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                                                                                JOURNAL #186

                                                                                 May 31, 2015


            This is turning into an interesting summer. I've been to Ravencon, OASIS, and Balticon. Will be headed later for Libertycon and Necronomicon. We'll be at the Nebulas this weekend, and I'll travel to the University of Maryland in July for the Schroedinger Sessions, where a group of physicists will try to show some science fiction writers how the quantum world works. Good luck to us all.


            At Balticon last weekend, the Heinlein Society honored me with the Robert A. Heinlein Life Achievement Award "for outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings to inspire the human exploration of space." It was presented at the opening ceremonies by Michael Flynn. Mike was one of two winners of the award in its initial year, 2003, and now chairs the committee which decides on the presentation. (The other winner that year was Virginia Heinlein.)  

            I can't recall a more exhilarating experience in my career than being called onto the stage that night with Mike. I've had a passion for science fiction since I was four years old, when my father was taking me to see the third Flash Gordon movie serial. (At the time, I didn't know there'd been two earlier ones.) I loved Flash's rocket ship, but I remember being annoyed that he couldn't seem to do anything more with it than get into fights with Ming the Merciless. (I don't guess they had much of a sense of irony in those days. Ming the Moderate might have worked better. Or Ming the Magnificent.) Anyhow, if you can go anywhere you want, go someplace interesting!

            The serial got me interested in astronomy, but it was Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury who demonstrated what a writer could do with a space ship. I was fortunate to meet the latter two, but I never got the chance to talk with Heinlein. I'd have liked to say thanks.


            I've never gone to a con without experiencing at least one surprise. Occasionally it's an old friend who turns up, or someone with a story about how he or she has been affected by something I wrote, or the sheer on-stage skill of some of the participants in the masquerade. I knew the Heinlein Award was coming, so that did not come as a surprise. But I got one while strolling through the dealers' room, where I discovered a copy of what I believe was the first actual book I read: Joyce of the Secret Squadron. It was published in 1942, when I was in the second grade.

            The Secret Squadron was commanded by Captain Midnight, the central figure of an inordinately popular radio show for kids, and apparently a lot of adults,  during the 40's. But some aspects of the book are odd: The author was R. R. Winterbotham, but you have to look inside to find his name. It appears nowhere on the jacket. The cover does portray a picture of the actress who played the character. Unfortunately it identifies her only as Joyce Ryan.

            Joyce played a pivotal role in the series. Unlike most of the other female characters in films and on the radio at the time, she wasn't there to get in trouble and faint at critical moments. She pulled her weight in a lot of episodes and even took on Japanese fighter planes during WWII. It's made me wonder since whether she was the seed for Priscilla and Chase.

            And for the record, yes, I bought it, brought it home, and wrapped the jacket carefully in a plastic cover. It has a special place in my office now.


            I got another surprise in Baltimore, this one while looking for a place to have lunch.   Coming out of the restaurant was a familiar figure I hadn't seen or thought of for a half-century: Mary Marvel. The uniform was perfect, the lightning bolt in place, the boots fit perfectly. This was not someone simply dressed like Mary Marvel. This was the real thing. I watched her turn toward the elevators, which couldn't be right, of course. What use would Mary Marvel have for an elevator? But never mind. I couldn't help thinking that if I was ever going to get into trouble, that was the moment. I looked around. Where are the lunatics? Someone attack me now.