Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Even a broken clock gets it right twice a day

I remember once reading a short story featuring a boys' school set on a spaceship. The ship was travelling from (probably) Earth to (probably) some colony world. Scientific accuracy was not rigorously enforced: witness the fact that the ship had no artificial gravity (so far, so good) and so everyone on board wore, um, weighted boots. In fact, I think one jolly schoolboy prank involved surreptitiously unlacing one boy's boot so that when he tries to come up to the front of the class his foot and leg float upwards, to general hilarity.

I must have been about 7 or 8 and I'm pretty sure it was included in a collection of similar gosh-wow boys' adventure tales. I'm guessing it wasn't a forgotten gem by some big name author.

But chiefly I remember a wonder material called, I think, viviform. As I recall this was a putty-like substance that could be moulded by hand and would then set diamond-hard. Useful for almost anything, really. I'm sure it played a key part in the plot, though I can't remember what or why. I didn't know it at the time but my generation was probably the first that really reaped the benefits of things like blu-tack and silly putty, and so viviform made sense. Much more than the school on the ship – which was essentially a terrestrial classroom; no prophetic visions of learning technology or anything like that – or the weighted boots, I know this made me think "yeah, why not?" Which is a very important think for a science fiction writer to have.

Why do I mention this now? Because someone seems to have invented viviform, that's why.

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