By Steve Green: Verne Troyer, U.S. actor, died April 21, aged 49. Genre roles include Pinocchio’s Revenge, Jingle All the Way (both 1996), Men in Black, Wishmaster (both 1997), Young Hercules (one episode, 1998), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (one episode, 2002), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Gnome Alone (2015). Hipsters, Gangsters, Aliens and Geeks is due out next year.
[Steve Vertlieb pays tribute to his friend and prolific File 770 contributor, the late Jim Burns.]
By Steven J. Vertlieb: James H. Burns was a professional writer, film historian, sports enthusiast, actor, and fan. More importantly, however, he was my friend. I guess he was one of my very best friends. This becomes more apparent, perhaps, with the passage of time. Jim is no longer with us. He died, sadly, almost two years ago on what would have been my mother’s birthday, June 2nd, 2016.
Jimmy was a character. He was handsome, charming, smart, and funny. All of the ladies loved him. I loved him too. He could be cantankerous, irascible, and opinionated. Jimmy didn’t like to be wrong. It didn’t matter much because he was usually right. Jim appeared often on Broadway as an actor. He also became a popular guest on New York radio stations as a joyously zealous baseball critic, and loyal supporter of the city’s sports teams.
Jimmy loved life with an uncommon exuberance and passion. He embraced every fragment of his life with uncommon reverence. He was also among my biggest supporters. Whenever I’d feel down, unworthy, and unimportant, Jimmy was always there to remind me of my accomplishments over half a century, and offer himself as a one man cheering section. When I won a “Rondo” Hall Of Fame Award for lifetime achievement two years ago, it was Jimmy who pushed, shoved, and lobbied for me to finally win the trophy. When I told Jimmy that there was no way that I’d ever be remembered or recognized for my work, he enthusiastically telephoned me at an ungodly hour, waking me from a deep sleep on a work night, to inform me that I’d won. I think that Jimmy was as happy as I was about the win.
Jimmy was the picture of health and robust masculinity. The only problem was that he smoked. He smoked every day, morning, noon, and night. He couldn’t give it up. He always had a cigarette dangling from his lips. It was a part of his character and personality. It was a part of him. Jimmy took the train down from New York on December 15th, 2015, in order to be a part of my seventieth birthday celebration. I got him a room at a local motel, and cherished the hours that he spent with us in Philadelphia. We laughed, we talked, and we hugged. I think that it meant a lot to Jimmy to come down to Philly, and to be so surrounded by animated conversation and camaraderie. My brother, Erwin, was visiting from Los Angeles, and both he and Jimmy really hit it off. We spent a day and a night together, and Jimmy was in his glory. He told stories, listened, laughed, and shared reverent hours of conversation and hilarity.
That was the last time that I ever saw Jimmy alive. Several weeks after cheering me on for the Rondo Award in April, 2016, Jimmy began to develop and become cognizant of alarming health issues. He grew sick quickly. On the morning of Saturday, June 4th, 2016, I was walking through the corridors of our hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. I was there with my girlfriend Shelly to accept the Rondo life achievement award that Jimmy had lobbied so hard over so many years for me to win. I bumped into David Colton, organizer of the annual awards and Editor In Chief of USA Today. David smiled, shook my hand, and asked me if I’d heard the news. I stopped, and asked “What news?” It was then that David informed me that Jimmy had passed away two days earlier on Thursday, June 2nd. I hadn’t heard. I’d been busy working, packing, and arranging for my journey to Louisville. David told me that he’d seen a notice on Jimmy’s Facebook page that he’d succumbed to his illness. I went back to my room and told Shelly what had happened. We were both stunned and speechless. Jimmy had become so much an integral part of both of our lives.
That evening as I accepted my award from David, and offered my impromptu speech, recalling a lifetime of memories and friends, I broke down and began to cry. If it wasn’t for Jimmy, I probably wouldn’t have been there at all. I dedicated my hour of personal triumph to Jimmy. David, in turn, dedicated the ceremony to Jim. He was my friend, and he was my brother. Today, April 10th, would have been his birthday. Happy Birthday, Jim. Happy Birthday, dear friend. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of you, and miss the sound of your mischievous jokes, and sweet voice. Happy Birthday in baseball Heaven, Jimmy. I miss you. We all do.
[Editor’s note: Here are links to all the posts Jim wrote here in his last six months of life.]
JAMES H. BURNS POSTS
- May 11, 2016 – Stoop Lore
- May 10, 2016 — Dave Cockrum, and a Secret Storm
- April 29, 2016 — Space Age, on the Street (Colonel Bleep art on a van)
- April 29, 2016 — No Time For Yeomen (Don’t Tell Janice Rand)
- April 25, 2016 — Lee Falk’s Phantom of Happy Memory — And Fellini and Falk’s Mandrake!
- April 20, 2017 — Once, When We All Were Scientists (science education kits of the Sixties)
- April 13, 2017 — In Honor of the New Dr. Strange Trailer
- March 21, 2016 — Marvel at the Streets of Wonder
- March 17, 2016 — Venus, If You Will (Sylvia Anderson and Thunderbirds)
- March 14, 2016 — To the East With the Lark (Finian’s Rainbow)
- March 13, 2016 — Requiem (subway station mood piece)
- March 9, 2016 — George Martin, Beatles Producer, Passes Away
- March 4, 2016 — A George Pal and Doctor Seuss Collaboration
- February 28, 2016 — The Lost Childhood’s End: A Tale of Phil DeGuere, The Late 1970s, and Arthur C. Clarke’s Classic Novel
- February 16, 2016 — Herman’s No Hermit (Pee Wee Herman movie trailer)
- January 29, 2016 — Back In The Sunlight (why he supports gay marriage)
- January 26, 2016 — “And Everyone I Ever Heard (Don’t Ask Me How I Know)” (Rosenda Monteros profile)
- January 26, 2016 — Are We Ready Again For George Pal’s Puppetoons?
