The Coming of the Quantum Cats
I spent one day at home after coming back from the conference in Florida before heading out with Ron to spend a week in Tucson, where we visited Eleanor and she showed us the local sights—we went through the art museum, saw San Xavier del Bac Mission, drove to Bisbee, where we took a little train tour of the copper mine, walked up and down the wooden sidewalks and had a drink in a saloon at the little theme park of a town called Tombstone, drove up Mount Lemmon, from the hot, dusty cactus-y bottom to the cool, fir-forested snowmelt-stream top, and walked through the Desert Museum (where the gray fox, black bear, and puma put on a good show for us while most of the other animals slept in the mid-day sun).
We got to swim in the hotel pool one afternoon while Eleanor had a meeting at work. It was refreshingly cool, half in shade already at 3 pm in the afternoon (my photo was taken about 10 am).
We had great Mexican food every day, from Sonoran hot dogs to the creamy, Tucson-style guacamole that is—at least to me and Eleanor—the epitome of guacamole. On Saturday, in honor of Walker’s 20th birthday (he was sick in bed in St. Petersburg, we found out the next day), we went to the Arizona Renaissance Festival, which is bigger than the Ohio one and far hotter, with a brisk business in parasols that we’d never seen before. In addition to the usual offerings, they had a birds of prey show with hawks, vultures, and owls, and a firewhip show, where he really did set the whip on fire at the end. I also lucked into a bit of a show that consisted of a guy re-telling Romeo and Juliet in (often risqué or scatological) spoonerisms.
I got to see a collection of gray, thorny sticks that grows in a lot of yards around Tucson in bloom–and it’s beautiful! I wondered why people had those thorny sticks, but when you see the ocotillo in bloom, you see why.
On Easter, we took Eleanor’s roommates and local friends out for brunch at a spectacular buffet in a hotel at Ventana Canyon, where we afterwards walked around one of their close-in hiking trails to see the waterfall.
We flew home on the Monday after Easter, which took all day and gave me a chance to finish reading one of the books I’d picked up in Florida, Frederik Pohl’s The Coming of the Quantum Cats.
Much to my disappointment (Pohl is the author of the greatest-ever SF cat short story, “Space-Time for Springers”), this book has nothing to do with cats. The title reference is to a code name for people in a world where some of them are just learning how to travel between parallel universes. They have conversations about history just to see what kind of world they’ve arrived in, like:
“after the nuke war, when the Chinese did the decapitation bit in 1960, bombing Moscow and Leningrad—“
“but, you see, in their time that didn’t happen. We’ve pieced that all together, from the things we found out when we were questioned. The Soviets had only one big outside war. Around 1940, I think. They got into a war with Finland and the Germans got involved—“
There are four main characters in the novel, two of them versions of the same guy–Dom, as he’s known in many worlds, and Ricky, as he seems to be known in just one. The female character is called Nyla; she is a concert violinist in Dom the senator’s world and an ex-convict who has had her thumbs cut off for stealing and worked her way up in the police force in Ricky’s world. The other main character is the scientist, Larry, who figured out how to travel between the parallel universes. When Nyla the cop catches him in one world, she demands that he explain how the travel between universes works. He tells her that ”the portal device generates a stream of green-dip chronons which heterodynes against the natural flux of red-flow chronons.”
As they learn more about how travel between the universes works, a Larry from a technologically advanced world warns that “if x amount of energy or matter goes from my time to yours, then x amount has to come back out of it again. Not necessarily back to mine. It may go to a third time entirely. It may go in fractions to several different ones.” So, in the end, versions of the four characters are sent to an empty world to stop them traveling between universes. They are taken via “hovervan” to what they recognize as an empty and ruined New York City, where they are told that “the good news is that within the next ooty-poot days you will be able to move freely anywhere in the world you like, and it is rather a nice world. The bad news is that you will never leave it.” They are allowed to ask their significant others to join them on that world, and the concert violinist Nyla agrees to join Dom, while Ricky’s girlfriend Greta declines. Ricky learns to do binary arithmetic and becomes a farmer, which makes him successful on this new world, and he eventually courts and wins an unlikely character as his wife.
I love their last conversation. She asks him “isn’t this a kind of scary world to bring kids up in?” and he replies “you bet it is….But was there ever one that wasn’t?”
I took a photo of Eleanor and her friend-from-Grinnell-and-roommate Andie to show how big some of the saguaro cactuses are. Really big.
It’s always a pleasure to have time to read on airplanes, and it was a pleasure to be in warm climates while Ohio is still cold, and to see new and interesting things and try new foods. The biggest pleasure, though, was getting to see how our adult child could navigate through unfamiliar (to us) streets and show us new things that she believed we would like, including some things she’d already seen. It’s an interesting reversal for a parent, after all those years of introducing the kid to new things. We’re in the turnabout years.