Summer Reading

“You thought you had failed, Captain Ban. But you did not fail. My mission was to save the cosmos, but I could not function until I found the focal point. And that focal point was in your strength, your human defiance of all destiny. It was your voice, crying, ‘I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!’ that guided me, brought me here. I go now, forever from your cosmos and your consciousness. But there is no need for me any longer. The Covenant is ended. I leave you with all you require to survive—your humanity, which is your strength.”
– Robert Bloch, from Isaac Asimov’s 15 Short Stories

I read some really awesome books during my summer vacation: Isaac Asimov’s 15 Short Stories, David Z. Hirsch’s Didn’t Get Frazzled, and Irene Pepperberg’s Alex and Me. Here are some quotes from these books that I thought my readers might enjoy:

“There was a moment beyond which there was no next second.”
– Murray Leinster, from Isaac Asimov’s 15 Short Stories

“The feeling was that the cosmos had turned askew, and the horizon had tilted so that what should have been the east was up, and what should have been the west was down—and he tended to fall toward it—and the beach was merely before him and the sky behind.”
– Murray Leinster, from Isaac Asimov’s 15 Short Stories

“They have attained to thermonuclear power, have they?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, that’s the criterion.” Naro chuckled, “And soon their ships will probe out and contact the Federation.”
“Actually, Great One,” said the messenger, reluctantly, “the Observers tell us they have not yet penetrated space.”
Naron was astonished. “Not at all? Not even a space station?”
“Not yet, sir.”
“But if they have thermonuclear power, where then do they conduct their tests and detonations?”
“On their own planet, sir.”
Naron rose to his full twenty feet of height and thundered, “On their own planet?”
“Yes, sir.”
Slowly, Naron drew out his stylus and passed a line through the latest addition in the smaller book. It was an unprecedented act, but, then, Naron was very wise and could see the inevitable as well as anyone in the Galaxy.
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“This thing was important. He didn’t know why it was, of course. Grand Masters rarely did. That’s what made them Grand Masters; the fact that they were beyond reason.”
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“…always there was the driving effort on each side to break the stalemate, to develop a parry for every possible thrust, to develop a thrust that could not be parried in time—something that would make war possible again. And that was not because either side wanted war so desperately, but because both were afraid that the other side would make the crucial discovery first.”
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“Each different squiggle stood for a different number. For ‘one’ you made a kind of mark, for ‘two’ you make another kind of mark, for ‘three’ another one and so on.”
“What for?”
“So you could compute.”
“What for ? You just tell the computer—”
“Jimmy,” cried Paul, his face twisting with anger, “can’t you get it through your head? These slide-rules and things didn’t talk.”
“Then how–”
“The answers showed up in squiggles and you had to know what the squiggles meant. Mr. Daughterty says that in the olden days, everybody learned how to make squiggles when they were kids and how to decode them, too. Making squiggles was called ‘writing’ and decoding them was ‘reading.’ He says there was a different kind of squiggle for every word and they used to write whole books in squiggles. He said they had some at the museum and I could look at them if I wanted to. He said if I was going to be a real computer and programmer I would have to know about the history of computing and that’s why he was showing me all these things.”
Niccolo frowned. He said, “You mean everybody had to figure out squiggles for every word and remember them? Is this all real or are you making it up?”
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“Later on, I looked up how to spell Mesozoic, which is why I got it right, in case you’re wondering, and I found out that the Mesozoic Era is when all the dinosaurs were doing whatever dinosaurs do. But of course at the time this is just so much double-talk to me, and mostly I was thinking we had a lunatic talking to us. Joe claimed afterwards that he knew about this Mesozoic thing, but he’ll have to talk lots longer and louder before Ray and I believe him.”
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“Take an individual cell out of your body, even a brain cell, and what is it by itself ? Nothing. A little blob of protoplasm with no more capacity for anything human than an amoeba. Less capacity, in fact, since it couldn’t live by itself. But put the cells together and you have something that could invent a spaceship, or write a symphony.”
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“He focused on the other parts of the ship, marveling at the diversity of life. Each item, no matter how small, was sufficient to itself. He forced himself to contemplate this, until the unpleasantness of the thought grated on him and he longed for the normality of home.”
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“It was a terribly unhappy and unnatural thing to be parted from all the rest of the unified organism, to be a life fragment oneself. How could these aliens stand being fragments?”
– Isaac Asimov, 15 Short Stories

“I can’t find myself here, there are too many people.”
– David Z. Hirsch, Didn’t Get Frazzled 

“Listen. Forget about rounds, forget about everything except this: the patient comes first. You do what you need to do, even if it turns out you’d been wrong, or you’d overreacted, or you’d pissed somebody off to get it done — it doesn’t matter. As long as you have the patient’s best interests at heart, no one is going to be that mad at you, okay?” ​I nodded.
– David Z. Hirsch, Didn’t Get Frazzled 

“On my way back up here — and I had a good ten minutes to think while waiting once more for the two local elevators — questions racked my brain: Why had that been so difficult? Why do we have to fight the system to give our patients the care they need, the care that everyone here except me is paid to provide? And if nobody else cares, how long will it be until I break, too?”
– David Z. Hirsch, Didn’t Get Frazzled 

