DR. S: Asimov, tanks for joining me.
DR. A: Tank...I mean, thank you.
DR. S: It's too bad that Link und First Mate Piggy can't join us.
DR. A: I've always want to see the Swinetrek and meet them. But I undestand you had a collision, and they are down below making emergency repairs. You collided with, perhaps, an asteroid?
DR. S: No, no. A Plymouth. You know, it's tough parking one of dese spaceships. Anyhow...I love your books. Vhat made you go into dis science fiction schtuff?
DR. A: Well, Dr. Strangepork-
DR. S: Please. Call me Julius.
DR. A: Julius. My father owned a candy store and sold magazines, but he was very strict-he wouldn't let me read them. When I was nine, he finally let me see the science fiction magazines-and that was it. I started writing my own stories, and before long, I submitted them to magazines. Two weeks after my nineteenth birthday, my first science fiction story appreared in print.
DR. S: Vait a minute. Your father owned a candy store? You gave up all dat candy und went into science?
DR. A: Not exactly. I didn't have to give up candy-my father wouldn't let me eat it. It was for sale only. That was the funny thing. There I was in the candy store and I couldn't eat any. I could only have a malted milk when my mother made me one. I didn't have free range of the soda fountain or anything.
DR. S: Vhen I was a little piggy, I was a nerd. You know, one of dose guys wid glasses who know all de answers in class. Vere you a nerd, too?
DR. A: You bet. I used to get beaten up by kids after school.
DR. S: Beaten up by kids after school? I vas such a little schmarty, I vas beaten up the de teachers! It's rough being a nerd. So what did you do?
DR. A: Well, I was schmart...ah...smart enough to figure out ways around it. I would help the biggest and dumbest kid in the class with his homework, and he would protect me out of self-defense. It's called the science of survival.
FIRST MATE PIGGY: Yoo-hoo...Dr. Strangepork? Do you know where the little squeezy things are?
DR. S: De little squeezy things? Oh...you mean the pliers.
PIGGY: Yes, the little squeezy things. Link and I are fixing-oh, is this Doctor Asimov?
DR. S: Vell, maybe it is, und maybe it isn't. Ve are very busy. De pliers are in de bulkhead. Now please scram, vill you?
PIGGY: Listen, Swineporker. You're the bulkhead around here. Anyway, I must go and save our spaceship from cwertain destruction.
DR. S: You do dat, und close de door, vhen you leave. Excuse me, Doctor. Now vhere vas I? Oh, ya....Dere sure are some whiz-bang science fiction movies-E.T., Superman III, Return of the Jedi, and all-why do you think dey are so popular?
DR. A: Well, the wonderful special effects are one obvious reason. You can describe an extraterrestrial, but when you see E.T. wandering around the screen, that's an added dimension. My own feelings is that science fiction, of all the different forms of literature, is the one that most easily accepts the notion of change. Things are changing very quickly, and any kid who thinks about it knows that the world in which he or she will be a grown-up-which he or she will be helping to run-will be considerably different from this one. Maybe better, maybe worse, but different. Science fiction explores that furure world.
I think more and more young people are beginning to feel that science fiction is the kind of literature that a person interested in reality should be reading.
DR. S: I never thought of dat before. Vhat about Schtar Vars? Do you tink de earth will ever be involved in real schtar vars?
DR. A: I hope not. And I don't think we can really advance into space until we learn how to cooperate as a planet. It's not practical to have several different nations jostling and competing their way into space. It's too expensive, too wasteful, and the benefits aren't big enough unless they are for the entire planet.
DR. S: Personally, I like hanging around in space. I mean, it beats watching reruns of de Brady Bunch. But how do you convince other people dat ve should be schpending all dis money on space exploration?
DR. A: By pointing out the benefits. The more we know about the solar system, the better we understand the earth. The very instruments we develop to explote the planets mean that we have better technology for use here on earth.
We now have weather satellites that tell us, for the first time in history, what the weather on earth as a whole is like. Until we had these weather satellites, forecasting was nothing more than a local guess. We have satellites that study the resources on earth, so that we know a great deal more about, for instance, where there are sick forests, or where grain is being attacked by some sort of disease, or how to locate oil. And, of course, communication satellites have bound the entire earth together.
DR. S: Gee, villikers, you sure know a lot of schtuff. Vhat do you tink about de possibility of extraterrestrials?
