At the time, I was selling back issue comic books for a living and was at a show in Asheville, North Carolina. Somehow the promoter had gotten a few science-fiction authors together to appear at the event. During this period I was reading almost no science-fiction and I must admit I didn't really know who any of these authors were, and I was woefully ignorant of their collective works.
It also happened that due to serendipity, the time in our nation's history, and the sad location of Asheville (the deep South), there was another convention going on in the same building: a gathering of Southern Baptist religious fanatics. As an atheist I did my utmost to ignore these cattle when I'd wander into the lobby or another part of the hotel. Frankly, I'd shudder in fear and disgust at them, but after years of experience I'd learned to zone them out as best I could.
Sitting at my table, waiting for customers, one of the science fiction authors wandered up. The first thing that I noticed was that he was wearing a large button declaring--in so many words--that he was an atheist. I was impressed--because it frankly took balls to wear something like that around an army of religious fanatics. I asked him if he was catching any flack from the other (more heavily attended) convention in the building.
"They're all too stupid to notice," he told me. He introduced himself and we talked a little about the history of comics. He'd been writing a long time and had known many of the science fiction writers who had also worked in the comics industry on occasion. Our conversation was brief, but pleasant, and he left to attend to other responsibilities at the show.
ICEWORLD when I was about 19 years old and had been stunned by the mixture of fancy and hard science. But for one reason or another I hadn't read any of his other novels. I'd been in the company of science fiction great Hal Clement and hadn't realized exactly who he was or the extent of his much deserved reputation as one of science-fiction's best writers.
I never did get a chance to meet Hal Clement again. I wish I had. As for his courage to walk among the religious hateful that day in Asheville, I later discovered that he'd been a bomber pilot and had flown 35 missions over Nazi-controlled Europe during the time when the Luftwaffe was still a most dangerous opponent. Nerves of steel and the intellect to back it up.
|My copy of MISSION OF GRAVITY, perhaps Clement's best known novel.|