By the Hair of the Comet

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Writing / Fiction /

I began writing By the Hair of the Comet in 1982. I told publishers that the novel would be best marketed in conjunction with Halley’s Comet, due in 1985. We had three years to work. But no publisher committed help: I did the best I could with no money. The novel remains unfinished as well as unpublished.

By the Hair of the Comet


The Command Satellite spots an object on a course too damn close to a collision with Earth’s orbit. So dark it didn’t show up till it’s practically on them. The groups urging the possibility had had their heels cooled in government waiting rooms. Unprepared, decisions have to be made anyway. A couple of decommissioned nukes are rearmed and launched. It shatters, but a mountain size splinter impacts with the Bay of Bengal, sending tidal waves over the surrounding land masses, part of which houses the Federation’s new quarters.

After the horse is stolen, all the farmers want to lock their barns. Comet watching is the issue: though the System Agency is pestered with mischief from groups seizing the opportunity to blame the existence of asteroids and comet debris on anything connected with science. When an off-duty bartender with access to the photos at Callisto Sat’s astronomy lab discovers a new anomalous comet past Neptune and calculates its ephemeris to approach Earth within a few million Km, the Agency seizes the opportunity to test a new concept for a gravity beam. Two ships will be equipped to lasso it toward Jupiter and around onto a harmless path. The thing is coming faster than any comet in history and they only have a few years to get into position.

But the comet doesn’t behave. You’d think it had its own perverse control. Recalculations for its ephemeris come closer and closer to Earth. In desperation, the astronauts, one of whom has been yanked from jail, convicted for his display of uncanny but illegal skill in playing potsie with an asteroid while on Mars-amor mining duty, finally yank it into collision with Jupiter. The cinder that reemerges from the giant’s atmosphere is then easily tamed into orbit as just another small satellite.

Millions of years pass. An explorer approaches a star system we gradually come to recognize. They quickly discover evidence of intelligent, space faring life with civilizations on and around a couple of the planets and many of the planets’ satellites. They’re disconcerted when they pick up weak SOSs in three galactic languages emanating from a satellite of the largest gas giant. The messages are very old. How can a civilization have left them unanswered all these meons?

They have discovered the SOS and wreck of Lonfyt Yemip. A worker from Pan culture, “he” was retired from his duties with the pre-biotic and elementary organic beds in the Orion Nebula. (he’s no more male or female than is a worker bee. The novel includes his log in a typographical approximation of Pan.) He had neither time nor desire to return to his hive. He decided to trace a direction in which some of his seed comets had been wafted. Upon arriving at a suitable star’s comet cloud, he metabolized the equipment to weld several together. Then with the mass to protect his memory bank and with a minimum of contingent maneuverability, he thrust inward.

Once in the inner system and just beginning to regrow more sense organs, he was buffeted by strange and ungovernable turbulence. Missing his turn at the star, he dove for anchorage at the main planet, but crashed. Some key regenerative files in his memory were damaged in the impact. Surrounded by a wealth of resources and tantalized by regularities in the variations of the electromagnetic spectrum, he remained helpless and unenlightened in his search for the bounty of negentropy. Stress compounded. Entropy reigned.

A Gregory Bateson footnote had been haunting me. A new government anthropologist arrives in Indonesia and asks to hear stories. One tells of a time before the advent of the white man when children, combing the beach after a storm, found washed up and half-dead, a large white monkey. Runners told the Rajah. After meditation his advisors say that the monkey is a fallen angel from the court of the undersea god, Beroena. The storm expressed the god’s displeasure at the monkey’s offense. The Raja instructs that the monkey be kept alive but chained to a certain stone. The anthropologist asks to see the stone. There written in English, Latin, and Dutch is the account of a sailor and his shipwreck.
The anthropologist notes that this minimally tri-lingual sailor had been unable to communicate his humanity to his captors. Bateson points out that he may not have noticed theirs.

