A Quarter of the Way Into “The Gods Themselves,” Isaac Asimov Blew My Freaking Mind

14-5[1]

I like to think that I’m Isaac Asimov aficionado. I’m not, really. I just like to think that. I mean, I read the David Starr books when I was a kid, the Science Fiction Book Club introduced me to the Foundation Series, I read all his magazine essays in compilations, the Robot mysteries, and his non-science fiction mysteries were all well known to me.

Today, I read “The Gods Themselves.” I figured it was a typical human drama like Heinlein’s space pioneer books (“Have Spacesuit, Will Travel) or other Asimov books themselves, say like the Foundation Series itself, and the opening act proved me right. One scientist has discovered a way to transfer materials out of our universe, and with the help of mysterious creatures in an alternate universe, generate energy as a result. Another scientist is (quite correctly) terrified that this will lead to disastrous (on a galactic scale) results.

Typical Asimov.

According to my Kindle, I was 23% of the way through the book, when Isaac Asimov blew my freaking mind. The second act started, not on Earth — where the first act had resided. Not even on the Moon, where one character had been heading. No, this act started in that alternate universe. It starred three aliens of a race so wonderfully imagined, I have not seen its equal in science fiction anywhere, although Orson Scott Card’s alien race in “Speaker for the Dead” appears to have been inspired by Asimov’s.

I don’t want to give it away, because the joy of this entire segment of the book was far, far more than the story going on — and it was an important, VITAL part of the entire story. No, the discovery of this race in my mind, as Asimov carefully placed it there, each word picked perfectly, every phrase, every minute piece of world-building and xenology (to coin a phrase, as he was wont to do). On every page in the second act he surprised me, something I did not think he could do. On every page he delighted me, and I was even more surprised and, well, delighted at that too.

As I read this, I felt “This is something special. This is something Asimov has never done before. Can he keep it up?” — Sadly, the third act returns to our universe, and wraps up very neatly, as many of his novels do. The science fiction was spectacular, but it all felt forced — as though the verdict had been decided before the words ever reached the page. Still… that second act.

When I reached the final page, I put the book down, and immediately jumped onto Wiki. Sure enough, “The Gods Themselves” had won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Locus awards that year. Asimov himself said that he believed the second act was as creative and inventive as anything he’d ever written.

I have to agree.

 

If you haven’t read this science fiction classic, but you love sci-fi, I encourage you to pick a copy up today. You won’t be disappointed. I also ask that you consider getting the book from my Amazon link, below. This site stays open through the generous patronage of readers like you. Thank you!

 

Categories: Books | Leave a comment

The Road Trip That Wasn’t: Day 35, 1/18/2015, Capitol Reef National Park

3977714550_af95d0f769_z[1]

Sure enough, the night sky was everything we’d been promised. I will say this much about every National Park we have been to so far: they kick so much stargazing ass, that if you have any interest in witnessing the heavens like you’ve never seen them before, you must go to your local National Park to do it. It will be worth it. Every time.

There wasn’t much for breakfast. It’s been 9 days since we left the civilized shelter of Las Vegas and our food stocks, especially fresh foods like eggs and milk, were at an end. So we made do with toast and granola bars. I’ve got some beef and pasta sauce that will become spaghetti for dinner, tomorrow we’ll be on paved roads and under street lamps again.

For now, though, the thought of food guided our attention to the one day-hike that seemend most worthwhile: Hamburger Rocks. HAMBURGER!

Never mind that there couldn’t possibly be a rock that tastes like a hamburger out here in the middle of the desert. That was probably a mirage, right? No, it would be something that looked like a hamburger, or, like the Hat Shop in Bryce Canyon National Park, a bunch of rocks with other rocks on top of them like hats. Who knows… maybe there’s a giant Golden Arches of stones, like a great geological monument to the Big Mac?

We walked the 4/12 miles to the site of the famous… oh my God. More hoodoos. Hamburger shaped hoodoos. These things are everywhere!