- January 15, 2016 — Happy Birthday to File 770
- January 12, 2016 — It’s BATMAN’s 50th Anniversary! At 4:30 Western Time! (That’s Bat-Time, Old Chum!)
- January 12, 2016 — Across Another Time
Karen Anderson, author and a master of all the fannish arts, died March 17. Her daughter, Astrid Bear, announced her passing on Facebook.
My mother, Karen Anderson [widow of Poul Anderson], died last night. It was a peaceful and unexpected passing — she died in her bed and was found by the Sunday visiting nurse…. Memorial gathering plans to be announced later, but in the meantime, raise a glass to the memory of a fine woman. If you are moved to make a donation, please consider the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund or the UCLA Medical School.
Born Karen Kruse in Kentucky in 1932, she married sf writer Poul Anderson in 1953. They moved to the Bay Area, where their daughter Astrid (now married to Greg Bear) was born in 1954. Poul died in 2001.
Karen and Poul collaborated on a number of stories over the years, and on the King of Ys series published in the 1980s. And she wrote poetry, including the first published science fiction haiku (in F&SF, July 1962).
Even more notably, Karen made many historic contributions to fannish culture.
She was the first person to intentionally use the term filk music in print. ZineWiki explains —
In the 1950s, Karen Anderson spotted a typo in a fanzine while reading an essay by Lee Jacobs on folk music, where he had mistyped “folk” as “filk”. In her words, “Who ever heard of a filk? Since the essay appeared in an amateur publication circulated among science fiction fans, though, there was only one thing to do. Rather than waste a phrase like “filk song”, something must be created to which the name could be applied.” There had been songs written by science fiction fans since the 1940s, but Anderson’s new name for them caught on, and she is credited with naming “filk songs”.
Karen Kruse Anderson also was the first faned to publish a filksong, as Lee Gold documented:
Traveling yet further back in time, to the 26th SAPS distribution, Winter, 1953, on page #22 of Die Zeitschrift für Vollstandigen Unsinn #774 by Karen Kruse Anderson is…the first-known song published as a filk song [123k scan] – written (see the note in The Zed #780) by Poul Anderson.
And Karen, a rare beauty, shined as a costumer. She personified a familiar sf image in this array of “Warrior Women” photographed by George Young at the 1955 Worldcon. (She’s on the right.)
Later, she brought daughter Astrid into her presentations, as shown here in Ben Jason’s photo from the 1964 Worldcon.
Five years later at St. Louiscon, mother and daughter etched their names in masquerade history as “The Bat and the Bitten.”
Fanac.org relates the dramatic moment:
“The Bat and the Bitten” Astrid Anderson & Karen Anderson delivered a truly chilling performance as a vampire sires a new acolyte. Astrid is the victim in a white mini dress who transforms as the vampire envelops her in her huge black wings and secretly squirted Astrid with a homemade mixture of gelatin, red ink & yellow food coloring so that after the bite, Astrid opened her 14 foot white wings to reveal the blood that ran from her neck and down her dress to a horrified audience. It is still considered one of the best performances to this day and it was awarded both the Grand Prize & Judges’ Choice.
In 1988, costume fandom presented an award for lifetime achievement to Karen Anderson at the Worldcon, Nolacon II (New Orleans). This was the first such award, ever. It is a forerunner of the ICG Lifetime Achievement Award.
Karen had an avid interest in daily life throughout history and in different cultures, especially cooking as shaped by culture, available tools, and local or imported ingredients.
Her interest found a perfect outlet in the Society for Creative Anachronism, started in 1966, of which she, Poul, and Astrid were founding members. She remained active in the SCA for many years, once serving as “herald of the known world.” As late as 2010 she still officered a local organization as Baroness of the Angels.
Karen and Poul joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1967. She had earlier made her mark in LASFS history by appearing in the fannish film The Musquite Kid Rides Again (1960), based on a story from Lee Jacobs’ fanzine The Ballard Chronicles, She moved back to the LA area after Poul died in 2001, and regularly attended club meetings for several years. She won the club’s Forry Award in 2010 for lifetime achievement in sf.
Karen was also a Sherlock Holmes fan, who co-founded a Holmes society with a couple of friends in 1959. The affinity continued all her life. She was made a member of the Baker Street Irregulars in 2000, receiving her investiture as Conan Doyle character Emilia Lucca.
Karen was an extraordinarily bright and talented person who made towering contributions to fandom and the sf field.
[Introduction: Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best-known scientific figures, passed away on March 14. Gregory Benford knew him, and wrote two memoirs of their meetings which he has given permission to post here on File 770. “A Cambridge Evening” is the second, written in 2012.]
By Gregory Benford: The invitation was on heavy bond in a delicious oyster color. I opened the Trinity College envelope noting it bore no stamp, apparently placed in my Institute of Astronomy mailbox by hand. Flowing script invited my wife Joan and me to evening meal with Professor Martin Rees.
Very good; the full High Table college show, then. In 1976 I was on sabbatical as a visiting fellow in Cambridge, England. I went there to study pulsars where they’d been discovered, but quickly became more interested in the luminous jet just seen in radio frequency maps of M87, the nearest active galaxy.
Martin Rees was then the Plumian Professor of physics and the director of the Institute of Astronomy, appointed just after the departure of Fred Hoyle. He had agreed to host my sabbatical, a stay that began my astrophysics career; I’ve spent the decades hence mostly on pulsars and galactic jets. In Cambridge I learned much more than I anticipated.
Precisely on time Joan and I walked through the Great Gate, the main entrance to the college, leading to the yawning Great Court. In the centre of the court stood an ornate fountain, traditionally fed by a pipe from Conduit Head in west Cambridge, not the unreliable Cam River nearby. A solemn porter in a black bowler hat welcomed us, remarking gruffly on the chilly air, and nodding at the invitation as I presented it. “Ah, the Rees room.”
