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October, 2011:

Daywander: Halloween

It’s Halloween! Eggnog is in stock! Yes, today was the first day that Farm Crest’s almost unsurpassed eggnog goes on sale at the Farm Crest milk stores owned by (I kid you not) Pester Marketing. (Their eggnog is surpassed only, I think, by Oberweis in Chicago.) Stock up now; Christmas is only two months away!

Mmmph. Maybe next month. I bought a gallon of high-fat milk instead. I may not be the 5%, but I sure as hell drink it. On the way, I stopped near the old downtown Colorado Springs train station on Sierra Madre to see the Union Pacific #844 Niagara steam loco, which is on tour and in town for yesterday and today only. #844 was the last steam loco ordered by UP, and it’s been lovingly restored as a sort of rolling, steaming, hot-and-dripping museum. I don’t see 4-8-4’s very often, and never before a live one, so it was well worth the detour. Smaller cities are great in that I scored a parking place right across the street, and could get photos with almost nobody else in the way. I doubt I would have done that well in, say, Chicago.

It’s tough to get size perspective on machines like this. The eight drive wheels are eighty inches in diameter, and the engine as a whole is 114 feet long. Because of a historical quirk, “standard” railroad gauge is four feet eight inches, meaning that the wheels are considerably wider than the gap between the rails. I always wonder, facing a behemoth like this, how they managed to keep it on the tracks. (One answer is luck. Another, gravity. Most of all, skill. Alas, sometimes the answer is, They didn’t.)

There were a number of people swarming the loco, polishing the connecting rods and valve gear and wiping dirt off the painted parts. It was surreal how shiny the metal bits were–I would guess it wasn’t anything like this clean back when it was earning a living. In fact, while I was admiring the dazzlingly burnished iron, a young mother walked over with a three-year-old on one hip. As she turned around to pose for dad’s camera, the small boy reached his hand out to the connecting rod. His mom jerked him away: “Danny, don’t touch that! You’ll get it dirty!”


Some time tomorrow morning, old #844 will head south on the BNSF main line to Pueblo. Given that we look down Cheyenne Mountain toward the tracks and hear the Diesel horns on the BNSF coal trains all the time from our back deck, there’s a nonzero chance that I may hear the 844’s transplanted Big Boy whistle as the consist roars by. I’m sure going to try: The weather will be decent and I may never get another chance to hear any steam locomotive–much less a Niagara!–roar past my house.

As for Halloween itself, well, the Kid Gods are delivering near-perfection this year in Colorado Springs: 68 windless degrees under a cloudless sky. The legendary Halloween of 1964 was something like this in Chicago, and better only because it was on a Saturday. I’m not expecting a lot of traffic this year, since small children are scarce in this neighborhood of retired lieutenant colonels. I did buy a bag of Smarties for the big bowl by the front door, intrigued by the presence of dextrose as the sole sugar. I’ve never seen dextrose explicitly called out in a list of incredients before, even on candy. It’s typically “sugar” (generally sucrose, which is half fructose) or “high-fructose corn syrup.” I wonder if the animus against fructose has become so great that manufacturers are leaving nothing to supposition. If so, it’s a quiet victory–and not a small one.

Finally, QBit and I watched Van Helsing last night on the Family Channel. (Carol is still in Chicago and the rest of the Pack at Jimi’s.) The film is a great, whacky over-the-top paean to Victorian monsterabilia. Lessee: Wolfman, Dracula, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, miscellaneous vampires, plus Dr. Frankenstein, Igor, and the Monster. (The Mummy was indisposed.) Oh, and what I consider the single most dazzling steampunk movie weapon of all time: An automatic-fire crossbow that spits bolts at flying vapiresses as long as you hold the trigger. Dip the front end in a holy water font and you are da bomb! (And if you miss, just flick a fingerful of gooey glycerin-48…)

