As many readers will know, my favourite author is Robert Heinlein. Predominantly a science fiction writer, he wrote a string of intelligent, emotive novels which changed the thought ptocesses of an entire generation.
His most famous novel, and coincidentally my favourite, was `A Stranger in a Strange Land`, written in 1963. A magnificent book with an epic scope, it challenged many of the established social and literary mores, and introduced the word `grok` (after 44 years it ain't a neologism any more) to the English language.
From Wikipedia: Grok (IPA /gɹɑk/ (GA) or /gɹɒk/ (RP), both rhyming with rock) is a verb that connotes knowledge greater than that which can be sensed by an outside observer. It is an understanding beyond empathy and intimacy. In grokking, one experiences the literal capabilities and frame of reference of the subject. The verb can be used both transitively and intransitively; in the transitive sense the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with", while in the intransitive sense it is defined as "to empathize or communicate sympathetically with; also, to experience enjoyment." The OED also specifies the alternate spelling "grock".
Many people consider that the most interesting character in the book is not the `hero` Mike - a human who returns to earth having been brought up by Martians, but his `adopted father` Jubal Harshaw, described as: "Jubal E. Harshaw, LL.B., M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, neopessimist philosopher, devout agnostic,professional clown, amateur subversive, and parasite by choice."
As I get older I find myself becoming more and more like Jubal Harshaw - and to be quite honest it is quite a nice place for a professsional grouch like me to be. I live in rural seclusion surrounded by the people I want to be with and away from those I don't. I have an extended family of people and animals and I line where I want, most of the time at least doing exactly what I want to.
In the words of Jubal: "A desire not to butt into other people's business is at least eighty percent of all human 'wisdom' . . . and the other twenty percent isn't very important."
However, the wit and wisdom of Dr Harshaw was not the reason I decided to sit down at the computer today with a mind full of things Heinlein.
Another series of books of Heinlein's told the story of Lazarus Long, the oldest member of the human race. I have to admit that I have taken a lot from his brand of happy libertarianism into my own personal philisophy, but this ain't the time or place to talk politics. However, in the last book in the saga, To Sail Beyond the Sunset which purports to be the autiobiography of Lazarus's mother Maureen, who grew up in the late 19th Century. In it she writes of how her father - an admirer of the writings of Mark Twain - had written a letter to the great man, and how - much to her father's pride - Twain had written back, and how on one never to be forgotten occasion, he and she went to see the great man when he lectured in a nearby town, and how her father and Twain sat up all night talking, as she listened agog.
Well, something similar has happened to me. I am not the sort of person who usually writes fan letters, but recently I came across a blog by someone I have admired for many years - Paul Rose aka `Mr Biffo`.
For ten glorious years Biffo wrote Digitiser - the video games pages on Channel 4 teletext. The subject is of little interest to me as a rule, but Rose filled the pages with bizarre, and often disturbing characters, each imbued with his anarchic sense of humour.
After 10 years he moved on to pastures new, and so did we. However two of our cats, Helios 7 and Chastikos the Deceiver were named after Rose's characters, and Richard and I always promised that if we ever do find the Ethipian Death Bird (surely a giant bat), we would name it after the punchline of one of Digitiser's most memorably stupid jokes..
Q> What do you call a giant bat?
A> Super Beast 47
Well, recently Biffo published a book, called Confessions of a Chatroom Freak in which he poses as a naive, and slightly odd (in a loveable sort of way), 21 year old girl called `Lisa`, and hangs out in chatrooms fending off the advances of a string of would be suitrs.
I read some excerpts and they were hilarious (or at least I thought so), and so I ordered a copy from Amazon, and wrote only the second fan letter I have ever written in my life (the first was to Yoko Ono, and she wrote back as well), to Biffo. I then forgot about the whole thing.
Imagine my pleasure, when just like Lazarus Long's grandfather, I not only received an answer, but that Biffo - or Paul as I should now call him - turned out to be a kindred spirit. We have been exchanging eMails for a couple of weeks now, and have even talked about a couple of projects that we want to do together, including - we hope - him accompanying the expedition to Guyana later in the year.
Then the book arrived. Of course it was funny. I had expected that, but I hadn't expected it to be touching. By the end of the book I was quite fond of `LoopyLisa 21f`, and more than a little annoyed with the legions of semi literate men who refused to see her as anything more than a fairly base sex object. I urge you all to buy the book, you won't be disappointed.
As for me, I am just happy that I will seeon be in the position of Lazarus Long's grandfather, and spend an evening talking crap to a literary hero.
Cos next month Biffo is coming to tea!