Trinity College undergraduates passed in gowns of dark blue. A statue of the college founder, Henry VIII, greeted us from a shadowy niche above the doorway. Martin Rees stood beside it, a slight man with a hawk nose and incisive gaze, bowing to Joan with a broad smile. I imagined we’d eat at the high table, as I had before for lunch, but instead Martin took us into a private dining room. I walked in with Joan and saw at the table two men and their wives: Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac and Stephen Hawking. Martin had said nothing to alert us.
Newton, Nehru and Maxwell were alumni of Trinity, and Dirac stood in such company; soon, so would Hawking and Rees.
The dining room was small, with room for six at the table. Soft lighting cast glows on the dark wood walls amid the scene of 700 years of academic elitism. The leadened plates stamped with the famed Trinity monogram framed a small salad. The flatware was heavy, dark silver and tall stemmed glasses ranked to the side. The servers wore formal tuxedo styled clothes and professionally disinterested faces. The headwaiter handled all dishes with white gloves and led the two solemn under-waiters.
I said very little through the salad, letting Joan carry our side. She entertained them with stories to adapting to English home appliances and their hieroglyphic instructions, her tinkling laughter softening the atmosphere. I reflected. Dirac had won a Nobel in 1933 for the first relativistic theory of particles, the Dirac equation. “The great papers of the other quantum pioneers were more ragged, less perfectly formed than Dirac’s,” my friend Freeman Dyson had said to me when I was in graduate school. Freeman had taken Dirac’s Cambridge quantum mechanics course as a precocious 19-year-old. Of Dirac’s discoveries, Freeman said, “His papers were like exquisitely carved marble statues falling out of the sky, one after another. He seemed to be able to conjure laws of nature from pure thought.”
This is an evening to keep your mouth shut, I thought, sitting at the centuries-old table and sipping a light Chardonnay (French, of course) served with the salad. Next, a tasty soup arrived, attended in strict silence by the stiff waiters. I noted that the French red wine was older than I was, a 1938 from the Fellows’ Cellar. A Haute Medoc, it was deep and rich with a surprising plum aftertaste.
Famously, Dirac’s wife Manci spoke little, and he even less. His colleagues in Cambridge jokingly defined a conversational unit of a dirac — one word per hour. Dirac was a slight man and autistic, widely known as hard to draw out. He said this concentration proved crucial to his success as a theoretical physicist, for he could remain focused on a problem for a long time. He also could order information about mathematics and physics in a systematic way, employing his visual imagination and determination. (Decades later, I saw medical practice focus on this supposed disorder, “fixing” it with drugs and therapy. How many geniuses have we lost this way?)
I asked him how he concentrated solely on his research. “Don’t talk,” he said with admirable brevity and a smile. He also said he only stopped work on Sunday, when he took long strolls alone. He had struggled to find the Dirac equation for months, getting nowhere, then took his usual Sunday walk—and the entire solution came to him when he was crossing a small bridge. He hurried to a nearby pub, asked for lunch and wrote the equation on the back of the menu so he would not forget. He seldom looked directly at anyone, but this time he stared me in the eye. “There it was, out of nowhere.”
“Do you still have the menu?” I asked, eyes wide. When I said it would be a charming historical momento, he dismissively waved his hand. He had used it to start a fire in his chilly college rooms.
The Navy bean soup done, talk moved on. Some mention of English politics arose, at a time when Maggie Thatcher was moving to the fore, Martin squelched with, “I’m entirely infra-red,” which meant something like Trotsky. He had no wife then. Hawking’s wife rolled her eyes at this statement, saying nothing.
As the waiters smoothly placed plates of veal ala brochard before us, Hawking changed the tone of the conversation with his halting words. He wanted to talk about science fiction. Martin had told him I wrote it now and then. I’d had the impression that at Cambridge science fiction was something serious scientists never would do, and seldom discuss — especially at a table where Newton changed the world over bowls of steaming lentil soup–and said so. Hawking gave a slanted grin. “Fred Hoyle has left us, but he is not forgotten.”
Hawking talked in slurred tones about what we now call his “chronology protection conjecture”. Why does nature apparently abhor a time machine? He said, as he puts it today, “It seems that there is a Chronology Protection Agency which prevents the appearance of closed timelike curves and so makes the universe safe for historians.”
Martin pointed out that there was strong experimental evidence in favor of the conjecture — from the fact that we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future. All this discussion Hawking eventually included in a book in the 2000s, along with his fears that our TV broadcasts, would bring ravening aliens to our door. He thought about such speculations in the 1970s, but apparently kept them largely to himself during his climb to fame.
Dirac spoke about the walks he took around Cambridge, relating favorite routes in great detail, but otherwise had no small talk. Slowly Hawking turned the conversation around to what books we read, asking each of us. He then announced that since he was thirteen he had never bothered with the assignments in Literature classes, preferring science fiction. Dirac remarked, “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, and I suppose in fiction, it’s the exact opposite.”
To my surprise Rees assented. “But science fiction leads to science,” he said. Dirac was silent and looked puzzled.
Stephen spent a long while relating memories of sf short stories he’d read. Like many fans, Hawking could recall ideas but not authors or titles. He was a big Robert Sheckley fan, I deduced, from what his remembered plots. Rees said he thought science fiction was like a literary dialect. It had its own vernacular and insider terms, its unusual pronunciation patterns and rhythms. A native sf “speaker” uses the argot of an audience, one that knows what Delany later called the sf reader protocols – signals of broader meaning. A good example is, “The door dilated,” implying a changed world. Nods all round, though Dirac said he had read little sf beyond Wells and Brave New World. “Perhaps I should.”
We all agreed that aliens in fiction serve as a distorting mirror to show what humankind is not. Hawking spoke with jerky gestures, fighting the erosions from his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which I knew as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His speech was slurred, brief and almost unintelligible, his conciseness a skill that later worked well in A Brief History of Time. Hawking’s fame was rising on his striking research ideas–that empty space wasn’t empty after all, and black holes aren’t black.