“But it’s not how it should be. It’s not conducive to developing thoughtful doctors. If you put all the emphasis on the cutting and devalue interactions with people, of course the patients will be thought of as no more than a slab of meat.”
– David Z. Hirsch, Didn’t Get Frazzled

“The intake paperwork identified him as Alexander Hamilton, but I had my doubts.”
– David Z. Hirsch, Didn’t Get Frazzled 

“But the one thing the Biblical period contained that the modern era did not was people communicating with God. At least, I used to believe that until I met patient after patient who regaled me with their idiosyncratic scriptures. ​This led me to the obvious question: were the biblical prophets schizophrenic, or were we medicating our modern prophets?”
– David Z. Hirsch, Didn’t Get Frazzled 

“Alex taught us that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature. The ‘separateness’ notion was a dangerous illusion that gave us permission to exploit every aspect of the natural world—animal, plant, mineral—without consequences. We are now facing those consequences: poverty, starvation, and climate change, for example.”
– Irene Pepperberg, Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process  

“Deb Rivel, a friend and The Alex Foundation board member, put it this way: ‘Alex taught me the meaning of oneness. What I learned from him also supported what I always have known to be true: that there is just one Creation, one Nature, one good, full, complete Idea, made up of individuals of all shapes and designs, all expressing their oneness with one God. We are not different because we look different, but we all reflect the eternal beauty and intelligence of one Creation in our own peculiar way. It’s what makes up the whole—this textured fabric of thought and existence—and knowing Alex has underscored to me how much the same we really are.’”
– Irene Pepperberg, Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process

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“Till Time and Space and Fear Are Naught”

“If Ban could restore himself to what he had been—withdrawing every atom of himself from any other time but the present— the crack in the cosmos would heal itself, like a force-bubble across a door or window. But it was impossible. He could not do it. There was only one thing he could do, which would have the same effect. He could repair the fabric of reality by not ever having been…

“Ban raged. It is not too bad a thing to die. All men face it sooner or later, and there is a secret knowledge which comes to every man at such moments. The knowledge is that it is not the end. But Ban was required to make a greater sacrifice than death. It was demanded of him that he surrender ever having been. He was required to embrace extinction…

“He remembered innumerable things, and now not one of them would ever have been real. Because he would never have been, and Urmuz would not teach him soldier-craft, nor his companions ever sing or drink with him, nor his father try to hide his pride in a swaggering son who would be Warden after him. These things would be worse than forgotten. They would never be thought of. They would go into that limbo of possible things from which so few ever emerge to become actual.”
– Murray Leinster, from Isaac Asimov’s 15 Short Stories

I just finished reading an anthology of short stories by Isaac Asimov. I was a huge Asimov fan in high school, but haven’t read him much since then –  it was really fun to connect with his writings again. The last story in the collection was written by Asimov and four other science fiction writers. The quote I copied above came from Murray Leinster’s contribution to the story.

His passage got me thinking.

I am at an age where I’m not as springy or light as I once was. Sometimes I think back nostalgically to the person I was in my physical prime – quick and strong and confident in my abilities to get up mountains and out of adventures gone awry. Sometimes I wish I had that body again.

But after I read Leinster’s passage in 15 Short Stories I had this moment of – whoaaah. If I could wish myself back in time to, say, the age of 24 or 25 – that would mean I would never meet my husband, and my sons would never be born. And if I wished myself back to, say, 40 and stayed there – my sons would never have the opportunity to grow up into the amazing young men they are.  If I had the power to stay at one age in one time forever – and never know my husband or sons or all the friends I’ve made afterwards – that would really stink.

And then it occurred to me (as I was still pretending I had the power to make time stand still) that by allowing ourselves to grow older we’re actually sacrificing our youth for our children – as they will sacrifice their youth for their children, and so on.

Of course, this is all from a strictly mortal, human perspective – and a science fiction one at that. We as humans don’t (yet) have control over time.

Here’s how the founder of Christian Science defines “time” in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:

TIME. Mortal measurements; limits, in which are summed up all human acts, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, knowledge; matter; error; that which begins before, and continues after, what is termed death, until the mortal disappears and spiritual perfection appears.

Eddy writes: “One moment of divine consciousness, or the spiritual understanding of Life and Love, is a foretaste of eternity. This exalted view, obtained and retained when the Science of being is understood, would bridge over with life discerned spiritually the interval of death, and man would be in the full consciousness of his immortality and eternal harmony, where sin, sickness, and death are unknown. Time is a mortal thought, the divisor of which is the solar year. Eternity is God’s measurement of Soul-filled years.”

Whoah. I know. Cosmic, right?

Eternity in contrast to time. Now in contrast to past and future. One infinite moment filled with everything good in contrast to a ray with a starting point, moving one direction, divided into segments. There is a lot to think about there. 🙂 And I’m really hoping I have eternity to figure it out.

I climb, with joy, the heights of Mind,
To soar o’er time and space;
I yet shall know as I am known
And see Thee face to face.
Till time and space and fear are naught
My quest shall never cease,
Thy presence ever goes with me
And Thou dost give me peace.
– Violet Hay, Christian Science Hymnal

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(photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)