Authors: Paul Pipkin
All quotations from published books, magazines, and newspapers
are genuine. Likewise, the contents of the annotations are
factual. This includes data bearing on the “literary anomaly” and
discrepancies in the historical record. Otherwise: This is a novel
and a work of fiction. The characters and events portrayed in the
body of the text either are products of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously.
THE FAN-SHAPED DESTINY OF WILLIAM SEABROOK.
Copyright © 2001 by Paul Pipkin. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic
or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher,
except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
First eBook Edition: August 2001
Visit our website at
For Linda, to meet again
At the end of the day, the narrative which follows is a love story; a highly erotic one, at that. Still, a number of idiosyncrasies
may prompt some readers to echo the wonderment of Madeleine Leiris (in her
included in the sixth chapter) and ask,
“Could such things be?”
To those determined to strike out on such a path of higher improbability, I offer such explanation as I can.
William Seabrook and the people around him were actual historical personages. As with the chronicle of the scientific workers
and the authors alluded to, I have endeavored to be as faithful to their lives and work as the narrative and its affiliated
research could approach.
Seabrook documented the existence of his unpublished materials in 1942. If those notes are still extant, only they can confirm
whether they support the narrative thread of
The Fan-Shaped Destiny
fragments purportedly represented in the later chapters.
What of the apparently composite figure that Seabrook and Ward Greene called Justine? The artist Man Ray wrote fondly of Willie
“It is rare to read facts that sound like fiction—most writers strive for the reverse effect.”
At times I almost dream I too have spent a life the sages’ way,
And tread once more familiar paths. Perchance
I perished in an arrogant self-reliance
Ages ago; and in that act, a prayer
For one more chance went up so earnest, so
Instinct with better light let in by death,
That life was blotted out—not so completely
But scattered wrecks enough of it remain,
Dim memories, as now, when once more seems
The goal in sight again.
Robert Browning, 1835
N THE AUTUMN OF MY LIFE AND AT THE END OF A
dark and bloody century, I had undertaken to make a final accounting of the strange odyssey of William Seabrook, a forgotten
literary figure of the Lost Generation. The twists and turns of events that followed from this eccentric project, infused
as it was with the dark energy of my personal sorrows, would come to beg expansion.
Such a discrete moment shifts within my grasp. It mocks me still.
For some years, I’d been working in the southern part of Texas as a union business agent, a vocation that had killed better
men than me. I was burning out under the pressures of the work and grief over my wife’s recent death, a result of chronic
alcoholism. I had paid for the ticket with my tears and taken that ride to the bitter end; and it had been so very bitter.
I’m not good at “moving on,” you see. Venture forth and my steps would only turn again, back toward Willie’s
When in Laredo, I would sit alone nights on the patio of a bar just beside the International Bridge, reviewing the contradictions
of my life. So much of it had been lived up and down the Interstate 35 artery, throbbing with the commercial invasion of the
South, that it would often appear in my dreams.
As I stared across the river into the vast mystery of Mexico, I-35 would become that dream highway. Along its dark axis, one
just might drive off some night into other times, other worlds. One ramp, four hundred miles and thirty-five years behind
me, would exit upon my adolescence and late-summer nights spent reading the pulp science fiction from decades more remote
still. Some of those old books and magazines had transfixed me with strange stories, which had worked to reinforce a childhood
fantasy. That the past might be only another room, a room which we have exited but whose door may have remained just a little
Some of those boyhood nights had hosted inexplicable dreams, intense enough to linger as dim memories, for years and even
decades. One by one and without any other forewarning, they had come true. Such phenomena are not nearly so remarkable as
they may seem to those with no experience of them. But, by the time I had reached the far point of my life in that Laredan
bar, the last of my prescient dreams had been exhausted. Did that mean there was nothing left ahead? Was the future as dark
a void as the highway beyond my headlamps? Such thoughts would suggest that the miles home to San Antonio would also be measured
in milligrams, at least five milligrams, of Valium. Then occurred the first event that would shatter the conventional assumptions
on which I operated from day to day.
Many threads comprise a life. Worry one from its accustomed position and even the most elaborate tapestry may begin to unravel.
I was used to being in the news, from time to time, regarding various political and social issues. One morning I had been
quoted in some front-page coverage of a labor conflict. Such publicity always elicited phone calls, so I stayed in the office
to receive them. There was only one that mattered.
O YOU REMEMBER ME?
My boss stopped by as I was trying to manage the coffeepot with shaking hands and volunteered that I looked like I’d seen
a ghost. My laughter on the edge of hysteria, I retreated behind my office door where I could break down and cry.
Did I remember her? Did I remember that first meeting, at a teen dance in the shelter house of a North Texas lake? What we
were both wearing, where we were standing, the lights of the power plant across the lake, sounds of the ducks and wavelets
against the pier where we held each other amidst the smells of vanilla perfume and chewing gum?