Odd Lots

  • Here’s yet another brick in the structure I’ve been seeing in psychological research suggesting that beyond a certain (reasonable) point, the more confident you are, the less competent you are.
  • The Japanese word I heard at MileHi Con but could not spell (and thus not find) is yaoi (boys’ love) which is evidently fiction targeted at women which portrays homoerotic/homoromantic relationships between good-looking young men. (Thanks to Erbo and Eric the Fruit Bat for clarifying this. I just had no clue.)
  • And while we’re identifying obscure pop culture icons and references, I’ve seen this guy somewhere. Who/what is he?
  • NASA’s new-technology space-based atomic clock has eight pins, and relies on high vacuum. George O. Smith would approve. (Thanks to Larry Nelson for the pointer.)
  • Switch to a “mechanical keyboard”? I never stopped using them to begin with. Modern “mush” keyboards were created solely to be cheap and are mostly useless. (I love it when I’m right–and thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • How many people lived on Earth when you were born? For me, it was 2,556,061,949.
  • The 99c MP3 of the Month Award here goes to Sam Spence for “Classic Battle,” which was evidently commissioned by the NFL as incidental music for football games. Dayum. Why doesn’t baseball get music like that?
  • Music, heh. Ever hear a piece of music that immediately made you head for the exits? Maybe that’s the whole idea. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the pointer.)
  • I’ve found a good home for my old Ampro CP/M system, and will be shipping it out shortly. Thanks for all the suggestions and reminiscences.

MileHi Con 43

Just got back last night from MileHi Con 43, held at the Denver Tech Center Hyatt. I haven’t been to a lot of cons lately, and my congoing skills are definitely rusty. One of these skills is new to me: Remember that your phone contains a camera. Duhh. My V530 camera jammed with the lens open so I didn’t get any photos, but I’ve requested some from friends and will post a few here as time allows.

What was a little surprising is how much a con in 2011 feels like a con in 1981. The big difference comes down to one word: smartphones. Nobody spends any time searching for friends at cons these days because everybody always knows where everybody else is, and if somebody wanders outside a general understanding of their whereabouts, well, it’s one tap and they’re back within earshot.

Costuming has also changed, though this may be old news. However well-done, the costumes were basically hall costumes rather than elaborate and fragile stage-show assemblages that you could barely move in, much less sit down. The con organized a zombie crawl around the 16th Street Mall on Saturday afternoon, and it got into the Sunday Denver Post. The Post also did a good job snapping most of the better costumes, and you can see them in a slide show on the newspaper’s site. I had never heard of absinthe fairies, but boy, there were a lot of them around. (And, later, “wingfic.” Yes, there is a subsubsubsubgenre called wingfic. It’s about characters who have wings. Beyond that, anything goes.)

I hung a lot with close friends Jim Strickland and his wife Marcia Bednarczyk, as well as Taos Toolbox colleague Sean Eret. Jim and I both did panels, and we shared a late-night author reading slot at 10PM on Friday. The reading was interesting for a peculiar reason: I did not get an email that the other five panelists apparently did, reminding everybody (but me) that the reading had been slotted late to allow for sex and violence. I was fourth of five in order to read. In quick succession we heard some bishonen fiction (there’s a descriptive Japanese word for the genre that I can’t find right now but sounds like “yowee”) and some heavy-duty mayhem (including a gripping section of Jim’s novel-in-progress, Brass and Steel: Inferno) plus a sex scene with Dr. Moreau’s squid-woman. Then it was my turn. “And now for something completely different,” I said, and began: “STORMY vs. the Tornadoes…”

They loved it. Comic relief exists for a reason.

Speaking of which: I had chosen STORMY because I was on a panel about writing SF humor the next day. The panel was great: We dissected the machineries of humor, and delivered quite a bit of it ourselves. (I sang a little of my 1976 filk from “West Side Story,” “I’m a Trekkie,” if you can picture that.) I was a little surprised that out of an audience of forty or fifty, only two people had ever heard of The Witches of Karres, which I was using as an example of that rarest of things, SF whimsy. Another person asked me to spell “Laumer.” Egad. I guess I’ve been away a long time.

