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A Dinner in Belgravia

“Tegan...!” the Doctor said, sounding infinitely weary, and very annoyed.

Tegan swallowed and turned toward him, prepared to take her medicine. The two of them stood in the TARDIS’s spacious brick-and-tile galley, and the Doctor, in shirtsleeves and long linen apron, was holding a cylindrical plastic object in his hands. The plastic was milky and webbed with many cracks.

“I seem to recall asking you not to put the bottom of the pasta machine in the dishwasher,” he said.

Tegan rolled her eyes, annoyed. “I wasn’t to know it was a sonic dishwasher, was I?”

The Doctor clenched his hands. The pasta-maker’s bowl simply fell apart and showered to the floor in a rain of clouded plastic fragments.

Tegan groaned softly and turned away.

“Now we’ll have to have the TARDIS extrude another one,” the Doctor said, resigned, “and you know how she can be about such things.”

“Erratic,” Tegan muttered.

“I wouldn’t talk if I were you,” said the Doctor. Then he caught himself, and looked abashed. “Sorry,” he said. “Look, it was a mistake. You won’t make it again. —Will you?”

“No,” Tegan said, trying to sound sulky, but failing. It was hard to be angry with the Doctor when he was in a conciliatory mood.

“That’s all right, then,” he said, and looked around him cheerfully again. “But we’re still out of pasta.”

“That’s no odds,” Tegan said, “we’re out of sauce too. Nyssa made pizza three times last week.”

“Well, we have all the sauce ingredients. But we’ll have to buy pasta out.”

“Earth?” Tegan said, sounding eager.

“Well,” said the Doctor, taking off his apron and pausing to wash his hands, “we could go to Balearis Magna...they make pasta there.”

“Is it any good?”

“Very,” said the Doctor. “If you’re a silicon-based life form. But we're not...and even my sauce can’t do much for spaghetti made of asbestos. —Though I have to admit it’s certainly very hard to burn....”

They headed out of the galley together, through the long white corridors. “Is it really your sauce?” Tegan said.

“Well...you know how it is.” The Doctor grinned at her, a slightly conspiratorial look. “I got it from a professional liar I know...who got it from Wilma, who got it from Michelle, who got it from Michelle’s mother...who probably got it from Leonardo da Vinci. Just the sort of thing he’d throw together between painting classic pictures and inventing machines that were half a thousand years before their time. In fact, considering the tomato hadn’t reached Italy yet, it probably was Leonardo. I should stop back and ask him. And here we are.”

“Here” was a roundel-fronted door like a thousand others in the TARDIS. The Doctor pulled it open and waved the lights on.

“My word,” Tegan said. The room was about the size of the Sydney Opera House, and full of boxes, crates, cargo containers, bags, sacks and satchels, furniture, tools, knick-knacks, kickshaws, and assorted junk.

“Tertiary storage,” the Doctor said, threading his way among stacks of crates toward the far-away center of the room.

“If this is tertiary storage, what does main storage look like?” Tegan muttered. She stopped by a crate that had stenciled on it the words U.S. ARMY, TOP SECRET! DO NOT OPEN. A soft golden light was welling out of the cracks. “Doctor, what’s this?”

The Doctor glanced over at it, then went back to rummaging among some boxes. “Haven’t the slightest idea,” he said. “Something the Americans were worried about keeping safe. They gave it to MI 5, and a friend there gave it to me. And here it remains.” He straightened up, looking around. “I really ought to catalogue all this mess...it’s getting quite out of hand.”

“I had no idea you were such a packrat,” Tegan said, smiling wickedly at him.

“Oh well,” the Doctor said, stepping over some more crates to get at a bank of freestanding shelves. “It’s hard to stop, sometimes. You pick up things, and then you regenerate, and you get nostalgic about the old regeneration’s stuff, and you never really want to throw any of it away...” He started going through the boxes on the shelves.

“What exactly are we looking for?”

“Money,” the Doctor said.

“In here?”

“Where else, then?”

“Well...in a safe?”

“Why? Who on the TARDIS would steal it?”

“That’s true, but...”

“And generally I don’t need money,” the Doctor said, lifting down a box to get into the one under it. “The TARDIS is planned to run as a self-contained unit...but every now and then, disaster strikes.” He threw a small wicked look at Tegan.

She rolled her eyes and went over to help him. “Don’t Time Lords have any kind of credit facility?” she said, joking.

“Yes, as a matter of fact we do...”

“Why don’t you use yours, then?”

The Doctor coughed and cleared his throat, not because of the dust. “Well, you see, when I left Gallifrey...they, ah...”

“Canceled your credit line...”


“But surely you’ve made all that up with them!”

“Oh yes,” said the Doctor, looking slightly annoyed, “but you know how it is...the official communication has to go off to the credit agency, and they have to tidy up the records, and, you know, bureaucracy, red tape, it takes forever....”

Tegan sighed, then grinned. “You ought to get the credit card for renegade Time Lords, then,” she said.

The Doctor looked at her quizzically. “Sorry?”


The Doctor groaned and briefly covered his face. “I’ve sometimes wondered what happens when you throw an unprotected human being out into the time vortex,” he said, and then went back to rummaging through the box at hand. “Never mind, we’ll find out later. —Here we are, then!”

“Money?” Tegan said, looking doubtfully at the dusty contents of the box. It was full of chips and blocks and lumps and nuggets and curls and weird-looking things that might have come out of the insides of alarm clocks.

The Doctor pulled out one example, a small hexagonal wafer of white plastic. “That’s a Balearic demi-thrang,” he said. “Too bad we can’t eat their pasta. Here, look for anything from Earth. Pounds, ideally: I want to go to Fortnum and Mason’s. Or the Food Hall at Harrods.”

Half an hour later Tegan was covered with enough dust to have made her a very rich woman on Rirhath B (where as the Doctor told her, soil for farming was excruciatingly scarce, and had itself become a commodity); but neither of them had so much as a real copper ha’penny to their names. There was precious metal enough—Tegan glanced with amusement at the Denebian “groat”, a three-pound block of platinum gorgeously engraved with pictures of things with tentacles, which the Doctor had burnished on his sleeve and put aside to use as a paperweight. But the smelter in the TARDIS’s machine shop was out of order at the moment, and the attempt to sell off alien coinages would be bound to attract unwanted attention on Earth.

“It’s hopeless,” Tegan said at last. “We could be at this for days, and it’s past dinnertime already. Let’s just go back to the Galley and scare up something else.”

“My stomach is set for spaghetti,” the Doctor said, standing up. “Come on, heart up, Tegan! There’s another way to get money.”


“I’ll borrow some.” He got up, brushing off his own small fortune in dust. “There are lots of people on Earth who would lend me five pounds!”

