I think the last time I saw Michael Levy was at Worldcon in 2014 — on one of dozens of walks along the centre of the Excel between the hotel and the programming. He was in an electric wheelchair, which threw me a little, but I’d gathered he’d not been well.
We picked up the conversation that we’d had over the years, on either side of the Atlantic, from emails, from social media, and he seemed much more interested in how I was getting on. I suspect we ran into each other again, in more or less the same place, always between events.
I suspect the last time I had contact was an email, gently chivvying me for my tardiness, my lateness in some editorial duties. It is a sign of his gentleness that I applied my own guilt rather than he made me feel guilty — I fgind myself wanting to live up to his standards. He was going into hospital, for an operation, he would be out in a few days, then there seemed to be a delay in his release, and the next I heard he was in a hospice.
I can’t now remember if he was at the Liverpool conference in 2001 — but thinking about it I must have already met him at the SFRA conference in Schenectady in May 2001.
I was well out of my comfort zone and travelling abroad for the first time alone — my first time in America. Pretty well everyone was welcoming — I met or remet the many of the editors of Science Fiction Studies, for example — but I know that Mike put me at my ease. This was as well, because I was co-organising the SFRA conference the following year with Farah Mendlesohn at New Lanark Mills.
Do what you want, he said, you have a free hand.
Well, if I’m being honest, it wasn’t as free as that implied. It wasn’t quite “Tiggers like everything in the world except hunney and haycorns and thistles”, but it turned out there were some SFRA rituals that needed observing.
Mike was unruffled, endlessly patient, and guided us through the minefield. We pulled the conference off.
What was clear from this and later encounters is that he had a good word for everyone, and I suspect everyone had a good word for him. If, say, I’d had a bumpy experience with someone, he would listen, be sympathetic, offer counsel, smooth things over. And I tell you, the few people he was less than impressed with… you’d be hardpressed not to agree.
I’d also met Javier Martinez at the 2001 SFRA, and somewhere along the line he stepped in to rescue Extrapolation, and roped in Mike, Sherryl Vint and myself to help out.
Well, two out of three good choices ain’t bad.
And then work and family got in the way for Javier and Mike stepped in to be Managing Editor. We joined up with Liverpool University Press and found a firmer foundation to stand up. Other great academics joined us after Sherryl moved on, filling her shoes, and always there’s been a sense of who will fit in, who can we work with, who will improve the journal?
As someone who is on both sides of the editorial process, I know how bruising submitting an article can be — for example, when there is a needlessly brutal reader’s report. Mike was skilled at dealing with these, at responding to potential writers. On the very rare occasions that we had to deal with a prickly author, he got us through it. I think I was only edited by him once — a piece for The Lion and the Unicorn, a venture outside my comfort zone, but he got me through the process. I’ve lost track of details, but there would have been changes needed, there would have been editorial queries, but Mike left no scars.
Mike was a friend, a confidante, a colleague, a mentor, a scholar, a painstaking and painless editor and — this should not be a surprise but it is still striking — I see that the responses on Facebook to the news that he was dying reveals that he was this and more to lots of other people I already respect as well as people I must get to work with.
I hope he knew that — although in truth I wonder if that would have embarrassed him. I will miss the laughter and his wisdom and the sense of mattering.
And now I’d better get on with copyediting a submission.