Saluting a Real Hero

Phillip Adams commented once that most Australians could name plenty of sports heroes, yet they’d struggle to name one hero of the intellect. Very depressing – there are so few people who appreciate intelligence and intellectual pursuits, especially non-competitive ones, as opposed to footy and cricket brawn, boobies, beer and all that turgid shallow stuff. Give me a good book any day and a fine red doesn’t go astray either. The epic thud of beefy gladiatorial thighs colliding and choruses of oy oy oys are not my cup of tea.

At the Asstralian school I attended, kids who didn’t participate in sport were considered freaky geeks. And if one was very good at sport and *still* prefered to read a wonderful book, it was worse – one was regarded as a frightening, pathetic mutant. If it was not for one decent mate, I would have literally starved. Books delivered us to another world, other times, where our own minds created the accompanying video. No home entertainment centres back in the good old days. We, the avid book athletes, used our imaginations.

We would exercise with weekend book reading races. I remember reading Lord of the Rings in a weekend which *really* annoyed my mate – it took him three days. Our most favourite explorations were into science fiction, reading everything we could lay our hands on, delving and plumbing school and public libraries, and begging parents to add to their small collections where from our passion first arose. My particular joys were H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”, Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” and A.E. Van Vogt’s “Voyage of the Space Beagle”. From the third, I found my true calling in life as a nexialist, a crossover specialist in alien cultures and science, as from my experiences outside my family hearth already, those skills might be very useful.

The fourth book which spellbound me was Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cats Cradle” – a quirky, witty satire perpetrated through the sci fi genre. This book confirmed for me that there were others out there who thought as I did – that the bulk of people on the planet refuse to learn to control their own base stupid natures and thus threaten their own and the planet’s existence. Ice-nine became a secret code word between my mate and myself for the atomic bomb, overpopulation, pollution and above all for ‘the stupids’ – those who should know better yet couldn’t be bothered altering their life patterns in time to save us all. As Kurt recounted

“Human beings will be happier – not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia.”

*We* were in the know – and *they* were (and are) the aliens. Voluntary simplicity is more easily achievable in a virtual, bookish world.

Kurt died yesterday at age 84. I don’t think he would have minded carking it – he’d had a great innings.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

He’s gone past the edge now. Kurt – good on ya. I never knew you, but if I had, you could have been a mate.

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