“Always assuming you could ever find your way there again to pay them back,” Tegan said, not entirely under her breath, and laughing a little.

“Yes,” the Doctor said as they headed out of the room, and he threw her a look of amiable annoyance. “Let’s find Nyssa. Then, off to the console room.”

They found Nyssa in her room, creating life in a test-tube to pass the time. “Come on, we’re going to Earth,” said the Doctor. “Hallo there!” he said to the test tube, and hurried out of the room again.

“Going to Earth again?” Nyssa said to Tegan. “Or still?

“We’ll find out.”




When they got to the Console Room, the Doctor immediately began fiddling with one of the input screens. “I’m going to try something a little different,” he said. “‘Wild card’ operation.”

“Randomization?” Nyssa said, curious.

“No, not exactly. The TARDIS has telepathic circuitry, you know, and the isomorphic controls can be programmed to find what I want without my knowing exactly where it is.” The Doctor paused, peering at the controls, and made a couple of adjustments. “Within limits, of course: and it does use a lot of power, but I’m hungry! Ready?”

Nyssa and Tegan glanced at each other, then both grabbed hold of free areas of the console and held on tight, just in case.

“Now then old girl,” the Doctor said to the console, “take me where I can borrow some money!” And he hit the dematerialization switches.

The time rotor went up and down, the dimensioning circuitry made the usual wheezing and groaning. Then the rotor stopped.

“Well done!” the Doctor said, and opened the forward viewer.

They found themselves looking at a wide-porticoed building, all columns and impressive stairs: a bit old, but very splendid in the Victorian manner. Tegan guffawed. Nyssa looked expectant. The Doctor glanced down at the console with good-natured annoyance.

“Very funny,” he said. “But the Bank of England was not what I had in mind. Try it again...”

He hit the dematerialization switches again. The TARDIS’s screen blurred into the bright miasma of the time vortex, then steadied down as the rotor stopped. Tegan looked at interest at the screen: it showed the front of a block of flats in a small quiet street.

“Ealing,” the Doctor said with a delighted smile, and slipped around to pull up the door control. “Sara Jane’s house!” He ran out.

“Who’s Sara Jane?” Tegan said.

“You’ll like her,” the Doctor’s voice drifted to them from outside. “She’s just your type.”

But they never got a chance to find out if this was true, because Sara Jane turned out not to be at home: nor was someone called K9, and the Doctor looked a bit sad about it as he came back in. “Oh well,” he said. “There’s always Vicki...or Liz, or Lethbridge-Stewart...”

But the TARDIS appeared in rapid succession in front of a boys’ school in the country, and a manor house in Cambridgeshire, and a cottage in the Scilly Isles, and in every case the people they wanted to see were away from home. The Doctor was getting discouraged, and once Nyssa heard his stomach growl.

“I don’t understand it,” he said, as they came back to the TARDIS the fourth time. “Wild card option always works, it can’t be doing this...”

“This is the TARDIS we’re talking about,” Tegan said.

“No, wait,” Nyssa said, forestalling the Doctor’s testy reply. “Perhaps the syntax was off somehow. What was the command?”

“I said to her...thought to her, actually...I said, Take me where I can borrow some money...”

Nyssa smiled. “To where. Not to who.”

“Whom,” the Doctor said, but he flashed a grin at her. “That’s it, of course. Let me revise the command.” He looked down at the TARDIS console for a moment, and shut the doors.

“Here we go, then!”

The time rotor began its rise and fall, then quite abruptly stopped. “We must have been very close,” said the Doctor. He hit the door control and ran out, grabbing his hat off the stand in passing.

Tegan and Nyssa went after him—then paused as he had, looking around them in astonishment. It was evening in a narrow, cobbled street with many houses: the gaslights that lined the sidewalks bloomed softly through sulfur-smelling fog. A horse’s hoofs and the wheels of the cab it was drawing clattered on the uneven stone-setts far down at the street’s end.

The Doctor, with his hat in his hands, looked around him in growing delight. “Of course,” he said, “he’ll lend me money! Though all this may take some explaining....” And he loped off toward one of the house doors and yanked at its bell pull.

A slightly stout woman in her fifties answered the door, and Tegan was interested to see that she seemed not too surprised at the sight of a slight, fair man in cricketing clothes, and two (by Victorian standards) very oddly dressed women. “Good evening, madam,” said the Doctor, “and would you be so kind as to tell your employer that he has a visitor on a business of some mild urgency?”

“Certainly, sir,” said the woman. “Please come straight up.”

The three of them went up the stairs after the lady. Nyssa wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?” she whispered to Tegan.

“Pipe smoke.”

“Shag,” the Doctor said from ahead of them. “He did always prefer it, even though it’s strong enough to choke most people.”

A door opened in front of them. They stepped through it and found themselves in a small,crowded study, its several tables littered with books and chemical-set regalia, and many many newspapers. The gas was turned up bright: by it Tegan noticed with amusement that someone appeared to have spelled out the letters V.R. on a nearby wall, in bullet-holes. By the fire two fat overstuffed chairs and a horsehair sofa were drawn up, and from one of the chairs a man was rising. He was tall and lean and (to Tegan’s eye) formally dressed in waistcoat and high collar and stock: a pale man with deepset eyes and a prominent nose.

“How interesting,” he said in a beautiful light tenor voice. “We seem to have a duality of Doctors here tonight.”

The Doctor looked at the man in open astonishment. “My dear Holmes,” he said, “I haven’t been here since my last regeneration. How ever did you know me?”

Sherlock Holmes smiled. A second man got up from the other chair: he was shorter and wider, impressively moustached, and Tegan noticed that he favored his left side a bit as he stood. “We have left the ladies standing,” said Holmes. “Ladies, pray take a seat; the Doctor will introduce you. Watson, you have met this gentleman, though last time he looked rather different. It was during the sordid collusion between Moriarty and that terrible creature the Master. Doctor, do make yourself completely at home. Sherry?”

The amenities took them a few moments. “Perhaps the ladies will indulge me if I smoke?” said Holmes. “I thank you. So.” He relit the famous meerschaum and puffed on it for a moment. “—My deductions are never really that difficult,” he said, “but in your case I must stretch myself a little; for which I am glad of your company. Save for the trusty Watson here, this has been a tiresome day.” Holmes looked up, his eyes merry. “I see, Doctor, that you have been pursuing that most gentlemanly art, the wooing of the Kitchen Muse: that you have run out of some necessary ingredient, purveyed only on this planet: and that you are regrettably short of valuta...hence have come to an old colleague for assistance.”

“But how did you know him when he had regenerated?” Nyssa said.

“Ah, there is a matter requiring a little more nicety of deduction,” said Holmes. “Some few years ago I wrote a monograph on a new science, so new it was until then nameless; a study of the manner in which human beings move, and the ways in which one may infer from such movement much useful information about a person’s habits and provenance. I called the science ‘kinesics’, but it has since been sensationalized in the popular press as ‘body language’.”

