Herewith, a brief anecdote about the unifying power and mystery of classic science fiction.
On the day his new book More Information Than You Require was released, John Hodgman spoke and read to an appreciative crowd, accompanied by the songwriter laureate of the geek world, Jonathan Coulton. I was privileged enough to attend, and I can assure you, Coulton deserves every bit of the praise and adulation he gets but this right here is Hodgman’s post*.
Hodgman’s book, after all, is the second volume of his compendium of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE, which has the advantage over other such compendiums of being completely made up by the author, John Hodgman. For me (and the average Tor.com reader, I suspect), this is a particular advantage because, in addition to being hilarious in both tone and content, Hodgman knows his sci-fi stuff.
The very first chart in his earlier almanac, The Areas of My Expertise, is a Lycanthropic Transformation Timetable, with an attached table of charm potency (silver items: high; taming love of a pure woman: modest), and it gets geekier from there. I particularly enjoy his ongoing secret history of the U.S.A., including an informative entry on the 51st state, Hohoq (also known as Ar), “a large, cloud-encircled plateau that moves mysteriously from place to place throughout America, and frequently goes completely unobserved for decades.” The state motto? “Please do not seek us.”
It’s clear that the sudden fame, wealth, and prestige that come with being a bestselling author and minor television personality (he’s the PC on those Mac ads, as well as the Daily Show’s “Resident Expert”) have not dulled his appreciation for nerdier fare. Amid references to Watchmen and Battlestar Galactica (“not the first version, the new one,” he clarified, “the one where the robots are eroticfinally“), Hodgman told this story about an experience he had recently, now that he gets to fly first class:
[I was sitting next to] the director and actor Peter Berg. You might know him as the director of this summer’s hit film, Hancock. And I wasn’t going to say anything to him, you know, because we’re cool up in first class, but we were sitting on the tarmac for two and a half hours, and I didn’t have anything to read or do. And that’s when Peter Berg reached into his bag and pulled out a copy of the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. So I said to Peter Berg, I couldn’t help myself, I was like, “Wow! I wish I had brought a copy of the novel Dune by Frank Herbert to read on this flight. That’s the perfect thing to do!” And Peter Berg smiled at me, and he pointed at his knapsack, and he said, “You want one? I’ve got two copies.”
That’s what my life is like now.
*Hodgman also gets praise, of a slightly different nature. As Ricky Gervais writes, “Hodgman is funny, clever, and has the face of a giant baby.”