Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Time I Invented a Space Shuttle

When I was young I intended to build a spaceship. So what else is new? I diligently collected soup cans (they could be beaten flat and formed into the exterior), milk jugs (cleaned out and trimmed just so, they were perfect space helmets), vacuum cleaner hoses (fuel lines) and unbelievable amounts of sketches on graph paper, lists of weaponry, notes on force and mass and thrust. Binder after binder after binder. It was a little worrying that our backyard was not quite big enough for a launch pad, but I decided to focus on bigger issues first. Like how to build laser cannons.

It was a combination of the Space Shuttle program, The Empire Strikes Back, and Eleanor Cameron's The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, in which intrepid boy heroes David Topman and Chuck Masterson build their own spaceship and voyage to ... the Mushroom Planet. (It is impossible to describe this without chortling -- Topman and Masterson? Really? -- but that book changed my life.)

Things got even more complicated and interesting as I learned about aerodynamics, lift and thrust, wing geometry, etc. My career path, I assumed, was clear! Around this time, when I was in SMAS, I sketched out an idea for a jet engine that took the exhaust gases, super-compressed them, and ignited them. Awesome.

Imagine my delight when I found that this had already been invented as the turbo-ram rocket or something similarly badass-sounding. I was on the right track! My idea would have worked!

Then I discovered puberty and girls (sadly, they did not so much discover me until I learned how to be cool, years later) and boats, and now instead of spaceships I build sailboats. With turbo-ram rocket engines. No, not really.

I recently had a similar moment. I'm reading a book on deep, very deep archaic Germanic folklore called The Well and the Tree. So far it's sort of an ethnography of early Germanic culture based largely on their remaining literature and the sparse archaeological remains. And there is a section on the idea of the past and the present, and the future, that rang so true I had to put the book down.

Lo and behold, it was the ding-dang turbo-ram rocket all over again. Because I've spent months, years, sorting out the idea of history and free will, the vexing and troublingly common idea of Prophecy, and eventually came around to the foundational reality of my work-in-progress. Only to learn that some group of early Germanic people had already done so!

Oh well. If it made sense to them at least now I have the confidence -- let me be accurate, the suspicion -- that it may make sense to readers, too.

3 comments:

Babs said...

Well dang..turbo ram-rocket that history and free will right into your book. It will be your ultimate space shuttle after all!

Peter S said...

SMAS. The world will never know what it means, right?

S R Wood said...

When the world is ready for SMAS, SMAS will reveal itself.