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Spider On The Web, the FREE podcast, is updated infrequently with fresh content. Follow the link.

November 3, 2014 Ups And Downs

I apologize profoundly to all of you who’ve been kind enough to keep up your subscription payments even though I’ve stopped posting podcasts for you to subscribe to, and generous enough to keep making donations too. There’s no way I can convey how grateful I am, or how much your generosity has helped to keep my pilot light lit. The least I can do in return is update you on the most recent developments here at Tottering-on-the-Brink, and offer you my best excuses for continued non-podcasting and nonpublication.

May as well start with good news. A few weeks ago, at V-Con 39 (the Vancouver science fiction convention), my Jeanne and I were, along with the great William Gibson, inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction And Fantasy Hall Of Fame, a lifetime achievement honour from by the same Canadian Science Fiction And Fantasy Association that gives out the annual Aurora Awards. The award comes with both a snazzy plaque, and a striking sculpture by Gideon Hay that he’s still working on as we speak. I’ve seen a maquette, a 3-D model of the finished piece; it is a work of great power and beauty, and when photos are available I’ll post them here.

This honour moves and humbles me. I was present for the first-ever induction, of A.E. van Vogt, and was there in Toronto when Frederik Pohl formally inducted the immortal Judith Merril. I am deeply gratified to be considered worthy of joining them and Bill Gibson and all the other inductees.

In my brief acceptance remarks, I mentioned that Jeanne was the first woman to win the Hugo and Nebula with her first published work. The vigorous applause warmed me.

It was the first con I’ve attended in corpus since Jeanne had to leave in 2010, and it felt indescribably weird to be without her. But the support of old friends including Steve Fahnestalk, Tam Gordy, and Don DeBrandt got me through it. Also I met a new friend with an incredible singing voice and a great laugh, the actress CJ Jackman Zigante, and I got to hear at least a portion of my friend and longtime science consultant Guy Immega’s riveting slideshow presentation on Alien Languages, and I witnessed a genuinely exciting cartoonists’ live duel, ably moderated by Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk.

The next bit of news I want to share with you is the glorious visit I had a couple of weeks ago from my beloved daughter and granddaughter. Terri and Marisa came back to visit me and to say hello to all the many friends they made when they lived here on Bowen Island from 2009-11. They arrived just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, bringing with them Terri’s friend Nicole from Vancouver and her friend Erica from Brooklyn, now of Mendocino, and we all basically partied for a week, starting with a superb Thanksgiving Feast at the home of my friend Earl Jenkins. My house echoed with love and laughter and music and warmth all week.

Terri was in rocky shape from the chemo, but seemed determined to pay no attention to it. She walked with a pronounced limp, but never seemed tired, or stopped smiling. For me, her visit was like watering a cactus. I took nourishment from her, and from Marisa who owns my heart, and was sorry to send them home to Connecticut at the end of a 10-day visit.

Two days ago, October 25, was Terri’s 40th birthday, and several friends and family members from all around North America flew her to Chicago for a special celebration. Almost on arrival, she tripped and fell.

Which is how we learned that her limp was due to a slowly-fracturing femur, weakened by her chemo drugs. The fall did so much more damage that she required, and yesterday she received, a hip replacement.

There are at least two up sides to this. First, she’s in Chicago, where she will probably have better surgeons and better care than she might have if this had happened back home in rural Connecticut. And second, her Aunt Laurie is with her, and can stay for at least a week. My sister Mary calls Laurie “a mighty goddess of coping,” and I wholeheartedly agree. I feel much better just knowing she’s there to be Terri’s advocate and buddy and travel facilitator.

But there is no doubt that Terri is now facing long painful rehab. If you pray, your prayers would be most gratefully accepted; if not, please just, as we used to say in the Bronx, “hold a good t’ought” for Terri. Look for updates on her condition on her Facebook page. [https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gracefulwomanwarrior/247095598695612]

I am and have been and will be trying to produce more fiction for you to read, and podcasts for you to groove to. But things have been going especially slow, lately. Minor health problems of my own I don’t even want to go into. Household emergencies that would bore the balls off a buffalo. And obvious emotional wear and tear from the distractions detailed above. Bachelor life in general, basically.

