Posts tagged ‘Hawai’i’


The next total solar eclipse is predicted for 11 July 2010.

The viewable path of the next total solar eclipse, predicted for 11 July 2010.

Remember Omni? It was a wonderful, slick-paper magazine published and edited by Bob Guccione and his gorgeous wife, Kathy Keeton, and I just this minute realized that one of the reasons I liked it so much was that its basic editorial policy was pretty much identical with that of this blog: Its primary interests were science fiction and science, with excursions into anything else that attracted the attention of its editor — in Omni’s case Guccione, in this blog’s case me. We knew that we had interests in common, too, and that’s why I did a lot of writing for Bob’s magazine throughout its all-too-short history.

Pretty much the whole editorial staff of Omni suffered from the same streaks of curiosity as Bob and Kathy and I did, which included not only the policy-makers but the ones that made it happen day by day — that is, Ben Bova, Bob Sheckley and maybe one or two others. And when, in the spring of 1991, we all became aware that one of those splendid sky shows that are called total eclipses of the sun was going to happen later that year it seemed to all of us that someone (preferably me) should cover the event for the magazine.

At the same time, I’ve been looking over some pieces I wrote on various subjects for various periodicals long ago, and wondering how many of you guys would like to see some of them reprinted here. So let’s find out. And to do that, here’s the eclipse of ’91 report, just as Omni published it nearly twenty years ago.

7:27 a.m., July 7, 1991. We’re ninety-six hours from the eclipse, but some of the dedicated eclipse fans are already out on the starboard railings of the S.S. Independence, squinting anxiously at the sun. It’s good and bright, right this minute. That’s pretty much the way you’d expect the sun to be here in these sunny Hawaiian waters, and the good news is that if the moon were going to slide in front of it today instead of four days from now you’d surely say that it was being eclipsed, all right. The bad news is that you wouldn’t be able to make out some of the fainter outer corona because there’s a thin, high fan of cirrus that starts at the horizon and spreads out over the eastern sky. It won’t keep you from getting a sunburn, but it’s just enough to fuzz out the fainter patches of coronal light. Maybe our luck will be better on July 11.

Maybe it won’t, too. Pacific skies are cloudy. I’ve flown over this ocean twice in the last few weeks, fourteen and a half hours from San Francisco to Hong Kong, and there was never a minute when I could look out my window and see no clouds in the sky at all. This morning there are fluffy little clumps of cumulus all over the eastern horizon. Twenty minutes later, while we’re eating our breakfast papaya and omelets on the fantail, a couple of clumps slide right over the sun, and that’s the kind of thing that can really spoil an eclipse for you.

Of course, on the Independence we’ll be a moving target. We should be able to dodge a few cumulus shadows. We’d better do it, too. There are 800 passengers who have booked passage on the Independence for the sole and simple reason that they want to see the sun go out. If they don’t see it with their own eyes some of them are going to be thirsting for blood.

Continue reading ‘Cruising While the Sun Goes Out’ »

Frank Herbert, 1978.

    Frank Herbert, 1978.

As promised, we made Hawai’i our destination on our usual get-somewhere-out-of-the-cold trip one winter. Frank and Beverly Herbert had built themselves a house in the district of Hana, on the island of Maui, an area renowned for its beauty even in the state where there is very little that isn’t. Betty Anne and I had talked about taking a look at Hana before, but never as a serious plan, because Hana wasn’t easy to get to. You had to drive for a long time on a bad road through tropical near jungle to get there and that didn’t sound like much fun. But now a brand-new puddle-jumper airline that linked Hana to the capital of the island had just become available. It required no use of that unlovable road, and anyway, that’s where the Herberts were.

So we booked the flight and a hotel. Hana was indeed a particularly interesting area to see, home to a few movie stars and once a beloved retreat for, among others, Charles Lindbergh. When Lindy’s flying days were over, he spent the end of his life in Hana, and his family elected to bury him here. The area also has a waterfall nearly a hundred feet high and all sorts of beautiful growing things. Betty Anne saw most of them with Bev as a guide, while I mostly stayed near the hotel pool or my typewriter.

Of course, we were staying in the hotel, and not with the Herberts. We had known in advance that that wasn’t possible. Their multi-roomed house, though it had six baths, had only one bedroom, and that was their own. (They didn’t like the idea of houseguests.) At dinner, Frank conceded that they were beginning to believe that it might be nice to be able to put friends up now and then, after all, as long as they weren’t in the same house as the Herberts themselves. They were thinking that maybe, someday, they would put up a little guest house down the hill for that purpose

I don’t think that ever happened. Beverly’s health worsened and not long afterward she died. She and Frank had been married for nearly forty years.

In 1985, Betty Anne and I decided to take in the Worldcon in Australia, a continent I had never set foot on. We enjoyed it a lot, especially the sightseeing, although just as we were getting ready to leave our home, one of Ted Turner’s producers invited me to write a script for a new Turner project. It was an attractive prospect, but it meant I would have to write a treatment for the script while we traveled, and courier it back to America from somewhere along the way. But that seemed doable, and by the time we got to the con, we had had several really long flights. That sort of thing is good for my writing. I did some of my best work on airplanes, with my weird but lightweight and almost soundless Brother typewriter on my tray table.

At the con, we were happy to find that Frank had turned up there before us, in fact now equipped with a good-looking, brand-new wife to show off. Her name was Theresa, and they too had been exploring Australia as a sort of honeymoon. Frank was full of stories about the shooting of Dune, mostly in Mexico, and the two of them seemed about as happy as newlyweds are generally supposed to be. Well, with one exception. Somewhere along the trip, Frank said, he had picked up a touch of food poisoning, and he was going to have to watch his diet for a while.