My other panel was about robots, and once we got past some problems with definitions (Robots, to me, are “AIs in a can,” not cyborgs) we did some good things. Again, I was puzzled that so few people were familiar with AMEE, which I consider the scariest robot in film history. I was delighted to be sitting on the panel beside longtime SF writer Cynthia Felice, whom I had read years back but never met. She is gracious, interesting, and, well, tall. (She also grew up in Chicago and now lives in Colorado Springs, which I did not know.) At the end of the panel, the moderator took a quick audience poll, and we discovered that (within this microcosm, at least) Marvin the Paranoid Android is our favorite robot.

I hugely enjoyed it, and with Carol away in Chicago and all of the Pack except for QBit vacationing at Jimi Henton’s, I hope to use some found energy to make progress on Ten Gentle Opportunities over the next few days. I talked to people at the con who write four novels a year. I started work on Ten Gentle Opportunities in 1984, and it’s based on an (unpublished) novelette I originally wrote in 1981. Gotta pick up the pace a little, whew.



We’ve had soil subsidence issues here for some time–years, in fact–the most recent occurring when the soil pulled down on our gas meter feed so hard that it cracked the pipe. Our driveway looks like someone carpet-bombed it. My garage slab sank enough so that my lathe pulled its wires out of the junction box in the ceiling. Now the slab on the lower level has sunk enough to cause cracks in the plaster. We’ve been patiently waiting for the settling to stop, but issue piled on issue suggests that the time to get the soil stabilized and the concrete fixed is now.

We’ve been talking with a local contractor and may get a deal done in the next few days. That means, of course, that a lot of stuff is going to be moving around, especially on the lower level of the house. Carol’s office is Ground Zero, and everything will have to be moved out of there to somewhere else. I have to move several bookcases, including one stacked full of QST, which is probably the only magazine ever printed that was denser than National Geographic. I am going to get my strength training in the next few weeks, is for sure.

What we’ve begun doing is going through boxes, setting aside things for the various charity pick-ups, and trying to restack the furnace room shelves for maximum density. This is a time-intensive business, and time I would rather use writing has gone into sorting and stacking. That said, I’ve unearthed a number of things I thought I had long-since dumped or lost. One is the stack of Paradox reports I used to track manuscripts and issue lineup for all ten years of PCT and VDM. The database itself is gone, unless it survives (doubtful) on a 5″ HD floppy in the box of 5″ floppies I mentioned some time back. I found the 1882 copy of Oliver Twist that is certainly the oldest paperback book I’ve ever owned, or even seen. Inexplicably, it was tucked into a box full of archival copies of my own books, probably to fill a crack too small to accept yet another copy of Assembly Language Step By Step. Careless packing is a peculiar and little-understood hazard. (I’m understanding it better all the time.)

I also found a Russian-manufacture metal construction set; something like Meccano but Metric. I don’t entirely remember where I got it.

And although I knew it was there, I just unpacked a peculiar machine: A Z80 CP/M computer I put together solely to run Borland’s virtually unknown Turbo Modula-2. I assembled it in my garage in California in 1988, and ran it once or twice more early in our Arizona tenure. It’s been sealed in a box since 2002, when I tried and failed to sell it for $5 at the Fort Tuthill hamfest near Flagstaff. It uses the Ampro Little Board Z80 board, plus two DS/DD 5″ floppy drives, and a spare IBM PC power supply. I would fire it up except that it uses serial I/O, and the time to locate cables and rig a link to a serial window is time I need to spend moving other stuff out of the way. Let’s say that it worked fine when it went into the box in 2002. I’m not sure I want to keep it, but I sure hate to just heave it into the trash. Still thinking.

I’ve culled a hundred pounds or so of boxed technical books, most of which I intended to sell on Amazon Marketplace some years back and found no market for. (And now I’m ineligible for Marketplace because of Amazon’s sales tax squabble with Colorado.) I’m putting the word out that the books are here to grab, cautioning that some of them are mighty old as computer books go, though a few may still be useful. If I don’t find homes for them in the next couple of weeks, they’ll be in the recycle bin.

