Putting Out the Cat

This expression came to me from my Uncle John Sherrick, rest his soul, who, besides being one of the wisest and kindest men I ever knew, had a wonderfully droll sense of humor. I don’t know the origin of the story–I seem to remember that he was retelling it from another source–but here, more or less, is the story as he told it to me:

A farmer woke up sometime after 1 a.m. to the sound of the cat meowing at the door. He got out of bed quietly so as not to wake his wife, and went to open the back door for the cat. As he stood at the open door, he noticed that the sprinkler was still going out in the back yard, so he slipped on his shoes and went to turn to the sprinkler off. That took him near the shop, which reminded him that he’d left off painting a bit of carpentry before dinner and not gotten back to it. He was awake now, so he went into the shop and spent fifteen or twenty minutes finishing his painting job. As he was putting away the paint and brush, he noticed a bunch of tools piled near the lathe, which he’d been meaning to sharpen for months—but what with one thing and another, he’d never gotten around to it. Figuring he’d sharpen just one or two, he turned on the lathe and dug around for his safety glasses. Forty-five minutes later, he turned off the lathe and put away the stack of newly sharpened tools. That reminded him of the wagon and tractor that needed greasing, so he reached for his grease gun…

As the farmer crept back into bed somewhere around 4 a.m., his wife stirred and opened her eyes. “Where’ve you been?” she asked.

He sighed, pulled the covers up to his chin, and closed his eyes. “Putting out the cat.”

Maybe later I’ll post the updated-for-the-24th-Century version of the story that I wrote a few years ago in homage to this one.

Methane Lakes! Four-Pod Lives!

According to the Boston Globe, Titan researchers have concluded that there is methane rain on Titan, and probably are or have been methane lakes. What a wonderful science fictional world that really exists!

In honor of that, and sort of in honor of the 3 hours I spent shoveling snow after the blizzard today (one of the top 10 in Boston weather history, they say), I think I’ll post a little excerpt here of my one fictional venture onto Titan. This is from my novel The Infinity Link, published in 1984 by Bluejay Books, and also by the SF Book Club, and by Tor Books. This is from the prelude to Chapter 18. Meet Four-Pod:

The sound was starting again–the long, low moan that echoed in the back of the consciousness, that evoked memories of a methane glacier during a thaw, shivering and buckling and fragmenting. This was not the time of the thaw, however. And Four-Pod was nowhere near the glaciers.

What, then, was the source of this moan-that-was-like-a-song? It did not sound like the voices of Those-Who-Thought, but who else could make a sound ring inside the consciousness, with nothing to be heard on the outside except the wind and the rain?

Four-Pod could not delay for the truth to be revealed. His destiny lay at the edge of the Snow Plain, where the Philosophers awaited his riddle-offering from the hills. If the offering suited them, he would be made welcome there, and perhaps he could speak with them of this troubling thing. If not, he would be forced to flee, and he would have only the sleet and wind for counsel.

And, perhaps . . . the voice.

Perhaps it would travel with him across the plain, offering companionship and thoughts of warmth.

And perhaps he was wasting time thinking and listening when he should be on the move. He had many lengths yet to cross.

With a forward lurch, Four-Pod shuffled through the billowing snow. Once his claws found traction in the firm methane ice, beneath the snow, he settled into an efficient pattern of movement: grip . . . heave . . . grip . . . heave . . . grip. . . . Occasionally his nails slipped on the ice, and he sailed snout-first into a bank of snow. Each time, he picked himself up patiently, blew the snow out of all six nostrils, and continued as though nothing had happened.

The songs came and went from his thoughts. He shifted his focus to other senses: the fine grains of snow sliding across his silken hide, the rasp of his claws on the ice, the looming and sudden gusting away of shadow-like forms against the ochre sky. Thoughts of hunger tormented him; but he knew from the texture of the ice that he was at least a storm-day’s walk from edible slush. To distract himself from his hunger, he summoned memories and legends.

There were stories that told of times when the world was a sounder and clearer place–when snow lay hard upon the ice, and the sky on occasion grew deep and transparent, revealing miracles. Legends spoke of the round, banded body of Heaven–and of a many-layered arch that vaulted to Heaven and (some said) looped around it to enter Heaven’s back gate. Songs spoke of Heaven’s necklace, and there were those who said that it was in reality the same as the road to Heaven, that the image of a necklace was only an illusion. Others claimed the opposite, that the road was the illusion, that it circled round and round, toying endlessly with the weary, hopeful pilgrim.

It was a fine legend. But legends could ward off hunger for only so long. Four-Pod knew that he must soon find sustenance or starve. As the snow grew grittier and more bitter in his nostrils, he pushed harder, and clawed deeper.

