Last night was my first midnight drive in a very long time–from before I was laid off from The Hole of Doom. It was a very cloudy and cool night, which is what you’d expect with the moon waning towards new.
I was tried, and no one traveled with me to work out plots and stories and the like. The night didn’t feel like one for creative processing, and so my mind was on other things. And with that, my mind turned back to something I hadn’t thought about in a very long time . . .
The year was 1985, and I was working in South Bend. I was driving sixty-five miles to get to work, and for have the year the company was in the eastern time zone, which mean it was a hour ahead of me. I had a woman for a boss (first time for that) who was a very good boss, and there was a strange collection of people working in IT.
There was Mr. Super Patriot, who had done his time in the Air Force, was Republican to the core, and talked about all the guns he owned. There was PC Guy who was some kind of fundamentalist dude who believed in six thousand year old Earths and Noah’s Ark. And there was, lastly, The King of Bullshit.
The King was a consultant, some guy in his 50′s who knew everything, knew everyone, and who would always argue you down with the phrase, “I could tell you what I know about this, but I can’t, ’cause it’s secret.” Yes, the mantra of every person who’s ever done work in, or for, the government, and though they know The Secrets of the Universe, they’re unable to do any work short of becoming a consultant in the computer field. (Come to think of it, I’ve know four people like this. Hummmm . . .)
One day a group of us was gathered around The King of Bullshit’s cubical, talking about something, I don’t remember the exact conversation after all these years. It was then he pulled out one of the most incredible statements I’ve ever heard anyone utter as fact: that there were a dozen astronauts flying around the galaxy in a Bussard Ramjet, exploring “the universe”, and that they’d come back home in five hundred years only about five years older.
For those who didn’t click on the link above–and I know that’s most of you–a Bussard Ramjet is a hypothetical sort of space ship that uses a huge magnetic scoop to gather hydrogen from the interstellar medium, and turn into fuel for its fusion engine. In a way, it would be like having a car that could scoop petrel out of the air, so you’d never need worry about filling up again. (It would also make rain showers real interesting, if you know what I mean.)
Only one problem: the Bussard Ramjet is found only in the realm of fantasy. We can’t build anything like that, at least not for a few hundred years. You’ll find them in a lot of Larry Niven’s Known Space stories, and in Poul Anderson’s novel Tau Zero, but you won’t see one in your life time. Ever.
The problem was I knew this, even then. This wasn’t an unknown concept for me, and I knew it to be completely fictional. So I called him on it. I said that’s impossible, Bussard Ramjets don’t exist, so there are no people flying “through the galaxy,” going where no one has gone before, set to return in five hundred years . . .
The King got very pissed, because none of the other people believed me, they thought for sure he was telling the truth. He called me out in return, saying he knew this was a fact, that it had launched ten years before, because he’d been at Cape Canaveral when it was launched . . .
I had to call him out again. The Bussard Ramjet is a huge ship, and it’s not one deigned for flight anywhere save space. That meant (1) you couldn’t launch it from the surface of any plant, (2) you’d have to build it in space, (3) he was full of shit. I once more told him that was nuts, that sort of ship is, as a minimum, ten times larger than a Saturn V, and since you couldn’t “secret launch” one of those monsters, one sure as hell wasn’t going to “secret launch” something that was bigger.
At this point The King of Bullshit just affixed me with a pissed-off stare, and told me, “You have no idea what’s going on. If you knew what I know–”
Right, dude. What I did know then was if you cut out of work on a Friday afternoon, about one PM, but leave your monitor on so people will think you’re still working, and that you’ve just stepped away from your desk for a moment, you’re gonna get caught and fired–which is what eventually happened to The King of Bullshit.
What is the point of this rant?
For a long time one of my mantras has been, “Don’t believe the hype.” When someone starts going on about anything with a certain amount of hyperbole, it’s always best to turned a jaundiced eye to their comments. I’ve done the same thing in the past, but I’ve gotten better about throwing things out there without thinking about where it sits on the Hype Meter.
Hype also works against you at times. I’m trying to break into the writing business in a full-time way, everyone knows that. Problem is, breaking into the writing business is a tough thing to do. It takes a butt-load of work, and the payoff may be very slow in coming.
It also seems that there’s something printed every week that is there to remind us that, not only is it a hard thing to break into, it’s getting harder. It’s a big, hard, uphill battle, and everything is stacked against you–or so it seems. It’s like the Hype Machine goes out of its way to knock your ass into the dirt, then stand over you laughing its evil laugh as you grovel.
Not a lot of fun, let me tell you.
So more than a few people just give the hell up, often going out screaming on Facebook that they’ve HAD IT, that they AREN’T WRITING ANYMORE, and that their DREAM IS OVER! (Or is that “ovar”? I can never get that one right.)
I’ve said it before: the only one who kills your dreams is you. Not that guy over there, not that publisher who gave you stink eye, not The King of Bullshit who knows things, and if only he could tell you . . .
The best way to combat hype is with facts, and when someone gives you shit, hit back with the facts. And I mean well founded, researched facts, not the sort of facts you’re going to find on Fox “News” any particular minute of the day. Someone says you suck as a writer? Get others to read your manuscript, see what they say. One house rejects you? Send out the story again. People don’t like your idea? Screw them: it’s yours! Who asked them anyway?
Hype is never your friend, so you shouldn’t ever let it bother you. I know that’s not possible, because we’re not automatons, we’re people, and our feelings get twisted by others who have the facts, who know things. Only thing to do is get into your research, keep working, and keep writing. If it’s going to happen, it will.
As for The King of Bullshit . . . I’m sure he’d dead by now, as he was in his late fifties back in ’85, and the dude wasn’t in the best of health then. If he’s not dead, it’s even money he’s some cranky old man missing everything cool while he bitches about all the people who don’t know what he knows.
Here’s one thing I do know, dude. There’s been a bit of research done on your Ramjet since you told me this story almost thirty years ago, and what did scientist find? That the Bussard Ramjet is affected by drag caused by the interstellar medium. (Don’t ever let anyone tell you space is empty, ‘kay?) That means it has a top speed, which is . . .
Twelve percent the speed of light.
That means in a flat out run to Alpha Centauri, the sorta closest star to us, your ship that’s going to spend five hundred years exploring the galaxy will get there in . . . 36 years, give or take a few months to get up to speed; longer if you decide to slow down and take a look. I’m pretty good with math, and I know twelve percent the speed of light does not allow relativity to raise its ugly head, so time dilation does not come into play.
I’m not bad with math, so let me see: if this crew was, say, 35 when they left Earth, that would mean when they get to the closest star they’ll be . . . add six, carry the one . . . at least 71, maybe 72. Which means when they come back they’ll be . . . add nothing, carry the nothing . . . dead.
Wasn’t it nice of me to share my top secret knowledge with you?