Did I then recall the scented summer evenings that followed, or the blaze of her red hair in the amber glow of fall afternoons,
or loving her in the autumn leaves? Later, after she had gone to join the constellations in the night skies of my dreams,
she became the template against which all future involvements were to be measured.
Do I remember you?
Oh, maybe just to the extent of all the joys and hurts of my life exploding in me at once!
When I met her for lunch and she raised her lips to mine without reservation, I was lost. You’ve heard of old girlfriends
coming back? Well, get behind this one: Try your first, not seen or heard of in over thirty years. She’d been living on the
north side of San Antonio for twenty, and later I would learn of so many probable near misses that I would rage against fate.
Time had not been especially gentle with JJ. I would hold the dear countenance between my hands and hate what years and battery
had done. She could never be other than beautiful to me, and I swear that I took no satisfaction. Whatever rejection I may
have suffered, I had truly wanted to believe that she was having a wonderful life somewhere.
Yet, when we would make love, before my eyes occurred a phenomenon of which I’d read in romantic literature, never believing
it to exist as an actual, literal experience. I sought after rational explanation, blood suffusing the capillaries or whatever,
to no avail. The fact remained that, in those intimate hours, I seemed physically to hold in my arms the same young girl I’d
known over thirty years before.
During the months of the late-life affair that followed, I allowed myself to believe that some deity, for reasons known only
to itself, had taken pity. It’s very hard to lose someone twice, to take that second hurt that revives the first—and all the
hurts and rejections that have been hung on it in the meantime, like evil ornaments on a malignant Christmas tree.
N FACT, IT STILL HURT LIKE BLOODY HELL,
even months later when my good friend Joe, being tolerantly familiar with my obsessions, had persuaded me to attend the upcoming
Fifty-fifth World Convention of Science Fiction. It was being held in San Antonio over the Labor Day weekend. For all my early
reading in the genre, I’d never been attracted to formal “fandom,” or thought of attending such events. This being the convocation
that names the recipients of the Hugo Awards, there might be authors present whose brains I could pick.
While Seabrook had never written in the genre himself, I was by then obsessively focused on him as the unacknowledged source
of an inexplicably ignored anomaly in the evolution of a particular theme. At the WorldCon, I might hope to pick up unexpected
details of the past or current usage of that alternate-realities theme, which had become pervasive in film as well as literature.
Internet postings and other queries had been turning up zip, so no avenue had preferred probability over any other. Short
of serious literary and historical research that I was without the opportunity or resources to pursue, I’d reached an impasse.
Certainly the proposed diversion of the WorldCon portended an ideal setting for mad speculation. The event was held at the
convention center named for Henry B. Gonzalez, the last of the real Democrats, and two Marriott hotels on the adjacent Riverwalk.
I was consoled that I could spend hours prowling the booksellers who, among the hawkers and hucksters, jammed the exhibit
hall. I attended the panel discussions and presentations at whim, with no particular order or system.
I’d hoped that the venerable L. Sprague de Camp might be present, so that I could ask about an early reference he’d made to
Seabrook, but he had become too frail to journey from his Plano home. Likewise, I was more than curious about Jerry Pournelle’s
recollections of H. Beam Piper’s claim to have been born on another timeline. It seemed that Jerry was a no-show as well.
Of course, I’d been aware that the old writers I’d grown up on were all gone—but had not confronted the fact that the subsequent
generation, like Larry Niven and Dr. Gregory Benford, whose coffee klatches I attended, would all be men my age or older.
The truly new writers, particularly the women, were doing some exceptional stuff of which I’d been entirely unaware.
I valiantly endeavored to comprehend Dr. Catherine Asaro’s exposition of super-relativistic speeds without being completely
distracted by its brilliant author being, unimpeachably, the Babe of Physics as well. Asaro had it all: a scientist and novelist
with the kind of leg musculature maintained only by accomplished dancers. That thought, of course, could only make me think
of my wife Linda, and the big nothing of a life I would be returning to in a couple of days.
Joe, down from his home in Dallas–Fort Worth, had been helping to man the convention suite in one of the hotels, so I spent
a lot of time there, having mildly interesting conversations. While I still looked forward to hearing Dr. John Cramer on Monday
and, more immediately, John Norman on Sunday afternoon, the WorldCon would soon be over.
As typical, I was gravitating more often to the bar. “I’m wondering what I’m doing here with all these ‘geeks,’ anyway,” I
responded to a query from Joe. Culturally, I was a fish out of water with most of the crowd. “Am I just trying to get next
to old guys like Benford and Cramer because I wanted to write sci-fi and couldn’t?”
Joe, whose appetite for the personal lives of his friends is normally limited, had made an exception in my case. “I’d hoped
to do a little redirect on your obsession,” he confessed. “I began to notice that this story you’re fixated on has an uncomfortable
abundance of suicides.” I was surprised and secretly gratified by the concern. Lately, I’d thought that I could drive off
into a ditch and no one would notice. It was true that I wondered if the good times were not all in the past—of a world where
I was only marking a time that had become my enemy.