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July 7, 2003

I shared the long table in the Cornucopia with a couple from out of town. They waited for their breakfast and read the Denver Post. I sipped my tea and read my way through the Post’s Perspective section toward Ed Quillen’s column.

Their breakfasts arrived, and they started talking. I smiled to myself, because often the opposite happens: Food arrives and silence falls. I happen to like food and conversation together, but my manners may be a little weak.

At some point, I caught the words, “… she’s second in command in the House, and so when she wants …”

At least, that’s what I thought I heard. I pretended to read on and prepared for some diverting political gossip, but quickly I understood I hadn’t really heard a capital “H” in House.

They were talking about dogs. A house full of them. Oh, well. I already know about that, so I went back to reading Ed’s column.

Ed discussed a kind of speculative fiction he called alternative history, based on clever “what if” questions. In his column, he took the approach one step further and imagined a present, based on an alternative past, in which someone speculated about an alternative past, much like our real past, and what that would mean for another present, alternative to theirs, which happened to much like ours.

And you thought the movie “Back to the future” was convoluted.

As of this writing, a library patron is trying to recall a particular speculative novel, and we’re trying to help. He’d read it a while ago (can’t say how long exactly); he thinks the title was “The earth,” or similar; the author may have been a Robert Stevenson, or Stevens.

This is a good start, better than “A red book, so big, that used to be by that window in the old library …”

We tried the obvious and couldn’t find combinations of those. SciFi author David Brin has a novel entitled “Earth,” but the story doesn’t jibe. If we spell Stevenson as Stephenson, we find Neal, but no “Earth.”

The story goes something like this: A man is camping somewhere and suffers a snakebite. While in his tent recovering, panicked people run by but apparently don’t tell him anything.

He returns to the city to find almost everyone dead, or gone (I’m not sure which). There are just a few survivors in each city. The story proceeds to flesh out the life that follows, during which the material world runs down or runs out.

One might think of the movie, “The Omega Man,” with Charlton Heston, but the story is different: One doctor, via an experimental vaccine, survives an apocalyptic war fought with bio-weapons. The other survivors are vampires …

It’s based on the novel “I am Legend” by Richard Matheson, which happens to be a horror classic that we don’t have. So we’ve ordered it. But it doesn’t solve our problem.

The man seeking this book recalls that he was fascinated by the speculations and analysis of what would happen in such a scenario.

Science fiction has these sub-genres that are less science and more social speculation. But there is no separating the social context of any technology, and so the best sci-fi writers are inevitably social commentators.

Salida has a solid core of science fiction fans, and so if you are one of them and this story rings a bell … Help! (Our thanks in advance …)


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