Communion Of Dreams


Gee, like this is a surprise.

Survey: Americans make 41M fewer air trips

WASHINGTON – Nearly half of American air travelers would fly more if it were easier, and more than one-fourth said they skipped at least one air trip in the past 12 months because of the hassles involved, according to an industry survey.

The Travel Industry Association, which commissioned the survey released Thursday, estimated that the 41 million forgone trips cost the travel industry $18.1 billion — including $9.4 billion to airlines, $5.6 billion to hotels and $3.1 billion — and it cost federal, state and local authorities $4.2 billion in taxes in the past 12 months.

When 28 percent of air travelers avoided an average of 1.3 trips each, that resulted in 29 million leisure trips and 12 million business trips not being taken, the researchers estimated.

Gee, like this is a surprise. Between the airlines doing everything possible to squeeze each and every last penny out of their customers to cover increasing fuel costs and their own ineptitude, to absurd security theater practices, to idiotic behaviour by TSA personnel, travel by air has become such a pain in the ass that it is hardly news that people avoid unnecessary air travel whenever possible. But it is good to see some solid numbers on the impact these factors are having, and perhaps it will prompt some changes. I can hope, can’t I?

How about you? Have you changed travel plans in the last couple of years to avoid air travel? Because we were 24-hour care providers for someone with Alzheimer’s until early this year, my wife and I have had limited opportunities to travel recently. But I certainly would not have flown anywhere if I could avoid it. And we’re planning a trip out to Denver to visit friends this summer, and are going to drive the 12 hours rather than fly (as we did some years back when we last went out there) in order to avoid all the hassles. So yeah, the air travel environment has definitely changed *my* behaviour.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)



I wonder which model Nexus this is?

Well, someone sure has been having some fun:

The company AI ROBOTICS was founded 2 years ago by Etienne Fresse and Yoichi Yamato, both robotics specialists working on developing cutting-edge technologies. During the last 3 years the two founders have dedicated all their time and energy to their project “robot woman LISA” which thanks to the support of numerous foreign investors will be presented to the public on June 11 2008. The company’s philosophy is to enhance the conditions of human life and to give as many people as possible access to new technologies. The company AI ROBOTICS is based in Kobe, Japan.

And to think that some people on MeFi (where I came across this) thought it was for real.  Sheesh.  But it does generate some discussion about what happens in the future when this reality does actually show up.

Hmm . . . seems that someone has considered this matter before . . .

Jim Downey



Coming back online.

You may have noticed that some of my posts have gotten a little longer over time, at least in the last couple of months.  I haven’t been doing word counts or anything, but that is my sense of it, looking back over the archives.  This is because I am emerging from the exhaustion of caring for Martha Sr, slowly but surely.

And as this progresses, it is interesting to see how certain aspects of my life are starting to come back to me.  My wife and I have started to resume something that can be called a social life, getting together with friends for lunch or dinner, having people over.  I finally got that book review of the Matheson Companion done – that had been hanging over my head for a while.  I’m putting together the stuff for the ballistics testing, and figure that we’ll have the website for that up next month some time.  I got my garden in, and am harvesting strawberries.  This is good.

And I’m starting to get a creative itch again.  No, not the low-level sort of creativity that goes with this blog and my conservation work.  I’m thinking about the next novel.  I’ll probably toss out what I have written of St. Cybi’s Well, and just start fresh – those first couple of chapters were so long ago that I barely remember what I intended to do with them.  It takes (me, anyway) a lot of mental energy to juggle all the various threads in a decent novel, and I’m not ready just yet to tackle that.  But I am thinking about it, and that is a very good sign.

And I have another idea for something completely and totally unrelated, which would also be a lot of fun.  But I have to wait to get a new computer system for that – this old thing just doesn’t have the capabilities which would be required.  I would also need to learn some new software programs.  From these facts you can guess that this idea would have something to do with the ‘net, and you would be right, but that’s all I’ll say for now.

