Posts tagged ‘Arthur C. Clarke’


Messy files art - public domain


Thank you for bearing with us. It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been over three months since Fred died. As you might imagine, we’ve had much to do since then.

Elizabeth Anne Hull and Frederik Pohl

Elizabeth Anne Hull and Frederik Pohl

The blog team — which is to say Betty, Cathy, Dick and Leah — have been regrouping, sorting and pondering where to go from here.

Fred will remain a very real part of this blog for some time to come.

Going through his files, Leah found literally hundreds of pieces of writing that he intended for the blog. Some of them were old articles — written with a typewriter on paper — that he meant to give new life here. Others were written on purpose for the blog, but were never posted.

We’d like to give you a look behind the scenes of “The Way the Future Blogs,” so you can see how that happened, and how Fred will still live in his blog.

When his editor Jim Frenkel coaxed Fred to start a blog (“like that new young guy”), Fred was nearly 90 years old. He’d started his writing life on manual typewriters. He adapted to computers, but slowly. Although he had a lifelong fascination with science and technology, Fred, like a surprising number of science-fiction writers, was a late adopter for his personal use.

Right up until the exigencies of collaborating with Arthur C. Clarke on The Last Theorem demanded a switch to a more modern word processor, Fred was still using the antiquated WordStar with Dick’s expert legacy support to get contemporary computers to run it. Up till then, Fred resisted e-mail as well as new software, not to mention the web.

Collaborating with someone in Sri Lanka changed all that, and Fred finally embraced 21st-century connectivity … to a point.

He didn’t want to learn about all the bells and whistles of blogging, and since he had the use of only one hand, his typing wasn’t internet-ready. That’s where Leah came in. A professional journalist and blogger, she took on the task of blogifying Fred.

We settled on a system: Fred would write a blog post and e-mail it to Leah. She’d copyedit, fact check, format it for WordPress, add links and images and post it. At least, that’s how it was supposed to work.

Filing, even in the dead-tree days, was never Fred’s forté. He’d write things and then lose them in his computer. He rarely used folders, putting everything — blog posts, fiction, correspondence, et al. — in “My Documents.” He’d allow Microsoft Word to name his files and then forget their filenames.

Once Fred wrote something, he was done with it, and he went on to think about the next thing. Sometimes he wrote blog posts but never passed them along. Did he think they needed further polishing? Did he forget about them? Did he think he had sent them when he actually hadn’t? We’ll never know.

Fred found the process of attaching files and emailing them tedious, so he’d save them up in batches, and later get Cathy to email them in bulk. Sometimes she couldn’t find files because they had different filenames than Fred had told her. Cathy’s resourceful at searching, but some documents she never found. Sometimes Dick was called upon to use specialized tools to retrieve files Fred had lost or accidentally deleted.

Since Fred’s death, Leah’s been combing through his computer and sorting the files, a process that required opening and reading every single one. Along with published and unpublished fiction, insertions for an expanded version of Fred’s biography, The Way the Future Was, and the material Fred had written for its forthcoming sequel, she found many unposted blog entries, and those will start being posted here soon.

In the last months before he died, Fred and Leah went through his trunk files, work he’d written years ago — some previously published and some not. He set aside a big stack of articles that he wanted to share on the blog. Since they’re on paper and must be scanned, OCRed and edited, getting them online will take a while, but you’ll see those here, too.

Meanwhile, Betty’s decided to get back into writing for this blog, so you’ll see regular posts from her, as well. Leah will continue editing and blogifying and may weigh in from time to time. Dick will be behind the scenes making sure all our computers stay online and running, and Cathy will keep everybody in communication. So the gang’s all here, even — virtually — Fred.

We hope you’ll keep reading!

The blog team

Perry Knowlton

Perry Knowlton

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.

(This is a new feature I’ve been wanting to add to the blog, talking about some of the most memorable meetings I’ve attended — meetings about science, science fiction, world affairs, all kinds of things.. Some of them were one-off or by invitation only, so I can’t urge you to try them for yourself. Most, though, are regularly scheduled yearly functions — for example the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Future Society and (of course!) the World Science Fiction Convention. The good part of that is that I’ll try to time the columns about the open ones for a few months before their next meeting and give details of how to register, so that if one takes your fancy you can try it for yourself.)

The NASA Conference on Speculative Technology

Ed Mitchell

Ed Mitchell, failed telepath?

This first, and so far only, NASA conference on speculative technology was the brainchild of a NASA man named George Pezdirtz. If I ever wanted to put together a really fun scientific conference of my own would try to hire Mr. Pezdirtz to plan it. He did just about everything right.

To start with, the conference was held on an island off the coast of Georgia. I have come to believe that that is the very best kind of site for a conference that wants to explore new possibilities in its mandate. You see, the only way in or out for most of the participants was a single-engine propeller plane that commuted between the Atlanta airport and the island. In most conferences that feature a lot of high-profile participants, the superstars generally fly in just in time for their performances. Then they fly right out again as soon as they’re over. At Spec Tech they couldn’t do that. There weren’t enough seats on the plane. So nearly all of the conferees hung around for the duration, mingling with the others, to the great enrichment of the discussions that followed each paper.