His wife, with her tight, focused look, scoffed at ideas like aliens, likening them to imaginary beings. Stephen retorted tartly that so were angels. A sudden silence around the table. I sipped the wine, which was excellent and still blossoming with rich new tones. This incident prefigured the issue of her Baptist faith versus his firm atheism, which eventually split them up.
I recalled this evening lately, looking over notes I made that very evening. My wife Joan died of cancer in 2002. In 2005 Rees was elevated to a life peerage, sitting as a crossbencher in the House of Lords as Baron Rees of Ludlow, a seat in the County of Shropshire. By then Astronomer Royal, he told the British Interplanetary Society, ‘”It is better to read first-rate science fiction than second-rate science; it’s no more likely to be wrong and is far more stimulating than second-rate science. And I think it’s good to read the great classics of science fiction.”
After a five course meal we had the finishing treat: an English, less sweet, version of crème brûlée, known as “Trinity burnt cream.”
Now Martin is master of Trinity College and the best known astronomer in the world. Recently, in Our Final Hour, he predicted that one of the two following outcomes is inevitable for humanity:
*Extinction from runaway effects of new technology (nanotechnology, robotics) or else from uncontrolled scientific research; terrorist or fundamentalist violence; or destruction of the biosphere; or else
* Our expansion into space, survival through colonization. He now advocates free markets and believes that the wealthy will push back the frontiers of space.
Not infra-red any longer.
I never saw Dirac again, but have kept up with Hawking and Rees through the decades, visiting Cambridge often. They both use science fiction in their popular writing, whereas in the 1970s that was not the sort of thing you mentioned at High Table. Our world has changed, partly because of those men.
What distinguished them the most, I think, was their quiet verve, their wish to grapple with life. They were eager to deal with whatever came at them. Dirac probed our fundamental understanding of the world in his monk-like solitude. Hawking persevered against his crippling disease to become a major cosmologist. Rees cannily wove his way into great power, urging the Institute for Astronomy to the forefront of the field, becoming Astronomer Royal, and a major figure bringing science to the public as well.
The evening left a deep impression on me. On the walk home, I remarked to my wife that I would probably never have a better evening–at least, with my clothes on. She took that as a challenge and made the evening even more so.
From my time there I gathered background that eventually appeared in my 1980 novel Timescape, which explores how scientists confront the unknown. Cambridge is steeped in tradition, but its scientific culture is radical.
© 2012 by Gregory Benford
[Introduction: Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s best-known scientific figures, passed away on March 14. Gregory Benford knew him, and wrote two memoirs of their meetings which he has given permission to post here on File 770. He wrote the first, “Leaping the Abyss,” in 2001; it was published in Reason, updated in 2005 for Robert Lichtman’s Trapdoor, and is now posted at Benford’s website.]
By Gregory Benford: Stephen Hawking seemed slightly worse, as always. It is a miracle that he has clung to life for over 20 years with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Each time I see him I feel that this will be the last, that he cannot hold on to such a thin thread for much longer.
Hawking turned 63 in January 2005. Over the course of his brilliant career, he has worked out many of the basics of black hole physics, including, most strikingly, his prediction that black holes aren’t entirely black. Instead, if they have masses equivalent to a mountain’s, they radiate particles of all kinds. Smaller holes would disappear in a fizz of radiation—a signature that astronomers have searched for but so far not found.
The enormous success of Hawking’s 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, has made him a curious kind of cultural icon. He wonders how many of the starlets and rock stars who mentioned the book on talk shows actually read it.
With his latest book, The Universe in a Nutshell (Bantam), he aims to remedy the situation with a plethora of friendly illustrations to help readers decipher such complex topics as superstring theory and the nature of time. The trick is translating equations into sentences, no mean feat. The pictures help enormously, though purists deplore them as oversimplified. I feel that any device is justified to span such an abyss of incomprehension.
When I entered Stephen’s office at the University of Cambridge, his staff was wary of me, plainly suspecting I was a “civilian” harboring a crank theory of the universe. But I’d called beforehand, and then his secretary recognized me from years past. (I am an astrophysicist and have known Stephen since the 1970s.) When I entered the familiar office his shrunken form lolled in his motorized chair as he stared out, rendered goggle-eyed by his thick glasses—but a strong spirit animated all he said.
Hawking lost his vocal cords years ago, to an emergency tracheotomy. His gnarled, feeble hands could not hold a pen. For a while after the operation he was completely cut off from the world, an unsettling parallel to those mathematical observers who plunge into black holes, their signals to the outside red-shifted and slowed by gravity’s grip to dim, whispering oblivion.
A Silicon Valley firm came to the rescue. Engineers devised tailored, user-friendly software and a special keyboard for Hawking. Now his frail hand moved across it with crablike speed. The software is deft, and he could build sentences quickly. I watched him flit through the menu of often-used words on his liquid crystal display, which hung before him in his wheelchair. The invention has been such a success that the Silicon Valley folk now supply units to similarly afflicted people worldwide.
“Please excuse my American accent,” the speaker mounted behind the wheelchair said with a California inflection. He coded this entire remark with two keystrokes.
Although I had been here before, I was again struck that a man who had suffered such an agonizing physical decline had on his walls several large posters of a person very nearly his opposite: Marilyn Monroe. I mentioned her, and Stephen responded instantly, tapping one-handed on his keyboard, so that soon his transduced voice replied, “Yes, she’s wonderful. Cosmological. I wanted to put a picture of her in my latest book, as a celestial object.” I remarked that to me the book was like a French Impressionist painting of a cow, meant to give a glancing essence, not the real, smelly animal. Few would care to savor the details. Stephen took off from this to discuss some ideas currently booting around the physics community about the origin of the universe, the moment just after the Big Bang.
Stephen’s great politeness paradoxically made me ill at ease; I was acutely aware of the many demands on his time, and, after all, I had just stopped by to talk shop.
