The recent death of Stephen Hawking has me thinking about the history of the famous construct, black holes. According to Wikipedia these were proposed more as black voids by astronomer and English clergyman John Michell in 1784. One aspect smote the imagination: that of sun-in-reverse, a star’s diameter would exceed the sun’s “by a factor of 500, and the surface escape velocity” (minimal speed needed to escape the influence of gravity) would prevail. This, it was thought, would exceed light speed. The imagination back then was seeing invisible stars “hiding in plain view.” Later, the posited wavelike nature of light superseded the theory. Still, black holes had passed the event horizon of the academic imagination (as it were) in 1784.
My imagination’s first encounter with black holes happened in the kitchen of our rented mobile home in rural PA in 1980 or 81. Hearing of Hawking’s theories, right off I thought of putting a crazy, particular tyrant in a black hole. I got a ride to the town library and started my research with books on the atom, atomic structure, etc… and felt my blush when an onlooker, seeing the book propped on the table in my hands commented, “I’ve never seen a woman interested in this stuff before.” He of course knew some women were so interested — he just had not seen the evidence. However, a child’s book would’ve helped me better understand.
I’m one of those so-called pseudo intellectuals who love the same things intellectuals like, but without the capacity. Not intending or pretending superiority, I tackle all imaginatively. There’s nothing smart about it. Maybe cunning, but not smarts. So the 20th century mustachioed tyrant, who began as a young artist, went into the black hole.
Science-fictional marketing troubles began. Two editors didn’t like the story — not tepidly but with outrage. One English department chair (himself taught by Jesuits) questioned its flippancy. He did call the prose muscular. We stopped talking for a while after that. R. was hot and cold. At one point he suggested I get rid of it. I did, almost.
After holding onto it for a few decades I checked its black hole theory again and was surprised it held up pretty well. I needed SF for my Fantastic Travelogue and incorporated the artist’s story from Mark Twain’s POV, hoping popular sentiment might have turned welcoming for this parody/satire. Thirty years after my first submission popular sentiment — or popular cynicism? — would now be in accord with my congenital flippancy…. ?
You can sample the first part of the book online or in your preferred file type (including Kindle) here.
we plan on closing the green and blue house in may