Kilauea, photo courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

Lava fall from Kilauea

As all you trained navigators out there know, that latitude and longitude means that my wife, Betty Anne, and I are on a ship, dodging around the islands of Hawai’i. Why? you ask. Cruising around the Pacific beats staying in Illinois in January, for one excellent reason. Because this is a beautiful part of the world, for another. And because there are things to be seen here, even from shipboard, which are simply unique. We saw one of them last night — an erupting volcano — and not for the first time.


Our first occasion for wandering around these islands on a giant cruise ship came more than a dozen years ago. A total solar eclipse was about to occur. Hawai’i would be one of the best places to see it. Omni magazine sent me to cover the event, which we did from the deck of a former transatlantic liner, the Independence, commanded by Captain Richard Haugh. He did a wonderful job for us, too. On eclipse morning, that whole part of the Pacific was overcast with thick clouds, with few and tiny breaks. Captain Haugh was getting minute-by-minute weather reports, though, and he managed to find one opening just in time for a perfect four-minute observation of the whole eclipse (but that’s another story).

People on shore on the Big Island saw nothing but the bottoms of the clouds.

Then, that night, Captain Haugh outdid himself. We were sailing around the southern tip of the Big Island toward the port of Hilo and he advised that we all be on deck around ten that night. We obeyed. What we saw, all along the gentle slope of the mountain to the sea, was a scattering of what looked like campfires — like, I thought, King Kamehameha’s army poised to invade the other islands — with a vast conflagration just at the water’s edge.

But that wasn’t the actual case. What we were seeing was in fact lava streams oozing down from the vent of Kilauea. As the lava streams flow, the lava on the outside hardens and forms a pipe through which the molten rock continues to flow. But the shells of the pipes are not very sturdy. Occasionally they crack open at random points revealing the hellfire within. These were Kamehameha’s “campfires.” And when the stream hits the sea, it makes an explosion of violent instant steam, firing glowing fragments of lava in all directions … and that’s what we saw again last night.

It is a wonderful — I’ll say it again, a wonderful — sight. If you ever get the chance, I urge you to take it in. You may not need to hurry, either. That flow has been going continuously for fourteen years now and shows no sign of stopping.

The Boy Who Would Live ForeverWhat may one day stop it once and for all would be for the added weight of that rock to cause the southern end of the Big Island to split off and plunge to the bottom of the sea, creating a huge tsunami. (Readers of the last book in my Gateway series, The Boy Who Would Live Forever, will remember that this is a plot element in the story. Waste not, want not. That’s what I always say.)

By the way, we’ve kept in touch with Richard Haugh, though he has moved on to more serious jobs than captaining a cruise ship. Last time his travels took him to the Chicago area, he gave us a call. “Hey, this is Captain Dick!” he cried.

But it was our daughter Cathy who answered the phone. When she heard that she hung up on him. She thought it was an obscene call.


  1. Caitiecat says:

    Hello there – I want to say up front, you do not need to answer this. It’s just a standard “Wow, I like your stuff” comment, and I don’t need a response, honestly. I just wanted to make sure I told you that I’ve always enjoyed your work, since the day Judith Merrill put a copy of Gateway in my hand lo these many years ago. I’m sorry to hear you’re having such difficulty with your body; I’m only just beginning to experience the slow fade of my own, here at 42.

    Hope you enjoy your cruise!


  2. jasonmitchell says:

    I love Hawaii, and I love cruising (I have not yet done a Hawaiian cruise) – I hope you have an enjoyable trip.

    I have been a reader of your work for over 20 tears – and look forward to reading ‘The Last Theorem’ –

    Cheers from chilly Chicago

  3. Alli says:

    While I’ve enjoyed your writing, love to cruise and think the idea of a Pohl blog is great, tis not why I write.

    Did she really hang up on him?? Those last 2 paragraphs are hilarious; I’m still chuckling.

  4. Flip Doubt says:

    The Heechee saga is in my opinion the best science fiction story of all time. What a story.
    I think it is a great story period and would recommend it to anyone.
    I have read all your books and all your collaborations.You have a great amount of knowledge and history of the whole Science Fiction and writing trade that will never be duplicated. The world is lucky to have you.
    You were the first taste of science fiction I had and the very best.
    Sounding like a brown noser but that cannot be helped.
    I am your biggest fan.
    I wish you well.

    I am also hoping that if any of your books were to made into a movie that is the Heechee Saga.
    I have never written to anyone I admire and am not very comfortable with the feeling.
    mike c.