We didn’t finish the book then, or during the thirty years that followed, but not long ago we rediscovered what we’d written, fell in love with it again, and decided it was time. Atomic Drop Press, who published the 30th Anniversary edition of our Beaver Papers and its sequel, have just brought out My Pal Splendid Man. Here's the beginning of the first story. If it intrigues you, you can find the whole thing wherever good print-on-demand books ebooks are sold!
Splendid Man's Literary Discoveries
I opened the window, moved aside, and vibrated the teeth of my SOS Comb. Splendid Man zoomed into the room before I could count to one.
“What’s the trouble, Will?” he said.
“I lost my damn keys,” I said.
“Where did you last see them?”
“I had them when I drove home after dinner,” I said. “But I can’t for the life of me remember what I did with them after that.”
“That’s easily taken care of, Will. What time did you get home?”
“Well, then, I’ll just fly back through the time barrier and see what you did with them.”
“But Splendid Man, if you tamper with the past, couldn’t that screw up the future somehow?”
“No, Will,” he said. “I’ve tried before to change the course of history, but it just doesn’t work. Like the time I zipped back through the time barrier and tried to stop the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and thus prevent the escalation of the Vietnam War. We know how that turned out. And besides, I’ll merely be observing the past, not tampering with it.”
“Okay then,” I said. “If you don’t mind.”
Splendid Man vanished in a blur and reappeared instants later. “Look in the garbage, Will,” he said.
I did so, and sure enough, under the Burger King bag, there were my keys.
“You’d let so much trash accumulate in your car,” said Splendid Man, “that when you carried it all up, your keys got mixed in with it.”
“Thanks, pal,” I said. “Listen, I hope you don’t mind me using my SOS Comb for something this insignificant.”
“Certainly not. Feel free to summon me with your SOS Comb for any reason, not only because you’ve fallen off a tall building, have undergone a bizarre physical transformation, or are menaced by a motorcycle gang. And the same goes for the toll-free number at my Citadel of Contemplation on the moon.”
“Appreciate it, Splendid Man,” I said. At the mention of his Citadel I felt a twinge of embarrassment about my own dumpy abode, but I figured if it didn’t bother him I wouldn’t let it bother me. “Hey, now that you’re here, can you stay a while? Or do you have to run?”
“Fly, Will. I don’t think I do, but let me take a quick check.” He turned his body in a complete circle, holding his head at an odd angle. “Everything looks fine. There is a comet hurtling toward Earth, but I see that my Canadian pal, Northern Light, is already zipping off to dispatch it with his power medallion.”
“That’s great,” I said, heading for the kitchen to mix a couple of drinks. “Why don’t you take a load off and we’ll talk.”
“I’d love to, Will,” he said. “But on one condition.”
“What’s that, Splendid Man?”
“That you knock off this ‘Splendid Man’ business. Aren’t we good enough friends yet that you can stop addressing me by my title?”
“Sure thing…Cal,” I said with a grin, using the short form of his native Strontiumese name.
When I returned to the living room Cal was sitting on my parents’ old couch and scanning the bookshelves that dominated my modest living room. He took a sip of his Manhattan and asked, “So, Will, are there any more books you can recommend for me to read?”
“More books!” I said, my mouth agape. Just last week I’d recommended the entire Britannica Great Books series to him. “You don’t mean you’ve already read every volume you were interested in!”
“I’ve already read every volume, Will. Period. Haven’t I mentioned that, in addition to physical Splendid Speed, the argon-tinged atmosphere and lesser gravity of Earth grant astounding mental speed to all Strontiumese?”
He had, in fact, mentioned that, and in precisely those words. But I still couldn’t get used to it. “And I guess Splendid Vision really helps navigate that tiny print,” I grinned.
“That it does,” he said, in complete earnest. “And I must say, I enjoyed every page of every book.”
I was afraid he would say that. Teaching the big lug some discernment was not turning out to be easy. “Okay,” I said carefully. “But surely you must have enjoyed some more than others?”
He took another sip of his Manhattan, a slow one this time, and I sensed him stalling. For the first time I saw nervousness in those glacier-blue eyes. “Well, of course, I’m no expert…”
“Just tell me what you think, Cal. No one expects you to be a connoisseur of literature yet.”
He breathed an audible sigh of relief. “I appreciate that, Will. I’m a bit gun-shy after all the razzing I’ve taken from Catman, that calico-cowled nemesis of crime, about my taste in books. That’s why I value the way you’ve taken me under your wing. Metaphorically speaking.”
I caught a twinkle in his eye. Before he met me, he would never have been talking about metaphors. “Don’t mention it, Cal. I’m so used to loaning books to friends and having them return them months later only half read. It’s a pleasure to have a pal who actually reads what I recommend.”
