If it cant be told in a story, whats the point? I always say.
Hey, Dad, I asked, many years ago. Whats with all of the science fiction books? They were stacked from floor to ceiling in the most odd of places, on shelves on the landing at the top of the stairs. But neatly, as if there were rhyme and reason to it. Hundreds of paperbacks. All of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction pulps. All of them. From the first volume in 1949. Other oddities. Strange paperback books with not-so-much damsels in more-than-just distress perched on the covers. Or robots. Or spaceships. Or monsters! Some were treasures that had front covers at both ends, upside-down to each other. The text went in to the middle, stopped, finished.
Fascinating, as the great man frequently said.
I dont recall exactly: perhaps the first time I asked Pop shrugged or waved his hand at the filled shelves. What sort of answer does such a question invoke? Whats with all the books? Thats what. Sometimes we expect answers but dont get the answer we expect.
We saw the great old flick, The Tenth Victim, in the theater all gun violence and snappy soundtrack music, self-effacing Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Un-dress, at a time when we only went to the movies when it was a special occasion. You know, Mary Poppins; The Sound of Music. Oh, and Fantastic Voyage.
So why this slightly silly, slightly foreign almost-dystopia film about The Big Hunt? A chum wrote it. Oh, my childhood-self thought. A friend wrote it.
That friend was Robert Sheckley.
Much later, I first read The Killer Angels. Good book, Pop said, glancing at the title. Good old Michael Shaara. He and I used to hang out when we were about your age. He wrote science fiction back then, of course. Of course. I was a sapient enough being at this point to ask him what he was talking about.
So Pop regaled me with the story about the writing group he was in, once, long ago. Hanging out in a place called The Corner Bar in New Brunswick, New Jersey, they would meet and take up a booth or two, share in the tipping back of a pitcher (if they were old enough) or just sitting and listening to each others ideas. Sheckley and Shaara and a few others, were quiet, with notebooks and pencils out, scribbling, scribbling. Everyone asked questions: what if the South had won the Civil War? What plausible way could that have happened? What if aliens invaded Earth where would it take place? Not New Jersey apologies to Messrs. Wells and Welles so then where? And how would they get here? Too far to fly, too far to hitch a ride. And they were just a hop and a skip from that new Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton could they jump in a car and go over and bend Einstein and Von Neumanns ears? Can you control overpopulation in the future without causing a revolution? With drugs? Really? Do we know anyone in medical school who could explain how the human brain works?
Other science fiction aficionado-friends of Pops would sometimes be there childhood friend and artist Gaylord Welker; college pal (med student!) and scribbler Alan Nourse. No, it wasnt going to have the mass-appeal caliber of the Southern California school with Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison and George Clayton Johnson, Charles Beaumont and William F. Nolan, but in my eyes it was still quite something. And, so the story goes, another friend would commute over from the City, where he was already hard at work, writing scripts for radio and that new technology, television. I dont know how Rod Serling (who himself ended up one of the SoCal Sorcerers) found them. And they actually did jump in cars to find the truth there was this sidebar story that Pop told about he and Gay Welker taking a road-trip over to (an aptly named place when youre looking for a guru) Mountainside, New Jersey, to see the then-editor of Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell. Just invaded his house, sat, asked questions, probably got lectured on whatever was on the great mans mind. Maybe it was Campbell who turned Serling on to the Young Turks of New Brunswick. Or perhaps it was the other way round.
Was any of this true? You bet. All true? I dont know. Its a damned good yarn, and as we all know thats good enough.