Nov 15, 2015

The Ice Grendels

original cover art by Hans Wessolowski
Gohrlay has been telling me tales out of Deep Time. We were recently discussing Isaac Asimov's analogues in previous Realities and Gohrlay mentioned an amusing anecdote from the Ekcolir Reality.

Climate Fiction in the Ekcolir Reality
In the Ekcolir Reality, Hedya Bates was editing Astounding Stories when Isaac Asimov wrote his first "letter to the editor". Not knowing that "H. White" was was a pen name used by Hedya, Asimov wrote a scathing deconstruction of her story 'Ice Grendels'.

Its first pages set in January of 1922, 'Ice Grendels' told of a cold and snowy winter during which all of the East Coast rivers of New England were frozen and how the railroads battled to keep the rails clear for delivery of coal. With power plants and home coal-burning furnaces pumping out vast amounts of coal soot, 'Ice Grendels' was the story that first raised the prospect of how continued use of coal could create permanent global cooling "like an endless Krakatau".

original cover art by Robert Jones
'Ice Grendels' was a time travel story. The protagonist, M.P. Opeltha Weller, who falls through the ice of the Potomac river, is rescued by a Grendel. "Reincarnated" as a replicoid, Opeltha "lives" to see a new ice age start on Earth, triggered by human fossil fuel use.

Asimov had found mention of Svante Arrhenius and his work on global warming. The young Asimov wrote to Astounding Stories complaining that global warming was the more likely long-term outcome of burning coal.

Impressed by the logical argument presented by Mr. Asimov, Hedya published his letter and challenged readers to write and submit their own "climate fiction" articles. Three months later, Hedya was shown a story submitted to Astounding Stories by Isaac Asimov called 'The Beta Revolution'. In the Ekcolir Reality, beta decay had been discovered in 1915. Set in the year 1983, 'The Beta Revolution' was about how fossil fuel use had been replace by nuclear power. In Asimov's story, nuclear powered spaceships moved effortlessly around the Solar System.

I innocently asked why Asimov had set his story in the year 1983. Gohrlay's guess was that for the young Asimov, 50 years in his future was as far as he could imagine and extrapolate technological trends. However, Gohrlay mentioned that in the Ekcolir Reality, a different calendar was used, so "1983" was not actually actually called 1983 in that Reality. Gohrlay refuses to tell me what year was taken as year zero in that calendar. Apparently she's reluctant to make it easy for me to understand exactly when certain events took place in the Ekcolir Reality.

Impressed by Asimov's ambitious 'Beta Revolution', Hedya visited Asimov at the address listed on his mailings to Astounding Stories. Hedya was surprised to find the 12-year-old Isaac at work in his parent's store. According to Gohrlay, Asimov was immediately smitten by Hedya, who was 20 years older than he. Hedya became Asimov's mentor and helped him hone his writing skills.

Connecting the Asimovs
During his college years, Asimov would often use the Manhattan apartment of Hedya and her husband as a second home. The advantages were many, including less commute time and more time for writing science fiction stories in a sympathetic environment. Previously, I had mistakenly assumed that Thomas was Asimov's mentor in the Ekcolir Reality.

Next: space dreams
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