“For years my early work with Roger Penrose seemed to be a disaster for science,” Stephen said. “It showed that the universe must have begun with a singularity, if Einstein’s general theory of relativity is correct. That appeared to indicate that science could not predict how the universe would begin. The laws would break down at the point of singularity, of infinite density.” Mathematics cannot handle physical quantities like density that literally go to infinity. Indeed, the history of 20th century physics was in large measure about how to avoid the infinities that crop up in particle theory and cosmology. The idea of point particles is convenient but leads to profound, puzzling troubles.
I recalled that I had spoken to Stephen about mathematical methods of getting around this problem one evening at a party in King’s College. There were analogies to methods in elementary quantum mechanics, methods he was trying to carry over into this surrealistic terrain.
“It now appears that the way the universe began can indeed be determined, using imaginary time,” Stephen said. We discussed this a bit. Stephen had been using a mathematical device in which time is replaced, as a notational convenience, by something called imaginary time. This changes the nature of the equations, so he could use some ideas from the tiny quantum world. In the new equations, a kind of tunneling occurs in which the universe, before the Big Bang, has many different ways to pass through the singularity. With imaginary time, one can calculate the chances for a given tunneling path into our early universe after the beginning of time as we know it.
“Sure, the equations can be interpreted that way,” I argued, “but it’s really a trick, isn’t it?”
Stephen said, “Yes, but perhaps an insightful trick.”
“We don’t have a truly deep understanding of time,” I replied, “so replacing real time with imaginary time doesn’t mean much to us.”
“Imaginary time is a new dimension, at right angles to ordinary, real time,” Stephen explained. “Along this axis, if the universe satisfies the ‘no boundary’ condition, we can do our calculations. This condition says that the universe has no singularities or boundaries in the imaginary direction of time. With the ‘no boundary’ condition, there will be no beginning or end to imaginary time, just as there is no beginning or end to a path on the surface of the Earth.”
“If the path goes all the way around the Earth,” I said. “But of course, we don’t know that in imaginary time there won’t be a boundary.”
“My intuition says there will be no blocking in that special coordinate, so our calculations make sense.”
“Sense is just the problem, isn’t it? Imaginary time is just a mathematical convenience.” I shrugged in exasperation at the span between cool mathematical spaces and the immediacy of the raw world; this is a common tension in doing physics. “It’s unrelated to how we feel time. The seconds sliding by. Birth and death.”
“True. Our minds work in real time, which begins at the Big Bang and will end, if there is a Big Crunch—which seems unlikely, now, from the latest data showing accelerating expansion. Consciousness would come to an end at a singularity.”
“Not a great consolation,” I said.
He grinned. “No, but I like the ‘no boundary’ condition. It seems to imply that the universe will be in a state of high order at one end of real time but will be disordered at the other end of time, so that disorder increases in one direction of time. We define this to be the direction of increasing time. When we record something in our memory, the disorder of the universe will increase. This explains why we remember events only in what we call the past, and not in the future.”
“Remember what you predicted in 1980 about final theories like this?” I chided him.
“I suggested we might find a complete unified theory by the end of the century.” Stephen made the transponder laugh dryly. “OK, I was wrong. At that time, the best candidate seemed to be N=8 supergravity. Now it appears that this theory may be an approximation to a more fundamental theory, of superstrings. I was a bit optimistic to hope that we would have solved the problem by the end of the century. But I still think there’s a 50-50 chance that we will find a complete unified theory in the next 20 years.”
“I’ve always suspected that the structure never ends as we look to smaller and smaller scales—and neither will the theories,” I offered.
“It is possible that there is no ultimate theory of physics at all. Instead, we will keep on discovering new layers of structure. But it seems that physics gets simpler, and more unified, the smaller the scale on which we look. There is an ultimate length scale, the Planck length, below which space-time may just not be defined. So I think there will be a limit to the number of layers of structure, and there will be some ultimate theory, which we will discover if we are smart enough.”
“Does it seem likely that we are smart enough?” I asked.
Another grin. “You will have to get your faith elsewhere.”
“I can’t keep up with the torrent of work on superstrings.” Mathematical physics is like music, which a young and zesty spirit can best seize and use, as did Mozart.
“I try,” he said modestly.
We began discussing recent work on “baby universes”—bubbles in space-time. To us large creatures, space-time is like the sea seen from an ocean liner, smooth and serene. Up close, though, on tiny scales, it’s waves and bubbles. At extremely fine scales, pockets and bubbles of space-time can form at random, sputtering into being, then dissolving. Arcane details of particle physics suggest that sometimes—rarely, but inevitably—these bubbles could grow into a full-fledged universe.
This might have happened a lot at the instant just immediately after the Big Bang. Indeed, some properties of our universe may have been created by the space-time foam that roiled through those infinitesimally split seconds. Studying this possibility uses the “wormhole calculus,” which samples the myriad possible frothing bubbles (and their connections, called wormholes).
Averaging over this foam in a mathematical sense, smoothing its properties a bit, Hawking and others have tried to find out whether a final, rather benign universe like ours was an inevitable outcome of that early turbulence. The jury isn’t in on this point, and it may be out forever—the calculations are tough, guided by intuition rather than facts. Deciding whether they meaningfully predict anything is a matter of taste. This recalls Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that in matters of great import, style is always more important than substance.
If this picture of the first split second is remotely right, much depends on the energy content of the foam. The energy to blow up these bubbles would be countered by an opposite, negative energy, which comes from the gravitational attraction of all the matter in the bubble. If the outward pressure just balances the inward attraction (a pressure, really) of the mass, then you could get a universe much like ours: rather mild, with space-time not suffering any severe curvature—what astronomers call “flat.” This seems to be so on such relatively tiny scales as our solar system, and flatness prevails even on the size range of our galaxy. Indeed, flatness holds on immense scales, as far as we can yet see.
It turns out that such bubbles could even form right now. An entirely separate space-time could pop into existence in your living room, say. It would start unimaginably small, then balloon to the size of a cantaloupe—but not before your very eyes, because, for quite fundamental reasons, you couldn’t see it.
