Ever had one of those days where you find yourself wanting to just crawl away and hide? Where you look upon the situation with horror and can't bring yourself to make a sound lest the rampaging toothsome monsters stop what they're doing and turn to look in your direction? Where you wonder, HOW did things progress to THIS?
Last Thursday night, the aftermeeting program was a talk by a guest author with 2 published novels under his belt and a third slated for next year. David J Williams introduced himself and his latest book, "Burning Skies", and told something of the novel's background and narrative, and then, disclaiming that he did not have "nuts & bolts"-style details at his fingertips, opened the floor to questions.
Jerry Pournelle raised his hand.
I suppose it should have been obvious what would ensue when the author of a "runaway global warming" tale stood in the same room as the author of the definitive "modern ice age" novel, but it never occurred to me that Dr. Pournelle, having moments before heard Williams say he could not extemporaneously answer questions about the "nuts & bolts" of the science in "Burning Skies", might just ask exactly that type of question regardless.
Nor that he would interrupt Williams at several points in his attempt to furnish an answer, and berate him for using sloppy science. Nor that Karen Anderson would fly into a blind rage and storm from the room, leaving a cluster of mutterings about "Magic, not Science" to fill the hole in the air where she had been.
In the face of all this hostility, Williams would have been perfectly well within his rights to respond in the manner of William Shatner being quizzed about the Enterprise's control panel layouts. But he did not. He stood his ground and replied politely to all questions, whether they were polite or not. Somewhere along the line, other fen in attendance managed to get a word in edgewise and ask about Williams' creative processes, his likes and dislikes, how he got started...the usual pro panel sort of thing. But always it managed to wind around to the difference of worldview between the guest and Dr. Pournelle.
At some point, we drove a stake thru the chest of the beast and ran screaming into the night. Williams autographed a copy of his book to Dr. Pournelle, "a living legend", and left. Shortly thereafter, a new entry appeared on Williams' website entitled "My LASFS visit, or , I Get In A Steel Cage With Jerry Pournelle".
[head in hands] SIGH. [/head in hands]
Thankfully, my last term as President of LASFS comes to a close in the next few weeks, and I will no longer have to be Henry Jeckyll to a club full of Mr. Hydes. But I just can't help but wonder, if it is our intention to subject every guest speaker to this sort of reception, if it wouldn't be more appropriate for each panel to begin with the words "We who are about to die salute you"?
PS: A brief word on the subject of "Magic not Science"
Dry cell batteries that power everything from hearing aids to interstellar passenger liners.
FTL ships driven by Light Pressure.
Intra-galactic foot travel by generated portals.
Sentient self-aware computers.
Human brain transplantation, in-vitro cloning, and total rejuvenation medicine.
Instantaneous time, space, and interuniversal travel.
An electronc device to pinpoint the day and time of a living subject's death.
Robert Anson Heinlein was revered the world over as one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction. He was also a LASFS member and, by all accounts, a close personal friend of both Poul Anderson and Jerry Pournelle. It is difficult, approaching impossible, to point to more than a tiny handful of his novels or short stories that did not largely depend upon some bit of technology that could in no way be fully understood or explained in terms of real-world scientific knowledge available at the time he was writing. Heinlein did not fret about using literary license to sidestep the Impossibility Barrier in order to tell a good story. I do not believe that he would have required other authors to do what he could not.