Years and years ago—I would say maybe about the 1970s—I happened to think of a mystery novel I would like to write. So whenever I got tired of working on the current piece I was writing for Horace L. Gold to print in Galaxy and needed a break I would write a chapter or so on the mystery, and when I had at least a rough draft maybe three-quarters done I packed it up and shipped it to my agent, Perry Knowlton, who not only ran the Curtis Brown agency but was the president of the Society of Authors’ Representatives and a person deemed to have the magic touch at sorting out great works from yuck.
I waited eagerly for The Word, and then it came. “I don’t see this as a better bet than your new serial for Gold,” said Perry. I had stopped writing on page 303. I never wrote page 304.
Then, some years later, when I was in a quite different place, I began to write compulsively, tirelessly on the tangled lives of some harried people. It was called The Lies We Live By, and I thought I was in touch with some important truths. So I sent it, too, off to Perry, and when it had been over a month since I sent it I called him.
“Oh, right, that,” he said. “I made a good start on it but then a lot of complicated things came up. I’ll try to get back to it as soon as I can.”
So that too went into my bottom desk drawer, and then funny things began to happen. Perry sold something of mine to two different publishers, and I had to calm them myself — and then one day his son Tim came into my office, looking more dejected than I had ever seen him.
“It’s Perry,” he said. “It’s Alzheimers, and it’s progressing fast. He’s going to have to retire.”
And so it happened. I never got back to either of them. I thought they were lost in the wastes of unwanted mss. in the agency’s unclaimed files, but just the other day both of them turned up.
Only what do I do now? I don’t want to read them over, because I’ve got too much on my plate already. (And, remember, I’m not 19 years old anymore. What Arthur Clarke did when he found himself lumbered with commitments for books he no longer knew how to write was get a few friends to write them for him. (Including me, for The Last.) I don’t like that idea, either.
Visiting the SFWA suite at MidAmeriCon seemed worth a try, so we tried it. Unfortunately giving it a try meant quite a lot of walking, which meant a lot of competition for body space as the eager mobs of fans, famished for PARTYPARTYPARTY! wandered the halls, now a crawling mass of fan flesh. It was prime room-party time.
And, I discovered, I was getting tired. The corridor we were walking in had a little bay that looked down into the lobby, far below. It had chairs that were just being vacated by a few fans, their sore feet healed, charging on to the next room party. I took action. I didn’t say anything about wanting to rest my own feet for a moment. I just grabbed a vacant chair and, looking grateful, so did Professor Hull. Leaning over to rub her toes, she looked up at me curiously. “Tell me more about what you do at Bantam. Delany’s book. Is it a big success?
I laughed. “Big enough. I’m Bantam’s wonder child this week. I paid peanuts for it, and it’s selling its head off. Just under six hundred thousand copies last I heard, and it might go over a million.”
“Delany,” she mused. “Yes, I know some of his work. If the administration lets me keep my sci-fi — ”
I gave my throat a meaningful clearing.
She didn’t fail to understand my meaning. “Oh, right,” she said apologetically, “I didn’t mean to say sci-fi, I mean science fiction. If the administration lets me keep my science fiction class, maybe I should teach it next semester. I’ll get a copy and read it real fast.”
I laughed. “That I don’t think you can do. It’s a long one, way more than twice as big as his Ace novels. And it’s not much like his other books. But I think I put a couple of copies in my bag. If I find them, I’ll put one in my pocket tomorrow and if I see you it’s yours.”
“Thanks,” she said, sounding as though she meant it. But she was rubbing her feet again. Then, looking at her watch. “Oh,” she said. “Look at the time. Listen, Frederik, how would you like to try a different kind of room party? Mary Badami — she’s my roommate — and I agreed to have our own party tomorrow. Not a lot of liquor but tea or coffee and soft drinks, and Mary’s making some food. I have to help her pretty son now, but then when the party starts tomorrow you’ll know a lot of the people — some will be the ones we ate dinner with, and I heard you mention Marty Greenberg and Joe Olander….”
I said, “Can we sit down there now? I’m in!”
One of the reviewers is Old Fred the Blogger, who says that he was disappointed in it because the opening was a beautifully worked story of a young boy and his world, and then it turned into a fantasy about everybody you thought was dead coming to life again (except, for some reason, Arthur Clarke) and doing colorfully political things with America. I liked the growing-up boy, didn’t like the endless reshufflings of the political scene.
I was disappointed in the book because it didn’t give me what I expected; Betty loved it because it didn’t give her what she had expected. Go figure.
Psychologist Emile van der Zee, at the University of Lincoln in the U.K., is studying how dogs perceive differences between objects. When a human being hears the word “ball” he forms a visual image of something marked by its roundness — the most marked trait he observes by looking at it and handling it.
His dog, however, does not rely on those inputs. Its principal source of information is its mouth, and it isn’t clear what traits it considers most significant when dogs handle things with their mouths, which seems to suggest that size and texture are more important.
Researchers taught a collie dog named Gable made-up names for some objects, one of them being a horseshoe-shaped thing they named a “dax.” Asked to fetch a “dax,” Gable brought something larger or smaller, but not necessarily retaining the “shape” bias.