“They don’t form in space, of course,” Stephen said. “It doesn’t mean anything to ask where in space these things occur.” They don’t take up room in our universe but rather are their own universes, expanding into spaces that did not exist before.
“They’re cut off from us after we make them,” I said. “No relics, no fossil?”
“I do not think there could be.”
“Like an ungrateful child who doesn’t write home.” When talking about immensities, I sometimes grasp for something human.
“It would not form in our space, but rather as another space-time.”
We discussed for a while some speculations about this that I had put into two novels, Cosm and Timescape. I had used Cambridge and the British scientific style in Timescape, published in 1980, before these ideas became current. I had arrived at them in part from some wide-ranging talks I had enjoyed with Stephen—all suitably disguised in the books, of course. Such enclosed space-times I had termed “onion universes,” since in principle they could have further locked-away space-times inside them, and so on. It is an odd sensation when a guess turns out to have some substance—as much as anything as gossamer as these ideas can be said to be substantial.
“So they form and go,” I mused. “Vanish. Between us and these other universes lies absolute nothingness, in the exact sense—no space or time, no matter, no energy.”
“There can be no way to reach them,” his flat voice said. “The gulf between us and them is unbridgeable. It is beyond physics because it is truly nothing, not physical at all.”
The mechanical laugh resounded. Stephen likes the tug of the philosophical, and he seemed amused by the notion that universes are simply one of those things that happen from time to time.
His nurse appeared for a bit of physical cleanup, and I left him. Inert confinement to a wheelchair exacts a demeaning toll on one’s dignity, but he showed no reaction to the daily round of being cared for by another in the most intimate way. Perhaps for him, it even helps the mind to slip free of the world’s rub.
I sat in the common room outside his office, having tea and talking to some of his post-doctoral students. They were working on similarly wild ideas and were quick, witty, and keenly observant as they sipped their strong, dark Ceylonese tea. A sharp crew, perhaps a bit jealous of Stephen’s time. They were no doubt wondering who this guy was, nobody they had ever heard of, a Californian with an accent tainted by Southern nuances, somebody who worked in astrophysics and plasma physics—which, in our age of remorseless specialization, is a province quite remote from theirs. I didn’t explain; after all, I really had no formal reason to be there, except that Stephen and I were friends.
Stephen’s secretary quietly came out and asked if I would join Stephen for dinner at Caius College. I had intended to eat in my favorite Indian restaurant, where the chicken vindaloo is a purging experience, and then simply rove the walks of Cambridge alone, because I love the atmosphere—but I instantly assented. Dinner at college high table is one of the legendary experiences of England. I could remember keenly each one I had attended; the repartee is sharper than the cutlery.
We made our way through the cool, atmospheric turns of the colleges, the worn wood and gray stones reflecting the piping of voices and squeaks of rusty bicycles. In misty twilight, student shouts echoing, Stephen’s wheelchair jouncing over cobbled streets. He insisted on steering it himself, though his nurse hovered rather nervously. It had never occurred to me just how much of a strain on everyone there can be in round-the-clock care. A few people drifted along behind us, just watching him. “Take no notice,” his mechanical voice said. “Many of them come here just to stare at me.”
We wound among the ancient stone and manicured gardens, into Caius College. Students entering the dining hall made an eager rumpus. Stephen took the elevator, and I ascended the creaking stairs. The faculty entered after the students, me following with the nurse.
The high table is literally so. They carefully placed Stephen with his back to the long, broad tables of undergraduates. I soon realized that this is because watching him eat, with virtually no lip control, is not appetizing. He follows a set diet that requires no chewing. His nurse must chop up his food and spoon-feed him.
The dinner was noisy, with the year’s new undergraduates staring at the famous Hawking’s back. Stephen carried on a matter-of-fact, steady flow of conversation through his keyboard.
He had concerns about the physicists’ Holy Grail, a unified theory of everything. Even if we could thrash our way through a thicket of mathematics to glimpse its outlines, it might not be specific enough—that is, we would still have a range of choices. Physics could end up dithering over arcane points, undecided, perhaps far from our particular primate experience. Here is where aesthetics might enter.
“If such a theory is not unique,” he said, “one would have to appeal to some outside principle, which one might call God.”
I frowned. “Not as the Creator, but as a referee?”
“He would decide which theory was more than just a set of equations, but described a universe that actually exists.”
“Or maybe all possible theories describe universes that exist!” he said with glee. “It is unclear what it means to say that something exists. In questions like, ‘Does there exist a man with two left feet in Cambridge?,’ one can answer this by examining every man in Cambridge. But there is no way that one can decide if a universe exists, if one is not inside it.”
“The space-time Catch-22.”
“So it is not easy to see what meaning can be given to the question, ‘Why does the universe exist?’ But it is a question that one can’t help asking.”
As usual, the ability to pose a question simply and clearly in no way implied a similar answer—or that an answer even existed.
After the dining hall, high table moved to the senior common room upstairs. We relaxed along a long, polished table in comfortable padded chairs, enjoying the traditional crisp walnuts and ancient aromatic port, Cuban cigars, and arch conversation, occasionally skewered by a witty interjection from Stephen.
Someone mentioned American physicist Stephen Weinberg’s statement, in The First Three Minutes, that the more we comprehend the universe, the more meaningless it seems. Stephen doesn’t agree, and neither do I, but he has a better reason. “I think it is not meaningful in the first place to say that the universe is pointless, or that it is designed for some purpose.”
I asked, “No meaning, then, to the pursuit of meaning?”
“To do that would require one to stand outside the universe, which is not possible.”
Again the image of the gulf between the observer and the object of study. “Still,” I persisted, “there is amazing structure we can see from inside.”
“The overwhelming impression is of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws. If one liked, one could say that this order was the work of God. Einstein thought so.”
One of the college fellows asked, “Rational faith?”