“Vulgar,” Watson muttered.

“Though in its way, accurate,” said Holmes. “Now no two human beings move in quite the same way; but there are generalities that affect the whole species—subtleties of expression, of how one holds one’s body, and so forth. And when some years back I was visited by a tall curly-haired gentleman in an odd scarf, whose body language clearly indicated that he had been raised in no culture on the face of this planet, then the only possible conclusion was that he should have been raised off it.”

Holmes puffed reflectively for a moment. “Then,” he said, “tonight I have a visitor, who though entirely different from the first in face and somatype, still exhibits the extraordinary kinesics I have described. I leave aside the purely circumstantial evidence that he knows me; and that he comes accompanied by two young women, one of whom belongs to this planet but to a very different time, and one who like himself is of non-Terrene origin—though most certainly of a different culture, as the kinesics are again different from the Doctor’s.” He passed over Nyssa’s astonished look. “When such evidence presents itself, no other deduction is possible but that this man is the same as the gentleman with the scarf: miraculously altered, to be sure, but the same mind in a different body.”

“My dear Mr. Holmes,” said the Doctor, with a slow smile, “unlike me, you haven’t changed a bit.”

Holmes grinned, a look so like the Doctor’s more wicked smiles that Tegan almost broke out laughing at the sight of it. “Besides all that,” said the world’s greatest detective, “I say nothing at all of the absurd blue box that I watched appear groaning and wheezing out of nothing five minutes ago. My previous visitor gave me to understand that its shape was not taken by choice: and few conveyances with such a unique malfunction can be out and about.”

The Doctor grinned back.

“As to the money, you may be easy about it,” said Holmes; “the King of Bohemia’s representative was here only this afternoon to complete payment of a commission, and we are well off indeed. Perhaps you will all dine with us at Romano’s? You shall have your spaghettini there, Doctor: and afterward, the composer Tchaikovsky is conducting his own work at the Garden. —But at any rate, you are curious to know how I knew you were cooking.”

“Tchaikovsky!” the Doctor said softly.

Tegan’s mouth fell open. She shut it, and then said, “Mr. Holmes—”

“How did I know it was pasta the Doctor sought? Attend, madam, if you please. Notice first—” and Holmes pointed with his pipestem— “the faint band or mark on the sides of your companion’s neck. It becomes more noticeable toward the back, does it not? The Doctor has been wearing an apron recently: that is the mark of the neckband. Now he might have been wearing it to protect himself while cleaning...the dust of it is still upon his hair, as it is upon yours, madam—but traces of that dust are also under the areas which the apron would have covered. He therefore was in the kitchen first, and left it to begin his ransack when he found the vital ingredient missing. Also, that fleck of something reddish on his sleeve is yet another informer. I did not see it until just now, when the Doctor reached out to put his tea-cup down. It is in just such a spot as to have been splashed there by a boiling sauce-pot. Careless of you to let the sauce boil, Doctor. It should never go above the simmer.”

“I was looking for the bottom of the pasta machine,” said the Doctor.

“Which you found to be in some disrepair, to judge by this lady’s blush,” said Holmes, “and therefore you found it necessary to contemplate coming out of your remarkable conveyance to procure more. Whereupon you went looking for money—having some about, but having, as you told me last time, little use for it in most occasions—but you found none you could appropriately exchange. You then thought of friends on Earth...and I am honored you came to me.” And Holmes bowed a little where he sat.

“He might have been making chili,” Tegan said.

“But he was not,” said Holmes gently, “for first of all, the aroma of that dish’s spices are both distinctive and penetrating, and would hang about his clothes: and second, the Doctor is allergic to chili. And several gases...as he informed me while satisfying my understandable curiosity concerning the fascinating needs and oddities of an alien physiology.”

“Ketchup,” Tegan said.

“Madam, both walnut ketchup and its newfangled tomato-based variant dry a darker brown.” He smiled at her. “So your Doctor has his Watson as well. I am glad of it.”

He put his teacup down, and rose. “Ladies, Romano’s awaits us,” he said. “You will all want to change for dinner first, of course. But before dinner and the concert, we shall proceed to Fortnum and Mason’s, cause them to open the shop for us—for the management owes me a favor—and bear off in triumph the best pasta fresh from Rome. Which, Doctor, I would be honored if you would allow me to purchase for you.”

“Sir,” the Doctor said, “I would be delighted. Will you come down and have a quick tour of my craft while we change? I’ve made some improvements.”

“Indeed I was hoping you would offer,” said Holmes. “Come, Watson! We shall see wonders.

“—It’s your recipe, by the way,” Holmes added, as they headed down the stairs.

“I beg your pardon?”

“At Romano’s,” said Holmes. “I took the liberty of imparting it to the chef there. Every patron who tastes it proclaims it to be the finest salsa pomodoro alla Napolitana they have ever eaten.” And as they slipped one after another into the TARDIS, Holmes glanced humorously at the Doctor’s lapel.

“I think,” he said, “it has something to do with the celery.”

The Doctor smiled, and went off to look for his black tie and tails.



Brown enough onions and garlic in a deep pan to suit your taste. (This is the subjective part.) Drain off any excess oil.

Add 2 24-ounce cans of tomato paste and two large sized (one-pound) cans of tomato puree.

Add to taste: grated parmesan, salt, pepper, oregano, and bay leaves. (Be sure to put the bay leaves in a little cheesecloth bag or teaball, and remove them when the sauce is done. IT IS DANGEROUS TO EAT BAY LEAVES, NO MATTER HOW WELL COOKED. They are frequently toxic, and at all times can cause intestinal perforation. A word to the wise!)

Cook the above over LOW heat for 4 to 4½ hours, stirring occasionally. DON’T LET IT BOIL!!! Ever.

And add, late in the process:

1/2 cup very, very finely chopped celery

If you like your sauce with meat (thus transforming it into one variant of ragù alla Bolognese):

Use 1 lb of lean ground beef per 6 people. First brown the meat separately and drain off the fat: then add one hour before the sauce will be done.

Make sure you stir the sauce off the bottom of the pot regularly. You don’t want it to burn...even if you're on Balearis, and the spaghetti won't.




Something that happens to most working writers over time is that they get asked to contribute writing to charitable ventures (as opposed to being asked to write things for free, a pernicious and annoying habit which the sane jobbing writer gives short shrift).

This happened to me a little more than ten years ago, when the people gathering together material for the charity anthology that would become Perfect Timing 2 contacted me and asked if I would consider donating a little something Whovian to the cause.

