Tuesday, February 19, 2013

By Accident! By Jove!

A few decades ago I met a great author and didn't even know who he was.

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.

It was only a few months later that I realized that I did know of the man to whom I'd spoken so briefly that day. I'd read 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.


Edward Forrest Frank said...

Hal Clement!! By Jove indeed. I have always been captivated by the strange worlds he designed in his novels. Mission of Gravity is a classic. Robert L.Forward's Dragon's Egg and Rocheworld are clear successors that show the influence of Clement. This is hardly a unique observation, but still a valid one. My personal coolest meet was Roger Zelazny.

James Robert Smith said...

I've met some of the greats of science fiction, but to me Clement ranks at the top for hard sf. He was a scientist and you could tell that he knew what he was writing about in those great novels.

I think now he's credited with creating the concept of the "symbiote" in his novel THE NEEDLE. Much copied in the years since.

MarkGelbart said...

I think you know I'm an agnostic and I don't believe any of that stupid shit in the bible.

However, most Southern Baptists are very nice people. Because my wife is disabled, I had to take her to church for over 6 years. Usually, while she was in Sunday school, I went for a nice nature walk behind the church, but sometimes I sat in the church and listened to the sermons with her.

The people attending the sermons consist of old people and also young couples with small children. Everyone was very nice.

You can call them brainwashed but I never met any that I would consider hateful.

James Robert Smith said...

Yes, I know nice religious people. My wife is a mildly religious Presbyterian. There are always nice folk among the religious. But the nature of monotheism is to create intolerance due to the fact that the god in question is a jealous one. The only one. It will tolerate no interference--not from other religions and certainly not from unbelievers. By its very construction it is ultimately a very sad institution.

But, yes, many are decent folk. They'd be decent folk without the religion...possibly even better.

I used to go to church with my wife from time to time, but I'd often fall asleep, and when I wasn't sleeping I would be horrified by the robotic actions of the crowd. Finally, it all made me so uncomfortable I stopped going with her the two or three times a year she wanted me to tag along.

Also, the people in the same convention center that day were not a glowing example of brotherly love.