Of course another factor that made that work so well was that so many of them were in fact superstars themselves.

Before we go any farther, let me make a confession. I had some personal reasons for particularly enjoying it. One was that, during a break in the proceedings, Arthur Clarke found some bicycles nobody was using, and attempted a spot of bicycle jousting — I pedaling, Arthur on the handlebars. (That was about the last time both Arthur and I were spry enough for that sort of juvenile delinquency.)

And then there was the question of Wernher von Braun. He and I had been aware of each other’s existence, but the only tangible connection was that he did keep inviting me to watch rocket launches at the Cape. This troubled some mutual friends, Willy Ley in particular, who thought that Von Braun and I could be good friends, but he never offered any one-on-one invitations, and I couldn’t get past the fact that he had been an officer in Hitler’s SS to take the initiative.

But then came an evening at Spec Tech when we had all been invited to a barbecue on the far side of the island. It was an automobile road away, and there weren’t enough cars to go around. So we doubled up. And for half an hour there I had Wernher Von Braun sitting in my lap. . . . Oh, it didn’t overtly change much, but after that I couldn’t help thinking of him less as a Nazi slave-labor driver and more as a human being who shared the same interplanetary ambitions as I did. I don’t think I would have done what he did to get there. But I wouldn’t have got as far as he, either.

Continue reading ‘Great Conferences I Have Attended, No. 1’ »

The Last Theorem


When I was writing The Last Theorem with Sir Arthur Clarke, I found it necessary in the story, for plot purposes, to have the hero, Ranjit Subramanian, spend a prolonged period in a jail, in solitary confinement.

The obvious way to get that to happen was to have Ranjit get tangled up in the Sri Lankan civil war between the governing Sinhalese, who had been in the habit of keeping all the positions of power for themselves, and the rebellious Tamil Tigers, who wanted to share in the governance. (Both Sinhalese and Tamils were uninvited immigrants from India. The Sinhalese, however, had arrived earlier.)

The war was ongoing and bloody,and it dovetailed nicely with my general plans for the novel, so I happily wrote some ten or twenty thousand words embodying that material. I got quite a few pages further along in the story, sending twenty- or thirty-page chunks on to Arthur as I finished them for his comments, suggestions and approval.

By then Arthur was beginning to be ill. He still read everything and gave me feedback, but it took him longer. I was running fifty to seventy-five pages ahead of his reading, but I didn’t worry; since I knew that what I was writing was pretty good stuff.

It was, however, the wrong pretty good stuff.

Arthur’s next letter was longer than usual and much more alarmed. Had I forgotten (he asked) that he was a guest in the country of Sri Lanka, and his permanent-residency permission could be revoked at any moment when the government came to think of him as an embarrassment?

Well, actually I had forgotten, and not because I hadn’t been told. As far back as the 1950s when we were touring Japan together — maybe even earlier — Arthur had let me see how precarious he thought his residency was. There was never a suggestion that the Sri Lankan government had made any threats or issued any warnings. If anything like that had ever happened, Arthur didn’t mention it to me. As far as I could see, the problem was that Arthur loved Sri Lanka, had made it his permanent homeland and was worriedly aware that a couple of bureaucrats in Colombo could kick him out of the land he loved at any moment, for any reason or for no reason at all.

If I didn’t give that the importance Arthur did — if I let myself forget about it in writing that draft of the novel — it wasn’t that I had truly forgotten. It was simply that I couldn’t believe that the Sri Lankan government would ever consider antagonizing the man who, through his books, was the finest press agent and ambassador that any struggling Third World country could ever imagine having.

On the other hand, I could readily believe that governments as a class are all too likely to shoot themselves in the foot, doing stupid, self-harming things. Arguing from principles of reason and common sense didn’t pay when you were talking about governments. And anyway it was Arthur whose ox would be gored, and thus his decision to make, not mine.

So, not without a few tears, I threw away some twenty thousand words of perfectly good copy about the Sri Lankan civil war and replaced it with (as I now believe) some actually rather better words about 21st-century high-seas piracy and the American custom (especially during the disastrous reign of America’s worst president, ever, George W. Bush) of farming people you wanted to make disappear into the penal systems of democracy-challenged countries.

That’s how collaboration works, my children. You get to have the literary skills and talents of your collaborator working for you, which is a useful thing. But sometimes you get unexpectedly ambushed by his (or her) hang-ups as well. That can be a serious pain in places where you don’t want a pain. But sometimes it can all work out for the best.

Eugenie Clark

   Eugenie Clark

It’s hard to list the Ipsy’s guests in any sensible order, perhaps because they were not an orderly bunch. It does make sense for me to divide the guests into two classes. To begin with, there was the New York science-fiction crowd, all of whom I had known for some time.