Other stuff needs Carol’s processing, like her Barbie dolls and other childhood odds and ends, but we made some real process in opening up space in the furnace room, to which Carol’s office furniture is likely to be evacuated in the very near future. I’ll need an Aleve tomorrow, but the work–heh, that’s only beginning.

Odd Lots

  • Jim Strickland and I will be attending MileHiCon in Denver this weekend. Anybody else listening gonna be there?
  • I’m on a panel about robots, and here’s a megatrivia question for you: What was the first film depiction of a robot that was not a mechanical man; i.e., not things on two legs like Robbie, Gort, or Tobor the Great? The oldest one I can think of is the 1954 Gog. (Writeup.) This was a rare form factor back then (because humanoid robots were actors in robot suits) and the only other one from the Fifties I can recall is the 1957 Kronos.
  • Pertinent to that question: There was a serious and reasonably big-budget Japanese SF movie in the early 60s (not a let’s-stomp-on-Tokyo thing) depicting a spaceship with a small robot named Omega that ran on tracks. The other vehicles on the starship were also given Greek letters as names. Can anybody remember what that film was? All I get on Google for “Omega the Robot” are Sonic the Hedgehog references.
  • Having flown the X-37B into space twice, Boeing is now officially looking into doubling the size of the vehicle and making it a sort of people-only space shuttle. Alas, it would probably kill all hope for anything like the sexy li’l X-38–but I’ll take what we can get.
  • Red tide algae glows blue after dark, if you shake it up enough. Pete Albrecht has seen this, and it’s real; nay, surreal.
  • Boston Dynamics’ uncanny and brilliant Big Dog quadriped robot now has a big brother, AlphaDog. Watch both videos; the second is a demo of Big Dog doing stuff I wouldn’t have imagined a robot doing when I was in high school. BTW, that tube sticking out of Alpha Dog’s front panel isn’t artillery…yet.
  • These guys will sell you a 144-core CPU–and then make you program it in FORTH. Not x86; each core is an 18-bit F18A processor executing the colorForth instruction set. FORTH ties my head in knots and yes, I’ve tried it–on the CDP1802 processor, no less. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Gotta love Google Books. I recently found a Popular Science article I had read in 1967 summarizing various rotary engines under discussion at that time. Nobody answered the obvious question: How do you machine a piston in the shape of a piece of kielbasa?
  • A short 1963 book on rotary engines by Felix Wankel himself can be found here. (Multiple PDFs; not an easy read.) Thanks to Pete Albrecht for spotting it.
  • From Henry Law comes a pointer to the most boggling piece of amateur rocketry I’ve ever seen. High power? Heh. One doesn’t get to 121,000 feet on vinegar and baking soda.
  • You don’t have to speak or read German to appreciate this photo tour of Vienna’s sewers. Why do they get such cool sewers in Europe? (I’ve seen a few Stateside, and they just…stink.)
  • Sure, and while you’re at it, grab his beach towel.

More Notes on a Victorious Vacation

I’m easily delighted. It’s one of the benefits of driving as much cynicism out of myself as I can. Cynicism is a kind of cowardice, in that it seems to consist of a morbid fear of being delighted. Screw that. Dare to be happy; it doesn’t hurt that much!

Case in point: The morning after we arrived in Honolulu, Carol and I took a walk around the immediate vicinity of the Hilton, looking for a breakfast that wouldn’t cost us $20 a head. McDonald’s might not have been my first choice, granting that I have a fondness for Egg McMuffins. But I like their iced coffee a lot, so when we stumbled on a McDonald’s, I ducked inside to get an iced coffee.

OMG: They had a spam and eggs breakfast plate!

We ate at McDonald’s. I was delighted. Their breakfast plates are a Hawaiian thing. Hawaiians of Polynesian ancestry seem to like spam, and whereas I have no least trace of South Seas blood, I too find Spam delightful. I didn’t have it every day (though I had it a lot) and now that we’re home from Hawaii, I probably won’t have it again until the next time we’re there. That way I won’t get tired of it, and it will retain its power to delight me.