I’m workin’ on it. For 35 years Jeanne made it possible for me to spend my days and nights staring into space and dreaming about the imaginary problems of imaginary people. She did this with something like 10% of her attention, while maintaining fulltime careers of her own in at least three different demanding professions. Now that she’s gone, I’m lucky to keep cornflakes on the table and the
laundry folded. These days I consider it a good day if I’m able to seize enough time to not get any writing done.

I used to write in blocks of six or eight hours, of which the first three or four were spent warming up. That luxury is gone, probably forever, and I’m doing my best to learn a whole new way to write, one that requires short bursts with no warmup at all. Ideally, a way that can be done while cooking. That level of multitasking. Like I said, I’m workin’ on it.

I always like to leave ‘em smiling if possible. Here’s my best shot: Very Soon Now (that is, once I complete the furshlugginer Introduction for it), my first-ever ebook short story collection, titled MY FAVORITE SHORTS, should be published for your reading pleasure. My sagacious agent Eleanor Wood has persuaded me that people who typically read ebooks (and bless your hearts) are often multitaskers such as I’m trying to become, and no longer have huge blocks of time to commit to reading novels. If the new collection sells, perhaps I’ll find myself writing short fiction again, after a hiatus of decades. That’d be a lot easier to do while cooking.

And at least you’ll have some good, time-tested stuff to read while you wait for me to get off my duff and finish ORPHAN STARS. Once I finish that Intro, of course.

In the meantime, I can’t say it enough: thank you for your support and patience. It is appreciated more than I can say or will ever be able to repay.


September 14, 2013 SERIOUS AS A HEART ATTACK

Long past time this home page was updated. Long past time I posted a podcast. Long past time a lot of things. The hurrier I go, the behinder I get. Well, at least my excuses keep getting better....

I used to think I was complimenting my Jeanne when I’d say that she did ten times the work I did, in ten percent of the time. Now that I’ve replaced her in all areas, I see at once that I vastly underestimated her accomplishment. I was far luckier to have her for 35 years than even I ever suspected.

I’m working on the podcast part. I have several backed up in my head, awaiting time and technology. My recording software needs some tweaking, and the necessary wizard is busy at the moment. Soon as I can, honest.

The novel ORPHAN STARS too has been moving forward, albeit slowly, and I like what I have so far.

Far more pressing than all that, however, is to tell you all the good news I’ve had lately. I might as well start with my heart attack.

No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was. At the end of August, I began experiencing an odd sense of queasiness. It didn’t interfere with appetite or digestion, and was only annoying, but it wouldn’t go away. After three days, on August 31, a Saturday evening, the queasiness intensified and changed, moved slightly up my torso, and became more like chest pain.

But not very bad chest pain—perhaps 5 or 6 on a scale of 10. I very nearly blew it off, took a couple of Tylenol and called my doctor in the morning. Good thing I changed my mind: I would unquestionably never have awakened.

Instead, with great reluctance, I called Dr. Susanne Schloegl at home. She saved my life with four words. “Call 911. Right now,” she said.

So I did, and less than three minutes later, kind strangers wheeled a gurney in my front door.

Then things accelerated for a while: a water taxi ride to the mainland at near hydroplaning speed, followed by two high-speed ambo races through a town full of drunks on a Saturday night, first to Lion’s Gate Hospital, where heart attack was confirmed, and then immediately to St. Paul’s in downtown Vancouver, which happens to have one of the best heart units in the country. I have nothing but praise for the emergency-response system that serves Bowen Island; by their haste, they did as much to save my life as anyone else. If the water-taxi had been out of service, they had a chopper ready.

Then things slowed down again for awhile. My left anterior descending coronary artery was found to be completely and totally blocked. So a Dr. James Wood, whom I have not yet met socially, sent a tiny videocamera in through my femoral artery, kept pushing until it was inside my heart, and fixed matters from there, re-opening the shut artery and installing a stent to keep it open. I was awake the whole time, blindfolded, and never felt a thing. Hell, I didn’t even miss Breaking Bad the following evening. A week later, I could no longer find the mosquito-bite sized mark that was the only sign left by life-saving cardiac surgery.