Oh, yeah, and I need to learn survival Spanish sometime before going to Patagonia in October.

It’s nice to feel this way again.

Jim Downey



I’d do it.
May 25, 2008, 10:41 am
Filed under: Mars, NASA, NYT, Science, Space, tech

Most everyone is paying attention to one thing scheduled to fall through the sky today.  That’s the Phoenix Mars Lander, and there’s good reason to do so: the lander is designed to come down softly near the north pole, and search the permafrost there for evidence that the planet was capable of supporting microbial life.  The problem is that NASA has had a string of failures in achieving such a soft landing on Mars in recent years.  From the AP:

The time it takes the Phoenix Mars Lander to streak through the atmosphere and set down on the dusty surface has been dubbed “the seven minutes of terror” for good reason. More than half of the world’s attempts to land on Mars have ended in failures.

“I’m a little nervous on the inside. I’m getting butterflies,” Peter Smith, principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said on the eve of the landing. “We bet the whole farm on this safe landing and we can’t do our science without this safe landing.”

And yeah, I’m as interested in this as most people, since I support pretty much any kind of space exploration, whether it is robotic or manned, governmental or private.

But what I’m most interested in today is whether another “fall through the sky” project comes off as scheduled.  That project is Le Grand Saut (The Big Leap).  From a New York Times story yesterday:

He has spent two decades and nearly $20 million in a quest to fly to the upper reaches of the atmosphere with a helium balloon, just so he can jump back to earth again. Now, Michel Fournier says, he is ready at last.

* * *

He intends to climb into the pressurized gondola of the 650-foot balloon, which resembles a giant jellyfish, and make a two-hour journey to 130,000 feet. At that altitude, almost 25 miles up, Fournier will see both the blackness of space and the curvature of the earth.

Then he plans to step out of the capsule, wearing only a special space suit and a parachute, and plunge in a mere 15 minutes, experiencing weightlessness along the way.

If successful, Fournier will fall longer, farther and faster than anyone in history. Along the way, he can accomplish other firsts, by breaking the sound barrier and records that have stood for nearly 50 years.

The record mentioned there?  A jump by Joseph Kittinger from over 102,000 feet that was part of Project Excelsior in 1960.  I’ve known about that jump pretty much my entire life, and always thought that it would be a fantastic experience.  It was one of the reasons why I decided that for a birthday a decade or so ago I was going to do a tandem jump from a perfectly good airplane from 12,000 feet, which included free-fall for over a mile.  I didn’t have the time nor money to take up skydiving as a hobby, but I could do that jump.  And it was a phenomenal experience that I have always cherished, adrenaline junkie that I am.

So, Fournier’s project?  Yeah, I’d do it.  No question.  And while I will be keeping my fingers crossed for Phoenix (figuratively speaking – I’m not actually superstitious), my real attention will be on one man doing something completely insane.

Jim Downey



Nothing special.

One of my favorite episodes of the SF series Babylon 5 comes in the final season (not my favorite season, by a long shot). It is episode #92, A View from the Gallery, and is unusual in that the main focus of the episode is on a couple of maintenance workers, and their ‘common man’ perspective. Here’s what the series creator, J. Michael Straczynski, had to say about the episode:

One of the things I always do is look for ways to turn the series format on its head, and show us our characters from other perspectives, since perspective is so much at the heart of the show. Whether that’s jumping forward in time, or an ISN documentary, or seeing everything through the eyes of a third party (or two), it’s always a risk, because it’s never what one expects to see, and a lot of people like to see what they expect to see.

“… a lot of people like to see what they expect to see.” Indeed.

* * * * * * *

A new study comparing our sun to the general range of ‘main sequence‘ stars has concluded that it is pretty much run-of-the-mill. And this has significant implications for the possible development of life elsewhere. From NewScientistSpace:

There’s nothing special about the Sun that makes it more likely than other stars to host life, a new study shows. The finding adds weight to the idea that alien life should be common throughout the universe.