That was a self-diagnosis and, sadly, it was wrong.

The next time I saw Frank was about a year later. I was at O’Hare Airport, waiting to board my flight to Seattle, where I was to take part in a brainstorming session about future small arms for the U.S. military when I heard my name called. It was Frank. He looked leaner and a bit tireder than when I’d last seen him, but his voice was strong.

That pain in the gut in Australia, he told me, hadn’t been food poisoning. It had been pancreatic cancer.

I knew what that meant. Nearly always, it meant dying quite soon. I must have looked as though that was what I was thinking, because Frank was shaking his head.

“I know that’s got a bad prognosis,” he said, “but the University of Wisconsin medical school has some new ideas about treatment, and that’s where I’ve been.”

The new ideas, he said, were pretty strenuous. Each period of therapy had to be followed by a stretch of recovery time at home. He had completed two therapy sessions and was on his way home to rest up for the third.

“Sounds like hard work,” I offered.

“It is,” he agreed, “but I’m going to beat this thing!”

I don’t know what else we talked about. Not much, I imagine, because they started boarding the flight. Our seats were not near each other. I thought of asking to change mine so I could have his company for a few more hours, but Frank already had one of his sons and one or two other men traveling with him … and, too, I didn’t want to risk tiring him out. When we reached Seattle, I looked around for him to say goodbye, but he was gone.

A few weeks later, I learned that he had died in Madison after undergoing cancer surgery.

Related post:
Frank Herbert, the Dune Man

Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert

I met Frank Herbert and his wife Beverly at the home of Poul and Karen Anderson in the early 1960s, where we had all been invited for dinner. It was a great evening. There weren’t many people more fun to share a meal with than those four, especially when Karen was creating one of her original recipes (this time with Japanese black beans and I have no idea what else).

We became friendly quickly. I should mention that the Andersons’ home was in those unexpectedly precipitous hills across the Bay from San Francisco, because when it became going-home time the Herberts and I were driven back to the city by another diner, a local resident who knew every hill and curve and preferred to take them all at high speed while turned halfway around in the driver’s seat in order to have a friendly conversation with us. When we got out, the Herberts and I agreed that we had just been through a life-changing experience, and we would be lifelong buddies from then on.

Still, we managed to get together only rarely because of problems of geography, except for the occasional fortuitous occasion — for example, the day in the early ’80s, when I was in Seattle on a book tour. As I was crossing a street on my way to a TV interview, a car pulled up in front of me and a woman stuck her head out the window. “Hello, sailor,” she called. “Looking for a good time?” It was Bev, with Frank grinning over her shoulder from the steering-wheel side.

It wasn’t the best of opportunities for a lengthy chat, but I was glad to see them both looking well; Bev had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and, I knew, was facing surgery. Before the other drivers began honking, the Herberts mentioned that they were building a house in Hana on Maui, and I promised that the next time we were in Hawai’i we’d look them up.

Meanwhile Frank, working as a newspaperman, had started to research an article about the sand dunes of Oregon, and that changed his life. The dunes fascinated him. He never finished the article, but he began writing science-fiction stories for John Campbell’s Astounding, starting with a three-part serial about a dune planet and its inhabitants.

Herbert himself thought it might make a pretty good hardcover book but was disappointed by the responses when he tried offering it to publishers. No book publisher was interested in acquiring the hardcover rights to this rapidly expanding mass of manuscript, however, until an editor at the quite small publishing house of Chilton Books managed to stitch the several existing stories into a single huge novel. He called it Dune, and when he published the result, it became a runaway bestseller, said to be the most profitable sf book ever written.

Frank had written with real people and places in mind, though he gave them invented names for his stories, just as Cordwainer Smith had for his own stories of the imperfectly concealed Middle East. Arrakis was Frank Herbert code for Iraq, The Baron was Dick Cheney, Selusa Secundis was Afghanistan and so on. (I’m sorry to say that I don’t know all the identities for either author.)

To be continued. . . .

Related post:
Frank Herbert, the Dune Man, Part 2

Bloggng in our cabin. Photo by Elizabeth Anne Hull.

Blogging in our cabin aboard MS Ryndam.
Photo by Elizabeth Anne Hull.

So here I am, back home at last after visiting Kauai, Bora Bora, Tahiti and four or five others of the most beautiful tropical paradises God ever made — and now doggedly tunneling my way through mountains of letters, emails, contracts, phone messages and — what is most relevant here — comments from all you wonderful people who were kind enough to tune in on the beginnings of The Way the Future Blogs and drop us a line about it.

In regard to which there is something I must say. I care about you all — beloved grandkids, cherished old friends and just high-quality human beings in general — and wish it were possible for me to respond personally to each of you. Unfortunately, due to the useless condition of the witch’s claw that was once my sturdy right hand, it just isn’t. But please keep reading and letting us know what you think! (Did I mention that you did so in such unexpected volume that you burned up all our bandwidth and head blogmeister Dick had to run out and buy more?)

And what’s ahead? Oh, all kinds of stuff. In the universe of personal reminiscences of some of science-fiction’s giants, there are pieces on three of the field’s greatest married editor-publisher couples, Ian and Betty Ballantine first, because it is already on the computer, then Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey and Donald and Elsie Wollheim. Plus sketches on Jack Williamson, Isaac Asimov and Cyril Kornbluth and some added material on Sir Arthur C. Clarke … and, of course, whatever other fancies happen to occur to me as I sit before the keyboard. See you then!

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.