On Saturday September 7, they sent me home, where I’m typing this, acutely aware that I am very lucky to be doing so. They said if I’d arrived at St. Paul’s as much as half an hour later, the consequences would have been catastrophic; instead, I am expected to make a full and complete recovery.

So that’s my own good news. Then there’s my daughter’s, which makes mine seem a comparatively small thing. Hers is a no-foolin’ miracle.

First, I cannot tell you how much joy it gives me to announce that, for the time being anyway, Terri, uh….well….she doesn’t seem to have breast cancer anymore. It went away. For now, at least.

Don’t bother telling me that’s impossible, because I already know it. When you’re Stage IV, it’s way too late to hope for much but a merciful end. Established metastases don’t just….ungrow, not ever. Certainly not in several widely separated locations, all at once.

Make that hardly ever.

Hers all went away someplace, leaving only the original two tiny tumors in her portside breast, and after a pause to recover from the shock, her doctors gradually realized there was now a point to a mastectomy after all. That was done, and now the last of the reconstruction surgery is finally over with and recovered from, and she looks and feels great. For further info, see Terri’s superb blog at www.gracefulwomanwarrior.com.

They’ll be testing her at regular intervals for the rest of her life, of course. Fingers crossed. But the shadow has passed from that house for the time being, and all rejoice.

The more so because the household itself has moved east, to within easy driving distance of both her and Heron’s beloved New York (where they met), and lower Massachusetts where Jeanne’s loving family all swarm. Heron’s ship too picked this most opportune moment to come in, bringing him a new and better job with more money, more exciting work, and more congenial co-workers than the job he had in Ohio, and it called for a move to Connecticut.

They have literally just moved in as I type this, and so far, they love everything about their new home. It is very near to Mystic, a town with which my own mother Evelyn always had a deep spiritual and emotional connection. I like to think that part of her spirit wlll be nearby to watch over them, and cherish little Marisa.

And finally, they now live very near an ocean beach, which makes them all happy campers. There are no natural bodies of water of any sort in Ohio.

So: good news is everywhere, and once I’ve finished my recovery process, I will once again be trying to complete my novel ORPHAN STARS for you. At least I now have a partial explanation of why progress has been so slow: for an indeterminate time, I’ve been working my way toward a heart attack, receiving inadequate oxygen to the brain, feeling exhausted after an hour of typing. That should slowly improve.

The hour-shortage I mentioned above will still be a problem: for 35 years I was able to sit staring into space for 4-6 hours and then type nonstop for the next 5-8 hours before crashing. Meanwhile Jeanne took care of everything else, from the mail to the mortgage to the shopping to the cooking to putting gas in the car. Doing both parts would be impossible even if I were her. Which I am far from being.

But I’m on the case. I want the book done more than you do, believe me. And in the meantime, there are a few small things to keep you occupied.

Thanks to the astuteness and hard work of Kristina Bell at the Spectrum Literary Agency, the second Callahan’s Place book, TIME TRAVELERS STRICTLY CASH, has just (at last!) been made available as an e-book. (Joining CROSSTIME SALOON and THE CALLAHAN TOUCH.) I finished proofing it recently, and it pleased me. It contains four excellent Callahan’s yarns, and some of my best non-Callahan short stories, “God Is An Iron,” “Local Champ,” “Serpent’s Teeth,” and “Soul Search,” plus the very first book review I ever published in Jim Baen’s Galaxy. And if that weren’t enough, it also contains a fairly notorious essay which has won me a fair number of both friends and foes over the years, “Rah Rah R.A.H.!,” in which I took on and did my best to rebut some then-commonly-heard criticisms of Robert A. Heinlein. If I had never published that essay, I doubt I would have been asked by Robert’s estate to complete VARIABLE STAR.

Coincidentally, Catherine Book, who used to have an excellent fan newzine called ConNotations, has recently started reviewing the earlier Callahan books at a very interesting fan webpage she now co-edits called The Nameless Zine, whose url is http://www.westernsfa.org/Book_Nook/Index.html (I guess it really is nameless!) and you can find some of those reviews here: http://www.westernsfa.org/Book_Nook/Voices.php. Among them, she covers TIME TRAVELERS STRICTLY CASH.