We tend to think that things that are sometimes true are regularly true: things like our ability to communicate. My failure to get the English faculty at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science to recognize known things about the history of Realism and nominalism, not to mention the unpublished state of my earlier stories, prepared me all the better to recognize the importance of the chained sailor. I still had no idea at the time how utterly autobiographical I would come to find it after additional experience with publishers and with my fellow man.

2000 08 25


Today’s news reports the release of a man, a Soviet prisoner of war from WWII, from the mental institution where he’d been locked up as a raving madman in the mid-1940s. It seems that a policeman visiting the hospital finally heard his ravings and recognized the language to be Hungarian. For five and one half decades, Russian military and psychiatric specialists, together with staff and so forth, failed to recognize a neighboring language as intelligible in its own right.

NPR: Russia – W.W.II Prisoner Released —
Russia has released a Hungarian
World War Two prisoner after 53 years. Andras Tamas had been diagnosed as
psychotic by his captors, and ended up in a Russian psychiatric hospital.
Two weeks ago, the head of the Hungarian National Institute of Psychiatry
and Neurology brought Tamas home to Hungary. Robert talks with Giles
Whittell, the Moscow Bureau Chief for The Times of London, about his visit
with Tamas in Budapest. (8:00)

The Indonesian anthropologist’s story showed that victim of a failure of human communication to be a linguist or sorts, literate, at least minimally, in a minimum of three languages. My “character” was literate in at least three galactic languages. Andras Tamas, poor bastard, may only have spoken his native tongue.

Today I am tempted to add that my novel was filled with examples of non-communication. The one that friends (I still had some then) begged me not to include concerned a doctor responding to an emergency call made by neighbors who heard a woman screaming. Examination produced evidence of recent parturition. Exploration discovered a dead baby, head down in the toilet. Additional interviewing suggested that the woman just thought she was constipated: didn’t know she was pregnant. A doctor friend added his voice to the disapproval that I should tell the story despite his admissions that the incident is representative: common. Can’t tell the truth about who or what we are. Have not just to believe in Santa Claus: have to believe we’re him.

Note: I revised and expanded the novel while soliciting publishers through late 1985 when it was already too late to catch the wave. Starvation (I can’t do business and write at the same time, so the secondary thing has to go) forced me to give up before the various drafts ever got tied properly together. The first 150 pages read fine as does my sketch of Book II, but the middle remains an incomplete hodgepodge.

1998 06 20

I just finished one of the finest science fiction novels I’ve ever read: Earth, by David Brin. I called my gravity beam a “gazer.” The word laser is an acronym: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. I just substituted Gravity for Light: gaser. Damn if Brin doesn’t do the same thing. Earth was published around 1990. Of course Brin could have been working on his since 1982. (I am not suggesting that he had any contact with my MS.) Someone else could have come up with gaser before either of us. But now tens of thousands will associate the gaser with Brin. It should be me.

Better yet: we should trash our ideas of sources and credit for things and just share resources, especially with those trying to do something.

2005 11 09 update: new proposal using gravity to deflect asteroids

I’ll try to make time to add more such stories. I’ve got a million of them. Particularly with regard to Comet: at this moment there’s a movie in the theaters with many of my effects. TV specials, a novel with a nearly duplicate plot by the great Arthur C. Clarke …

2004 12 15 It was 1982 when I plotted an impact between a human missile and a comet. Scientists are actually planning on such an impact now: this one for observation.

2005 01 02 Current events also prompt me to mention that my novel opens with tsunamis devastating coasts all around the Indian Ocean: India, Sri Lanka … My tsunamis though were generated by impact of the bolide from space.

2006 06 25 My son just sent me a cartoon showing that someone else has used my joke: quarter of a century later: no royalties paid that I’ve seen.