“The Sun’s properties are consistent with it being pulled out at random from the bag of all stars,” says Charles Lineweaver from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. “Life does not seem to require anything special in its host star, other than it be close.”

And from Cosmos:

To get a better answer, Robles and his co-workers simultaneously compared 11 stellar characteristics that could plausibly influence the evolution of life.

They looked at parameters such as: the Sun’s mass; age; metallicity (the amount of elements heavier than helium and hydrogen, such as oxygen, carbon and nitrogen); as well as its rotation rate; its whereabouts within the galaxy; how it ‘bobs up and down in the galactic plane’; and the activity of its photosphere. Using statistical methods, these were measured against data available on other stars.

* * *
“When analysing the 11 properties together, the Sun shows up as a star selected at random, rather than one selected for some life-enhancing property,” Robles said. “The upshot is that there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the Sun. It seems to be a random star that was blindly pulled out of the bag of all stars.”

* * * * * * *

When I was growing up, I always wanted to think that I was special. I was that unlikely hero from so many Science Fiction stories, the kid who had some undiscovered special ability or trait that would prove to be remarkable. Believe it or not, the death of my parents just as I was entering adolescence fed this fantasy. Think about literature, and you’ll see that this is actually a fairly common trope: the orphan who discovers his ‘real’ history, and goes on to greatness. There are even elements of this in Communion of Dreams, both with the main character and with the Chinese girl. It is a very common theme.

Of course, real life isn’t like that. As smart and well educated as I was, I didn’t grow up to be particularly remarkable. I’ve had plenty of successes, plenty of failures, accomplished things which gave me a touch of fame here and there. But for the most part, I am like most people – just trying to get through life with my self-respect more or less intact.

And that’s OK. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy – of having dreams and desires, goals that you work towards even though they may never be achieved in quite the way you would like. I wouldn’t have started this blog, were that not the case. But it is healthy to maintain perspective, to understand that only wishing for something will not make it so.

* * * * * * *

“… a lot of people like to see what they expect to see.”

Think about that again. JMS was talking about some of the flack he took over doing something a little bit unconventional with what had become a well established and much beloved television series. But he did not betray any of his principles, didn’t go for some kind of a cheap emotional trick. He just offered a different perspective, challenged people to open up their thinking a bit.

For centuries, one of the basic tenets of common belief was that God put us here, and that we were at the center of creation. As science has expanded our understanding, we came to realize that we weren’t at the center of creation. Or the solar system. Or the galaxy. Or the universe.

As I mentioned a few days ago, there is a growing awareness that Earth may not be unique in holding life, even intelligent life. Discovering that there is nothing particularly unusual about our local star adds to this awareness. We may be nothing special, just one island of life in a universe teeming with the stuff.

And that’s OK.

Jim Downey



I admit it. I’m an addict.

Hello, my name is Jim. I’ve got a writing problem.

Via PZ and Evolutionblog, news that blogging (and writing in general) is actually a therapeutic form of self-medication:

Blogging–It’s Good for You

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.

Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.

OK, I don’t know about doing it ‘compulsively’, but I do know that writing has always been a way for me to cope with stressful events in my life, and I can honestly say that writing about caring for Martha Sr for the last year of her life with Alzheimer’s helped me keep some hold on my sanity.

Likewise, writing at UTI about the absurdities of modern life, with a particular emphasis on the effect of religion and politics, allows me to blow off a little steam and keep things in perspective. Some dialog with others, getting feedback and another perspective, also helps, and is the appeal (to me) of blogging over just writing for myself. This blog has a different emphasis, though there is some overlap (and why I cross post a fair amount between the two). I tend to be more personal here, and to tie things more often to the vision of the future portrayed in Communion of Dreams.

And as addictions go, it’s a lot less self-destructive than many options.

Jim Downey

(A slightly different version of this is at UTI.)