Even better, another Robinson e-book is just being released, and while it may be only half the length of an average novel, it is of proven high quality: it is the original 40,000-word novella version of “Stardance,” for which Jeanne and I were awarded the Hugo and Nebula. That novella was written for the express purpose of earning us our fare from Massachusetts back home to Nova Scotia, and it not only succeeded at that, it made Jeanne the first woman ever to win a Hugo and a Nebula with her first published work, and many years later was directly responsible for her being invited to dine with the President and First Lady at the National Book Festival in Washington. (I was there too, but had been invited separately, for a different book, VARIABLE STAR.)

We later expanded it into a novel also called STARDANCE, which birthed two sequels, STARSEED and STARMIND, and you can still obtain all three in a large hardcover volume from Baen called THE STARDANCE TRILOGY.

But re-reading this original novella version, which was never intended to become anything larger, was a very interesting and nostalgically thrilling experience for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too. As I read it, I was carried back in my mind to my mother-in-law Dorothy Rubbicco’s basement in North Dartmouth where I sat and wrestled with that story….until Jeanne blessedly came downstairs with coffee, and paused to show me how to make the story, and the zero-G choreography, work. One of my most glorious memories that don’t involve nudity.

Oh, and if you have access to a great deal of money, and a hankering to be the executive producer of an Oscar-winning film, Jim Sposto and David Gerrold have a screenplay you ought to read, also called “Stardance.” Jeanne read an early draft before she had to leave, and gave it her thumbs up. Contact Jim at js@sposto.com.

Before I let you go, I should mention that the above-mentioned Catherine Book is now running a Callahan’s Bar trivia contest, the winner of whom gets her personal Callahan’s collection. She says the boxes of books are taking over her house, and I quite know the feeling. If you would like a crack at a Callahan’s Place collection, try your luck and memory at Catherine’s Crosstime Trivia Contest here: http://www.westernsfa.org/Book_Nook/Trivia.php

That’s about all the news I have. My health is improving, my spirits are good, my days are full, my family is healthy and happy, and if I could just learn how to write in short spurts instead of all-night marathons, I’d be the happiest bug in the jungle. I’m workin’ on it. Meanwhile the weather in B.C. is unreasonably good, and I’m trying to take what advantage of it I can.

A happy Fall to us all!

Here, for lagniappe, is a short (three-minute long) video of me, in my kitchen, singing an abbreviated version of the song “Ballad Of The Sad Young Men,” by Fran Landesman and Thomas J. Wolfe Jr., accompanied by my guitar Lady Macbeth.

—Spider


Where Tesla Meets Robinson....Near Callahan's Place
(all photos by John Moore)

In the first photo (#546), the buildings visible on the right, behind my brother-in-law John Moore's PT Cruiser, are all that remains today of Wardenclyffe, Nikola Tesla's laboratory in Shoreham NY, designed by Stanford White. All but invisible in the woods directly behind me is the huge circular concrete base of the 187-foot-tall tower Tesla raised for the purpose of giving free limitless electricity to the whole world--until his chief backer J.P. Morgan found out, and pulled the plug. (Perhaps one of the most apt uses ever of that particular metaphor.)

Notice the street sign in the foreground. I'm shown standing at the closest spot a civilian can now get to the surviving structures: the corner of Tesla St. and Robinson St. (See photo #551) No shit. It's within a block or two of Rte. 25-A--which is the only location I ever gave for the original Callahan's Place.

Robinson St. Tesla St.

Some, including me, believe it was with that tower, designed by White's associate W.D. Crow (which, by the way, took the best efforts of three successive demolition firms to bring down; a shitload of dynamite was required) that Tesla accidentally caused the Tunguska Event of 1908, which leveled 2,150 square kilometers of Siberian wilderness. See my CALLAHAN'S KEY for details (and see photo #553 for a better shot of the tower's base). He also designed and produced the first Tesla Turbine there, and did the first mass production of Tesla Coils.