09-10-1-Hamburger-Rocks[1]Hoodoos that look like hamburgers. Of course. 

We didn’t find any more petroglyphs, which disappointed the kids. They had been really excited about those. I think I’ll pick a book up for them when we hit town tomorrow. For now, it’s a big pot of spaghetti, and the endless stars of the Milky Way. Damn, I love this mild winter we’re having.

Now you know where we were on 1/18. Can you guess where we’ll be on 1/25? There’s a $5 bounty for the first person to guess. All you gotta do is comment below with your guess before midnight tonight. Winner announced when the 1/25 post goes live.

(The Road Trip That Never Was is a fictional account of a year-long road trip I am (not) taking across America. Follow my nomadic journey by subscribing to the email feed on the top right. It’s fun, fast and free!)

 

 

Categories: The Road Trip That Wasn't | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Is This The Fastest Car in Oregon?

Today, in Gladstone, a sleepy little suburb tucked against the Willamette river south of Portland, a battle was held for supremacy: who, in all the region, had the fastest car. The winner of the 2014 edition of this race was here to defend his title with a brand new car; be sheer coincidence, he happened to be my son.

The race, held only once a year was what they called the Pinewood Derby. Parents around the world take hours and hours every winter to meticulously craft, carve, weight, and paint their boys’ entries, in the hopes that the child would have some memory of helping. This was Stephen’s defending year. He’d won the 2014 race by .01 seconds… a computer clock verified the fact. This year they weren’t tracking times, just place. But the computer and laser would still make the call, in case it was just too close to tell.

It was a smaller field than the year before, but the competition as expected to be fierce. In honor of his favorite Autobot, Stephen had painted his car Bumblebee yellow and black.

WIN_20150124_105209

 

 

WIN_20150124_105158

Round one went exactly as expected. The car was lightning fast, and blew the other cars in the heat away. Stephen was clearly poised to win.

 

No other car was close. Stephen knew victory was his. And then, in the final round of the preliminary heats…

He took second.

SECOND.

This meant, if his car could not beat the car that was now in the pole for the final race… he would not be able to win. He would lose his title. His dreams of being the greatest Pinewood Derby driver in all of Gladstone two years running… would be over. That’s when he reached out for his old mentor. To try and find an answer, solace, or a friend.

And that’s when the magic happened.

 

That’ll do, boy. That’ll do.

 

Categories: Memoir | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Road Trip That Wasn’t: Day 34, 1/17/2015, Capitol Reef National Park

Scenic-Drive-Winter[1]

There are five National Parks in Utah, making it one of the most National-Park-dense states in America, (behind only California and Alaska, as far as I can tell). Our third one was the strangest-named park I’ve heard of so far. Capitol Reef National Park. About 140 miles north of Bryce Canyon we meandered through painted deserts and gorgeous canyon scenery until we came to our destination. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. We parked at a little oasis in the desert: Fruita Campground, developed around a former fruit orchard maintained by Mormon settlers, and long before them, Native Americans.

What we discovered is that reef has a meaning that I did not know: “impediment to travel.” Cutting across this land, created by the same seismic forces that drove the Rocky Mountains skyward is the 65-million-year-old Waterpocket Fold. Quite literally, it is a wrinkle on the earth’s surface. One giant segment of land, miles long, jammed and folded over another. It is a vast wealth of fossils, mineral artifacts, and a series of domes that look vaguely like the U.S. Capitol Building’s dome in Washington D.C. Capitol. Reef.

Mind. Blown.

800px-Capitol_Reef_Domes[1]

The other mind-blowing thing we discovered I found out when reading materials the park rangers gave us when we came in, asking people not to deface the petroglyphs. Petroglyphs!? The mission was on. We set out for the gorge. Capitol Gorge, of course.

petroglyph-panel1[1]

Wow!

The ancient peoples who lived here millenia ago had a lot of time on their hands apparently. They drew a detailed record of the things like liked doing. They drew pictures of the alien overlords who brought them to this planet and gave them rudimentary tools and weapons. They archived the mysterious fantastical monsters that once dwelled in these lands.