Just sayin’.
May 23, 2008, 7:45 am
Filed under: Art, Humor, Paleo-Future, Pharyngula, PZ Myers, Science Fiction, Space

Via PZ, a delightful Paleo-future T-shirt site:

Retropolis Transit Authority

The Retropolis Transit Authority welcomes you to its streamlined, ultra-retro-modern collection of apparel for the World of Tomorrow! Our shirts are colorful, high quality tees and jerseys imprinted with the cheerful advertising slogans of yesterday’s tomorrows, along with thoughtful, humorous and sometimes thought-provoking retro futuristic graphic emblems…

Now, I have a 50th birthday coming up in a few weeks.  Prefer XXL, in dark base colors.  Just sayin’.  ;)

Jim Downey



Don’t order the eggs.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a huge fan of the movies of Ridley Scott. Even genres of movies that I don’t usually care for, I will watch (and probably own) if he did them. One such is the original Alien (that link goes to Wiki rather than the IMDb because of a really annoying flash advertisement IMDb has running).

What’s that? Why wouldn’t I like Alien, it being Science Fiction? Because it is mostly a horror movie, just within a brilliantly-done Science Fiction context. I tend to stay away from horror movies. I’ve had plenty of experience with adrenaline dumps, thank you very much, and don’t particularly like having that button pushed. In fact, first time I saw Alien in the theatre, not knowing what to expect, I wound up standing in the aisle in a fighting stance, having leapt *over* my uncle from a sitting position. True story.

Anyway, I do love the movie, but have to now consciously disengage my ‘fight-or-flight’ reflex when I sit down to watch it. Which is kind of nice, because it allows me to enjoy more of the artistry of the film. And a lot of the artistry of the film was done by H.R. Giger, twisted illustrator and artist extraordinaire.

Now, via Phil Plait, this delightful photo set of the Giger Bar in Chateau St. Germain, Gruyeres, Switerland (also available on Giger’s website, under “Bars”, where the images are credited to Wolfgang Holz and Holly Ryan). As Phil says:

I’m not sure I could eat well in a place like that. And I certainly wouldn’t order the eggs!

Hmm . . . I may need to go back to Switzerland . . .

Jim Downey



Swirling . . . swirling . . . down the drain.
May 20, 2008, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Emergency, Health, Humor, SCA

OK, I’ve been tagged by Hank Fox:

That pest Hank Fox (of www.HankFox.com) has tagged you with another idiot blog meme:

Tell the story of a (non-surgical) scar you have somewhere on your body. Answer and tag three other bloggers.

I tagged: PZ Myers of Pharyngula and Brent Rasmussen and Jim Downey of Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

(Hope you don’t mind.)

Hank

This is a story many of my friends know, and it’s bloody-well about time that I wrote it up.

So, about 25 years ago I was living in Montezuma, Iowa. I’d moved there after college, wanting to spend a couple of years working while sorting out what to do with my life in terms of graduate school and so forth. The old farmhouse I had bought at auction (a long story in its own right) had come with an established garden and many fruit-bearing trees. Out of simple self defense, I had taken to doing a lot of vintning, and started to earn a reputation within the SCA for my various homemade wines.

One summer evening, late (about 10:30), after a long day of working around the house, I was racking off some rich, golden, crabapple wine for an upcoming SCA party. It had been a very hot day (the house was without air conditioning), and all I was wearing was a pair of cut-off jeans. Furthermore, at this point in my life my hair was long and my beard was full – I worked at a local radio station in a non-public role, and my employer didn’t care too much how I looked.

Anyway, I transferred over some of the wine into a gallon glass cider jug. Since it was going to be drunk up in just a couple of days, I wasn’t too worried about properly corking the thing – the screw-top metal cap would be fine. After finishing up, I took the bottle into the kitchen where I had a deep farmhouse-style sink, suitable for rinsing off the jug under hot water.