As it happened, I already had something. Years and years before -- when dinosaurs walked the Earth and CompuServe was about all there was in the way of online life -- I had been in the grip of a longstanding love affair that predates the one with my husband and was, in its own way, nearly as strong. Come to think of it, I'm still in the grip. I love the Doctor dearly.

Back then my fave was Five. It wasn't that I didn't like Tom Baker, the first Doctor I became acquainted with in the 70's via the good offices of PBS (and our local affiliate, the splendid WNET). But for me there was something peculiarly attractive about Peter Davison's portrayal of the Time Lord: something about the way he handled his personal ethos. These days it's hard to be clear about the reasons in any more detail. In any case, eventually I did what I had done for a long time when I liked a character: I sat down and committed fanfic. The first short story, "The Effect of Dimensional Transcendence on Mozzarella Cheese" -- which I wrote mostly as a joke -- and later its sequel, wound up in the files area at HOM-29, the venerable SF and Fantasy Forums at CompuServe; and there they sat for ever so long, fading gently into obscurity.

So when the Perfect Timing people came to me, I thought, "Hmm: no need to write anything new: how about giving this an airing?" I submitted the story, they liked it, and it got published. So much for that.

A bit later, another anthology came along, and I fished out the second story, "A Dinner in Belgravia," which scratched not only the Whovian itch, but another one of even longer standing -- my deep love for the original Sherlock Holmes. (Not that I don't have the writer-hots for the new incarnation, you understand. It's impossible not to admire such a masterly reboot. But old loyalties die very very hard.)

And finally, to my great joy, the chance came to work in the Who universe under official auspices, and I jumped at it... but not without my own very muted back-reference. Readers of "Goths and Robbers" in Short Trips: the Quality of Leadership will note a certain concern with food: and indeed with pasta, which was a core issue in "Belgravia". I think we have to assume that at that point, Five had run through the not inconsiderable amount of fettucine-or-whatever that five pounds Sterling would have bought in Holmes's London, and needed to restock. Though personally I have to assume that the characteristic selfwilled swerve into the outfield of Time (if not Space) that the TARDIS takes during "Goths and Robbers" is about more than just concern over a Time Lord's carb intake.

In any case, there's no telling if or when I might ever again have anything to do with the Who universe in a professional capacity. Obviously I'd love to write for them. Who knows what future years will bring? ...But if it ever happens -- they're going to have to work pretty hard to keep me from putting my nose into the TARDIS's galley. -- DD

Raetian Tales 1: A Wind from the South

A goddess in the making, or a demon reborn...?

In the remote mountain village where she was born, Mariarta dil Alicg lives the untroubled life of a peasant girl...until, soon after a mysterious stranger's arrival, she starts to hear voices in the wind. The voices whisper strange secrets in Mariarta’s ears -- promising her the power to command the stormwind, hinting at an unknown magical heritage, and prophesying a fate marvelous past all Mariarta’s imaginings.

Then a curse falls on Mariarta's village, shattering the lives of her family and friends. Mariarta must set out across the mountain realm of Raetia in search of a way to break the curse -- while also hunting for the truth about the beautiful and terrible being who's trying to possess her soul.

Mariarta’s search will lead her into hidden domains of sorcery both dreadful and wondrous, and will finally embroil the young woman in the growing rebellion against her land's cruel Austriac oppressors -- but not before Mariarta comes face to face at last with the immortal Lady of the Storms, and challenges her to one final battle for control of her life, her soul, and her destiny...

Reader advisory:
This novel rated PG-15 for mature themes, language (Romansch), and the reinvention of democracy


A Wind from the South
is also available at the Kindle Store at Amazon.com



Star Trek: since you're all asking

People keep referencing this story (and this one and various others) and, after a Google search, winding up here.

Here's the book they're all talking about. If you've seen media references suggesting that Spock's World is a favorite of Star Trek film writer Roberto Orci, and something in which he immersed himself (and others, including Alex Kurtzman) while working on the movie, well, those stories are true. (Check this interview for more info.) There are various other references and interviews to the same effect here and there on the Web.

It's fun to be involved with something like this even at such a remove. Thanks, guys!



For ScriptFrenzy 2011: "Dead & Breakfast"

This screenplay has been gestating for a good while -- one of those stories that's been niggling and niggling at me to be told. Like all too many of my stories, it started out with a misreading that turned into a pun. Don't ask me at what point I looked at (or heard) "bed and breakfast" and kicked it a couple of consonants along into "dead and breakfast".

And then of course the conjectures began. What kind of place is a "dead and breakfast"? Who lives there? Why? And what's the nature of the "broken bone" that for me is the heart of fantasy fiction -- the painful interface where the fantastic element rubs up against reality and causes the drama? This script is my answer to those questions.

So for this year's ScriptFrenzy, I thought I'd post D&B day by day at Out of Ambit, as various others are doing with their work here and there. (Just as a matter of information: both the storyline and the script are registered with the Writers' Guild of America East.)

Each tranche at the blog is five or six pages long on average -- I prefer to divide by scene rather than rigorously, by pagecount.

If you prefer to read in larger chunks, though, the whole script is below. It will remain here until the last week in April, when an ebook version will become available.

Click on "read more" to read the complete script.


Mobile users and others unable to view web pages containing iframes: you can view the script at this page.


A Wizard Abroad, New Millennium Edition

Teenage wizards Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez have been working the New York suburbs for nearly thirty years now, through nine novels' worth of adventures. As the dawn of their fourth decade in print draws near, the long-planned updating of the Young Wizards series continues with the Ebooks Direct release of the fourth novel in the series: A Wizard Abroad. 

Abroad, like So You Want to Be a Wizard (book 1 of the Young Wizards series), Deep Wizardry (book 2), and High Wizardry (book 3), now appears in a New Millennium Edition that's been extensively edited and updated for the present century.
A Wizard Abroad New Millennium Edition cover

You can find out more about the update project as a whole here. All nine books will be updated by the end of 1Q of 2013, and all brought into alignment with the new (2008-2011-based) timeline. 

If you've already picked up copies of the first three New Millennium Editions, you can grab A Wizard Abroad here. Alternately, if you haven't yet acquired any of the new editions, we're offering a four-volume "box set" of the first New Millennium Editions at a slightly lower price than buying all four separately.
New Millennium Edition Four-book set

(For those interested: book 5 of the series, The Wizard's Dilemma, is now available as well.)

This ebook, like all our books, is DRM-free and can be moved from device to device at your pleasure. Also, for the same flat price, we offer an all-format bundle containing various versions of the major ebook formats, so you can find out what works best for you. (Because why should you pay twice for the same book in a different format?) Just go to the widget under the cut and choose the "Bundle" option in the book's dropdown menu.

More about the story under the cut.

A little about the story:

There's magic across the Atlantic...