Stephen tapped quickly. “We shouldn’t be surprised that conditions in the universe are suitable for life, but this is not evidence that the universe was designed to allow for life. We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There’s not much personal about the laws of physics.”
Walnuts eaten, port drunk, cigars smoked, it was time to go. When we left, Stephen guided his wheelchair through the shadowy reaches of the college, indulging my curiosity about a time-honored undergraduate sport: climbing Cambridge.
At night, young men sometimes scramble among the upper reaches of the steepled old buildings, scaling the most difficult points. They risk their necks for the glory of it. Quite out of bounds, of course. Part of the thrill is eluding the proctors who scan the rooftops late at night, listening for the scrape of heels. There is even a booklet about roof climbing, describing its triumphs and centuries-long history.
Stephen took me to a passageway I had been through many times, a shortcut to the Cam River between high, peaked buildings of undergraduate rooms. He said that it was one of the tough events, jumping across that and then scaling a steep, often slick roof beyond.
The passage looked to be about three meters across. I couldn’t imagine leaping that gap from the slate-dark roofs. And at night, too. “All that distance?” I asked. My voice echoed in the fog.
“Yes,” he said.
“Anybody ever miss?”
His eyes twinkled and he gave us a broad smile. “Yes.” These Cambridge sorts have the real stuff, all right.
In the cool night Stephen recalled some of his favorite science fiction stories. He rarely read any fiction other than science fiction past the age of 12, he said. “It’s really the only fiction that is realistic about our true position in the universe as a whole.”
And how much stranger the universe was turning out than even those writers had imagined. Even when they discussed the next billion years, they could not guess the odd theories that would spring up within the next generation of physicists. Now there are speculations that our universe might have 11 dimensions, all told, all but three of space and one of time rolled up to tiny sizes. Will this change cosmology? So far, nobody knows. But the ideas are fun in and of themselves.
A week after my evening at Cambridge, I got from Stephen’s secretary a transcript of all his remarks. I have used it here to reproduce his style of conversation. Printed out on his wheelchair computer, his sole link with us, the lines seem to come from a great distance. Across an abyss.
Portraying the flinty faces of science—daunting complexity twinned with numbing wonder—demands both craft and art. Some of us paint with fiction. Stephen paints with his impressionistic views of vast, cool mathematical landscapes. To knit together our fraying times, to span the cultural abyss, demands all these approaches—and more, if we can but invent them.
Stephen has faced daunting physical constrictions with a renewed attack on the large issues, on great sweeps of space and time. Daily he struggles without much fuss against the narrowing that is perhaps the worst element of infirmity. I recalled him rapt with Marilyn, still deeply engaged with life, holding firmly against tides of entropy.
I had learned a good deal from those few days, I realized, and most of it was not at all about cosmology.
Copyright © 2005 by Gregory Benford
By Ahrvid Engholm: Swedish book editor and fan Jörgen Peterzén (born 1941) passed away in early March. A friendly, humorous man I knew rather well. We bumped into each other at conventions, meetings of the Scandinavian SF Association (where he earlier was chairman) and publishing events. He also served in the jury for the short story competition Fantastiknovelltävlingen several times, which my SKRIVA E-mail list founded nearly two decades ago. In the 1960’s he published the fanzine Fregna and was also responsible for printing the leading sercon zine SF-Forum on his mimeograph, which he named Atla Press. Jörgen was Guest of Honour of Nasacon 7, 1986, and Upsala SF-Möte VII, 1998.
He joined fandom in the early 1960s when he became member of Sam J Lundwall’s Hyborian Legion club, also known as Legio de Hyborealis, which was Sam J’s old 1950’s club, Cosmos Club of Hägersten, in a revised version. There he became engaged in the famous Fannish War as Lord Jorge, leader of the hyborian state Atlan. (This “war” was a sort of satire or parody of mundane world politics “fought” through fanzines, correspondence, tape recordings and even 8 mm amateur films.)
Later he together with Sam J and Anders Palm founded the Stockholm Tolkien society Forodrim (where he was known under the alias Dallben), which took place in the Men’s Room during the SF*72 sf con, in the early 1970’s. It was Jörgen Peterzen who wrote Forodrim’s statutes, which became an interesting pastische of old, solemn language. (A little-known fact is that Forodrim was formally founded simply as the renamed Hyborian Legion, which in its turn was Sam J’s sf club from the 1950s! The Stockholm Tolkien Society was formally an SF club from the beginning – I suspect Gandalf and Bilbo are unaware of this!)
As a book editor, he began working for Askild & Kärnekull in the 1970s, which was later re-named Legenda and finally swallowed by the Natur & Kultur publishing house, where he remained until his retirement. They published a lot of sf and fantasy, including Stephen Donaldson, Isaac Asimov and Robert Jordan. Jörgen Peterzen also worked as a translator and wrote a book about magic (Magi, 1971).
It is extremely sad that another one of our Old Owls now flies away into higher spheres. The threads to the past break, one by one.
By Dale Arnold: Mary Rosenblum, 65, science fiction author and the 1994 winner of the Compton Crook Award for her novel The Drylands died, March 11 when the small aircraft she was solo piloting crashed near Clark County, Washington.
Rosenblum was the author of 9 novels. She also received the Sidewise Award for Alternate History Short Form for the story Sacrifice in 2009. She is the cousin of science fiction author Brian Groover, a fan active in Baltimore SF fandom.
Kate Wilhelm died March 8 following a brief illness Her son, Richard, made the announcement on Facebook:
Her warmth, humor, and immense talent will be deeply missed. Her life as a loving mother, prolific author, friend, and generous mentor will be cherished by many. We’re proud to continue her legacy, publishing her backlist and recent work through infinityboxpress.com… A celebration of life will be held in Eugene on Friday, June 8, 2018, Kate’s birthday. Details will be announced.
