By John Hertz: I drank tea with Jerry Pournelle. Our ordinary protocol is to meet for lunch and disagree. We did this for a change. His study upstairs is floor-to-ceiling books, which is, as a woman I know likes to say, as it should be. The canister of Peet’s Golden Dragon Oolong on the tray he carried up I might have given him myself, I forget. We talked of Dante, Leka I of Albania, Patrick O’Brian.
At Loscon XL on a Classics of S-F panel he’d complained that looking back at past s-f one will find the science laughable. I reminded him of our Classics panel at Cascadiacon about Starman Jones – chosen upon that very point – where he’d said various brilliant things; at Renovation where I led solo a book talk about From the Earth to the Moon people kept getting into the acceleration of the projectile but somewhat goaded by me came to the pacing of the narrative. He acknowledged Churchill’s studying Macaulay’s History of England as a writer despite its provoking Churchill to compose Marlborough as a historian. Churchill’s magnanimity throughout his memoir The Second World War, to Stafford Cripps, to Darlan, to Stalin, struck us both.
It’s the 100th birthday of Alfred Bester (18 Dec 1913– 30 Sep 1987). Despite carefully quoting “On the Banks of the Old Raritan” in “The Animal Fair”– with glances at Doctor Dolittle, Freddy the Pig, Milne’s “Disobedience”, Mary Poppins ch. 9, activism, and Animal Farm – he went not to Rutgers but U. Penn., where he won prizes in fencing. He bested often.
In Man of Two Worlds Julie Schwartz, his agent in the 1940s, credits him as author of “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might beware my power – Green Lantern’s light!” He wrote for The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician while Lee Falk served in the war; on radio, for Nick Carter and The Shadow; television, shows that starred Fred Astaire, Julie Harris; he edited Holiday.
His first novel The Demolished Man won the first Best-Novel Hugo Award. The Stars My Destination, even better, as it should be, had no Hugo in its category at the 1957 Worldcon, perhaps for the best, we thus not having to vote between it and Clarke’s City and the Stars, the parallels between which, the books being so different, are so remarkable.
“Fondly Fahrenheit”, perhaps his best novelette, called by Robert Silverberg a paragon of construction and style, he adapted for TV in 1959, beaten for Best Dramatic Presentation only by The Twilight Zone. At short-story length he may never have surpassed “The Pi Man”, coruscating, gripping, strange; he should never have revised it years later. It was beaten for the Hugo only by Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” – which its author should never have revised – in both cases unlike The City and the Stars.
He was a member of the Philomathean Society, whose motto Sic itur ad astra (Latin, “Thus we travel to the stars”) closed the most recent Phantom adventure two weeks ago, perhaps in centenary salute.
[Reprinted from Vanamonde 1071.]