Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Let Us Assume..."

"Naturally, naturally," agreed Magnus Ridolph. "However, let us view the matter from a different aspect. Let us momentarily forget that we are friends, neighbors, almost business associates, each acting only through motives of the highest integrity. Let us assume that we are strangers, unmoral, predatory."

Blantham blew out his cheeks, eyed Magnus Ridolph doubtfully. "Far-fetched, of course. But go on."

(Jack Vance, The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Dream Is Always The Same

Whenever we get a thunderstorm, the dream returns. First, the realilty of what happened to me on the actual day.

The noise. The smoke. The confusion. The need to get away. Every time.

I left the building. On the street, I could see paper. Paper was floating down. Burned paper. Presentations. Printing instructions. Manuals. Trade tickets. Paper from the towers.

I looked up at the towers. I could see them clearly, both surrounded by a lot of smoke.

Then I saw a dot fall from the North Tower. And another. Another. I realized what they were. People. People who had gotten to the point of having two choices. A choice of death by fire or death by jumping. I lost count after fifteen.

The streets were full of people, going back and forth, no single direction. Cars were abandoned in the streets. I remember being amused (!) at the sight of an abandoned UPS truck with it's back door open. Nobody was going to be looting anything today.

I went towards a subway station, the #2 and 3 line on Wall Street. It was a mob scene, no way I was going to get in that subway.

Looking at the towers, looking at the smoke, looking at the people falling, I proceeded on automatic pilot to the next nearest subway stop. I am, to this day, not even certain where I was. But I went down, to the 1 & 9 line. I swiped my Metro card (it worked!), and went to the platform. A half-empty train came shortly thereafter, going uptown.

We pulled into the stop under the World Trade Center. It was empty. It was silent. The doors opened. Then we heard the noise, the noise of a mighty wind (no movie jokes, please), the sound of a dozen jet engines, a hundred thundering locomotives. We thought there was another attack. People started screaming, "Go! Go!" and the doors closed and we pulled out of the station.

Then the end. Things loop back in time and the dream goes from what happened that day to the real nightmare of what happened to others.

Somehow I am in the lobby of the South Tower. There is nobody around. There is no noise except for the occasional "thud". I have to get out. I know what has happened, I know what will happen next. I have to get out.

Then the noise comes.
 As with what really happened, the noise of a wind. The building crashes down around me, choking me in dust and debris.

I am trapped, unable to move, waist-deep in the debris, waiting for more to fall.

I wake up, sweating and shaking from a dream, from nightmare where I was trapped up to my waist in debris, as the world exploded around me.

The dream is always the same.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Astounding Days

Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Autobiography; Sir Arthur C. Clarke (Bantam-Spectra, March 1990)

Take this book, along with Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! and Ascent to Orbit (which I am currently reading), and you're probably as close as we're going to get for an autobiography from Clarke. Try to seek this book out, as it is a lot of fun. Clarke takes us on a tour of the stories that affected him the most in Astounding (the magazine of science fiction during the "Golden Age"). On the way we not only learn about life in England before and during WWII, but about the origins of the British Interplanetary Society, British fandom and even Meccano:
In an article by Lord Taylor published in the Christmas 1978 edition of the British Medical Journal, the author describes a medical complaint known as the "Presenile Meccano Syndrome." The "victims" of this obsession apparently fall into the affluent middle-age category, people who are able to buy huge Meccano outfits and indulge themselves after possibly many years of not being able to afford to do this. In two out of three cases, the gentlemen concerned are content to gaze at their outfits through the cellophane wrappings, while the third, who has probably never constructed a Meccano model in his life, delights in dismantling the models of others and very carefully replacing the parts in the appropriate compartments of the carton. Well, I have some good news for the eminent medic. There's a complete cure for the Meccano Syndrome: it's called a Personal Computer...Unfortunately, the cure is much deadlier than the disease.
It's a very chatty tour and one full of fun and amusement. I got much more out of this brief volume than from all of Neil McAleer's authorized biography. And, as with Clarke's other books, I can feel my wallet groaning as scores of stories, articles and books get enthusiastically mentioned by Clarke.

There's also a beautiful cover by Chris Consani depicting Clarke in a "period" costume surrounded by the denizens of a typical pulp SF magazine cover in a pulp SF magazine city. Great stuff! (The artwork above is not the cover of the book...I can't find it online...but it has the same "feel".)

My complaints? Well, it's a pretty short book. I would have loved to had something a bit longer (maybe not as long as Asimov's autobiographical work!), covering some of the other magazines that influenced Clarke (for example, Amazing Stories).

My biggest complaint? I need to find another copy of the book, maybe the Gollancz edition. I bought this book when it first came out, and read it then. It has been kept on a bookshelf, out of the sun, no smokers allowed, etc. The paper is in horrible condition! Yellowed, crinkly, feels like it is of the same pulp as, well, the magazines Clarke writes about. Obviously not "acid-free"! I've got books published in the 1940's that are in better shape than this one!