One would think that a "prophet" unable to score higher than 66% after 30 years have elapsed on 50-year predictions would have the humility (or the caution) to refrain from repeating his folly. But I've never been very humble, and the motto of my prime vocation has always been: "L'audace! Toujours l'audace!"
So the culprit returns to his crime. Or see PROVERBS
XXVI, 11. And hang on to your hats!
I shot an error into the air.
It's still going ...everywhere.
THE HAPPY DAYS AHEAD
[Expanded Universe, Robert A. Heinlein, ISBN: 0-441-21889-X, 1980, ACE Books, Charter Communications, Inc., 200 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10016]
"It does not pay a prophet to be too specific."
L. Sprague de Camp
"You never get rich peddling gloom."
William Lindsay Gresham
The late Bill Gresham was, before consumption forced him into fiction writing, a carnie mentalist of great skill. He could give a cold reading that would scare the pants off a marble statue. In six words he summarized the secret of success as a fortuneteller. Always tell the mark what he wants to hear. He will love you for it, happily pay you, then forgive and forget when your cheerful prediction fails to come trueand always come back for more.
Stockbrokers stay in business this way; their tips are no better than guesses but they are not peddling dividends; they are peddling happiness. Millions of priests and preachers have used this formula, promising eternal bliss in exchange for following, or at least giving lip service to, some short and tolerable rules, plus a variable cash fee not too steep for the customer's purse ... and have continued to make this formula work without ever in all the years producing even one client who had actually received the promised prize.
Then how do churches stay in business? Because, in talking about "Pie in the Sky, By and By," they offer happiness and peace of mind right here on Earth. When
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Karl Marx said, "Religion is the opium of the people," he was not being cynical or sarcastic; he was being correctly descriptive. In the middle nineteenth century opium was the only relief from intolerable pain; Karl Marx was stating that faith in a happy religion made the lives of the people of the abyss tolerable.
Sprague de Camp is Grand Master of practically everything and probably the most learned of all living practitioners of science fiction and fantasy. I heard those words of wisdom from him before I wrote the 1950 version of PANDORA'S BOX. So why didn't I listen? Three reasons: 1) money; 2) money; and 3) I thought I could get away with it during my lifetime for predictions attributed to 2000 A.D. I never expected to live that long; I had strong reasons to expect to die young. But I seem to have more lives than a cat; it may be necessary to kill me by driving a steak through my heart (sirloin by choice), then bury me at a crossroads.
Still, I could have gotten away with it if I had stuck to predictions that could not mature before 2000 A.D. Take the two where I really flopped, # 5 and # 16. In both cases I named a specific year short of 2000 A.D. Had I not ignored Mr. de Camp's warning, I could look bland and murmur, "Wait and see. Don't be impatient," on all in which the prediction does not look as promising in 1980 as it did in 1950.
Had I heeded a wise man on 2 out of 19 I could today, by sheer brass, claim to be batting a thousand.
I have made some successful predictions. One is "The Crazy Years." (Take a look out your window, or at your morning paper.) Another is the water bed. Some joker tried to patent the water bed to shut out competition, and discovered that he could not because it was in the public domain, having been described in detail in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. It had been mentioned in stories of mine as far back as 1941 and several times after that, but not until STRANGER
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did the mechanics of a scene require describing how it worked.
It was not the first man to build water beds who tried to patent it. The first man in the field knew where it came from; he sent me one, free and freight prepaid, with a telegram naming his firm as the "Share-Water Bed Company." Q.E.D.
Our house has no place to set up a water bed. None. So that bed is still in storage a couple of hundred yards from our main house. I've owned a water bed from the time they first came on marketbut have never slept in one.
I designed the water bed during years as a bed patient in the middle thirties: a pump to control water level, side supports to permit one to float rather than simply lying on a not-very-soft water-filled mattress, thermostatic control of temperature, safety interfaces to avoid all possibility of electrical shock, waterproof box to make a leak no more important than a leaky hot water bottle rather than a domestic disaster, calculation of floor loads (important!), internal rubber mattress, and lighting, reading, and eating arrangementsan attempt to design the perfect hospital bed by one who had spent too damned much time in hospital beds.
Nothing about it was eligible for patentnothing newunless a sharp patent lawyer could persuade the examiners that a working assemblage enabling a person to sleep on water involved thathow does the law describe it?"flash of inspiration" transcending former art. But I never thought of trying; I simply wanted to build onebut at that time I could not have afforded a custom-made soapbox.
But I know exactly where I got the idea. In 1931, a few days after the radio-compass incident described in the afterword to SEARCHLIGHT, I was ordered to Fort Clayton, Canal Zone, to fire in Fleet Rifle & Pistol Matches. During that vacation-with-pay I often re-
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turned from Panama City after taps, when all was quiet. There was a large swimming pool near the post gate used by the Navy and our camp was well separated from the Army regiment barracked there.
I would stop, strip naked, and have a swimnonreg (no life guards) but no one around, and regulations are made to be broken.
Full moon occurred about the middle of Fleet Matchesand I am one of those oddies who cannot sink, even in fresh water (which this was). The water was blood warm, there was no noise louder than night jungle sounds, the Moon blazed overhead, and I would lie back with every muscle relaxed and stare at itfall into itwonder whether we would get there in my life-time. Sometimes I dozed off.
Eventually I would climb out, wipe my feet dry with a hanky, pull on shoes, hang clothes over my arm, and walk to my tent in the dark. I don't recall ever meeting anyone but it couldn't matterdark, all male, surrounded by armed sentries, and responsible myself only to a Marine Corps officer junior to me but my TDY boss as team captainand he did not give a hoot what I did as long as I racked a high score on the range (and I did, largely because my coach was a small wiry Marine sergeant nicknamed "Deacon"who reappears as survival teacher in TUNNEL IN THE SKY).
Some years later, bothered by bed sores and with every joint aching no matter what position I twisted into, I thought often of the Sybaritic comfort of floating in blood-warm water at night in Panamaand wished that it could be done for bed patients . . . and eventually figured out how to do it, all details, long before I was well enough to make working drawings.
But 1) I never expected one to be built; 2) never thought of them (except for myself) other than as hospital beds; 3) never expected them to be widely used by a fair percentage of the public; 4) and never dreamed that they would someday be advertised by motels for roman-tic-exotic-erotic weekends along with X-rated films on closed-circuit TV.
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By stacking the cards, I'm about to follow the advice of both Bill Gresham and Sprague de Camp. First, I will paint a gloomy picture of what our future may be. Second, I'll offer a cheerful scenario of how wonderful it could be. I can afford to be specific as each scenario will deny everything said in the other one (de Camp), and I can risk great gloom in the first because I'll play you out with music at the end (Gresham).
GLOOM, WOE, AND DISASTER