My all-time favourite Science Fiction writer was the (regrettably) late, (undoubtedly) great Doctor Isaac Asimov who left this universe for places unknown in April 1992.
As well as sharing my own heartfelt belief that the pun is, in fact, the HIGHEST form of wit, the guy had some really fabulously twisted story ideas – one of which I was reminded of this last weekend.
As background to this I should say that I put the word “Doctor” before his name earlier quite deliberately as he was, by original training, a Bio-Chemist although this was put on hold during his War Service and for a few years following that while he devoted his time to earning money from his Sci-fi writing.
He was not in a position to return to University to write up his research work into a Doctoral dissertation until 1947 at which point he found that he was out of practice at writing the kind of prose needed for an academic paper and decided to try to get the right flavour by writing up some fake research.
The idea for this came from his “proper” research in the course of which he was required to dissolve some crystals of a particular substance in water. He observed that they dissolved on contact with the surface of the water and the thought occurred that if they were any more soluble they would have dissolved BEFORE making contact.
“What if there was a substance that dissolved in anticipation of water being added?” was his next thought and the subject of the fake research paper was found.
He called the substance “Thiotimoline” (don’t ask me why!) and described it in great detail. All WE need to know, however, is that it can be summarised as a complex hydrocarbon molecule with a chemical bond stretching a short way into the future (something that no other substance, as far as we know, possesses). It is this bond which detects the impending arrival of water and starts the dissolving process up to 1.12 seconds before it is actually added.
As the work in question was fiction, Asimov submitted it to his editor at “Astounding Science Fiction” magazine – John W. Campbell (who I had occasion to mention a couple of months ago) – but asked that it be published under a pseudonym as he did not want the examiners for his Doctorate to think he was making light of science.
He was, however, horrified to see the story, “The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline” (nice title – wish I’d thought of it!) published under his own name just before the doctoral examination. It all turned out well, however, as the Examiners were not as “stuffy” as he had feared and at the end of the interview asked him one final question – about, you guessed it, Thiotimoline. He passed the exam and was entitled to be called “Doctor” thereafter.
Three further stories involving Thiotimoline, and the ingenious uses to which it could be put, followed but I’ll let you read them for yourself and get onto my own “Thiotimoline moment”.
This happened in the late 1980’s when my children were small and learning to eat in a way that got the food INSIDE them instead of all over their outsides (and half the room as well)!
Now it is the nature of small children to be permanently sticky and it is a part of their development that they grow out of it in time so I was not surprised and put up with it as all parents simply have to do. This is, after all, the reason God gave us “Wet Wipes”.
What surprised and horrified me was that I noticed that I was unaccountably getting sticky too – and in situations where the children could not be to blame!
When I tracked down the cause I wrote an article about it in a style that suggests that I must have re-read the “Thiotimoline” stories at about that time. Sadly I cannot locate the notebook that I wrote it in which probably resides at the bottom of a drawer somewhere so I’m having to do this from unaided memory.
The cause was……. Lime Marmalade! Specifically “Rose’s Lemon & Lime Marmalade” although it’s easier to just call it “Lime” particularly as I can’t taste much Lemon in it anyway! Other, more traditional, Marmalades will show some of the properties I’m about to mention but nothing quite hits the jackpot like the Lime variety.
After tagging it as the Prime Suspect in my investigation I observed that it is perfectly possible to open a brand new jar of this substance and for it to be on the handle of the knife and halfway up your forearm BEFORE the blade of the knife touches the surface! You see the similarities with Dr Asimov’s idea?
It is, I reasoned, as if the Marmalade KNOWS telepathically what is about to happen to it and takes immediate instinctive action to avoid its awful fate – death by stomach acid – by going elsewhere! There is no other way I can think of to account for the speed with which the resultant stickiness manages to spread to areas that have had no contact whatsoever with the knife or the jar!
The article that I wrote at the time went on to speculate that if you made a spaceship and fixed to its nose a large steel ball full of Lime Marmalade, you could get a free propulsion system simply by sitting a hungry astronaut with a love of Marmalade sandwiches as near as possible to the ball. The Marmalade would try to escape by moving away from the astronaut’s thoughts, dragging the whole structure along with it!
I suppose some research would have to be done to find out if there are other foodstuffs out there that might be MORE strongly telepathic – for example, sprouts DO seem to have a way of convincing children not to eat them – but these are mere details; I’m just the “ideas man”.
OK. That’s cheap space flight sorted out! Let’s have another look around the kitchen and see what I can do about global warming!
Oh and why was I reminded of all this recently, as I said at the start? Well, for the first time in years we’ve got some Rose’s Lemon & Lime Marmalade in the house. I had some for breakfast yesterday and had to go and wash it off my hands before I even got any on the bread!
So it still works!