"If you'd told me when I was a kid I'd get to see a damn spaceship take off, I'd have had trouble enough believing that. But if you'd told me the same day I'd watch hundreds of loyal Americans give the vice president of the United States the finger, to his face in the teeth of men with guns I simply would have refused to believe it."








On going to space | On Dan Quayle


On going to Space:

I wanna go! I find gravity a damn nuisance. I especially want to see my wife dance in zero gravity. She was shortlisted for a Space Shuttle seat. The day that the Challenger blew our phone rang off the hook all day with journalists from around the planet who found her name in the files and called to say: Well now what do you think?

After we published our book about zero-g dance, Jeanne was invited to dance at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston, it happened to be that year. In the grand ballroom of the Boston Sheraton -- an enormous room -- she produced a piece she had created called "Higher Ground" which was about the interior evolution she had gone through to invent zero gravity dance for a science fiction novel. It was basically about her relationship to gravity. But it included some special effects footage simulating zero gravity dance and some live simulation of free fall dance with a transparent Lucite cube.

A thousand science fiction fans leaped to their feet and gave her a 15-minute standing ovation. And Ben Bova -- then editor of Omni -- came over and said: Would you be interested in doing that for real? I know some guys at NASA.

He made the connection, got the application and the day of the Challenger blast Jeanne spent all day telling reporters: I'll go on the next thing smokin'. Look at the stats, fatalities per billion miles, it's safer than bicycles, for cryin' out loud. It's true!

I don't think we'll be going up in a shuttle ourselves any time soon. It is interesting that so far we've sent up jocks and military types and most of them have come back changed; spiritually moved; groping for concepts they have no words to express.

Following the 1992 world Science Fiction Convention -- which happened to be in Orlando that year -- Jeanne and I and a couple of friends of ours rented a car and drove down the coast together. Basically aiming to end up more or less in Key West. But it happened that there was a shuttle launch happening at about that time and a friend of ours who was at NASA was able to provide us with the magic pieces of paper that would let us attend the launch. So we definitely made a point of stopping.

We were prepared to camp there if we had to, for as much as 72 hours without moving. We'd brought food and blankets and reading matter: whatever it would take to survive that long. It turned out to be the first shuttle that had ever launched on time, to the minute with no holds at all. It was the 50th ever and it was only like the second or third since -- no it's not. What am I saying? That's the one in the book. I'm getting confused between reality and fact. But it was number 50 and the only one on time and what I couldn't put in the book is, well the events of Callahan's Key are frozen in 1989 by virtue of prior plot material that sticks me there. This shuttle launch I saw actually was in 92, so I couldn't use the best part of all: As we were on our way in to the shuttle launch, we'd passed the checkpoint and were in a lineup of maybe 200 privileged cars with magic passes that have gotten us through the fences and everything. Now we're on our way to the launch, excitement is running high and the traffic stops. It stays stopped. And stays stopped. And five, ten minutes go by and engines are overheating and air conditioners were boiling over and children are screaming. People are getting out of their car, saying: What the hell is the hold up? And 20 minutes go by and a motorcycle cop comes along with a bullhorn, going: Remain in your vehicles. Remain in your vehicles. Fuck you, Jack! It's 130 degrees in that vehicle.

It got pretty intense and we couldn't see anything besides marsh flats in all directions. And finally -- as it's now 15 to 20 minutes to launch and everyone is about ready to scream -- suddenly it all becomes clear: coming the other way up this scrub road is a flotilla -- a fleet, a phalanx -- of limousines. Surrounded by pilotfish motorcycle cops with shotguns on the handlebars and some of the cars have dark suits with the dark glasses and the little earpiece, you know, and their hand permanently on the left armpit, glaring in all directions. And we begin to get it and sure enough, as they come by at five miles per hour, the second stretch limo in line powers down its tinted glass windows in the rear and there they are, waving like Queen Elizabeth: Dan and Marilyn Quayle. At five miles an hour. And slowly we realized, we'd been kept baking in the Florida sun for an hour and a half and fed on by mosquitos so that the Secret Service could make sure there wasn't an alligator with an Uzi in the drainage ditch somewhere waiting to assassinate Dan Quayle.

Now Quayle has been the administration's man in charge of the space program for four years: he's never set foot on NASA turf. He's never opened up a pamphlet with the word NASA on the front. But he's about to leave office because he's been voted out and this is his last chance to get a free trip to the light show: the spaceship launch. So here's this float of limos going by at five and here's Dan and Marilyn and 200 cars full of Americans loyal enough to have a pass to be on government land all give the vice president of the United States the finger. [He demonstrates with one long middle finger and a slow and satisfied smile] and he and Marilyn just froze -- turned to stone -- and didn't acknowledge it in any way. Kept smiling and waving slowly and went by and I thought: If you'd told me when I was a kid I'd get to see a damn spaceship take off, I'd have had trouble enough believing that. But if you'd told me the same day I'd watch hundreds of loyal Americans give the vice president of the United States the finger, to his face in the teeth of men with guns [Laughs] I simply would have refused to believe it. It was just a very memorable event.


On Dan Quayle:

[Every chapter in Callahan's Key starts with a Quayle quote] and did that ever turn out to be timely! I did that because at the time I composed this book, there seemed some serious danger that man would rise from the political dead and reenter this thing. Fortunately wiser heads prevailed: the stake was driven through his heart and they closed the coffin again. And I just wanted to make sure that people remembered. In case this guy really did come back, I wanted a book to come out about now that sort of said: Are you sure this is the guy you had in mind?

But, I just got e-mail from the wife of a colleague of mine -- Claire O'Leary, wife of Patrick O'Leary, a very talented young writer who is just stepping out. He's got three or four books out and I wrote him a fan letter. We got to be pals -- his wife wrote. She got one of those gang e-mails that's been forwarded 85 times and sent to 10,000 people. This e-mail alleged to be a collection of incredibly stupid things that Al Gore has said, complete with dates and provenances. They are all Dan Quayle quotes, recycled. And because Claire happened to have -- out of politeness -- read my new book and saw all the chapter headings, she was in a position to know this. And she's now sending out replies to all those thousands of people: Forward to everyone you got this from, the damn Republicans are lying again. They're Dan Quayle quotes, recycled.

A friend of mine put together such a list. He'd probably rather I didn't name him and I don't have his permission, so I won't. But he was a collector of notorious idiocies.

This friend of mine had compiled the list and I happened to be going through it and it struck me suddenly that just about every chapter of my book, one of these would apply to. One of those things that just sort of fell into place. You wrote all of my chapter headings for me: Thank you, Mister Quayle. God bless him. And, as I said, I've had a chance to personally thank him already, but since I couldn't put that anecdote in the book -- since the book takes place in 1989 -- I thought that the least I could do was give him the finger metaphorically. His own finger. His own petard.


...Start Page


...Beginning writing, his first encounter with science fiction, writers he admires & Tom Waits


...Upcoming books, humor & electronic publishing


...Callahan's & Usenet, Becoming Spider & other jobs he doesn't have