NitaCallahan's mom and dad are beginning to get the idea that she and her fellow wizard Kit are "spending a little too much time together". So -- explaining that they want to give their daughter a little vacation from wizardry -- they pack Nita off for a month-long stay with her eccentric aunt at her farm in Ireland. But this turns out to have been a bad move on Nita's parents' part, since Ireland is even more steeped in magical doings than the United States.

Nita, initially certain that she's going to be bored out of her mind, soon finds that the serene beauty of the Irish landscape is deceptive. The ghosts of men and beasts and other beings -- including what seem to be heroes, ancient gods, and even the Powers that Be -- confront her at every turn. And her attention to strictly wizardly business during this crisis is somewhat distracted by the dark and edgy Ronan Nolan, a local teen wizard with uncomfortable secrets... and an agenda that might possibly include Nita.
Along with a group of Irish wizards both young and old, Nita and Kit (who joins her in Ireland) are drafted into an increasingly desperate battle with the Lone Power in yet another of Its many forms. The fight is a personal one, as always -- but this time there's more at stake than usual, as the ancient Enemy of life attempts to submerge the everyday Ireland in an older, more dangerous one: a place where human beings are fairy tales, and the legends and monsters of Celtic myth are a deadly reality....

Reviewers say:

"Duane seamlessly interweaves encounters with creatures from legend with glimpses of modern Irish life and teen culture... So clever and well reasoned that readers will have no trouble suspending disbelief." (School Library Journal)

"An engaging fantastical tale... Definitely worth reading." (Book Trust)

"Suitable for a wide range of readers. The colourful descriptions and imaginative characters create an exciting read... found it difficult to put the book down." (Platform)

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Meetings on the Stair

I saw a time machine in my backyard some years back.

As I look at that sentence — despite the fact that it’s absolutely true — I think I’d better come at the subject of this article from another angle. I’ve worked in too many psychiatric hospitals to want to spend time in one as a guest.

Not just "some years" but many years ago now, I stopped in at Dell Books to visit the beautiful and talented Olga Litowinsky, my children’s-book editor there. We spent our usual hour or so shmoozing, then went off to visit the chief publicist for Dell, a sharp-eyed and charming lady named Janet Seigel, and shmoozed with her for another hour -- mostly about writing. Close to the end of that hour, Janet leaned back in her chair with a sort of “devil’s- advocate” gleam in her eye, and said, “Tell me something. Do people ever ask you if you don’t feel guilty about writing so much escapist literature for children, who’re so impressionable? And do you ever feel guilty?”

The answers, immediately, were “yes” and “no!”, for reasons that — as I tried to articulate them — multiplied until the conversation started sounding like something out of the Spanish Inquisition. Why should I? Where do grownups get this idea that kids are terminally impressionable — that someone under voting age is likely to believe everything they hear? Don’t adults understand the difference between imagination and belief? Don’t they remember that there is a difference? — (And our spiffy red uniforms....)

My editor shut me up as best she could (she’d fortunately remembered to bring the cattle prod from her office) and told me to go home and write an essay for the School Librarians’ Journal. So I did. That’s another story.

But as a result, for the following week or two the question of responsible representation of reality — the business of telling the truth to one’s readers in childrens’ writing, and adults’ as well — was much with me. I had once seen, and been very troubled by, a young man walking around a Star Trek convention in great distress. He had, he told someone, missed a timed rendezvous at a beam-up point, and he didn’t have his communicator with him; there was therefore no way for the Enterprise to find him and beam him up home. He meant it. He wasn’t role-playing. The image of him wandering those halls—“marooned,” distraught, stranded on the wrong side of reality—came back again and again to haunt me.

“Fine,” the more cowardly parts of me kept hollering from the background, “so when you write, stick to reality!” Useless advice. After seven thousand years, reality has yet to be adequately defined; given cowardice enough to obey such advice, there would be no way to know how. And anyway, truth sometimes has nothing to do with the physically “real” at all. For the first time in years, I found myself hung up in a genuine ethical crisis, and I didn’t like it. The urge to ask “What is truth?” and then go wash my hands was considerable.

In the middle of writing that essay, I stepped out late at night for a walk. You have to understand that the house I then shared with three friends in a brick-and-fieldstone suburb of Philadelphia was situated in the best neighborhood I’ve ever known for long, lazy evening strolls...safe at night, quiet, very few streetlights and much open sky. The Moon was out, full and ferociously silver. I walked a long time, relishing the silence, and came back up the driveway feeling quite relaxed, if not quite sure as yet about what to do in that essay. I turned the corner around the house to stretch the walk just another thirty seconds or so—and saw it.

It was lying on its side in the middle of the back yard. An oblong, boxlike shape made of some dark material, with panelled doors and small windows on the side that faced me, and with a little roundish projection jutting out at the “roof” end; a shape throwing a fat black shadow in the moonlight, and absolutely there with me and the yard and the real world and my breath going out in a cloud of amazement and cold. A London police call box, lying on its side in the back yard. They don’t use police boxes in London any more— and anyway, what would one be doing in my back yard? On its side, yet?

Only one thing. Many of you know about the TARDIS, a supra-dimensional vehicle for travel through Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Specifically, some of you recognize that one TARDIS whose chameleon exterior is or has been stuck in the shape of a police call box because it was in for repairs when it was first stolen by the renegade Time Lord called “the Doctor”. (Doctor who? Right, he’s the one.) That particular TARDIS is known, by devotees of the Dr. Who SF series, to have enough other things wrong with it to make side-on landings likely. And as for it winding up in my back yard — well, the Doctor’s been to the ends of the universe in the TARDIS, even out of this one, and back again. How much longer could it have been before he ended up in Philadelphia?.

Now those weren’t specifically the thoughts going through my mind at first sight of that police box lying on its side. But a lot of thoughts did. I’d heard, as you have, of people who, in crisis situations, saw “their whole lives pass before them” in an instant. Startled into immobility, standing there and staring at that box, my experience was similar. But it wasn’t so much my whole past life, as a whole life-to-come that was suddenly and impossibly possible.

In rapid succession (and you understand, I’m translating images, or swift successions of images, into words) the thoughts went something like this:

The show’s based on reality, after all!

Oh Lord, he’s here! (With, behind the mere statement, a composite background image of what many episodes of Doctor Who have shown this particular Time Lord to be like inside: witty, merry, compassionate, clever, resourceful, insatiably curious and adventurous, powerfully ethical, courageous, courteous, loving and wise — the best possible travelling companion.) And knowing him, he won’t be here for long. Wonder who he’s with? And whether they’d mind a hitchhiker? --

— got to tell the housemates! No, they’re all out for the night —

—one phone call, then. Got to tell that one friend that I might be missing for a while, but that I’ll be all right. Leave a check for a month’s rent and expenses — better make it two — Thank God the computer’s portable!! [Yes, this was a long time ago. -- DD] I can still write while I’m gone!

