RIP Tom Clancy: How we mourn our favorite authors

Tom ClancyYou probably heard yesterday that Tom Clancy, whose name is attached to dozens of thriller novels and action-espionage/tactical-shooter video games, has passed away. I’m With Geek has a nice detailed article about his life and accomplishments.

Fans have taken to social media to express their appreciation and sorrow, as has Ubisoft, which publishes Tom Clancy games like the upcoming The Division, due in 2014. But I wonder: What’s the best way to honor our heroes, whose deaths can leave such a profound absence in our lives?

I keep thinking. What will the day be like when my heroes and those of my generation pass away — when I learn that Ursula Le Guin, Shigeru Miyamoto, or Joss Whedon can never offer the world, and me, new and wonderful stories?

I’m young enough that I haven’t lost too many great idols, but the days will come.

Is the best way to honor these creators to purchase their work postmortem? Is it tacky to buy their products, inadvertently driving sales and equating their importance as a human being with a material legacy?

Fans can use this time to reflect on the impact these artists had on their lives — emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. But is purchasing a book from an author we never knew, who never became a part of our lives, as shallow a gesture as leaving flowers on a stranger’s grave? Or is it a sign of respect for what he has given?