ROBERT HEINLEIN – WALDO AND MAGIC, INC.

I’m always surprise at how many people have not read these two novellas at all, or read them, but completely missed the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They apparently believe the two novellas are in one volume “to fill up space.” Since this is among my favorite stories in science fiction, allow me to remind everyone how good Heinlein was in his prime..

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Originally published by Doubleday in 1950, Heinlein’s point was that all technology is a based on our belief that it will work. As long as we believe in it, all is well. If or when we cease believing, it will cease working. Everything is magic.

The stories proceed from that axiom. Humans lose faith in technology. Magic jumps into the void left by vanished technology …  and becomes technology. The difference between one and the other is effectively nonexistent.

I read these books at least 50 years ago. I hadn’t read them since, but remembered them. I bought them for Kindle and was glad to re-acquaint myself with them.

These were unique and original concepts when they were first introduced in the 1940s. They were still original 25 years later when I read them. They aren’t stale today, more than 60 years after the stories first publication.

The best science fiction is concept-driven. The ideas in these two novellas have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both are based on a single concept: we believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

“Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.” — Robert Heinlein

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

IMAGINE – REEL AND REAL – by GARRY ARMSTRONG

IMAGINE is a mind game for people of all ages. You let your mind run free on all things, great and small. It’s fantasy. Stuff you find in day and night dreams. It used to be fodder for columnists on brain freeze days.

For years, I dreamed of being a movie star. I sat in junior and senior high school classes, oblivious to teachers and writing imaginary movie casts that had me top-billed opposite everyone from Clark Gable to John Wayne to Sidney Poitier. My love interests ranged from Greta Garbo to Jean Harlow to Myrna Loy to Lena Horne to Dorothy Dandridge.

My filmography began with “Introducing Garry Armstrong as ____” to my biggest box office film with the marquee showing GARRY ARMSTRONG in “AMERICA’S ICON,” A Garry Armstrong Production.

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Then there was my All-Star baseball career. In those same high school notebooks, I wrote lineups that had me batting between Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider for my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. I was the full-time left fielder the Dodgers never could find. Little Sandy Amoros filled in for me during the ’55 World Series to make that amazing catch against Yogi Berra. Dick Young of The New York Daily News wrote a column calling me a credit to my race and a likely successor to Jackie Robinson.

I played “fungo” and shagged flies in the outfield with a young “bonus baby” pitcher named Sandy Koufax. Sandy was very wild but it was obvious he had talent.

Fast forward to the 1970’s. In the real world, I was a young TV news reporter in Boston and becoming something of a local celebrity. It’s easy when you appear on television several times a day. People greet you, shake your hand, and ask for autographs. It wasn’t enough. I still needed my IMAGINE mind game. I used to check myself in the mirror, fully dressed for work. I’d talk to the mirror, chatting with an imaginary TV audience.

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“It’s good to be here”, I told the audience, “Johnny’s not feeling well and the NBC folks asked me to fill in. Anything for my friend, Johnny”. Yes, I was sub-hosting “The Tonight Show.” I absorbed the applause as I headed out the door for the real world TV news room.

These imagined “Tonight” show appearances occurred before Robert DeNiro’s “King of New York” movie. DeNiro’s imagined and delusional TV celebrity was a little too close to home for me. I never watched it again.

Remember I dreamed of becoming a movie star? Delusional, right? My niche as a TV news reporter was rising. I was interviewing and socializing with legendary movie stars like Katherine Hepburn, James Cagney, Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, and Gregory Peck among others. This was real life. It still wasn’t enough.

Robert Redford and an all-star cast were filming “The Great Gatsby” in Newport, Rhode Island. I was assigned to cover the film shoot.

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I was a familiar face in Rhode Island. So people approached me for autographs as I sought interviews with Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston and other Hollywood stars. It was truly bizarre! Someone dropped my named with an assistant producer and I wound up as a bit player. At nights, after filing my live shots and taped reports, I would imagine myself being promoted from bit player to major star in the movie. After a few drinks, I could swear I had an early call to work with “Bob and Mia”.

I DID have an early call … to do my TV shots on the film production. My imagined self conflicted with my real self as I did the TV live shots.

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It got more confusing when Redford and some of the other movie stars watched as we were doing our TV live shots. I recall “Bob” smiling and giving me a thumbs up after I finished one live shot. A few more drinks sandwiched between the movie and TV work and my days were spinning a bit off kilter. The filming wrapped. The stars went home to Hollywood. My bit part ended up on the cutting room floor, although I think I may have made it in a crowd scene.