— No motion, no sound yet— Are they all right in there? (For the TARDIS, like most other habituées of Faery/the Twilight Zone/the Outer Limits, is much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside; a many-roomed mansion that even the Doctor has never completely explored — all now suddenly lying crashed over on its side.) In fact, the bad landing might have been caused by someone’s injury. Suppose there are bad guys in there with them! Cybermen! Daleks! Anyway, got to—

—and the one step forward, as in many another fairy tale, broke the spell. Just the one step revealed to me that the (ostensible) TARDIS had only one side—there was no real “top” to it; that it had no back or sides, either, except those born of a trick of night and shadow; that the protuberance at the top, where the police box’s light had seemingly been, was merely the corner of our old rotted backyard picnic table; that the whole TARDIS, in fact, was nothing more than a newly retired mattress leaned up against the table, waiting for the people from Lower Merion Township to come and take it away. The mattress’s slats and fabric-pattern and the angle at which it lay had all conspired with the moonlight to evoke doors and windows, familiar forms, and someone who wasn’t really there.

I stood there, coasting down the far side of one of the great adrenalin rushes of my life—recovering, slowly, both from a taste of my own medicine, and (more oddly) from a fierce attack of sheer joy. I spent the first few seconds being incredibly annoyed with my own gullibility. I felt pretty much the way I had one day when I spent about forty-five seconds staring at a stuffed squirrel on a prop tree that overhung the sidewalk at the old 20th Century Fox backlot, thinking that the poor squirrel must be sick, it held so still. This was even worse; I’d helped my roomies carry this wretched mattress outside and prop it against the table in the first place!

But no. It wasn’t nearly the same sort of experience. My feeling that day in LA had been almost entirely embarrassment at what I perceived as my own dimness. But what I was feeling now was far stronger stuff. It was sorrow, and loss. For the barest moment, an opportunity had seemed to have been held out to me, one for which I would cheerfully have left the familiar and the secure behind. I had reached out for it, delighted—and now it was gone. Or more accurately, it had never been there. After all, I knew quite well—had known before, and know now—that Doctor Who isn’t real —

Oh, remarked a cool voice down in the logic department. Do you really? And what were you saying about ‘reality’, not half an hour ago? Can’t you tell the difference between imagination and belief? You imagined the TARDIS there. Doesn’t mean you believe in it....

That made sense, but just then sense was no comfort. I kept thinking of that old poem I had stumbled across and liked as a kid (and am probably about to misquote): Last evening as I climbed the stair / I met a man who wasn’t there. / He wasn’t there again today: / I wish, I wish he’d go away!....

But did I really?....

I went inside, shaken and unsatisfied, to think about it. “Shaken” because that wild inrush of joy I’d felt, and the sorrow at discovering the nonexistence of its cause, both suggested something most unsettling: that I didn’t want not to imagine or believe in that man Who wasn’t there. “Unsatisfied” because I knew I was missing a piece of the argument, and couldn’t figure out what it was.

The problem was a knotty one for me. As a fantasy writer, I spend most of my time studying and describing places that have no physical existence — and I spend more time yet in vivid, intimate observation of and interaction with people who inhabit those places, people who aren’t there. I do this by seeing and hearing those nonexistent persons, places and things with my eyes open, while awake. As a psychiatric nurse, I have several fancy shrink-names for what I do: “guided imagery”, “persona-fragment transference”, “extrojection”. Often enough, when I’ve tried to tell some friend the truth about my writing process, and the friend gets that look on his or her face, I’ve waved these words around as a sort of substitute for holding up a sign that says “NOT INSANE, REALLY!”. Unfortunately, whenever I do that, the back of my mind (nasty nagging thing) always insists on reminding me that the “hard word” for this phenomenon, when it slips out of control, is “hallucination”.

So what about this last incident, then? Was I over the edge? Losing control? And that rush of joy about that? Was I becoming pathologically dissatisfied with the reality I lived in? Was what I had felt actually the often-described “seductiveness” of insanity, coming after me at last? If it was, what possible right did I have to drag anyone down this road after me? What good could I be said to be doing anyone, child or adult, by postulating —hell, celebrating—things that don’t, apparently can’t, exist?

I wasn’t at all sure. But I felt deep down—and was ready to fight to prove it—that the things I was celebrating were good.

It only remained to see if that attitude was a sane one or not.

Well, what’s a good sane reason to imagine weird things? Or, while we’re at it, anything else? What’s imagination for?

I started taking the word apart for clues and found one immediately, without even having to check its Latin roots or early usages. “Image-ination”: making pictures in your head, of things you want to happen. And most specifically, making pictures of things. If you consider it thoroughly, you’ll discover that every made thing, every physical artifact of what we call “civilization”, started as a picture in someone’s head — a dream or idea or image, working its way out of the nonphysical, through the human mind, to realization.

This being so, one could make a case for imagination as the single most important function of the human mind. It is the problem-solver, the arch-survival characteristic. Even time-binding is impossible without it. Imagination suggests to us how we can get that fruit down out of the tree, what to do about the sabertooth tiger, how to use the sharpened stick on the mammoth. Data about the real world feeds imagination, but only constant practice at it will train the ability itself. Imagination is a muscle that becomes stronger, more agile, more useful, with use.

In the old days, there was a simple way that the muscle got stronger, without needing volition. If you imagined a successful way to get away from the sabertooth, you survived to have children...and probably taught them, all unawares, to imagine too.

Things aren’t so simple nowadays. The modern world no longer forces so much use of that muscle on the young. Schools are increasingly turning into places where one is fed raw data and expected to spit it back unchanged as proof of assimilation. Imagination happens, if anywhere, in play; and the adult world, the “real” world, looks condescendingly down on it as something that (with luck) you’ll outgrow. Notice particularly the prejudicial definitions and implications often attached to words like “dreamer”, “daydreaming”, “imaginary”, “fantastic”, and phrases like “making it up”, “seeing things”, and “imagination running wild”.

The problem is that once the unnerved adult mind considering this subject has proved what it wants to by way of definition, it tends to drop the tool and run. You can’t do that. Logic demands that you define completely; what makes one definition any more accurate than another? For example: “running wild” mast also be able to mean, not just something gone dangerously out of control, but an object or faculty—in this case, imagination—in its original, natural, normal state, living free in the ecology of the mind, the way it was it was “supposed” to be.

