Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Lani People

The summer I was fourteen, I made the transition from borrowing library books to buying paperbacks. We had in our neighborhood a bookmobile that would come round on Saturday mornings, and I was a regular, but there were things you couldn't get there, and this book, pictured above, was one of them.

In 1962, it was possible to go through the paperback rack at the local Rexall Drugstore, on the corner of Evangeline and McClelland streets in Baton Rouge, and find no more than one or two science fiction titles. 

The cover of this particular one guaranteed that I, as a fourteen-year-old boy so full of testosterone that I sloshed when I walked, would buy it.

Attend: The cover illo featured a bunch of naked women, albeit artfully arranged with arms and angles so that you didn't actually see anything that would have been considered obscene back in the day. I couldn't pass it up. Plunked down my forty cents -- this was in the time when I got a buck and a quarter for mowing a lawn -- and was away to spend the afternoon reading.

The writer, J.F. "Jesse" Bone, was a professor at the veterinary school in Corvallis, Oregon, and the book is an action/adventure story about a vet who goes to a planet to take care of the livestock -- which in this case happens to be a humanoid species called the Lani, who are not human -- they have tails, and can't interbreed with humans. Thus it was okay to sell them.

Since you probably can't find copies of it, I'll give the plot away: The Lani are human and in the end, our hero manages to free them. Along the way, the writer makes some excellent points about slavery, and what constitutes humanity. Not the deepest book ever written, but it was fun, and it holds up pretty well. There is a fight scene between the vet and a male Lani that stirred my interest in martial arts greatly. The Lani is bigger, stronger, meaner, but he doesn't have a chance against the vet, who is martially-trained ...

Fast-forward sixteen years:

I went to my second World Science Fiction Convention, aka the WorldCon, in Phoenix, Arizona.

I said this before, but anything worth saying is worth saying at least three times: The Guest of Honor was Harlan Ellison. Since Arizona had refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, Harlan attended, but refused to spend any money in such a state. He stayed in a borrowed RV, and ate and drank what he brought with him, and kudos to him for it. Harlan sometimes got flak, but he didn't just talk the talk, he also walked the walk. I liked Harlan, but even people who hated him sometimes grudgingly admitted to admiring him. 

As part of the gig, Harlan sat in a little A-frame made of two-by-fours and visquine in the middle of the lobby and wrote a short story. This was a reprise of his writer-in-a-bookstore-window routine, meant to demonstrate that a writer could craft a professional-quality tale in front of God and everybody and could concentrate well enough to pull it off, no sweat.

Impressed, I went to watch him work for while. Sitting at a table nearby was an old guy. I introduced myself, and so did he, and it was Jesse Bone.

Holy shit! The man had been a seminal influence on me. Actually, more of semenal influence, given that cover ...

I made a joke about that as we chatted. Later in the day, I went to the dealer's room and had a button made: "Jesse Bone is a Semenal Influence" and I wore it the rest of the week.

While Jesse and I were talking, a short, portly, shave-headed guy came over, carrying a huge battery-powered tape recorder. He sat, clicked on the recorder, and said, as nearly as I can recall:

"Hey, I'm Gene Gold. I know Jesse is too busy, but you're a writer, right?"

I allowed as how I was. Amazing that he could tell just by looking. 

"Well, I'd doing a new magazine, and I need a story. I want it to be about the last martial arts instructor on Earth. I don't want it to be downbeat, no pathos, it needs to be two thousand words, and I need it by next Monday. Can you do it?"

I cannot tell you how flabbergasted I was at this. To this day, the idea still boggles my mind. Of all the five thousand people at the con, nobody was better qualified to write that story than I, and how on Earth had this guy happened to find me?

"Sure," I said. "No problem."

"Great. Here's my card, send it to me when you are done."

And with that, he clicked off the recorder, stood, and left.


I wrote the first four graphs of the story later, in the bar, while having a beer with -- I think, Hank Stine and Jesse Bone -- though that part is a bit hazy. Got home, did that story, plus the one Stine commissioned, and thought I was a rising star in the SF field ...

Later, I moved to Oregon, and Jesse and I would now and then run into each other, have a beer, and a fine ole time. He passed away a few years afterward, having published a bunch of short stories and a few novels, one of which was Confederation Matador -- both words I have used in my own work with some frequency. (In fact, if you Google them, you will a link to a Wikipedia piece referencing my Matador series.)

Thanks, Jesse -- in memory yet green.