Larry's Letters

Sent: September 15, 2001

I feel slow and stupid. It’s taken four days to sink in. Persons unknown have perpetrated the most awesome act of terror since Genghis Khan’s tower of heads.

Thursday at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society meeting, various people spoke on the destruction of the World Trade Center. Personal feelings, courses of action. I found myself mute.

Once I did have something to say - I was watching a TV play, a fairy tale in which the King offered his daughter and other valuable considerations to the man whose achievement was judged most wonderful. Suitors presented wonders. One was a marvelous clock, with moving figures for the hours. Another contender-hacked it to pieces.  The judges were ready to proclaim him the winner.

That, I said heatedly, was stupid. Fairy tales should teach better than that. Creation is vastly more difficult than destruction. It’s only because we’re natural creators that we ever get anything built at all.


The World Trade Center lived up to its billing. The two towers were supposed to stand up to an airplane impact. They did. Fire brought them down by melting the structural steel, but the towers stood long enough to allow most of the people to get out. The rubble collapsed inward rather than spilling across the city.

I was in the World Trade Center once, many years ago. Jerry Pournelle and I had come to sell a book. Robert Gleason the editor took us up to the top of the World Trade Center for cocktails. A big elevator lofted us from that vast lobby, accelerating hard, and rattling because plenty of slack had been allowed for its high speed.

Typically-I’m too often a self-centered son of a bitch-I didn’t remember that Jerry is an acrophobe. I’ve seen how he handles it: sliding along a ledge narrower than his feet, twelve feet up, wearing a backpack, leading a troop of Boy Scouts up Iron Creek. You only need to give him time to screw up his courage. In the elevator he was a little quiet.

We reached the top. Conversation resumed as we walked toward a shallow flight of stairs and, beyond, a wraparound floor to ceiling picture window.

I noticed Jerry wasn’t with us.

He was still at the top of the stairs. “Get a table. I’ll be with you in a minute,” he said.

We did. Presently Jerry joined us. “That was weird,” he said. “I didn’t have any warning. I remember climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty. It scared hell out of me. Now the Statue of Liberty is right out there, and I’m looking down on it like it’s a toy!”

On the way down Bob and I were doing macho dominance games, trying to get Jerry involved, to distract him from the tremendous drop below that vibrating elevator.


I’m a bit of an acrophobe too. I don’t think I can ever write of the events of September 11th. It’s too easy to imagine.

The World Trade Center was an amazing achievement. Bringing it down…well. It’s amazing that men would train so hard and long to commit suicide; but our warriors do that too.

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