Dad is engaged. He’s met a woman about his own age, and they’re living together in a nice place downtown. This seems like a good turn for him. His girlfriend seems nice, and this apartment is a step up from the rat-holes he usually lives in.
It’s at this point that I really envy fiction writers, because they can name their characters at will. If I were making this up, I could name this woman something memorable, and perhaps even something tied to her personality. But this is real life, and fate has named her Pat. So my brother is Patrick, my Dad’s girlfriend is Patricia, and almost everyone else is named Dave. (In about ten years my Dad will rent an apartment from another guy, who is also named James Young. They will live next to each other, and will never get the mail delivery to work right.)
Patricia has a daughter. She lives with grandparents, but the prospect of this marriage brings with it the prospect of a step-sister. She’s about the same age as Patrick and I, and she’s unusually smart and well-grounded. I like her right away.
For Christmas, Dad and Patricia give me books. Dad gives me Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which launches my interest in all things Douglas Adams. Patricia gives me this:
Art and the Computer, by Melvin L. Prueitt, with introduction by Carl Sagan. Patricia got it for me because it was about art – which she likes and understands – and also about computers, which everyone knows is an obsession of mine.
The images in this book were made almost a full decade before the first versions of Open GL were available. These images were mostly made on incredibly expensive high-end workstations, and even on those mighty machines each image might have taken minutes or hours to draw. Today you can find example programs for Direct X or Open GL that can create these same images on common household computers, at the rate of a hundred frames per second.
This book does not begin my fascination with computer graphics, but it certainly intensifies it. I am captivated by the topographies depicted on these pages. I spend a lot of time in the chapter on errors, examining the pictures and trying to imagine what sorts of things the programmer / artist would need to do in order to produce them.
The technology hinted at in this book feels very far away and exotic. Even so, I draw a great deal of inspiration from the book, dreaming of the day when I get my hands on a computer capable of such magics. It seems kind of far-fetched, but maybe I’ll be able to land a job where I can use those kinds of computers.
One day Patricia tells Dad, “Jim, I think I’m queer.”
This is the only explanation offered to me for why the relationship ended. Apparently she left after this revelation, moved to Pittsburgh, and (one assumes) joined the lesbian community. I will never hear from her again, but I’ll think of her every time I see Prueitt’s book sitting on my shelf.
It’s a bit of a disappointment that this second family didn’t pan out. The marriage of Mom and Dave – and the arrival of Ruth – was such a massive boon that I couldn’t help but hope for it to happen again.
Dad gives up the nice apartment and finds another bachelor hovel, according to his custom. The stepsister-that-almost-was writes to Patrick and I a few years later. We’re delighted to hear from her, but too irresponsible to reply. Idiots.
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The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.