The site was subsequently purchased by the Agfa corporation, which polluted it with photographic chemicals so horrifically that it's now a Superfund Cleanup Site, which is why it's surrounded by high chain-link with serious barbed wire on top and camera surveillance. (see photo #559)

Wardenclyffe Superfund Cleanup Site

By a coincidence even more gasp-worthy to me than the name of the nearest intersection, the Wardenclyffe property is in the path of a huge power-line right of way corridor (seen in photo #562), which was constructed for the purpose of carrying the immense amounts of electricity that were expected to be generated by the Shoreham nuclear power plant only a few miles away--which never opened, thanks in part to the efforts of my anti-nuke friends David Crosby and Graham Nash. The reactor was fired up exactly once before it was abandoned, but never produced a single watt. TWO schemes to bring almost limitless power to the Long Island/NYC area, and both of them failed utterly, the first due to greed, the second to fear. A dispiriting thing to see and contemplate....relieved only slightly by the visible presence in that power-tower corridor of cell-phone towers (see photo #565), a technology that did not fail.

power corridor cell phone tower

In photo # 579, taken from where John's car is seen parked in the first photo, you can see the back stairway on which I like to imagine Tesla used to catch a smoke between experiments.

Wardenclyffe

There are several groups presently trying to have Wardenclyffe cleaned up and turned into a museum/historic site/tourist attraction--among them the Tesla Science Center mentioned at the bottom of this webpage. Please Google them all, and support all you find worthy. A science center and museum at Wardenclyffe would be a fitting memorial for the man who invented the modern world single-handed, and got screwed out of all the money and most of the credit.

As Wikipedia notes:

Designation of the structure as a National Landmark is awaiting completion of plant decommissioning activities by its present owner. [The Agfa Corporation--SR]
In 1976, an application was filed to nominate the main building for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It failed to get approval. The Tesla Wardenclyffe Project, Inc. was established in 1994 for the purpose of seeking placement of the Wardenclyffe laboratory-office building and the Tesla tower foundation on both the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. Its mission is the preservation and adaptive reuse of Wardenclyffe, the century-old laboratory of electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla located in Shoreham, Long Island, New York. In October 1994 a second application for formal nomination was filed. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation conducted inspections and determined the facility meets New York State criteria for historic designation. A second visit was made on February 25, 2009. The site cannot be registered until it is nominated by a willing owner.

Anyway, that's how I spent (part of) my winter vacation. The first thing I intend to do when I get home in mid-January will be to record and post a new podcast for you. In the meantime, I hope you'll find these photos entertaining.


What's New

  • Heinlein Award Spider has won the 2008 Robert A. Heinlein Award for Lifetime Excellence in Literature!

    This year’s co-winners of the 2008 Robert A. Heinlein Award for Lifetime Excellence in Literature were announced at the 66th World Science Fiction Convention, Denvention 3; they are Ben Bova...and Spider Robinson.

    ...and more happy Heinleinian news!

    Most readers who’ve responded to VARIABLE STAR by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson have expressed strong desire to know what happened next. Spider is delighted to report his agent Eleanor Wood has, in the worst times in sf publishing history, sold Tor Books not just one but three sequels to VARIABLE STAR, to be known collectively as The Orphan Stars Trilogy. For more information, listen to Spider On The Web #59.

  • Please help save Nikola Tesla's memory.

    Wardenclyffe, Nikola Tesla's only surviving labratory is currently for sale, and the owners are threatening to raze the buildings in spite of the state acknowledging their importance as an historical landmark.

    The Tesla Science Center wants to save Wardenclyffe, and turn it into the museum it should be.

    Fans of the CALLAHAN'S series know that Tesla was an important figure in Spider's heart, and he mentioned Wardenclyffe in several books beginning with CALLAHAN'S KEY. Anyone interested in preserving the memory of Tesla can make a donation to The Tesla Science Center to help save Wardenclyffe.

  • Jeanne Robinson and her co-producer/writer James Sposto have launched a website to promote the Stardance feature film project at: www.stardancemovie.com. Get the all the news and photos at the Press Room link and the blog http://stardancemovie.blogspot.com. Watch video clips of the Stardance team adventures on the December 30, 2008 flight on Zero-Gravity Corporation’s refitted 727 on the Homepage, where Jeanne put her concepts of “dance beyond the bonds of gravity” to the test.
    Stardance Experience Movie