“Oh, and I’m starting to get a lot out of them!” he said eagerly. “I thought I knew all about truth and justice until I read those Plato volumes.”
“I had a feeling you’d like the Greeks,” I said. “They appreciated the heroic.”
“And what playwrights! I had no idea great literature could be so entertaining. I laughed so hard reading Aristophanes’s Frogs that I would have busted a gut, if my internal organs, like my bodily exterior, were not invulnerable. Do you have anything else by him?”
“I wish I did. But that volume includes all his surviving works.”
“Surviving?” he asked. “You mean some of them have been lost to the winds of time?”
“You could put it that way. All the great Greek dramatists—the tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and the comedians Aristophanes and Menander—have been shown to have written far more works than still survive. Ditto for Plato, Aristotle, and the other classical philosophers. One of the great calamities of ancient history was the unexplained destruction by fire of the great library of Alexandria during Caesar’s campaign in 48 B.C., which resulted in the eternal loss of innumerable classics of literature and philosophy.”
“Great Amundsen, Will!” he exclaimed, rising from his seat. “I had no idea! What a tragedy! All those lost works must have been magnificent. One thing I’ve noticed is that those ancient authors never seemed to write a bad book.”
“You said it,” I snorted. “Of course, they were fortunate enough to live in an era when economics and art were in harmony, and an author was encouraged to be true to his vision. They didn’t have to contend with a short-sighted commercial publishing ‘industry’ devoted to snuffing the literary soul.”
“Why, Will,” he gasped, “I’ve never heard you sound so bitter! Have you suffered another setback in your own literary career?”
“You could put it that way.” I explained to him how I’d hit a creative wall in the middle of Chapter 38 of my new novel and how what I’d thought would be the consummation of my years of writing looked doomed to end up as just another item in my trunk.
“Now, Will, you shouldn’t give up so quickly,” he said. “Don’t you think your whole perspective on your work will change once you’ve succeeded in getting published?”
“Published!” I snorted. “What good is getting published if it means betraying my own vision to cater to the blind editors of New York? Even the writers who start out great are seduced into prostituting themselves in this modern world. Look at Norman Mailer! Tennessee Williams! Harold Robbins!”
“But Will. I thought you told me that Harold Robbins has always been bad.”
“That’s beside the point,” I muttered.
He sat back down, took a swig of his drink, and looked at me with grave concern. “It sounds to me, pal,” he said, “as though what you need is some inspiration. Nothing lifts me out of the doldrums of self-doubt like remembering the sacrifices of the great heroes of the past. That’s why I keep life-size statues of Hercules, Samson, and Mother Teresa in my Citadel of Contemplation.”
“It’s different with you. You can defeat Cerebriac as he plunders an alien planet in exactly the way a hero of the past did and people will say, ‘What a hero! Splendid Man is the new Robin Hood!’ If I use someone else’s plot they’ll say, ‘What a plagiarist! Will Jones is the new Jerzy Kosinski!’”
“But Will, didn’t you tell me yourself that every writer draws from the classics? That, for example, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men is a Sophoclean tragedy in the costume of the Jim Crow South?”
“Words to that effect, anyway,” I grumbled. “But the last thing the world needs is another reworking of Oedipus.”
“Fair enough,” he said, with a shrewd glint in his eye. “But what if you were to draw your inspiration from a classic that no one else living has read? Say, one of the lost works of the Athenian dramatists?”
“Swell. Except where the hell am I going to read plays that have been lost for centuries?”
“Centuries ago, that’s where!” He grinned and slapped my knee. “Didn’t you say they had them all in stock in the library of ancient Alexandria?”
It took me a few seconds, but then I got it. “Of course! Your Splendid Speed can break the time barrier! You can actually go to ancient Alexandria!”
“Oh, I’ve already gone, several times. But I have to confess I haven’t once stopped by the library. I guess I assumed that since I didn’t reside there, I could never be issued a library card.”
“Then, for heaven’s sake, you’ve got to go read those ancient dramas!” I yelled. “And as soon as you come back to the present you’ll have to stop by and tell me what they’re all about.”
“I have a better idea, Will. We can just zip off to 48 B.C. together and you can have a look around for yourself!”
“Me? Go with you?” I gulped. “But wouldn’t I be…I don’t know…”
“Buffeted to death by the temporal winds that rage along the time stream?” he asked.
“Exactly!” I said.
“Oh no, Will. I wouldn’t let that happen to you. I’ll just wrap you in my indestructible cape, as I do with my pal Bobby Anderssen, that albino cub reporter, take you under my arm, and fly you there safe and sound.”
I jumped to my feet. “Then let’s go!”
Continued in My Pal Splendid Man!