technology meets creativity in a disaster-prone world. confident enough to try; humble enough to learn.
I am now officially in Pursuit of the Pankera — and hoo boy, I have Feelings about that. Remember how I told folks who couldn’t handle rather depressing doom-and-gloom coronavirus facts to tune out of my FB timeline for a while? Well, consider this a similar but more specific warning for this particular post: if you’re not up for a deep dive into my relationship with science fiction as a reader and in particular how a certain gentleman named Robert Anson Heinlein has affected my life, then y’all should definitely tune out right about now. But if you *are* a fellow traveler along the Glory Road — if Friday is your favorite day of the week, or you feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land and wonder if one day you might Sail Beyond the Sunset — well, this post is for you. And so I will rather promiscuously (snort) tag my old friends from CUSFA as well as those who were CUSFA-adjacent or CUSFA-curious back in the day – as well as a few more newfound folk of like mind: Michael Scott Shappe Aaron Rusty Lloyd Karen Kubliski Beth Reid Celisa Manly Christopher Manly Meryl Yourish Neil Clarke Jenn Reese Jennifer ‘pixel’ Getty Lisa Hazard Kate Arms Michelle Lane Janis Kohler Neal Asher ) OK, moving on: you know how I gush about my love for the band Rush, and how their music and their example as three truly decent, hardworking men inspires me? Yeah well strap in, because Rush arguably only gets second place in the pantheon of artists who have impacted my life and how I (try to) live it. First prize goes undeniably to the aforementioned Robert A. Heinlein (aka RAH). He was and remains my father’s favorite author, and he introduced me to RAH at a relatively young age… 12, 13? Earlier? Not entirely sure exactly when I started devouring everything RAH had ever written (and he wrote a lot!) but what I know for sure is that by the time May 1988 came around (just before I graduated HS) I was fully hooked: because that’s when RAH died (at the age of 80) and while it wasn’t a surprising shock like Neal Peart’s passing was, it still sucked and hit me hard. (And once again I’ll thank Lisa Gardner for being there for me when I got the news). So… WTF does this have to do with a Pankera and the pursuit thereof? Glad you asked. So in 1980, Heinlein published The Number of the Beast (TNotB), which kicked off what turned out to be a series of novels that were loosely connected by the central premise of TNotB, wherein a group of hot, horny geniuses invent and use a gizmo that reveals that reality consists of a near-infinite number of universes, and that anything that possibly *could* exist, *does* exist in some universe. Most particularly: any popular work of imaginative fiction in *our* universe exists in reality, somewhere, as a real (and reachable) universe. So the heroes of TNotB zip off (being chased by “Black Hat” baddies) into the multiverse, making an early stop in Oz (yes, really) and later ending up crossing paths with some of the major characters from Heinlein’s previous novels. It was all tremendously ridiculous and silly, and TNotB isn’t regarded as one of RAH’s best works by a long stretch — “self indulgent” is a description often used, and its an accurate one. But for whatever reason, it’s always been one of my favorites, even as I recognize it’s objective shortcomings. Not hard to figure out psychoanalysis-wise I suppose: a somewhat nerdy 16-year-old found a story about four geniuses (two male, two female) who marry each other in the first act, have lots of great sex, and then travel the universe together having grand adventures with literally no limit to the possibilities appealing. The idea of a “Mary Sue” (or “Gary Stu” or your preferred male equivalent) came long after RAH’s time, but the four protagonists in TNotB should be in the urban dictionary as Examples A, B, C, and D of the species. Editors Note: You still haven’t explained the Panky Para or whatever the f it is Me: Shaddap you, I’m getting there. Since RAH’s death, there have been a few posthumous publications of his work or things that were sorta-kinda his work. The first and most obviously genuine was “Grumbles from the Grave”: a collection of Heinlein’s letters and other nonfiction writing that (in accordance with RAH’s explicitly stated wishes) his wife Virginia edited and published under the delightful title RAH himself had given it. Then came “For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs”, which was apparently Heinlein’s first novel (or attempt at a novel) and had never been published — until 2003, 65 years after RAH originally wrote it in 1938. I considered reading it but decided that there was probably a good reason why it was never published; even Heinlein learned his craft better as he went along, and the idea of reading “not quite Heinlein Heinlein” didn’t hold much appeal to me. And in 2006, there was Variable Star: a novel based on an eight page outline Heinlein had written and which SF author Spider Robinson turned into a fully realized novel. Robinson happens to *also* be a favorite author of mine, and was as well suited as anyone to take on the task. But despite my respect for and enjoyment of Robinson’s work… again, not-quite-Heinlein didn’t appeal, and I’ve never read Variable Star. But then late last year, I notice on Amazon “The Pursuit of the Pankera”, scheduled for release in March 2020. And it was…something different entirely. What it was, was (allegedly) an actual complete manuscript: a full novel by Heinlein himself that had never been published. Apparently, in 1977 — three years before The Number of the Beast was published — Heinlein wrote a novel that was meant as a *companion* book to TNotB. The first third of the book mirrors TNoTB precisely. But once the protagonists start their journey exploring the multiverse, the stories diverge and become completely different. That’s right: Heinlein wrote a parallel narrative about his novel about parallel universes. Which also happens to be my (slightly guilty) favorite book of his. So they got me: I pre-ordered on Amazon and after much hesitation, have started reading. I’m still only in familiar territory so far — the early part which matches TNoTB — so we’ll see just how this goes. I’ll admit, being self-aware of how much of my own thinking about morality and what a “good” person should be and aspire to be and, well, *everything* came from my reading of Heinlein’s work, I’m somewhat anxious about revisiting his writing. What if he’s not as good as I remember? (Spoiler: he is). And an alternate version of the book with the characters that I probably love most from his work — what if he kills one of them off?!? Downright spooky, this is. But I’m excited to read on and see where it leads. I’ve often wondered what Heinlein would have to say about contemporary America and the world: a fierce patriot but never, ever a “my country right or wrong” type, the idea of Heinlein grappling with the mere existence of President Donald Trump is … baffling. But these past few years are hardly the first time I’ve wondered “What would RAH think about this crap”. He’d probably hate that, as one of those core lessons he taught through his writing was: think for yourself, dammit, nobody else can do it for you. But still. It’s too much to ask that “The Pursuit of the Pankera” will turn out to contain RAH’s insights on how we here in 2020 should handle coronavirus, or Trump, or… any of this (waves vaguely at the planet generally). And yet I suspect the book will have *something* to say that’s worth reading, because Heinlein always did. I’ll report back when I get further into the novel, or at the least, when I finish it. Until then… PS: No, I have no idea what a “Pankera” is yet, nor why one might pursue it — wasn’t in the original TNoTB ! The suspense!