Immediately adjacent to the Hilton Hawaiian Village is the Fort DeRussy Military Reservation, which these days is an R&R facility for current and retired military. This includes the Hale Koa Hotel, which is limited to military and retired military personnel, and several restaurants and bars, which are open to the public. I bought a tube of Pepsodent at the PX before I understood what the store was, and in doing so may have violated their policies; not sure. Their little outdoor fast-food restaurant (I forget its formal name) was spectacular, and the lunch I had there consisted of the largest and juiciest deep-fried chicken breast I’ve ever had. Like the Pepsodent, it was lots chapter than it would have been elsewhere.

I observed a phenomenon that I’ve observed before, and seems to be getting more common: talking on your cellphone in public as though no one else can year you. Granted, I was walking behind the young woman in question and there was no one immediately in front of her, but sheesh–we were on the grounds of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. I wasn’t really listening, but at her volume it was hard not to hear: “…yeah, and I scraped my f—ing pedicure off on the sand!” I only had to twist poor Bobbie Burns a little:

Oh wad some gift the Giftie gie us,

To hear oursels as ithers hear us!



By the time I finally crawled into bed last night, I’d been awake for almost 36 hours straight, which may be a new record for me. It’s an occupational hazard of certain kinds of vacations: The hardest part of going to Hawaii is coming home–and not simply because it’s nice in Hawaii. (Which it is; wow. See above.) Flights back to the mainland are invariably redeyes, and given that I sometimes can’t even sleep in my own bed, I’ve not been surprised to find that I can’t sleep in an airliner seat. So I take along books full of well-written ridiculania (this time it was Colin Wilson’s The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved) and try to make the most of all that quality tin-can time. Worked. And now, having slept for close to 11 hours, I can get back to the universe as reality.

We took two weeks off on Oahu to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary, and I made a conscious decision not to do any more computing during that time than I absolutely had to. I didn’t post here, didn’t do much surfing, ignored my aggregators, and pushed back answering most email until after our return. And y’know? As they say on Slashdot, Nothing of value was lost. We didn’t watch TV, either. We didn’t do any aerobic tourism. I brought a kite and chose not to fly it. We spent much time side by side, splashing in the gorgeous water, drinking pina coladas, laughing at ancient in-jokes, and reveling in one another’s company. That was, after all, the idea.


Our first few days were at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, in the venerable Rainbow Tower, which had gotten a little too venerable since 1969. All the time we were there the tower echoed with the sound of jackhammers. Our room was on the 16th floor, facing Diamond Head and the full length of Waikiki Beach. The view was amazing, and worth the trouble of having two of the four tower elevators out of service.


In the early evening darkness, we watched people launch these little LED-illuminated toys into the air off the beach. A rubber-band catapault takes them up forty or fifty feet at least, and then they spin down slowly in the fashion of a winged maple tree seed. I dug around a little and found that this is the item. I would have bought one, but the guy selling them out of his backpack wanted $10 each for what is evidently a $1.50 item. I’ll bet they’re at the dollar store, and will look. A Certain Somebody has her fifth birthday coming up, and a big field behind her house to launch it from. Way better than maple seeds!

The other thing that made me grin was watching the spectacular Friday night fireworks from our balcony. The east side of the Rainbow Tower was the best seat in the house. The beach was packed with people waiting for the fireworks, and dozens (maybe hundreds) among the crowds had smartphones, which shone blue-white in patterns like constellations. Silly? Maybe–but it was a startling and unexpected image. I’m sure that what they were doing was tweeting the experience to their friends, who didn’t have the good fortune of being in Hawaii like we did. It’s what the postcard has become, a century and a half after postcards were invented.