As I was standing there at the sink, letting the hot water pour over the jug, I looked out my window to the north, where on the horizon I could see the glow of the local fair grounds. It was all lit up because the annual rodeo event was going on – this is the sort of thing that would have the entire town in attendance. Not a lot happened in Montezuma, and people took advantage of what few opportunities came around for entertainment.

Looking out the window, thinking about this, my attention slipped from what I was doing for a moment. And the jug slipped out of my hands.

I have very quick reflexes. Always have. One of the reasons why I was such a successful fighter in the SCA. Unfortunately, my quick reflexes frequently get me into trouble. Like this time.

I had instantly realized that the jug had slipped, and quickly moved to cradle the bottom of the thing to stop it from smashing in the deep sink. My hands were directly under it when, unfortunately, the neck of the bottle clipped the edge of the sink.

In a flash I pulled both hands out of the way of the falling glass shards. And I almost made it. Except one fresh edge of broken glass managed to slice across my left wrist. It wasn’t a particularly deep cut. But if you hold your hands as though you were going to cradle something, wrists bent 90 degrees, you’ll note what happens to your inner wrist: the tendons pull back from the surface of the skin. And the vein and artery tend to push up against it. That’s what happened to me.

As my hands flew away from the sink, a spray of brilliantly red blood streaked up the wall. And onto the ceiling.

I have had a fair amount of first aid training. Instinctively, I clamped my right hand across my left wrist, base of the palm up the arm to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. “OK,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just roll my hand back, keeping pressure on the wrist with the base of the hand, and see just how bad the damage is.”

Blood spurted like some bad horror flick. All over me, all over the window, and all over the sink and countertop.

“It’s bad.”

Now, what to do? I couldn’t dial a phone – my left hand was numb and useless, my right hand needed to stop from bleeding to death. Oh, yeah, the blood was still squirting with disturbing regularity between my fingers.

“Get help. Go to a neighbor’s,” I thought. I kicked open the door from the kitchen to the garage, and ran out into the street. There in the street I looked up and down, trying to figure out which of the few houses in my part of town to go to. Every one was dark – all the neighbors were at the damned rodeo.

I’m starting to worry a bit.

Then it hits me. There was a nice octogenarian who lived at the end of the street, a bit more than a block away. She wouldn’t be at the rodeo. I ran.

Got to her door. Could hear the TV blasting (she was a little deaf). Frantically, I started kicking her front door, trying to get her attention over the sound of the TV. “Lena!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I kicked on her door “open up! It’s Jim from down the street!”

A few long seconds later I hear her say “Coming!”. Light on the small porch went on. Door opened a crack. She looked out at me, and her eyes grew wide. The door slammed shut.

Of course. Here was a long-haired loon, nearly naked, covered in blood and glass and wine, standing on her doorstep, raising hell.

*sigh*

I slumped down and sat on the edge of the porch. The adrenaline burn was starting to give out. I was getting cold. I’d lost a fair amount of blood, and figured I was going into shock. I needed to sit a moment and try to figure out what to do.

I heard a rattling of chain. The door opened behind me. Lena had to close the door to remove the security chain. She stood there, still wide-eyed and clearly started, but she stood there. “Jim?”

“Lena, call an ambulance. I need an ambulance. Hurry!” Montezuma is 20 miles from the nearest hospital, a little one in Grinnell which usually didn’t even have a doctor attending at night. The amulance would have to leave there to come get me.

Door slammed shut again. What seemed like an eternity later, she came back.

“Here, Jim, I brought you a towel so you can wipe yourself off a little.”

She was smiling. I figured that I was dead.

“Lena, I don’t need a towel. You have to call an ambulance.”

She looked confused. “Here, I brought you a towel so you can wipe up.”

“Lena, I need an ambulance. Hurry, please.”

“Well, here, you’ll want this.” She draped the towel across my shoulder. “I did call the ambulance. They’ll be right here, don’t you worry.”