When the song returned this time, it reached somehow deep into his heart and boosted his flagging spirit. He peered and sniffed, tossed his snout and brayed, and plunged forward. Was the song a legend come to life–a call from Heaven? He thought of the great arching road that existed somewhere above the shrouded sky, and he grew dizzy with fear and joy. Could this be a signal? The music of the Heaven Road?

Press on.

Much later the ice changed. He was desperately weak, step following on step. With groggy surprise he recognized the softening of the ice under his claws, a delicious wetness soaking the bottoms of his pods.

The slush pool opened before him, layered and rich. He dropped his snout and drank deeply, filling himself. Afterward he contracted his pods and settled into the snow. The music continued to dance in his thoughts, and lovingly intertwined with his dreams as at last, at long last, he slept.

(Copyright © 1984 Jeffrey A. Carver)

Yo, Titan! The Stuff of Reality and Science Fiction

The landing of the Huygens probe on Titan is one of the cooler things to happen in planetary science in recent years. (See Space.com and Astronomy Picture of the Day.)

I suppose that’s true both literally and figuratively — the temperature on the surface of Titan was measured at -179 degrees Celsius (-290 degrees Fahrenheit). And I’ve been shivering here in Boston at a measly 3 degrees Fahrenheit!

I wonder if they’ll find a Lake Carver there. (I was quite flattered when the late Hal Clement created a feature by that name in his hard SF novel, Half Life.) For that matter, I wonder if they’ll find anyone like Four Pod, a mild-mannered Titan creature who appeared briefly in my own novel, The Infinity Link, back in the 1980’s!

I do hope they find some methane lakes. It’s just too exotic an image not to be true.

Inauguration Day — Sorry, World!

I wasn’t going to get into politics right away, but the calendar snuck up and forced my hand. So I’m here to say to the rest of the world–I’m really, really sorry. We Americans elected him who should not be named–well, that or we let him steal the election again–it’s hard to say, with all of the voting chicanery that seems to have taken place in Ohio and Florida (surprise! surprise!).

So many millions of us tried so hard to get Bush (oops! I wasn’t supposed to name him!) out of the White House, and we failed. But we’re not out, even if we’re down, and progressive America is far better organized than ever before. There’s hope–if we make it through the next four years.

It’s pretty much been said before, so I’m not going to try to rehash it all here. But what really bothers me most, I think, is the divide that has opened in America, particularly along religious lines. I just cannot by God (and I mean that literally) fathom why people who profess to vote as Christians would stand for this administration. Let’s do a little thought experiment:

Which of the following most represents faithful Christian thinking?

1. Lying to lead the nation into a preemptive war–and killing or maiming over a thousand of our own people, as well as upward of a hundred thousand Iraqis

2. Filling the coffers of the already wealthy (Halliburton and Enron, anyone?), while bleeding our school systems and jacking up an enormous deficit

3. Rampaging against the environmental protections that have been painstakingly put in place over decades

4. Destroying our standing in the international community through unrelenting arrogance

5. Refusing to tolerate dissent within the administration on matters crucial to world security

6. Dismissing the Geneva conventions as irrelevant

7. Uh…none of the above?

I don’t get it. Not that he does these things, because he’s a lying, cheating, conniving fraud–but that anyone, and in particular, sincere Christians, would follow him. Deception, deception, all is deception.

Opening Round

Welcome to “Pushing a Snake Up a Hill”!

Although I have maintained a web site for a good number of years, this is my first entry into the blogosphere. If you’ve come here from my web site, you already know that I write science fiction and may be familiar with my books. If you stumbled in here by another door, you probably know nothing about me. So please allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Jeff Carver, and I’ve been a working professional writer for not quite thirty years. In that time, I’ve written and had published 14 novels and a number of shorter pieces. Not a huge output by the standards of many of my contemporaries–but then, I’ve always been a slow writer. I like to think that some of my work is pretty good, despite the infrequency of publication. My most recent novel, Eternity’s End, came out a few years ago and was a finalist for the Nebula Award. I’ve been working ever since on the fourth book of a series called The Chaos Chronicles, and have been contending with difficulty in finding enough time to write (while I do other kinds of writing and editing to earn a living), as well as struggling with the book on its own terms. (It feels a little grandiose to say that I’ve had writer’s block, but is probably accurate nonetheless.)

I expect I’ll have more to say on all this in later logs.

The title for my blog comes from an expression my wife and I have been using for years–inspired by the difficulty of moving young children along toward completion of tasks (such as getting to bed!). Our kids are older now, in high school and middle school, but we still use the expression all the time. “Pushing snakes” has become shorthand for any Sisyphus-like chore. And there seem to be way too many of those in daily life!

In the coming days and weeks, I hope to note some of my thoughts on writing, on home-schooling kids, on home repair(!), on science and politics and religion, and whatever comes to mind. Let me know what you find of interest, and we’ll talk.


1 106 107 108 109