It’s possible they just drew really strange looking men and animals too, but I’m not counting on that.

I can’t wait to see what the night sky looks like here. This place has the heavy, regal smell of a history far older than people, almost older than the earth itself. I want to get a sense of that smell under the infinite light and inspiration of the stars. I’ll see you all tomorrow.

Now you know where we were on 1/17. Can you guess where we’ll be on 1/24? There’s a $5 bounty for the first person to guess. All you gotta do is comment below with your guess before midnight tonight. Winner announced when the 1/24 post goes live.

(The Road Trip That Never Was is a fictional account of a year-long road trip I am (not) taking across America. Follow my nomadic journey by subscribing to the email feed on the top right. It’s fun, fast and free!)

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: The Road Trip That Wasn't | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Road Trip That Wasn’t: Day 33, 1/16/2015, Bryce Canyon National Park

Sunrise-in-Bryce-Canyon[1]

You know what I discovered, about 4:30 in the morning, on a quiet, starlit night miles from any other human souls than my family?

We are a noisy, noisy family.

I snore. I snore like the wrath of God is coming for you, and it has a cold. My wife doesn’t exactly snore, but she breathes heavily enough that the air trembles loudly around her. My son doesn’t snore, but sometimes he cries out “No, don’t kill my dog!” or “Let’s do this, Deadpool!” in his sleep. Then he frumps around into a different sleeping position and the sound is the same as a water buffalo collapsing under the weight of a dozen ravenous crocodiles. Arwen, well, she’s something special. At 4:30 in the morning, she’s awake. She’s out of her tent, sitting next to me with her plaintive little pleas of “I’m hungry! I’m cold! I want to go home! I want to play Minecraft!”

It’s a special moment, mornings like these.

The goal had to been to kind of let everyone wake up on their own pace. We will have more overnight backcountry hikes on this road trip, and this one was just to acclimate ourselves to the process, see where our strengths and weaknesses, and evaluate our gear needs. No one slept very comfortably, though, and so we were all up and fidgeting about while I put together a wonderful breakfast of freeze-dried scrambled eggs and baconesque pieces.

Breakfast made, we packed everything back up and hiked back to our campsite and the RV.  The kids took showers while I made lunch, then Melissa got her shower and got the kids started on their home schooling while I finally got myself cleaned up. When were were all done with chores, putting away the camping gear, and doing all the schoolwork (and blog work!) we sat down and went over the events of the last two days.

Melissa’s biggest issues were cold and comfort. The thin padding of a single sleeping roll wasn’t quite enough for here. We’ll have to try out some other pads, and upgrade her sleeping bag to a higher thermal rating. Stephen’s biggest problem was his feet. His boots are new and haven’t been broken in yet. Not much to do there except make sure he’s got good socks and we keep extra mole skin around in case he blisters up. Arwen took a ton of pictures on her DS. We may end up getting her her own true digital camera so she can take better pictures.

6173793737_24ef4ee23b_z[1]

Bryce Canyon was neat. The hoodoos are definitely unique, and the weather was so temperate, I would not mind coming here again, just to relax and enjoy the amazing scenery. Tomorrow we are going to Capitol Reef National Park. Wait, what? That is the craziest name I’ve ever heard for a park, let alone a National Park in the landlocked state of Utah, thousands of miles from the U.S. Capitol.

We were in Bryce Canyon National Park on 1/16. Can you guess where we’ll be on 1/23? There’s a $5 bounty for the first person to guess. All you gotta do is comment below with your guess before midnight tonight. Winner announced when the 1/23 post goes live.

(The Road Trip That Never Was is a fictional account of a year-long road trip I am (not) taking across America. Follow my nomadic journey by subscribing to the email feed on the top right. It’s fun, fast and free!)

 

 

Categories: The Road Trip That Wasn't | Tags: , , | Leave a comment