I want to interject something here. I have long known that I have the best bad luck in the world. That is, I have bad luck – things happen that seem absurdly improbable – but then it’s like someone flips a switch and everything works out for the best.

I hear the sound of an ambulance siren. From the fair grounds, not a mile away.

“See, here they come,” says Lena.

What should have been a 20 minute wait is less than three. That’s a guess, of course, since by this point my sense of time was badly skewed.

The ambulance pulls up to the street. I recognize the two responders who pop out of the back, because part of my job at the radio station was to get accident reports and so forth. They recognize me, as well.

“Hey Jim, what happened?”

Briefly, I explain. Said I figured I’d hit the artery. They got me over to the back of the ambulance, sitting on a gurney. One guy grabs a compression bandage, another holds onto me. “OK, remove your hand, let’s see what we’ve got. Just get a glimpse to see how bad it is, and then we’ll slap this compression bandage on and get you to Grinnell.”

I remove my hand. Blood fountains. Compression bandage gets slapped on. I fall back onto the gurney.

“It’s bad,” says the driver, standing there watching.

Next moment, I’m strapped in, metal clip shutting off the artery on my upper arm, and we’re making about 90 mph to Grinnell.

Couple of minutes later, driver hollers back to me: “Hey Jim, you’re in luck!”

“How’s that?”

“Oh, seems that there’s a doctor from the U of I who happens to be there at the hospital already. Micro-surgeon of some sort.”

Huh.

We get to the hospital. Without further fanfare I’m wheeled into the OR adjacent to the emergency room. By this point I already have IVs and whatnot. They drape my arm, doctor comes in, freshly scrubbed. Pokes around a couple of minutes.

“You are incredibly lucky.”

“People keep telling me that.”

“How did this happen?”

I explain.

“Huh. Amazing.”

“How so?”

“Well, the position of your hand meant that the tendons receded. All you did was slice the surface of the skin, and through both the artery and the vein. And fresh-broken glass is sharper than a scalpel. No rough ends, no damage to the tendons. I’ll have everything neatly back together here in just a few minutes.”

He was true to his word. About a half hour later, I was out of the OR.

“You can go home. See your doctor in a few days for a follow-up.” The surgeon nodded to a nurse. “She’ll give you some information on caring for the wound. And some pain-killers for when the stuff we gave you IV wears off. Don’t drive tonight.”

“Well, my car is at home.”

“Can you get someone from here to take you home?” asked the nurse.

“Yeah, just get me a phone.”

I called a kid who worked at the radio station with me. He came and picked me up. Pretty decent of him, since it was now about 2:00 AM.

We drove back to Montezuma, me mostly silent, somewhat in shock, somewhat dopey from the painkillers. As we pulled into town, I told the kid to go around to the front of the house, and I’d let him in.

“Yeah, sure.”

We got to my driveway, got out of the car. He went towards the front of the house. I went in through the garage, still fully lit from earlier. It was like following a trail. Of my blood. Through the garage, up a slight couple of steps and turn into the kitchen. Door still standing open from where I’d kicked it. Sound of water running.

It looks like someone has slaughtered a pig in the kitchen. Blood was everywhere. I go over and turn off the faucet. Look at the glass. Look at the blood. On the counter. On the wall. On the window. On the ceiling. I stood there, just taking it all in.

Until I heard the sound of someone walking into the kitchen from the front of the house.

I turned to see my buddy enter the room. He took one look around, and vomited.

* * * * * * *

Addendum.

It was because of this experience that I choose my SCA Arms, designed the way they are. You can see them here. What it is supposed to represent is a whirlpool. Which is what I saw for just a brief moment when the jug first burst. A whirlpool of golden crabapple wine, and my blood, swirling . . . swirling . . . down the drain.

Jim Downey

(Also posted at UTI.)



Extraordinary, indeed.

This is a review written for the Columbia Tribune, as drafted. If and when they use it, I will link and/or copy the finished version here.