Wilhelm’s first published short fiction was “The Pint-Size Genie” in the October 1956 issue of Fantastic. The next year, her first accepted story, “The Mile-Long Spaceship”, was published by John W. Campbell, Jr. in Astounding.
She won the Best Novel Hugo for Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang in 1977, and the Best Related Book Hugo for Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2006. She won three Nebula Awards, for the short stories “The Planners” (1969) and “Forever Yours, Anna” (1988), and the novelette “The Girl Who Fell into the Sky” (1987).
She married Joseph Wilhelm in 1947, and had two sons. They couple divorced in 1962, and she married Damon Knight in 1963.
In addition to their literary achievements, Wilhelm and Knight made major contributions to the sf field as the creators of sf writing workshops. As Gordon Van Gelder said in his thorough appreciation of Kate Wilhelm’s for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2001 (read it here) —
…You’ll note the author bio mentions that she lived in Milford at the time. As many readers of this magazine already know, her home there was a big Victorian house called the Anchorage with her second husband, a writer and critic by the name of Damon Knight.
The reason so many readers are aware of this fact is because Kate and Damon hosted many, many writing workshops there. I can’t recall for certain if they met at a workshop, but as far as the history of science fiction is concerned, they might as well have. By way of writing groups in Milford, Clarion, and eventually in Eugene, Oregon (their home for the past three decades), Kate and Damon have consistently surrounded themselves with vibrant literary communities—they’ve practically raised contemporary American science fiction.
… She and Damon helped Robin Wilson found the Clarion workshops and for more than twenty years they taught the final two weeks. I saw Kate in action once, about ten years ago, and marveled at her ability to analyze a story and gently but firmly bring out the weaknesses in a constructive manner. It is no wonder that writers can quote her twenty years later. It is no wonder that the roster of writers she helped foster includes such luminaries as Kim Stanley Robinson, George Alec Effinger, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Robert Crais, Nicola Griffith, Lucius Shepard, and dozens more. In the year 2000, all four winners of the Nebula Award for fiction were former students of Kate’s.
Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight were guests of honor at the 1980 Worldcon.
Wihelm was inducted to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003.
By Karl-Johan Norén: Lars-Olov Strandberg passed away early morning on March 3, never having recovered from a stroke he suffered in January. He was a Guest of Honour at Interaction, the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow.
Lars-Olov was born July 26, 1929. He was active from the start of Swedish science fiction fandom, present at the first Swedish science fiction con, Luncon in 1956, and on hand with his camera at nearly every Swedish sf con since. He did not make a big mark in this very early fandom, but he was present, and his strong organisational skills were instrumental in making the Scandinavian Society for Science Fiction (SFSF) a success after its founding in 1960. Many of its early meetings were held in his apartment at Folkskolegatan 22.
Lars-Olov held a secure, well-paying job at a major Swedish insurance company, and served as treasurer, secretary, or chairman at nearly every con held in Stockholm, often paying the economic deficit of the cons out of his own pocket. He also used this to make frequent travels to international cons. He visited most Eastercons for nearly forty years, and was a regular at Worldcons as well.
When Swedish fandom started to expand in the 1970s, Lars-Olov was there was well. He was one of the founding members of Forodrim, the Stockholm Tolkien society, where he took the alias of Théoden. He organised the first lasting Swedish fan foundation, the Alvar Appeltofft Memorial Foundation. He was a member of nearly every science fiction club in Sweden. Perhaps most importantly, he was part of the board of SFSF when they acquired the book club of the Swedish publisher Askild & Kärnekull, instantly making the society’s membership several times larger. The publishing activity and postal order store was the foundation of the Stockholm Science Fiction bookstore, nowadays with presence in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö, and one of the largest science fiction bookstores in the world. It is unlikely that the Science Fiction bookstore could have grown beyond its humble beginnings without Lars-Olov.
I first met Lars-Olov sometime early 1999, when I first went to meet Swedish organised fandom. I think he served as the secretary of the book auction, and he was friendly and unassuming. He was never forward, and I never heard him raise his voice. He was so retiring that one could be excused to think he was not there. But he kept careful notes at every meeting, no matter how small, and he was always there, making Swedish fandom better by being friendly to everyone. A Swedish con or an SFSF meeting without Lars-Olov was something impossible.
[Editor’s note: February 14 was Dave Kyle’s birthday.]
By John L. Coker III: There are not many people active today in science fiction fandom who can recall a time before David A. Kyle (1919-2016) was part of the scene.
Dave had participated in many of the great moments in SF history from the earliest days. He had personally known and worked with most of the people who were involved in the SF field during the past seventy years or so. And, he was still excited about it all.
If you were accompanying Dave during a large convention, you better not be in a hurry, because you were going to get to meet everyone there. He was especially gracious to the younger fans, taking them around, introducing them to people during the weekend.
Over the years, I always found Dave to be a thoughtful, considerate, and well-mannered person, all in the most natural way. He was modest and glad to share the spotlight, acknowledging the good work of others. Dave was clever, and really smart, with a wonderful sense of humor. He told wonderful stories and delivered some terrible puns.
Dave had great capacity for composing well-constructed paragraphs in first draft and he was comfortable speaking in an impromptu manner in front of audiences. Dave was interesting, knowledgeable, idealistic and stalwart, with genuine depth and a real command of the English language. He could give legitimacy to any event just by participating, or even with his presence in the audience. He was generous to friends and strangers. I can remember occasions as I watched Dave’s well-wishers form a receiving line as they waited to greet him when he entered a crowded room, and then he’d have them sign his book.
He was a professional artist with natural talent and imagination. And, Dave had a considerable career as a journalist for his family’s newspaper, radio and television stations. He will likely best be remembered as an author, editor and SF book publisher.
Dave devoted his life to promoting the ideals of science fiction. He genuinely embodied the ‘sense of wonder.’ He was a pioneer with many first-time accomplishments. His unique influence will be felt for decades to come. When fans gather together in the future to share stories, they will all remember the Man in the Red Jacket, David A. Kyle.