Tuesday, 16 November 2010

It's the Pink Rays from Sirius, Man! Memories of Paul "Gamma" Gamble...

Paul Gamble – Gamma – the ultimate Frank Zappa fan, science fiction bookseller and film fan and champion has passed away. I don’t know of the technical details of his death but, from news received via mutual friends, it was not entirely unexpected in a technical sort of way; Gamma had been a monumental drinker and partaker of life’s pleasures for a very, very long time and that lifestyle invariably takes its toil. Sixty-two years is still far too young though, I never expected Gamma to live to less than two hundred and sixty-two or somewhere thereabouts (maybe the odd millennia on top).

Gamma and I started working together in 1985 although we’d know each for a few years prior to that; via chatting in Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, the London SF and comics bookshop that pre-dated Forbidden Planet; talking and drinking at conventions and other gatherings; and minor book-booking visits to Titan Distributors in Mile End. For a goodly few years we attended numerous SF and fantasy conventions together, got pissed together after work discussing books and authors and the weird and wacky nature of the world, turned up at the Wellington on the first Thursday of the month when London’s SF fandom held court. We’d go drinking together in Kentish Town where Gamma moved to in the 80s with a motley crew of friends and acquaintances (Hunter Tremayne, Elaine, Richard Lewis and Graeme Roberts, God only knows how many others). Gamma was instrumental in getting the Philip K Dick Metz Speech performance that took place at Mexicon IV which I chaired, he spent a lot of time in the late 80s getting Barry Bayley, another friend who is no longer with us, republished by Pan (I believe), He championed Interzone, the British SF magazine which took on New Worlds mantle for being cutting edge and breaking new British writers in the field, frequently haranguing the accounts staff at Titan with loud outbursts of “These guys NEED to be paid, it’s an important magazine man!”

That’s all the easy stuff to write; we all have our times and dates and venues for meeting and being with Gamma and I could easily add dozens more instances and names – drinking in the Troy Club with John Brosnan, yet another departed friend (God, I hate that term), frequently; retiring to the same venue after Forbidden Planet signings with a hoard of SF writers and artists and fans; sitting in bars in hotels until 3 or 4am getting hammered with the same crew of people (Dave Holmes, Iain Banks, Penny, Roger, Richard, Graeme, Andy, Greg Ketter and Bryan Barrett if they were visiting from the States, numerous others) whilst Rob Holdstock (no, can’t say it again, I really can’t) or Dave Garnett or Rog Peyton or Chris Evans or someone else would wander by, join in the laughter and buy another round. The Dave t-shirt planning sessions were particularly surreal, the lists of lettered and numbered Daves, the room party at Mexicon III would stand out in my memory except for the huge amount of whiskey I drank at it (I ended up recovering in bed at home for three days after that convention and still can’t drink Whiskey because of it!).

It’s easy to glorify the past, but these were magical times in my life and I met a lot of people that I admire and respect and love to this day – Banks obviously, Dick Jude, Dave Baldock, Colin Greenland, Roz Kaveney, Jim Burns. Stan Robinson, dozens of others to add to the names dotted throughout the above – and I wish I had seen them all more in the last fifteen years or so just like I wish I had seen Gamma in that time, but life gets complicated at times. I’ve been seeing Dave Tamlyn quite frequently recently, met up with Dick and Iain a short while ago and it just sort of seemed obvious that Gamma and I would meet up at some point soon as well; no need to push it, the universe provides the time and place and reason. I feel like Elric at the moment, wanting to damn the Gods of Law and Chaos and take my revenge on them, but maybe it’s better this way. I get to remember Gamma as the elemental force he was; filling the world with Zappa and Dick-isms, getting a stiff upper lip in a convention hotel bar or the Troy Club, verbally pummelling some editor into submission that Barry Bayley or Mike Harrison or (insert name of author here) should ALWAYS be in print, joining in with his son Leon, still a teen in my mind, as they belittle my beloved football team as we sit in a beer garden in Kentish Town and that manic laugh and smile that would erupt and infect everyone around him.

I hope someone, preferably the biggest, most noticeable name in the SF field we can find, writes of Gamma’s life for Locus. There are a lot more authors out there than people realise who owe him a sizable chunk of their career for always keeping them being talked about or seen in print in import editions and damn where the rights may have been. There are a lot of fans who encountered books and magazines they may never have seen but for Gamma’s existence. There are a lot of us who would have far fewer happy memories of this world but for his presence in our lives.


  1. Thanks for this, Dave -(the one and true and only Dave, I guess) - and the way you've summed up a sometimes miserable, sometimes joyful, always marvellous life in a few sentences.

  2. I can't think of anyone who could do it better than you have, Dave.

  3. I met Gamma when we played the 2008 Zappanale festival in Germany. (I think I first saw him at the 2005 show too) He never said a word to me that I could understand but instead, every time he saw me, he pointed at my Captain Beefheart t-shirt and said "aaaaaaaaaaaahhh". In my girlfriend's notebook, he wrote "Don't go to Dobbstown" along with a bunch of other weird runes and scribbles. I always wondered what that warning meant but I'll never forget Gamma. RIP brother. Rick Olson, Bogus Pomp

  4. I am very sorry to hear that Gamma has passed away -especially it it was now some time ago. I knew Gamma when I worked at Forbidden Planet in London between 1988 and 1990. He was one hell of a character and one of a kind. We were at the 1990 Hague Convention and had a very entertaining journey their by bus -a good session was had on the ferry! I have a photo of him with Ray Bradbury and myself taken at Ray's 70th birthday shindig in London around the same time as the Hague trip -it may have been the day before we actually embarked to them there parts. Best wishes to anyone at FP or titan or elsewhere who remembers me!