The Boy Who Lived Science Fiction

by Rev. Dave Springer

Tags: School,

Desc: True Story: A True History as Told by Himself

Dedication: To my grandchildren, this is how your great-grandfather got me to pass Algebra II.

The tale that foretold

I once read a story written by the great Science and Science Fiction author, Issac Asimov, about a brother and sister who were home schooled by a learning machine, what we would now call a computer, a PC in other words. But learning was not a happy activity for them. One day, they chanced upon an ancient book which told of educational times long past. How children would go to a building some distance from their homes, and sit in a group, in a classroom with a live adult who was the instructor. There was recess too and playing with the other kids. It all sounded like a wonderful experience. The pair of siblings envied the youngsters of yesteryear. They thought 'Oh! The fun they had!' Which by the way was the name of the piece. I recommend you look it up in the library and enjoy it for yourselves. +

By the by, I met Dr. Asimov one day in Grand Central Station in New York City, many years after whence this narration chronicles. I was going in as he was coming out, obviously on his way to some event, escorted by a young lady aiding him to a limo, waiting perhaps to whisk him off to give a lecture somewhere. I recognized him from photos, his distinctive mutton-chop sideburns stood out like a flag to this fan. "Dr. Asimov!" said I turning to the famous writer, I doubled back to shake his hand. "I just want to say, thank you for the many hours of pleasure I have had in reading your books."

"You're welcome." he replied, as the gal took his arm to restart his exit, they had to go. And they did. But I had shaken his hand and said what I needed to. It was enough.

The sorrowful son of a mathematician

My father got a doctorate of mathematics at a large mid-western university, where he met mom who was studying chemistry and got her bachelor's of science degree. Like the boy in that tale of Asimov, I also had a sister. Basic nuclear family in the atomic age. Intellectual genes perhaps, but in the Junior year of High School I was flunking Algebra II. I had gotten C's in Algebra I, and B's and A's in Geometry the year before, but I was not having any fun in math class. Geometry had been like amusing puzzles, this was sloggingly slow drudgery in comparison. I understood it, but didn't want to study, homework was flagging, I was failing.

Never an excellent student in those days, I struggled to pass my courses. Chemistry conked me, English grammar eluded me, French was Greek to me; but geology I had stone cold, being an old rock hound since boyhood. Bright brains, but if in a class I didn't like, I barely passed — or maybe not. More often during the school day instead of learning, I was doing what I like to do best, reading Science Fiction. Playing hooky in my head. If I tell you that my mind was a million miles away, make that light-years. Rather than taking notes, I was flying away on space boats. When the teacher would hand out assignments, I was reaching for the stars. Yes, that is a warped way to behave, but I time-traveled through the long hours of class periods reading. I didn't live in a vacuum, but I might have been a bit spaced-out back then — I admit.

A lucky combination and it's permutations

Now my pater, the mathematician, worked as an engineering consultant for General Electric. Earlier on he had been in their jet-engine department. After he died my sister and I, going through his effects, found a certificate from those days, stating that he belong to the American Rocket Society. Yes, that's right, daddy was a blessed, blasted rocket-scientist!! While I was tanking math he was think-tanking. This led to him being given the assignment to write (leading a team of three others) a series of several books for executives on reviewing higher calculus and other kinds of advanced arithmetic computations. To do this he used the time-sharing computers GE had developed.

In our Twenty-First-Century world, you bring a laptop home to work after hours on important projects. No PCs existed back then. But the system my father used was a teletype with a keyboard and paper-punch tape, no floppys nor hard-drives, no CDs. Heaven help the programmer who's paper ribbon tore! That data would be just a memory. Well, they put one of those new fangled thing-a-ma-jigs downstairs in our rec room at home too. So dad could work on what he was writing after he got home, from commuting to the Big Apple. All I had to do was learn a simple computer language called Basic and I could get the machine to do my Algebra. Wait! Didn't I read a book called, "Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine" long ago in grade school? And that story about the kids from the future and the teaching device in their advanced domicile habitation, not so long ago? This was Sci Fi coming right into my house. Yippy!

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