Little Green Men

Little Green Men

2012 03 13 A well-placed nuclear explosion could actually save humanity from a big asteroid hurtling toward Earth, just like in the movies, a new study suggests.;_ylt=Ag8cwjGr7hAMWK34U0AAVb4PLBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTNqMGY2ZWxtBGNjb2RlA2N0LmMEcGtnA2ZjYWJkNDkzLTc1MDMtMzcyMC1hYTA3LWY1NzRkYmUzM2IyNARwb3MDNQRzZWMDbW9zdF9wb3B1bGFyBHZlcgMxMzdiYjhiMC02YzU5LTExZTEtYWRjMy1hYmE1MzRkYWQ4NzQ-;_ylg=X3oDMTFrM25vcXFyBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdAMEcHQDc2VjdGlvbnMEdGVzdAM-;_ylv=3
I ask you: how long have the movies been showing that? Since my novel and screenplay offered it in 1982! Terry Carr got excited by my idea, in 1983: then he died. No one notices, no one cares; yet if you try to point out to people that they’re blind, they’ll blind-side you.
How dare the media sabotage my work, my life, then act as though they’re sentient?

2013 05 29 tells of a Chinese woman delivering her baby head down into the toilet. The baby went through the pipe.

2014 10 06 Just watching Carpenter’s StarMan for the first time since the mid-1980s. StarMan came out in 1984, I thought of my Hair of the Comet early 1982, sketched the whole that summer, had a good outline and some prose by Christmas ’82. StarMan’s ship is perceived as a meteorite, they shoot at it, it changes course … That’s my detail! Do you see? My MS had been bouncing around publishers officers for a couple of years. That detail was part of my outline, my outline was condensed to a couple of pages, no telling how many people read it, mentioned it. Plagiarism doesn’t have to be deliberate. Notice: the writer doesn’t get paid till somebody pays him; the industry pays itself while its reading submissions. Maybe the borrower doesn’t even remember where he heard it, heard of it.

I can’t prove any particular allegation, but can there be any reasonable doubt about the general pattern? But: kleptocracy: once we have Sutter’s gold, Sutter’s California, the Lakota gold, the Lakota land, we truly believe we’re entitled to it. Americans see themselves with a halo. Facts, patterns cannot be perceived through the aura.

2014 11 19
“BERLIN (Reuters) – European comet lander Philae ‘sniffed’ organic molecules containing the carbon element that is the basis of life on Earth before its primary battery ran out and it shut down, German scientists said.”

I just emailed theMarcus:

don’t forget: in my Comet novel Lonfyt Yemip has spent his life using comets to seed life around the universe, he deliberately wafted organic molecules toward our system, he’s come to see what results there might be: in other words: in interfering with him, murdering him, we’re murdering our grandfather.

bk wrote back that he often remembers me (and Sir Fred Hoyle) in this connection. I wrote:

I got much of it from Hoyle, and Nigel Calder, but the society declined to kindle.
the big truth of a religion like X doesn’t communicate its bedrock idea, that culture is insulation against ideas And experience.

Et Encore

2015 03 19 He knew he was in jail, but he didn’t know why.
Eventually, Abreham Zemedagegehu learned that he’d been accused of stealing an iPad — an iPad whose owner later found it. He spent the next six weeks in jail, unable to communicate with his jailers because he is deaf.

2017 10 10 It’s decades now that I’ve been accustomed to being plagiarized (duplicated) by Arthur C. Clarke: now another close parallel pops up: and again this time the parallels are from people I near worship: Terry Jones! and a handful of Pythons: Absolutely Anything! Understand, it’s in my Epilogue that the important parallels appear. The galactic council preparing to sit in judgment of Earth and mankind is mine! as of 1982! But kleptocrats find themselves innocent so long as they don’t know they’re stealing. That’s why they stack the universities, churches, publishing houses with morons.
Couple of Hours Later
Ah, I’ve now seen the whole of Absolutely Anything. It’s cute, it’s fun. It duplicates a few details of my Comet novel sketched in 1982, namely in introducing galactic culture cops and senators who contemplate destroying earth and man. The tones couldn’t be more different.
Glad I know this now, Terry Jones; sorry you don’t know mine.
PS I really like Kate Beckinsale. MmMm, nice.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s