Back in Boston, I received lots of attention from friends because of my hobnobbing with the movie people. I think teasing would be closer to the truth. It was business as usual. Murders, fires, politics and perverts to cover for the newscasts.

I had trouble re-kindling my IMAGINE game. There was too much drama going on in the real world.

Garry as moderator on panel for prison reform (2016)

Garry as moderator on panel for prison reform (2016)

Fast forward again into my retirement years. I tried my hand at “background acting” in some major films being shot locally. It was just “extra” work, but some hopefuls like the “background acting” term. Sounds fancier. I briefly imagined myself being discovered as a “mature” movie star. I even mingled with some of the stars in the movies I worked. Once again, all of my scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

Garry's acceptance speech at Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

Garry’s acceptance speech at Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

Finally, the hours and days reminded me too much of my years as a TV news reporter. Too long. I hated getting up early.

I bid adieu to my dreams of movie stardom. I don’t need the IMAGINE game anymore.

THE EIGHTH GAME – THE 2016 WORLD SERIES ON A PARALLEL EARTH

FOR FANS OF AMERICA’S PASTIME:

It’s the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. The pitchers on both teams are done in. No rest for the weary because the game is tied. Exactly as the inning ends, it starts to rain. Heavy downpour. Buckets and sheets of rain.

world-series-2016The deciders call a rain delay — and everyone holds their breath.

I’m actually watching this in real time as two underdog teams play one of the best games I’ve ever seen, in or out of the World Series. Everything has happened, pretty much.

The rain delay is supposed to be ended in 8 minutes and I have every confidence this is exactly what will happen. It’s the Cubs and Cleveland in the ultimate duel to the death. They said John Lester was crying coming out of the dugout as the rain delay was ending.


But in another reality — a parallel universe the same as ours, but — not exactly. Because in that universe, the rain doesn’t end. They can’t restart the game, thus leaving it tied at 6-6 … and neither team has it in them to play another game. Maybe they can play some more the following day. Call it extra inning or innings following a 24-hour rain delay. How does that work out?

And what if, in yet another dimension, a tornado struck. Destroyed the stadium. Both teams barely escape with their lives. They can’t restart the game … so … they put it into the books as a tie. With an asterisk. They give two sets of World Series rings and each team gets a trophy. There’s a first time for everything, right?

Somewhere else, a darker ending. The powers-that-be deny both teams a win and instead, schedule a runoff game as soon as they can. Both teams blame dark curses and malign fate.

What do you think happens in that alternate Earth. Which team — either, neither or both — wins the World Series?

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This is earth. Our earth. On this world and in this dimension, the Cubs have won the World Series for the first time after a 108-year drought.

Congratulations Chicago! As Red Sox fans, we know how it feels … and isn’t it fine?

TO DOOR OR NOT TO DOOR. ALWAYS A QUESTION.

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Overwhelmed by a pervasive sense of unreality, I was barely surprised to see the door.  No ordinary door, but clearly a door to another time or dimension. Because in all the books I read, there’s always a door suddenly appearing and on the other side, it’s another time, another place, another world … and it’s always exciting.

Except when it’s 1347 and you arrive in England along with the Black Death. Ouch. That would be really depressing. And quite possibly … final.

So … do I go through the door? Just stand here like a wuss and prove how completely cowardly and indecisive I really am? Maybe I should go home first to gather supplies. Stop by the doctor, get inoculated against plague … they have that now, I hear. Take a supply of medication like broad spectrum antibiotics.

And bottled water.

Plus, a horse and cart. That would be useful, a horse. Especially the cart. I don’t suppose a cell phone would help much …


Then, the door was gone. Oh well. Missed it again. Next time I’ll be ready.

THURSDAY PHOTO PROMPT | SUE VINCENT

JERUSALEM OF GOLD AND THE BIG APPLE

TWO CITIES, TWO WORLDS

Once again, WordPress is offering to rehome us to not one, but the two cities of our choice. This is easy for me. I’ll take Jerusalem, golden Jerusalem of my heart … and my home town, New York, New York (it IS a wonderful town).

Where I used to live.

Where I used to live.

I assume you’ll be offering a package which includes  attractive housing options as well as first-class plane fare on demand. I expect appropriate home furnishings and a fashionable, yet comfortable wardrobe along with a generous stipend.

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That would work for me and my husband. You are paying his way too, correct? All my good friends and close family are coming too. Not leaving them behind a second time. Once was more than enough to last this entire lifetime.

