Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who’d a Thunk it?

"TANSTAAFL" (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch – from The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein, 1966)

My favorite author is/has been/always will be Robert A. Heinlein. He was considered the "Dean" of America's Science Fiction writers for much of his lifetime, and you can easily find that title still in common use. He actively wrote from around 1939, starting out in the pulps, with mostly short stories, up until his death in 1988. He also wrote under a number of pseudonyms . I first became aware of his work sometime in the 50's, before I reached my teen years. This happily coincided with a period during which he concentrated on writing mostly juvenile SF novels. The above quote did not necessarily originate with Mr. Heinlein, but his writing certainly helped to popularize the concept, which, of course pre-dates his use of it by at least a hundred years. For those who may not be aware of it, back in the 19th century, bars used to provide a "free lunch" that was designed to entice drinkers into the bar, so as to whet their real appetite, which was expected to be for more and more beer, or other liquid refreshments. The practice, long dead in the states, lives on in Latin America, and is known as a botana in Mexico, and a boca (or boquita) in Costa Rica. Obviously, the quote refers to the thought that, despite the advertised 'free' lunch, sooner or later one is going to have to pay something for that free thing.

Now, all of that is neither here nor there, but simply a prelude to what I wanted to talk about today. As I said, I have read Heinlein for many years, and I think I have a copy of just about everything he ever wrote. I saved all of these books with the express purpose in mind that I was going to read them all over again, now that I'm retired. So, after more than a year here in paradise, I started in on Heinlein's books last week. I have my books arranged on the shelves alphabetically, by author, but I had forgotten that some of Heinlein's books are in a back row, and most of them are in a front row. Forgetting to look at the back row, which began with Assignment in Eternity, I instead began with Have Spacesuit Will Travel. Early on in this 1956 or so juvie, I noticed a reference to a book being read by the main character's father. The writer of that book was given as Jerome K. Jerome, and the book named was Three Men On A Boat. Now, I have to make a confession, and that leads to a very important discovery on my part.

All of the years that I have read Heinlein I have always assumed his mentions of obscure writers, philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, theories, books, and so on, were just padding of a sort, to help lend credence to his stories. I know that many of his referenced things were provided with dates that were yet to come, so I always assumed that he made up names, and so forth, just to add to his stories. This time, for some reason, I wondered, "What if there really is/was a Jerome K. Jerome? What if he really did write this book?" So, I did what I have by now learned to always do when seeking more information about anything. I went to Google. And, guess what I found? There really was a Jerome K. Jerome, and he really did write a book called Three Men On A Boat. It was published in 1889, and it describes a trip on the River Thames taken by these real life men. What's more, it is a truly delightful book, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading. Just google it, and you will even find copies of it available online, for free!

    So, now I have another reason to re-read all my Heinlein books. I intend to mine them for whatever other treasures he left for me, that I ignored for all these years. Who knows what I am going to find? I will keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. JDO,

    The first time I tried ferretting out quoted lines from chapter headings in a sci-fi tale was with John Varley's Hugo Award nominee, "Millineum" from 1983.

    Every chapter heading featured a quote and the title of a 'famous' work of sci-fi. I found copies of the mentioned works for every chapter exceept the first one which was "A Gnome There Was" (1941) by Lewis Padgett (whose pseudonums were Henry Kutner & C.L. Moore)

    With "A Gnome There Was" I ran into a brick wall. Finally I went to Interlibrary Loan at my university campus library and they were able to order it for me. Took a month to arrive, but it was worth it. It was a fun tale from an author who is today little known.

    So you're not alone John. There are others of us who bother to investigate such quotes.