And if imagination is a natural thing, a survival characteristic, the mere fact leads us straight to what imagination (including, by derivation, the imagination that goes on in fantasy and SF) is good for. It trains those mental muscles: positing, again and again, unlikely-seeming situations, and teaching the kind of thinking that’s useful in dealing with them. In these days when the solutions of the past are hopelessly inadequate to the problems of the present and future, SF and fantasy—the most purely imaginative branches of literature—become a kind of circuit training for the mind. The problem-solving patterns, the leaps of both intuition and logic, that we learn from fantastic literature, can be powerful forces in making our lives work better than they would otherwise. The expanded ability to imagine and cope with bizarre situations will later also be applicable to “adult” problems, helping one find novel solutions to them: ways to make that computer program work out, to solve that problem with a co-worker, a superior, a spouse, a child; ways to find your way through a maze, put that kit together, set up a budget, plan a life.

And there’s a delightful fringe benefit to this strengthening of the imagining muscle by use of SF and fantasy. You meet the most interesting people in the process—characters (in both senses of the word) who can affect your life profoundly. I know that I wouldn’t be the same person—and probably a worse one—without the influence of those people who aren’t there. Who would I be without (picking an example at random) Spock of Vulcan? That dry, dark, faintly ironic, fiercely rational shape has haunted me since I was twelve...first (I have to be truthful) as a safely un-haveable lech-object; then as a non-”real” person remotely (and erroneously) admired for his apparent non-involvement with the sticky business of emotion; finally, and best, as an old friend whose words and behavior I find have taught me more about the uses and joys of both logic and loyalty than either my symbolic logic instructor or my childhood companions ever managed to. Nowadays, while writing Trek, how many times have I looked up from the computer to find that dark, sharp regard seemingly fixed on me from across the desk, from out of “nowhere”? — a cool and slightly mocking look past steepled fingers, one eyebrow cocked in wordless comment on some hasty, incorrect conclusion or off-angle assumption of mine about his universe. The experience is definitely nonphysical; an un-“guided imagery”, maybe a “hallucination”. But, if unreal, it’s a harmless, amusing, useful unreality, and I embrace it. This would be a weary life without that wry, hypercompetent, steadfast presence to leaven it now and then. It’s been a privilege to work with him. Had Spock never existed at all, I would be much the poorer for it.

And what about all the other names and shapes that come crowding into my mind — old companions who’ve passed through my life and taught me love, danger, anger, humor, compassion? What kind of a life would it be without them? The good Doctor, of course, and many others: Eilonwy, Trente, Morgaine, Worsel, Archy, Reepicheep, Obi-wan, Brunnhilde, Prezmyra, Gro, Morgon, Severian, Sparrowhawk, Pyanfar, Fiorinda, Shevek, Ae’Lau, Ramoth, Yoda.... And hundreds more crowding in behind them, friends of childhood or adulthood. What an odd lot they are. Humans and tentacly things arm in arm; herds of Hokas, flights of dragons, computers with names like Mike and Harlie; creatures that have to live in portable iceboxes or travelling ovens; starships that sing or just go boldly. And that special group of people over there with whom my interaction has been even deeper than with the rest; people whom (it says here) I “created”. A tall slender man with a peculiar sword; his special friends, a scruffy king minus his throne, a brushfire looking for a place to happen, and a woman with a very strange shadow; a couple of kids in company with a talking white hole, a Lotus Turbo Esprit, various whales, and a hundred-foot great white shark; and many more.... An odd lot. But my friends.

Far from doing me harm, these people are innocent of anything but enriching my life. There have been times when I’ve found it easier to be kind to some person who drives me crazy, because of the impression made on me by the way Frodo let Gollum off easy on Mount Doom: times when taking a slightly dangerous stand, at a time when it might have been more politic to keep quiet, was just a shade easier because of the memory of Luke Skywalker throwing his lightsaber across that dark chamber in the new Deathstar and telling the Emperor, in that voice that’s finally found its certainty, “I am a Jedi, as my father was before me!” How many chances at the great heroisms do any of us have, after all?...and what harm is there in committing the little ones of everyday life in the names of one’s friends? Later in life—next week, next year—you may see your way through the names to the issue, the virtue, of heroism for its own sake. Or you may never see it. But in the meantime, enacting those small heroisms with the old friends in mind is better than not doing them at all.

If this is insanity, so be it. I doubt it is. But in any case, I refuse to renounce those people. I want their company. I want to meet them on the stairs.

More than that: I want to walk where those people walk, live where they live. Don’t mistake my meaning! Frost said it best: let no willful power mistake me and snatch me away from Earth forever. I can’t think where love is likely to go better. But Earth isn’t everything. I want to walk down a London street and run into four children, one with a suspicious bulge under his greatcoat that sticks its golden Phoenix-head out, peers at me with golden eyes, and says in kindly (if supercilious) tones, “Excuse me, my good woman, but would you be so kind as to direct us to my temple?” I want to sit at the crude wooden table in Caer Dallben, eating Dallben’s bread and drinking his milk, while Princess Eilonwy talks my head off. I want to lean over the railing of a ship striking eastward over a twilit summer sea, close to the bold Mouse who’s perched on the bowsprit and softly singing the song that the Dryad made for him at his birth. I want to climb Roke Knoll on a starry night and spend long nights listening to the whisper of the waters of Earthsea, the endless murmuring of a Name I will never fully know. I want to spend an evening in front of a roaring fire with Prospero and his old friend Roger Bacon — the three of us working on Cheshire and mugs of old ale, while Roger tells about that brass wall he tried to make for the British, and upstairs the magic mirror screams out bad lightbulb jokes and shows the special edition DVD video of Star Trek 16.

Peace and quiet aren’t everything. I want to go have lunch at Jocko’s place on Nevia—preferably on a day when the Empress of the Twenty Universes and her consort are there. I want to be somewhere nearby when King Clode and his three sons hunt the White Deer to the bottom of the magic mountain, and the sky rings with the sound of something aimed at the King missing him and hitting the Moon instead. I want to ride behind Dernhelm of Rohan, through a day nearly twilit at noon, knowing the two secrets she hides under her cloak, and not giving either away. I want to add a little willpower to the massed Lensman-mind bearing down on the Eddorians in the last battle for Civilization and the Universe. I want to clutch for dear life at the back of Han’s seat, only slightly reassured by the feel of Obi-wan behind me and the lightsaber bumping against my thigh, as we dive away from the Imperial cruisers and get ready for the jump to lightspeed.

I want to be there when the door dilates and someone comes through. Anyone. I want to run for my post in a round, railed room while the Red Alert sirens whoop all around, and a slim dark-haired figure in the command chair says quietly, “All hands, battle stations: Captain Kirk to the Bridge!” And I wouldn’t mind it a bit if I should hear a peculiar wheezing, grinding sound out in the back yard, and upon investigation find a London police call-box standing there—one from which a man wearing a charcoal suit and sneakers, whose hair apparently has a life of its own (possibly involving sentient hair gel) pokes out his head and says, “What? What? What??