DR. A: Astronomers have been trying to figure out what the chances are, but it's just guesswork so far. There are billions of stars in the universe, and it may be that many have planets like earth. It may be that life develops on every planet that's like earth. But it may be that intelligence develops only once in so many times.
DR. S: If dere vere extraterrestrials, vhat do you tink dey would look like?
DR. A: Well, look at the variety of life here on earth. We have fantastic creatures-eagles and butterflies, insects, giraffes, whales, even the dinosaurs that stalked the earth.
DR. S: You left out pigs....
DR. A: Sorry. Pigs, too. The variations are enormous. But just imagine if you were to start the whole process of evolution on another planet. There would be plenty of room for inventing 20 million other species, none of which are anything like ours.
DR. S: Let's face it, Doc. E.T. was pretty ugly. I mean, he looked like a cross between a turtle und a prune Danish. Do extraterrestrials have to be ugly?
DR. A: If you think about it, you'll realize that people think almost anything that doesn't look like us is ugly. There's only one species of human being on earth, and there are only minor differences from human being to human being-difference in skin color, eyes, hair, height, and so on. But people tend to think that whatever they grow up with, whatever they're used to, is beautiful, while other things look funny.
DR. S: Dat brings me to another subject. I've noticed dat all great scientists have weird hair. Einstein looked like he combed his hair wid a blender. I've got dis little fuzzy schtuff here. And you have de best set of sideburns dat I've ever seen. Vhere did you buy them? I'd like to get a pair.
DR. A: Well, Julius, I grew them, believe it or not. I just applied fertilizer and waited.
DR. S: I'll try dat. You know, in you books you talk a lot about curiosity. Vhat's so good about curiosity?
DR. A: To make discoveries, you have to be curious about why the universe is the way it is.
DR. S: I got curious one time und schtuck my nose in a light socker. I bounced off the ceiling und glowed in de dark for a couple of days. Vhat a mistake! How do you know vhen to be curious and vhen not to be?
DR. A: There is always some risk, but you learn to take precautions. When Benjamin Franklin flew his kite in a storm, suspecting that lightning was an electrical discharge, he realized perfectly well that he could get one grandaddy of a shock. But he didn't just hold the string of the kite. He tied the silken threat to the string and he held the silk because he knew that silk does not conduct electricity. And he stood under a shed to stay dry.
DR. S: I bet his mother said, "Ben, dat's a schtupid ting to do."
DR. A: Well, he was taking a certain chance. But he took precautions. He experimented and he did his homework. Another guy tried it in much the way Franklin did, and lightning jumped from the string of the kite and zapped him.
DR. S: And his mother probably said, "I told you so. You never listen to your mother." Vait a second...do you hear dat rumbling?
DR. A: No, I don't think so.
DR. S: Hmmm...maybe it's just my brain working hard. Now, doctor, you are an astronomer. Vhat's your favorite schtar?
DR. A: Schtar?
DR. S: Ya, schtar. Schtar. You know, does little twinkly tings?
DR. A: Oh, star! I guess my favorite is Antares. It's huge and red, and the brightest star in the constellation Scorpio. If you put it in place of the sun, it would be so large that it would reach all the way to the earth's orbit and beyond. But it's in its last stages, about to collapse. That might mean 100,000 years, but what's time to astronomers?
I stare at it all the time and say to myself, "What if it explodes?" I imagine sitting and watching it suddenly get as bright as Venus, and then change color and become white again. And I would yell, "Look! Look!" And maybe I'd be the only person in the whole world to see it. But...the chances are small. So what is your favorite star, Julius?
DR. S: Oh, Liza Minnelli, but Linda Ronstadt's pretty hot. Hee-hee. Only kidding you wid a little astronomer humor. Sometimes I amaze...
LINK HOGTHROB: Dr. Strangepork! Dr. Strangepork! The Swinetrek's about to blow. The little squeezy things aren't working. Help!
DR. S: Don't yell help! Just use the reinforced Z3601 screwdriver with the flanged head.
LINK HOGTHROB: But... we don't have one!
DR. S: Ve don't! Oh my schtars! Help!! Vhat are we going to do?
DR. A: Use a dime.
DR. S: A dime? Ya! Ya! A dime!! Doc, you got one shmart noggin! I tink you just saved de Schvinrtrek!