I met Bob Weinberg (on the left, with The Shadow, receiving an award with writers Hugh B Cave and Robert Bloch) at an sf or maybe even comic convention when I was still a teenager, and bought from him a few bound volumes of the Ki-Gor jungle pulp. Ki-Gor was a taste I soon outgrew, but as Bob's business expanded, we kept in touch via his catalogues, and for years in London I accumulated far more books, magazines, and artwork than I needed (as I am learning to my distress as I downsize following my divorce). I followed his careers writing and, even more so, editing; his reprints and studies of the pulps, especially the Shadow, were essential reading for me (I wrote my American Studies colloquium paper on The Shadow for Richard Slotkin). I still love the pulps even though I find myself not reading them much any more.
Bob and I would exchange notes, keeping in touch, but I believe I've seen him only twice in the past 50 or so years; the other time I detoured from a working trip to catch him at a convention where he was a guest of honour; I think it was in Chicago when I was producing World Cup coverage in 1994. We got back in touch a few years ago because I wanted his response to an obit I'd written for the Guardian of Edd Cartier (you can link to that here) and he's the recognised authority on pulp and sf artists. Now we keep in touch via Facebook, and I can follow his tomato growing skills too. Bob's had a rough time medically recently, and a few days ago he posted the essay that follows. It moved me, and made me remember the power and importance fiction can play in our lives, how much the joy of reading has kept many of us on track. This is only the third guest post on this blog. I hope you enjoy it.
A DREAM OF MARS
By Robert Weinberg
I became a science fiction and fantasy fan while attending
Hillside Avenue Grade School, in Newark, New Jersey. I was in the
fifth grade; I was ten years old. Our reading assignment in our
American Literature Textbook was “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”
I had never read the story, nor anything else by Stephen Vincent
Benet’, but when I did, I was hooked. Not only did that story
become my favorite piece of fiction, but I knew what I wanted to do
in life--- become a writer. It’s been a long, long journey, but
with more than a hundred short stories, several dozen novels, a
handful of non-fiction books, and a bunch of comic book scripts all
to my credit, I feel safe in saying I fulfilled my dream.
Now I am fairly old, sixty-eight, and not in the best of
health. In February 2012 I suffered totally unexpected kidney
failure. Luckily that day I was being examined by my doctor. She
rushed to me to the hospital and over the course of three days I had
67 excess pounds of fluid removed from my body.
I have been on kidney dialysis three days a week, four hours
at a time, ever since. Unfortunately, due to other health disasters
early in my life, I do not qualify for a kidney transplant. So, my
life is measured by how long I can survive on dialysis. The bad news
is that the average life span of someone on dialysis in two years.
James Michener and Art Buchwald grew bored with the treatment and
went off it; neither of them survived very long without it. About 20%
of dialysis patients stop treatment every year. So at three and a
half-years on dialysis, I’m already beating the odds.
Here’s where the “Dream” comes in. Most of my life, at
least from fifth grade on, I’ve been a Science Fiction fan.
Remember Daniel Webster! Part of being an SF fan, I think, is having
a strong belief in the wonders of outer space and of space travel.
Once I discovered SF and fantasy fiction, I read every book and story
I could find. Some of the fiction was minor, but much of it was not.
I came to believe one of those tenants that define an SF fan: I
believe with all my heart and soul that someday man will travel to
other planets in our solar system.
In my lifetime as a fan of science fiction, I have already seen
one of those dreams of SF comes true. Man landed on the Moon and
spent time exploring it. Now I believe it is our destiny to send
explorers to Mars. NASA hopes to launch a manned trip to the Red
Planet during the next few years.
I plan to be alive when that happens. Despite all the medical
problems associated with kidney dialysis, despite many patients who
end up committing suicide because of the pain, discomfort, or just
plain boredom, I am going to survive the worst the illness can manage
because the meaning of my life ties in with man conquering Mars. For
over a half-century I’ve read stories and novels about that
happening. Such an event defines my life. I plan to be alive when
that happens, dialysis or not. Even more than that. I promise to
still be alive when an Earthman stands on the surface of Mars. I
Remember these words of mine because they are going to come
true. Along with “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” I had another
favorite story from those school days. The story was and is, 'The
Million Year Picnic'. How appropriate that it came from Ray
Bradbury’s collection of tales, The Martian Chronicles. More
than any other story, I’ve ever read, it defines my thoughts
regarding the Red Planet. Read it. Remember it. Think of me. And my
dream of Mars.
June 22, 2015