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Spider Robinson is a Firefly Fan

Fiona Hughes

Thursday 23 November 2006, by Webmaster

Renowned science fiction writer Spider Robinson once lent his beloved "Lady Macbeth" Gibson guitar to Frank Zappa. Photo-Dan Toulgoet

10 Questions: Spider’s gone into high orbit

Rabid Spider Robinson fans (and we know they’re out there) probably already know everything about their hero. But they might not be aware of the fact that the Bowen Island resident is in high orbit as the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre’s first writer-in-residence. In between his job of "thrillin’ at the MacMillan" and dashing to readings and book signings for his latest work Variable Star, the New York-born Robinson dropped into the Courier to serenade the newsroom with his fine guitar playing and tackle 10 Questions.

1. Where did you get the name Spider?

It was a committee decision. Back in college I told my friends I wanted a new name, and after some deliberation, over a dozen of them told me I was Spider. Each had a different reason: my extensive Spiderman comics collection, my devotion to a Minneapolis folksinger named Spider John Koerner, my physique (six foot one, 120 pounds), the way my fingers looked on a guitar neck, etc. I didn’t care-I was working as a folksinger at the time, and the name was pure gold. My performing career took off. Unfortunately, they paid by cheque. So I needed a bank account as Spider Robinson... and eventually needed ID in that name so I could cash the furshlugginer cheques. It basically snowballed, and over 30 years ago I stopped using other names to avoid confusion.

2. Have you ever lent your guitar to somebody famous?

So far, my Lady Macbeth (a 1954 Gibson J-45 that’s been with me since 1968) has been played by Frank Zappa, Amos Garrett, Darrell Scott, and David Crosby-awesome musicians all.

3. Who’s the most fun you’ve ever jammed with?

Amos Garrett, no question. Amos is perfectly happy to run right off the end of the limb, confident he’ll find a safe way back down to the ground-and he always does. Furthermore, it will be an elegant one. He knows what you’re going to do next even before you do, and you never have a clue what he’s going to do next until he does it. Playing with him makes you smarter.

4. Have you ever tried to charm a girl with your knowledge of the stars?

Thank God I’ve never needed to. I’d have had to fake it. Shameful confession for the H.R. MacMillan’s new writer-in-residence to have to make, but the Dippers, Pole Star and Orion pretty much exhaust my knowledge of the visible stars.

5. What will science fiction writers be like in 1,000 years?

Underpaid and insufficiently respected, still trying to get the engineers and the poets to appreciate each other. Some things never change.

6. What is the weirdest fan experience you’ve ever had?

A pretty stranger once knocked on the door at dawn and, smiling beatifically, began scribbling on a little note pad, tearing off sheets and thrusting them at me-over a dozen, in tiny handwriting. By the time I deciphered them as a cry for help-"You are a science fiction writer so you will understand the universes I am travelling through, but my husband thinks I’m demented and so is probably worried about me, and maybe you could call him at this number to explain that I’m simply needed in another dimension, thanks"-she was half a block away, moving fast, still smiling brightly. I called her husband, started to explain, and he cut me off- "What street was this, which way was she headed, how was she dressed?"-and hung up. An hour later he called back and thanked me profusely in a tired voice. The RCMP had found her based on my information, and she was home and back on her meds. There are aspects of this entertaining-strangers business that nobody warns you about.

7. What’s your favourite sci-fi TV show (and why)?

My favourite SF TV series of all time is definitely Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. Its delightfully wacky science-fictional premise that both Democratic and Republican parties could contain men and women of good will seriously interested in the welfare of the republic-that an honest man could become president of the United States. Splendid imagination, magnificent dream! My second favourite is Joss Whedon’s Firefly, a terrific series shamefully mistreated and betrayed by the network morons who’d commissioned it. I loved every one of its characters, the rich setting, and each of its many (still unresolved) mysteries. My favourite currently on the air would be a tie between Battlestar Galactica (my wife Jeanne and I are major Michael Hogan fans) and Heroes-in both cases for the same reason I’ve always loved SF in the first place: ingenious, inventive, involving writing. They’re about real, believable people in situations that haven’t ever happened yet-but might.

8. Have you ever had a run-in with William Shatner?

Never had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman. I hope I have a chance one day. Any actor-any human being-with the courage and honesty to be able to laugh at himself the way Mr. Shatner can and does is someone I admire and respect.

9. What was your first run-in with the law?

At birth, I was arrested for breaking and exiting. Fortunately, an aunt who was a nymphomaniac grammarian had a word with the judge, and was able to end my sentence with a proposition.

10. Why should anyone read your latest novel Variable Star?

It’ll entertain the hell out of them, and leave them thoughtful and happier than they started. And it might lead some to try Robert Heinlein for the first time-a life-changer.