– Jim

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pulp writers – those hacks who churn out Science Fiction and Fantasy, Horror and Westerns – have rarely received much in the way of respect from the academic community.

So it is remarkable that among the William Peden Short Story Collection at the University of Missouri – Columbia there is just such an author. An author who was one of Dr. Peden’s students, and who grew to become a friend, corresponding with Dr. Peden for more than thirty years. That author is Richard Matheson.

Dr. Peden developed the Creative Writing Program at MU. He established the University of Missouri Press. He was the co-founder of the Missouri Review, which still bestows an annual fiction prize in his name. He was widely respected as a scholar of writing, and as an author in his own right. And he said this about a young Richard Matheson, writing a friend who was a publisher:

“A former student of mine [is] going to call you within the next few days and I think you might be interested in talking with the boy . . . The chap’s name is Richard Matheson and I really believe he has possibly an extraordinary future ahead of him.”

I would not have known this were it not for The Richard Matheson Companion (ISBN-13: 9781887368964, available from major booksellers). And it wouldn’t be in there except through the efforts of another Columbian, Paul Stuve, who is one of the editors of that book. It turns out that Stuve has one of the most complete collections of Matheson’s work in the world.

I contacted Stuve and asked him what got him interested in Richard Matheson.

“The first time I knew I was a Matheson fan was in high school, but the fact is I was a fan long before that. Through his Twilight Zone episodes mostly, and then Duel, and even the dreadful Omega Man (which was adapted, very badly, from Matheson’s modern-day vampire novel “I Am Legengd). But the first time I connected a name with the work was while watching The Legend of Hell House on TV with my dad one night. I promptly set about trying to find the book, and in the process I discovered who he was. I’ve been collecting him ever since.”

And how did he get involved in the Matheson Companion?

“When Matthew Bradley (whom I knew from another project) was asked to assist Stanley Wiater with the Companion, I volunteered to help with the detailed bibliographies and filmographies that were going to need to be compiled. I have a nearly complete collection of all the first published appearances of Matheson’s writings (and the limited editions, and the, well, it goes on and on…), and it seemed like it would be a fun task. As the project wore on, I became more and more involved (the lists themselves are nearly 200 pages long), and during the process I was made an associate editor, and finally a full editor.

What was the most rewarding part of the project, for you?

“For me, the real coup of the project was when I wandered over to the MU library
one day to see if I could turn up anything that Matheson wrote while he was a
student here in the late 1940s. I was expecting perhaps a letter or brief item
in the student newspaper, but I wound up discovering a file folder of nearly 30
years of correspondence between Matheson and William Peden, his advanced writing
professor at Mizzou.”

Some of those letters are reproduced in The Richard Matheson Companion, the most comprehensive collection of information about this versatile author, which also contains reflections and tributes by those who knew and worked with him, along with a previously unpublished novella by Matheson. It is a phenomenal resource. As co-editors Stanley Wiater and Matthew R. Bradley write in the Introduction to the book:

“Matheson is one of the most acclaimed and influential fantasists of our time. He and his work have won the Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe, Golden Spur and Christopher Awards, plus multiple World Fantasy (“Howard”), Bram Stoker, and Writers Guild of America Awards, including Lifetime Achievement awards from the World Horror and World Fantasy Conventions.

Yet, quite amazingly we think, there has never been a legitimate biography of the man, or a writer’s companion to his work. It is the latter that we have striven to create – the last word on the millions of words produced by Richard Matheson in a career that has already gone beyond the helf-century mark, with no signs of ending anytime soon.”

The recognition of Matheson’s contribution to the literature and popular culture of the second half of the 20th century will only grow with time. He was an inspiration to the likes of Stephen King, Chris Carter, and George A. Romero. It may yet be a while before he becomes of ‘scholarly interest’, but it was already clear to Dr. William Peden over fifty years ago that Matheson was a writer who was worthy of consideration and respect.

Jim Downey




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