A (Sort of) Gregarious Cat, Old Friends, Theater, and Science Fiction

Anna’s cat is growing more gregarious, you might say. She likes to lie on the desk, between the computer keyboard and anyone who might be trying to use it. We call her the Writer’s Block. She bites when you try to remove her head from the backspace key.

Recently our family had the pleasure of getting together with some friends we met in north Texas about nineteen years ago, during the formative years of Denton Community Church. Charlie and Cyndi have always been very dear to us, and we have spent many an hour at their log cabin in Little Elm for small group Bible studies. They moved to east Texas in 1997 and now live in Bandera, not too far from us. We visited their new home—another log cabin—and met their lovely daughters. The kids swam in the pool and exchanged books and book lists. The adults reminisced, caught up, and eventually broke out the banjo, fiddle, harmonica, dulcimer, and tin whistles. It was a truly blessed time, and we look forward to reproducing the guest list in September, with the addition of some other north Texas transplants.

During the latter half of July, the kids participated in a play, The Fairy Tale Courtroom, put on by the Seguin Art Center. It was a terrific production. We went to all three performances, first with Ann and Ben, then with Greg’s aunt, then with my mom.

For the two weeks leading up to the performance, the kids practiced, often from 8:45 to 3:00. It was a new experience for me, having them gone all day. Not surprisingly, I got a lot of writing done. But I wouldn’t want them gone all day as a general rule. I enjoy their company—and I think the dogs get bored with just me.

As part of my writing-for-magazines-and-actually-getting-paid program, I have been researching the science fiction genre, which (so I read) is one of the few remaining genres in which short stories remain viable. I began my research with some purchases from Hastings: a set of Star Wars blueprints showing the inner workings of energy weapons, the Millennium Falcon, droids, the Death Star, and Darth Vadar’s suit, and Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise. I was interested to discover that the refitted Enterprise’s main deflector shields are generated by means of a coil of diburnium-osmium alloy, placed within a reinforced titanium/transparent aluminum mount; the alloy is scanned at the subatomic level, then replicated and projected as energy at an adjustable point beyond the vessel’s outer hull. When I shared this with Greg, he commented that the book must have been written by some kind of supernerd. I told him I found the subject matter interesting, and he replied, “That’s because you are a nerd.” This is a compliment, of course; the word “nerd,” in a surprising bit of linguistic serendipity, has undergone a remarkable amelioration over the past couple of decades.

Then, working from a list of SF reference books obtained online, I placed some interlibrary loans. Nancy, our helpful librarian, seeing in what direction my research tended, informed me of another such book that was already at the library, and incidentally was on my list. This 511-page tome is Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, by Brian W. Aldiss—a rich, comprehensive treatment of the history of literary and cinematic science fiction, beginning with Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein and occasionally reaching back to medieval and even ancient tales of travels to the moon. I have not yet reached page 100 and have already gleaned much of interest.

Next to reach my grasping hands was The Science of Science-Fiction Writing, by James Gunn—another useful and enjoyable book. I was pleased to find, in the last chapter, the title and author of a science fiction story I read years ago and have remembered ever since as being really creepy and original (“Call Him Demon,” by one or both of the Kuttners, originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fall 1946).

Now I am working on Space Travel: A Writer’s Guide to the Science of Interplanetary and Interstellar Travel, by Ben Bova, with Anthony R. Lewis. Here I learned that Cyrano de Bergerac, in his story “The Other World,” was the first to hit upon the idea of using rockets to travel beyond the earth. This was in 1657.

I should backtrack a bit and say that my science fiction research really began with the unexpected find of a book in a Luling thrift store, Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Jack Dann. I was pleased to find that this volume contained a story I read years ago and have remembered fondly ever since. The story, by Horace L. Gold, is called “Trouble with Water,” and concerns a Jewish man who gets into difficulties when he inadvertently offends a leprechaun. I greatly enjoyed William Tenn’s “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi,” as well as the volume’s introduction by Isaac Asimov, entitled “Why Me?”

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