Many of you want these same things — or other scenes and company derived from other SF or fantasy. You know quite well how much fun it is to duck out to Kedrinh or Orsinia, and how much good it does you. There’s no replacement for the delight of strange places, the fascination of odd ideas carried to their logical conclusions — or for the joy of discovering that nobility and power and hope aren’t dead...in some writer’s heart, if nowhere else. After sharing such experiences, you can’t avoid being a little bigger inside than you were before.

Those grounds alone are sufficient for SF’s and fantasy’s acquittal. So as regards Spock and the good Doctor, and all the rest of them, the defense rests.

But there’s still some unfinished business before the court. Imagination is, as mentioned above, a survival characteristic. Survival characteristics can themselves become threats to survival once surviving isn’t so much of an issue for a given organism. Aggression is a good example of this. And imagination is in just as much danger of being warped this way. Here the image of that lost young Trek fan, wandering the halls, looms large. If we don’t make some conscious, positive use of what we have, that’s the way we could be headed.

One constructive use for this sort of imagination comes to mind in a hurry. If you and I find that some piece of SF or fantasy suggests a workable solution to a problem in our lives, we might consider actually using it — trying it out in the real world and seeing how it stands up.

Of course, to do that you have to live in the real world.

“Oh God,” some of you are thinking, “as if we have a choice.” You have more of a choice than you think; therein lies the danger of the situation. I know many people (and I bet you do too) who consider themselves hardcore “realists”; people practiced at paying their utility bills and working out budgets, who nevertheless pay no attention to world affairs, to the news, because it “doesn’t interest them”, or “doesn’t affect them”. Three quarters of the world—more than that, if you include the water —is as tacitly unreal to them as the Narnia or Demonland that they openly scorn. More unreal, because these people don’t themselves realize that they consider it so. Equally, I know other people who are fairly well versed in what’s happening on Earth, but think that the Universe beyond it is unimportant, and don’t consider it worth spending money to find out what’s going on out there. This deliberate disdain for the ongoing business of Terra’s great back yard sometimes (during fits of pique) makes me wish briefly for a nice little solar flare, or a supernova barely outside the lethal limit, just to bring home how “unimportant” to this planet are the things that go on in Space.

But do you see the problem? It’s all too easy to go on from day to day in this world, despite interacting with the TV and the telephone and the newspaper, and not really be living in the world—not be affected or moved by it nearly as much as by, say, Middle-earth or Pern.

The danger’s easily understandable. Some of it is simple avoidance of the overwhelmingly unpleasant. One of the best damn writers on this planet can be heard to ask again and again, in his work, “Do you know how much pain there is in the world?” He’s quite right to point that out; and in the face of what he’s pointing at, what sane mind would not sometimes feel the urge to ignore it all and go read a good book (or write one)? I’m no less guilty than anyone else on this count. When the famines and the terrorism and the worldwide credit crunch and the shattered bodies of young soldiers and the thirty children dying every minute of hunger all get to be too much, sometimes it’s a relief to slip off to the black beaches of Darthen, or the bridge of the Enterprise, or the alternate New York where wizards work— places where one can at least do something about the problems: punt a reluctant King in the general direction of his throne, stitch up a nasty gash in the Universe, make Manhattan safe for magic.

But one must always come back. LeGuin says somewhere, “An explorer who does not come back, or send back, to tell of his discoveries, is no explorer but merely an adventurer; and his children are born in exile.” On pain of being exiles in our own world, we must come back every time we leave—or transgress against our responsibility to this world, as well as (eventually) against our own sanity. And the terror of it all is that many of us not only don’t come back, but aren’t even here when we are here. Some of us (not just SF freaks, either) act as if nothing really mattered much, as if this were all a dress rehearsal; as if the world will take care of itself without us … as if everything will turn out all right somewhere else, some other time. But while in the body, there is no other time. This is it.

I can guarantee you don’t want to hear that. God knows, there are days when I don’t.

But it isn’t as horrible as it sounds. Really! The other side of Harlan Ellison’s cry of anguish is the question, “Do you know how much love there is in the world—and how much joy?” Even accidentally, without people consciously working for it, there’s a great deal. There’s room for more. We can make more. And this world, besides pain and joy, has something priceless that (beautiful though they are) the Otherworlds don’t have. Our world is here. It has hard corners and sharp cutting edges and the wonderful, frightening weight of physical reality—and it’s filled with the terrible beauty of finite lives moving through time and space, and interacting with them. We can do something with this world, those lives. They’re ours to transform; and the lessons of heroism we pick up in the Otherworlds will work just as well here as they did elsewhere—though Palantiri and burning swords and wizards’ Manuals may be lacking. Those are all just tools, anyway: no good unless people use them.

And people we’ve got. Six billion of them. One of them is reading this right now.

One of them is writing this, too; and this is where my moral dilemma abruptly came undone, all that while back, as I started to suspect part of my own answer to the pain. If what I do best is imagine—it looks that way to me right now—and if imagination is truly the arch-survival characteristic—then what better to offer the people around me? If I do it right, through what I write I can teach the delight of dreaming for its own sake, the joy of creativity. And though I’d prefer not to be sneaky about it, I can even sucker people into dreaming if necessary...attaching joy so securely to imagination and exploration that my readers will never quite dissolve the connection—to their continuing good, and the world’s. For where imagination wakes up, impossibility begins to come undone: in a back yard, a job, a relationship, a life.

Any use you make of the tool is likely to be as powerful. So what do you do? Don’t ask me. That’s your business. You figure it out.

Just don’t be afraid of your answer, once you do. For in this context, it turns out to be perfectly all right for us all to really want nonexistent places and things. The strength of the desire becomes an indication of the strength of a much larger one: the hunger for what’s more beautiful, more joyous, more workable than our own world....and the desire to bring such beauty and joy and workability to the place where we do live. That hunger is a basic function (and possibly the most basic function) of our humanity; the “best destiny”, as my favorite Vulcan would put it, of that ancient survival instinct that caused our remote relatives/ancestors, once upon a time, to first pick up a bone and hit something with it, or first look up at a star and wish on it. If I were in one of my philosophical moods, I’d say that that hunger might well be a reflection of the first great act of creation, still reverberating in our bones and our brains—a smaller version of the arch-Desire that made a World of an empty void, and found Creation “good”. Read it in whatever way you like. Our survival and our dreams are inextricably tangled up with one another.

So work on your dreaming. Dream as well, as responsibly, as powerfully as you can. And afterward, act accordingly.

And while you’re doing that, I’ll be spending most of my time upstairs. Don’t expect to see too much of me. I’ll drop you a hundred thousand words every now and then to let you know how things are going with the people who aren’t there.

And, just in case, I’ll make sure the laptop is always fully charged up.

After all, you never can tell.....