Naturally, suitable transportation will be provided at each location. You know … cars, taxis, limos as needed? And support personnel? Cleaning staff, cooks, personal assistants? Dog walkers?

 (AP Photo/Preston Stroup)

(AP Photo/Preston Stroup)

This is going to be our reward for a long life of hard work and challenges no one should have to face, so I’m expecting great things.

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Thanks for your kind offer. I’m won’t bother to pack my bags. Your people will be in touch with my people. They can make all the necessary arrangements. Have a good day and thank you again.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

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As a passing thought, would you consider a third option? Perhaps a charming Caribbean Island state? St. Martin? Aruba? One of the Virgin Islands? Plus an occasional jaunt to Europe. I’m not greedy, but if you’re paying …

SEPTEMBER FANTASY BASEBALL

The Red Sox are playing the Phillies. Winning. They haven’t won often this year, compiling a record so awful I thought they had an unbreakable lock on last place in the American League East.

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I was wrong. They actually have been playing well enough — while other teams play badly enough — to possibly, maybe slide into fourth place before the season is over.

The Home Run

The Home Run

Such a warm, cozy thought that, as the quiet day continued, I got to drifting into fantasy, thinking … What if they just keep winning? And suddenly, it’s the end of September and they have the wild card spot. And they go on to win the series …

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It would leave the baseball world stunned. Probably leave Red Sox fans the most confounded of all …

I’m not saying it’s likely, but it could happen. Stop laughing. It could!

COME BACK DOUGLAS ADAMS! WE NEED YOU!

douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy" H2G2If ever our world has needed the gentle, hilarious madness of Douglas Adams, now would be the time. He was born on my birthday, but five years later than me … and he died in 2001, which seems to have been a good year for endings and a bad one for beginnings.

I love Douglas Adams — in case you didn’t already guess. Although he has been gone from our world for 14 years I miss him as much as ever. Maybe more. The world has become such a grim place and he could always make me laugh — not only because he was funny, but because he made fun of the universe. Such good times we had together. And since he recorded some of his books, I can actually still hear him speak.

I needed a short audiobook to listen to. I needed short, and I need funny. So I returned, again, to “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” It’s just over three and a half hours — precisely the right length and correct degree of lunacy to lighten my spirits.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detection Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul were published in 1987 and 1988. They were originally going to be a trilogy (The Salmon of Doubt was to be the third part) but the Douglas Adams up and died before completing it. The only unforgivable thing he did was to die. It was May of 2001 and worse was to follow later that year.

I first read these when they were published in the late 1980s. I have no idea how many times I’ve read them since, but I keep spare copies on my Kindle in case I need a fix. I have owned many copies in paperback and hard cover, and have had the audio versions on cassette, CD, and now as Audible downloads. I have listened to the recordings so many times you might think I’d grow tired of them. I never do. Of the books Douglas Adams wrote — I love all of them — these two are my favorites.

Unlike the Hitchhiker series, the Dirk Gently books have plots. They follow a linear timeline. Bizarre, outlandish, hilarious, but are real detective stories, albeit full of ghosts, gods, and other weirdness.

Long dark tea time of the soulI love the character of Dirk Gently and have always wondered how much of Douglas Adams he embodies. Certainly his description is that of Douglas himself. Dirk is strange. He doesn’t understand his strangeness, but has accepted it and learned to use it for good. He is the “holistic detective.” His purposeful yet random behavior produces results and he is especially good at finding lost objects. And people. Both alive and dead.

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul was the book in which Adams introduced the idea that gods without worshipers fade away, that their powers spring from having followers. The idea was new when the books were published in 1987 and 1988. Since then, the concept has been widely adopted by many authors and is now a staple in the fantasy genre.

The title of the book is taken from Adams’ novel Life, the Universe and Everything (my favorite of the Hitchhiker series) to describe the wretched boredom of immortal being Wowbagger, the Infinitely Prolonged. It’s also a play on Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross.

Douglas Adams left his fingerprints all over the fantasy genre. Although Dirk was not a magician, he had magic. Descended from him is a legion of magic-wielding detectives solving crimes around the world. Douglas’ proclamation that “The Gods live!” has become the backbone of more than a few well-known authors. An entire sub-genre of literature is peopled by immortals and gods from various Pantheons.

Douglas Adams got there first and got there laughing.

If you haven’t read “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” you should correct that omission as soon as possible. You don’t have to read them in order, but I think they are better that way although each book stands on its own. You’ll love the gods … gods of rain, gods of thunder, gods of every little thing … as they roam the earth, wondering what happened to all their worshipers.