neil in person, not once, but on five separate occasions.
The first was in 1996. I’d been living in Denver for about a year, happened upon his email address in a forum someplace, and reached out. He graciously invited me to his home the following week. And what an incredible visit that was. I had just become friends with one of my favorite sci-fi authors of all time.
The next time was in 1999. I was then in the moving process from Denver to NYC. I had a car in storage there. My future bride, Bev, and I picked up the vehicle, took it to central OR for some family time, then stopped back in Fort Collins, on the way back, for a short visit. Neil and Kathy met Bev and I at one of their favorite pubs, were we were regaled with beer and amazing conversation.
About 18 months later, I was still finishing up the last bits of the east coast move. I’d rented a truck and was stopping in Denver again to put my car on a trailer, bound for eastern PA. Once again Neil and Kathy met me at a pub in Ft. Collins, for another interesting and thought-filled night.
In 2002, I convinced Neil to attend the Mars Society conference, and speak on the prospects for liberty and space settlement. I got to introduce him. His talk was received very well, and he enjoyed the rest of the event. He had brought his daughter one day. I had brought my own, as it happened. They were about the same age. (I don’t know whether my own daughter. Erica, recalls that meeting, as she had her nose in a book most of the time.)
But all those times, Neil was still, outwardly, at least, in full possession of his health, and that booming baritone voice, with all his very pithy and to the point commentary. It was from him I learned the word “crepuscular”. “Excrescence” was also a favorite. He, of course, applied these terms to politicians. He also graciously allowed me to make the occasional contribution to TLE, over the years. I think my pieces about Walt Anderson and the Columbia disaster got some traction. I wish I could have done a lot more.
But… sooner or later, diabetes mellitus will have its way.
The last time I saw Neil was in 2011. We met at a local IHOP in Fort Collins. I had just completed a SEDS conference at UC Boulder, where I was a judge for their student space-business pitch competition. At this stage of my own life, I didn’t get back to CO much, so I made it a point to check in on him.
I couldn’t believe the changes. He was thin and getting frail looking. He was moving a lot harder on his feet. His voice lost that baritone sound, and had become “reedy” for lack of a better word. He had lost some teeth. He was as sharp witted as ever, however. That was the one thing that amazed the hell out of me—although his body betrayed him, his mind stayed sharp and engaged right up to his last days.
But we kept the email threads going. Last we seriously engaged was about a year ago, when all the violent BLM destruction was going on, and I mentioned that we needed to get busy on more privatization of security services in lieu of police. I like to think that was the inspiration for his “Griswold’s… brrrrr!” article.
I may have inspired in another way as well. I was given to understand that one of his characters in “Ares” was loosely based on me—if true, I will wear that mantle proudly.
I’m currently engaged in two early staged companies and a non-profit organization. And I’d just moved to my 9th state (FL). So there was always too much on the plate, it seemed, to make time for another visit—to my eternal regret. There is never enough time for those you love or those who inspire you. But we need to make that time, no matter what, especially in this rather uncertain era. And you’re never too old to learn that lesson.
When I first got the news, a couple weeks back, of the loss of El Neil, I wept like a child. Hard.
For about 5 minutes. Then I rolled up my sleeves and got back to work, doing what I can do to keep up the fight for liberty, my keyboard and mouse my only tools, as it was for Neil. We do the best we can, with the tools we have.
RIP, Neil. You are horrendously missed.
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