Sea Launch 500Wide.jpg

Thursday afternoon we were sitting in the Hilton’s beachside cafe having a drink, and Carol says, “There’s a drilling platform out there.” She pointed. I was lead-pipe sure there’s no offshore drilling a quarter mile from Honolulu, but dayum, there was a drilling platform off toward the airport. I looked again later in the afternoon and it was gone. The mystery was solved the next day, when we took a bus trip to Hilo Hattie’s for some souvenir hunting, and realized as we passed the docks that something rare was in town: The Sea Launch Odyssey. It was at the docks for refueling on a long, slow trip to somewhere for refitting. It has a 13,000 hp engine and evidently toodles around the oceans very well all by itself. I’ve stayed in towns smaller than that thing, and it suggested what may become a new short story, “Trash Angels,” about Penrose tiles and empty soda bottles.

Four days later, we retired to the other side of Oahu and took a vacation rental on the north beach near Kailua, with our terrace only 100 feet from the crashing 7′ waves. We read, lounged, got our sinuses cleaned out by the waves, and ate at some decent restaurants, especially Pinky’s Pupu Bar and Grill. I’m running long today, so I’ll get a fews more observations out in the near future.

Thirty-Five Years

Wedding Formal 8 X 10 - 500 Wide.jpg

Thirty-five years ago today, Carol and I stood side by side at St. John Brebeuf church in Niles, Illinois, and promised before God that we would strive to be not simply together, but together as best friends and inseparable partners, until whatever end may come. That’s the short form; I’m not sure I could say it better than I said it five years ago in this space.

So I’ll add some backstory: It was a big Polish wedding, with the ceremony at Carol’s parish church and the reception (217 guests) that evening at the now-vanished Northwest Builders Hall in Chicago. There were eight in the bridal party, and, remarkably, we have been in regular touch with seven of the eight. My childhood best friend Art Krumrey (whom I met at Edison School kindergarten in 1957) was our best man, and Carol’s sister Kathy was maid of honor.

Our Wedding Party 1976 - 500 Wide.jpg

L-R: My locker partner Tom Barounis, my sister Gretchen, Fox Patrol colleague George Murphy, Carol’s friend Eileen Schultz, me, Carol, Carol’s sister Kathy, Art Krumrey, Carol’s sorority sister Roseann Such, and my high school astronomy club colleague George Hodous. The bridesmaid dresses were mostly timeless; the groomsmen’s tuxes very Seventies. The food was Polish and spectacular, and we had a polka band that wore everybody out, which is what we hired them to do.

The family turned out in force, as did most of our friends. The page below is from our wedding guest signature book, and I consider it about as interesting as such things ever get. Edward E. Smith and George O. Smith were both there, though after signing the book they left at 40% the speed of light and I didn’t get pictures. The late (and terribly missed) George M. Ewing included his callsign, as always (portable 9!) and fan artists Phil Foglio and Doug Rice collaborated on some between-the-lines illumination. Mary the Mother of God signed in from the future (as Our Lady of the Endless Sky, straight from Sinus Iridum) though many of us wonder why the Blessed Mother had trouble with her handwriting.

WeddingBookSignaturePage 500 Wide.jpg

It was huge good fun. Outside the church, family threw rice and friends threw punch-card chad, which I was picking out of my ears well into our honeymoon in the Cayman Islands. Carol’s sister caught the bouquet. (I don’t recall who got the garter.) We had a martini fountain, which was the first time I’d ever seen that technology, though not the last.

Wedding Rice Thrown - 500 Wide.jpg

It’s sobering to look at the wedding photos and see an entire generation gone (except for Carol’s mom) as well as friends like George Ewing and Sharon Bloom who died far, far too soon. The photos are a snapshot of a time that few appreciate but which wasn’t as bad as conventional wisdom holds. Like the Forties (which we all mocked in our youth) the Seventies will come back someday, though I wouldn’t wait up for clones of the AMC Pacer.

JeffCarolFormal2007Small.jpgAs for Carol and me, well, the promise has been kept. We’ve taken some hits down the years but the flag still flies. Marriage works. It does. Not always and sometimes not the first time, but in our case, luck was with us and love did the rest. Thirty-five years on we have transformed one another, as marriage is intended to do, and at this point Jeff without Carol is no more meaningful than dividing by zero. Mission accomplished. Thanks from both of us to those who’ve been with us all this time, and to those others who have by now taken their places in the Community of Saints, all of whom made it possible without fully understanding how much their simple kindness and unending faith would mean to two ordinary people who made those extraordinary promises so many years ago.

