Date of Birth: August 27, 1952
Date Submitted: November 25, 2017
Religious Affiliation: Lapsed Catholic
What is the meaning of life?
(In his book The Meaning of Life, a character pays 25 cents for the answer. So a check in the amount of 25 cents was sent to Darrell, and below is his response to the survey)
I’m very surprised that this has surfaced again after all these years. Someone must have tipped you off because you have the price right: 25 cents.
The inside story is that I was sitting at an autograph table at the 1980 World Science Fiction convention in Boston, next to Ben Bova as I recall. He was signing away, but I had little to sign because my first fiction title, We Are All Legents, which was supposed to be out, wasn’t.
So I folded an index card in half, wrote on it “The Meaning of Life available here, 25 cents” no doubt thinking of Lucy in Peanuts comics who has a booth offering psychiatric help for 5 cents. Obvious inflation has taken place, or else the Meaning of Life is more valuable. Well, isn’t it?
What I would do if someone actually game me a quarter was lean forward and sagely whisper, “The meaning of life is 25 cents,” playing on the double meaning of the phrase and suggesting that the path to ultimate wisdom involved giving me XX money. (Well, isn’t it? Surely this is Cultism 101.)
This was a mock rivalry between myself and Somtown Sucharitkul, a.k.a. S.P. Somtow, a very accomplished Thai musical composer and author (Vampire Junction et al.) As an assistant as Asimov’s SF at the time I often wrote the blurbs to his stories, and as a contributor to Amazing, I was again writing blurbs for both Somtow’s material and my own. Thus I was able to keep the imaginary “feud” going. Somtow had his own “meaning of life” shtick, but I went so far as to suggest that we had become reconciled and that he had generously revealed the meaning of life to me while sitting under a Bo tree, in the manner of the Buddha. He responded in his often very funny Mallworld with a character saying to another: “I want the real meaning of life, not the Schweitzerian heresy.” He showed me a French edition in which this had been rendered “le heresie Schweitzerienne.”
Later, I stopped selling the Meaning of Life for a quarter and signed copies of my novel The Shattered Goddess (1982) with a note that the meaning of life can be found in chapter 7. In that chapter one character explains, “Some people will believe anything.”
Is that the meaning of life? No, but it is a suitable warning. Chances are if someone claims to know What It’s All About, they are out to take you for considerably more than 25 cents.