In that group were most of the science-fiction people I have already written more or less extensively about in these pages. Among the ones most frequently present were Lester and Evelyn del Rey, Bob and Essie Bolster, George and Dona Smith, Cyril Kornbluth (first as a house guest of mine, then as a nearby resident on his own). Assorted other house guests of mine included Fritz Leiber from Chicago and Jack and Blanche Williamson from New Mexico.

Ted Sturgeon was definitely a regular in an unusual sense. For a couple of months one summer he never went home at all, since at the time, his finances being anemic, he didn’t have a home to go to.

The Pratts had no objection to Ted’s staying in the house when everyone else was gone. However, they didn’t offer to feed him. That was not a problem for Ted, who enjoyed a good dish of eel. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that by the time he finally moved out of the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, he had fished out the entire family of eels who lived by the boat dock. They never returned.

Any number of other New York-area sf people visited the Ipsy. Isaac Asimov, for instance, was there I think only once, but it was a significant visit, since Fletcher and Inga had plans for Isaac. They spent a lot of that weekend telling him what a wonderful place the Bread Loaf Writers’ Colony was for anyone with the desire, and the ability, to be a serious writer … and, I’m pretty sure, spent an equivalent period of time with the Breadloaf people telling them what a wonderful prospect Isaac was. The effort paid off. Isaac did give Bread Loaf a try; he loved the place, the Breadloaf people loved him and he became a Bread Loaf stalwart.

The other fraction of frequent guests at the Ipsy basically comprised the non-sf friends of the Pratts, many of them with ties to The Saturday Review of Literature. Some of those were actual celebrities of one kind or another, as for example Eugenie Clark, known worldwide as the “Lady with a Spear,” after her bestselling book with that name. Eugenie, as a child, had been fascinated by the works of William BeebeHalf Mile Down, the story of his adventures hanging at the end of almost 3,000 feet of steel cable in his “bathysphere,” a steel sphere about the size of a pup tent, or Beneath Tropic Seas, about his less spine-chilling but even more beautiful experiences walking through warm-water corals with only a mask for breathing.

I could understand her fascination. I had been turned on by the same books at about the same age. The difference between Eugenie Clark and me, though, was that she then grew up to become an actual ichthyologist, and I only to become a writer.

Continue reading ‘Fletcher Pratt, Part 4: The Friends of Fletcher’ »

The Battle of the Bulge left Dirk Wylie unable to hold a regular job, so we made him — and ultimately, me — into a literary agent.

The Battle of the Bulge left Dirk Wylie unable to hold a regular job, so we made him — and ultimately, me — into a literary agent.

After World War II had grabbed most of us Futurians by the scruff of the necks and flung us to various odd destinations in all sorts of unexpected parts of this planet of ours, it did, somehow get itself ended and there we were, civilians again, and back in New York. I had had a relatively undemanding war, ending up with doing public relations at the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in Caserta, Italy (with my spare time spent in a resort hotel on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius). Dirk Wylie, however, hadn’t had anywhere nearly as nice a war as I did.

Dirk’s war hit bottom in the early winter of 1944–45. That was when Hitler’s Wehrmacht made one last attempt to take back control of the western front in the Battle of the Bulge. It was a vicious and protracted fight, and Dirk, then an MP sergeant, was in the middle of it. This cost him. At one point, he jumped hastily out of a truck and landed in a very wrong way, doing something seriously bad to his spine.

That was the end of the war for Dirk, and the beginning of years of hospital stays and unremitting pain.

By the late 1940s, he was discharged from the New York-area Veterans Administration hospitals — not because he was cured but because there was nothing more they could do for him. Now Dirk was a civilian again, with one unanswerable question: What was he to do with the rest of his life? A normal nine-to-five job of any kind was pure fantasy. The only good part of the situation was that he didn’t need to make much money. The Veterans Administration had recognized their obligation to him and awarded him a substantial pension. But a living wage wasn’t the whole of Dirk’s needs. He was just barely out of his twenties, and didn’t like the prospect of doing nothing for the rest of his life.

I spent a lot of time with Dirk and his wife, Roz, discussing that question, and we came up with an idea that seemed worth pursuing. He could become a literary agent.

There are all kinds of literary agents. Some of them can do very good things for their clients, making sales for them that the writers would not have made by themselves and sometimes acting as story coaches to help their clients write more salable material. Others (as my mother used to say when totally exasperated) are not worth the powder to blow them to Hell.

So what made the difference between the saviors and the total wastes? One, a good agent needed to know the market. Two, s/he needed to know good work from bad. Three, s/he needed to be able to let clients know how to tell the difference between good and bad, too, and how to encourage them to get better.

Of course, Dirk didn’t have personal knowledge of all these things, although, as a Futurian, he had been exposed to a fair amount of shop talk over the years and had made a few sales himself. But what he did have was me.

Continue reading ‘How I Lost My Oldest Friend
(and Gained a Literary Agency)’ »