Old Books

I love going to Wellington—not only good restaurants, but heaps of used book stores. Arty Bees, Pegasus, Ferret—all within a few minutes’ walk. In each store I head to the science fiction shelves, and usually walk out with a book I’ve read before.

One of those was Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein. I think it was one of his first, published in 1948. I wanted a few samples of that classic SF style, because I find my sci fi novel emulating that pace and flow, to some degree.

I must have read Space Cadet when I was about fourteen or fifteen. It’s real boys own adventure stuff. Our hero Matt Dodson, probably fifteen himself, joins the Patrol, wanting to be an officer. His training is thorough. Some of it straight forward, some of it psychological. There is one scene where all the cadets have to do is stand over a bottle and try to drop a bean into the mouth of it with their eyes closed. It was actually a test of honesty, of character.

And of course, our cadet and his mates have to rise to the challenge when their own officer is incapacitated. Another test of character. I always loved that in stories. I think we all do, because we get to ask ourselves, “how would I conduct myself? Would I rise to the challenge?” We have opportunities—they just don’t seem as exciting as negotiating with the amphibian natives living in the oceans of Venus.

But reading it again, I am amazed at the impact it had. I’ve had no problem balancing on a waka, the double hulled Polynesian canoes I find myself working on. Then I came across the scene in Space Cadet where I learned to walk. Matt is on home leave and his brother pokes fun at him, saying he’s walking like a chimpanzee. Matt tells him that is how spacemen walk.

“You carry yourself sort of pulled in, for days on end, ready to bounce a foot off a bulkhead, or grab with your hands,” Matt explains. “When you’re back under weight, after days and weeks of that, you walk the way I do. ‘Cat feet’ we call it.”

I remember practicing walking with cat feet after that, every time I’m in an elevator I still do—softening the knees as it stops at the bottom. It’s the way I walk when the waka is rolling with the swell, and why I roll with it. One hand ready to grab when the gravity cuts in.

I’m sure a tour through all those novels I read growing up would be an interesting study in my psychology—at least to me. Call it self-discovery. I’m sure there will be a lot of ‘ah ha’ moments. “So that is why I do that, think that way, harbour that fantasy…”

But then again, who needs an excuse to read an old book?