Friday, July 23, 2010

Swans, Confluence, and the Fastest Man on Earth


If you were to go wandering through my house, you'd find certain recurrent themes among the possessions Marianne and I have amassed: Skulls.  Masks.  Dinosaurs.  But you would not find a single swan-shaped item.  I've been very careful about that.

Years ago, a friend of ours admitted to having a fondness for alligators.  Hey, presto!  Her friends never had to give an instant's thought to what to get her for Christmas.  We'd simply snatch up an alligator ashtray or vase or figurine and that was that.  After a few years, her house was full of alligator tchotchkes.  Until finally she rounded up all of them and hid 'em away or gave 'em away or threw 'em away and let it be known that anything alligatorish would be gently but firmly returned to the giver.

When you've got a name like Swanwick, you have to be on guard constantly or your house will fill up with Duncan Miller swans-shaped candy dishes. 

And I'm on the road again . . .

This time I'm going to Pittsburgh for the weekend for Confluence, where the late Phil Klass, who wrote under the pseudonym of William Tenn, is being memorialized.  If you happen to be at the convention, be sure to say hello.

And I continue to scribble, scribble, scribble . . .

Today's story was commissioned by Kenneth Evans for his son Griffin Durwood Evans.  Griffin apparently really really really likes fast, powerful machines.

As do, of course, all sensible people.  Which I why I wrote for him . . .

Fastest Man on Earth 

Michael Swanwick

The land speed record for a wheeled vehicle is currently held by Andy Green who on October 15 1997 achieved 763 mph, a speed slightly faster than Mach 1 in his twin-turbofan ThrustSSC, making it the world’s first supersonic car.  It is an astonishing record.

Griffin Durwood Evans plans to break it today.  In a wheel-driven vehicle.

Evans slowly motorcycles the track leading across the Black Rock Desert, looking for loose stones or imperfections in the level surface.  There are none, so he walks several times around the Daft Punk, admiring its sleek lines, the innovative flexible titanium wheels (anything less would shred at the speeds he’s contemplating), the beauty of an engine which burns a mixture of hydroxy-terminated polybutadiene and nitrous oxide, also known as tire rubber and laughing gas.  It’s a fitting fuel for a project that has the skeptics snickering.

As he climbs into the cockpit a reporter for Top Gear comes scuttling up.  “What’s with the stubby little wings?” he asks.  “They look like spoilers, but they’re curved like aircraft wings – how on earth are you going to keep them from lofting the car into the air?”

“Watch and learn,” Evans says.  “Keep clear of the explosives.”

“Explosives?” an alarmed voice says as he slams the hatch.  But even as he’s buckling himself in and powering up the engine, Evans’ thoughts are focused on the goal line far across the ancient lake bed.  At the speeds he’s contemplating, ten miles will be traversed in less than thirty seconds.  The world-encompassing rumble of his engine wraps itself around him, growing warmer and louder with each passing second.  He guns the engine and then, as everything reaches optimum, floors the accelerator.

As the car leaps forward, timed explosives go off to either side of the track, blasting away the air and creating a ten-mile-long tunnel of vacuum through which the Daft Punk soars.  Without the air there is nothing to lift the car off the surface of the earth.  Nor does he have to contend with the turbulence of breaking the sound barrier.

He just goes.

In less time than it takes to realize it’s happened, the Daft Punk crosses the finish line.  Computers relay the telemetry to his car’s dashboard:   1,557.034 miles per hour, well over Mach 2 and twice the speed of the old record!

Evans reaches the end of the lake just as the air blasted away by the explosives comes slamming back, flipping the car high off the surface.  It’s here that the stubby little wings come into play, leveling out the flight, putting it into his control,  holding the nose steady at forty-five degrees and rising fast.

Which is when Evans hits the afterburner and heads for orbit.


Above:  As long as Marianne and I were at Cape May Point, we did a little birding.

1 comment:

Karen said...

That was so COOL!
Just didn't expect the vacuum, etc. at all. Nicely done!