Early Halloween


I’m starting to get notes from people asking if I’m all right, and I am, though for the last few days I’ve been fighting an anomalous migraine headache and haven’t felt much like writing. Lots to catch up on, now that I’m feeling better.

First off, I guess, would be the fate of our closest Borders. No sooner did it close its doors than a crane hoisted a banner for Spirit Halloween Stores across the name. I’m not a big Halloween fan (my sister got that gene) and so haven’t paid much attention to Halloween retailing, but Spirit is a national chain with an interesting business model: lie in wait for a big-box store to go belly-up, and then quickly reanimate the corpse for a couple of months prior to October 31. We have at least one other Spirit outlet here in the Springs, up on the north side inside the vacated remains of Ultimate Electronics. They may have year-round stores somewhere, probably in larger cities with more of a Halloween culture than we have here. The new store (in Southgate Plaza) hasn’t opened yet, even though there’s only 30 shopping days left until You Know What. Somehow they make it work.

And while we’re talking about reanimating corpses, I want to recommend a short story to zombie fans who may not have heard of it: “Impulse” by Eric Frank Russell. It first appeared in Astounding in September 1938, but it’s been reprinted many times since then. I found it in my decayed and dustbound copy of Groff Conklin’s 1962 paperback horror anthology Twisted. That’s a little remarkable, because “Impulse” is not a horror story as we usually define it. It’s pure SF, and remarkably prescient SF at that. Consider this excerpt:

It was a space vessel that carried us from our home world of Glantok. The vessel was exceedingly small by your standards–but we, too, are small. Very small. We are submicroscopic, and our number is myriad.

“No, not intelligent germs.” The ghastly speaker stole the thought from his listener’s mind. “We are less even than those.” He paused while he searched for words more explicit. “In the mass, we resemble a liquid. You might think of us as an intelligent virus.”

Basically, Russell’s talking about a colony of nanomachines living inside a dead human body that it stole from a morgue. The nanons got it running again, and even accessed memory proteins in its brain. So we’ve got a zombie here, a real zombie that doesn’t rely on supernatural machinery to make it go.

The story is better than typical pulp, although it respects all the usual pulp tropes including a mostly unecessary damsel in distress. I’m a fan of the story for an odd reason: It was the first story I ever read to a group. In the summer of 1964, my scoutmaster at Camp West in Michigan tapped me to read the story to Troop 926 while gathered around the evening campfire. It was fun, if a little tricky, because I had not read the story before sitting down to read it, and didn’t know myself how it would turn out. I remembered the title but not the author, and it took some googling to find it–else I would be flipping through the hundred-odd anthologies I have on the shelves downstairs.

By the way, Conklin is a superb anthologist, possibly the best out of the 1950-1975 era, and if you ever spot one of his books, it’s worth grabbing. (Kingsley Amis is another; his Spectrum books should be stalked and devoured.)


One more note about ghosts, albeit of the sign variety: While in Chicago last week I visited the strip mall retail complex at Harlem and Foster, which was an early shopping center (circa 1960) and when built contained the closest department store to where I grew up. (Turn Style, long-gone but the precursor to Target and K-Mart.) The strip mall contained the bank where I got my first account, and the Walgreens where I got my first job washing dishes at their grill. It also contained a slightly freaky windowless lower level divided into four small stores, one of which was the Arcade Bookshop. It was the first bookstore where I recall spending my own money, and I probably bought Conklin’s Twisted there. I also ordered several books on the fourth dimension from the very patient lady behind the counter. It opened when the mall as a whole opened. It became a Christian bookstore in the 1980s, and closed in the early 1990s. You can’t see it in the photo shown above, but the upper right sign space is the old Arcade Bookshop sign, reversed so the back side is out. However, if you’re there in front of it you can clearly read the store’s name through the plastic–backwards, sure, but that’s no real trick, and seeing the old store where I spent so much of my allowance in the 1960s was definitely a treat.