hat would you do if you had thousands of square miles of cheap barren land with very few neighbors—neighbors not bothered by occasional thunderous noises and random debris falling out of the sky? In a place like that, you could embrace big ideas, dangerous and risky notions that lie far outside of the box. In fact, you could take the box, catapult it at supersonic speeds, blow it to smithereens, and then pretend it never existed. That sort of thing has been going on in southern New Mexico since rocket scientist Robert Goddard moved to Roswell in 1930. Goddard was the first person to build and launch a liquid-fueled rocket. With that act, he propelled America into the Space Age. The southern New Mexico desert attracts all sorts of mad scientists, speculators, geniuses, crackpots, dreamers, visionaries, and—some say—even outer-space aliens. If an experiment happens to self-destruct in a shrapnel-spewing, toxic fireball, no one is harmed, and few are the wiser. Such are the perks of exploring new frontiers in the Land of Enchantment. From Portales to Las Cruces, US Highway 70 traverses this strange and secret land. The suspicious, the supersonic, and the supernatural gravitate to the road’s shoulders, launching travelers on a trajectory that lands them in a world of weird science and weirder possibilities. Fire your ignition. Buckle your asteroid belt. And start the countdown to blastoff….
ortales, New Mexico, marks the perfect place to launch any southern New Mexico weird science trip. This seat of Roosevelt County was home to celebrated author Jack Williamson—honored in 1975 as a Grand Master of Science Fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Williamson published his first story—The Metal Man—in the December, 1928, issue of Amazing Stories. He went on to become a monolith among men—a pulp fiction Jedi whose style embraced everything from space operas to dark fantasy. His most famous work is, perhaps, The Humanoids, a 1949 novella that tells the tale of benevolent robots who attempt to protect humans from themselves. In the 1960s, Williamson became a professor at Eastern New Mexico University. He maintained an association with the school until the time of his death in 2006. Today that bastion of learning houses the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library. Gene Bundy is the librarian who curates the collection. Back in 1967 he was a student, a freshman who enrolled in a course Williamson taught. In later years the two men developed a Corona
“US 70 SPACE ODYSSEY” TERMINI: Portales, New Mexico, and Las Cruces, New Mexico DISTANCE: Approx. 275 miles
friendship. “I was able to accompany Jack to see a Space Shuttle launch,” Gene remembers. “Just to be there, to share that moment with him, knowing he imagined space travel back in the 1930s…. What a thrill!” The library shelves more than thirty thousand titles. I paged through the most massive book I could find: Dahlgren, a confounding eight-hundred-page novel by Samuel Ray Delany. Gene commented, “That book is kind of like [ James Joyce’s] Ulysses. Lots of people start to read it, but few finish.” He suggested an easier read: Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb.
Truth or Consequences 152
GATEKEEPER: Gene Bundy is the curator of the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library in Portales.
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