Wherever I go these days, I introduce myself as Joshua Wander. No one disputes the name, even in worlds where nobody else has the name Joshua, and where Wander isn't even a word. In some worlds I wear the name with some renown, or at least notoriety, as the meddling wizard who leaves chaos in his wake, but who probably means well.
What these people don't know, for the most part, is that I wasn't born with that name, or with magical talent, or even in a world where wizards are real. I was born in Syracuse, NY in 1957, with the name Christopher Stein. I was no different from any other baby in that gray city in that gray year, except that I was born with curly black hair.
I think my parents must have had a strange sense of humor, giving a Jewish kid the name Christopher. True, my mom was originally Roman Catholic, but she converted, didn't she? So why give me the name of a Christian saint, that even had the name Christ in it? But she did, and Dad agreed to it. I never got around to asking how they chose the name, and now, of course, it's too late. I can only figure that either I was meant to be reminded of my dual heritage, or I was meant to fit in with all those Christian kids at school.
Fat chance. I was smart, and scrawny, and Jewish, I wore glasses at an early age, and my best friend in elementary school was a girl. Five strikes and you're out.
Eventually I moved away, and started over with a new school and new kids, just as puberty hit. I got contact lenses, I wasn't scrawny any more, and it was okay to like girls. Best of all, the sons and daughters of politicians, bureaucrats, college professors and NIH employees had nothing against my being interested in science. So I won science fairs, aced my bio and chem and physics classes, and wrote science fiction in my spare time. I even played soccer, so that I wasn't considered a complete nerd. My parents got divorced, but that was just more raw material to be worked into my writing. Neither of them tried to make me choose sides, for which I'm grateful.
I ended up with a scholarship to Syracuse University, not far from the suburb where my earlier social failures took place. S.U. had a good physics department, and a fun bio prof, and an eccentric Chem 101 prof who was great, too. I made friends, and played D&D, and even got my homework done most of the time. Everything was fine, until I met Rachel.
Dr. Rachel Grayson was a biochemist, and the wife of my physics professor, Dr. John Grayson. They were researching the effects of the physical environment on brain function. Light, heat, electricity, pressure and other factors were applied to their paid volunteers. Dr. John figured out what parameters to use, and Dr. Rachel measured the effects, both objectively with EEG and so on, and subjectively through interviews afterward. Don't ask me what exactly they did, or how. I never knew all the details, and anyway, I'd prefer not to give anyone the means of repeating the experiments.
I was one of their subjects, not just for one experiment but for a whole series of them, lasting over a year. After a while, I was their only subject. Three things happened during that time. One: the experiments got weirder and weirder, as Dr. John found ways to play around with quantum theory on a macro scale. Two: I started to feel that I personally was getting weirder with each experiment. Sometimes colors looked different to me, as I became more aware of the electromagnetic spectrum. Sometimes I heard radio in my head, and I don't mean through fillings in my teeth. Time didn't seem to go at the normal rate, and I wasn't always sure it was going in only one direction.
Three: I fell in love with Dr. Rachel. I was pretty sure she knew about it, and maybe even reciprocated my feelings a little. I thought about talking to her about this, but I didn't have the nerve. Instead, I played out theoretical conversations in my mind. I wanted to say, "What do we do about this? Nothing, of course, but what else?" By which I meant that I wouldn't ever ask her to sleep with me. I'd seen how much damage adultery could do. Yet how could I pretend that I didn't care about her? That is what I did, though. I never said a word about my feelings.
One reason I didn't say anything was that I couldn't stand the idea of quitting the experiments. It wasn't just Dr. Rachel that drew me to the lab every Monday. It was also the way I was changing with each session. I felt smarter, and more aware of the way the world around me worked. I'd begun to crave the changes. The time might come when I'd be able to manipulate the physics of my surroundings, being there and not there at the same time, like Schroedinger's Cat, or pushing aside the molecules in a door like the man on Camazotz in A Wrinkle in Time. Even Dr. John began to think this sort of thing might be possible for me.
In the end, though, that wasn't quite what happened.
The last session had to do with strobe lights, the kind that sometimes cause epileptic seizures. I could see the light as waves and as particles, stretch them and contract them, and split them into colors. I thought at first that maybe this was just perceptual, something happening in my mind only, but Rachel said she saw it, too.
Then she began to have a seizure.
I fell all over myself, and tripped over all the equipment, trying to get to her. I tried to shut down the strobe with my mind alone, even as I tried to find the control to shut it down properly. I only succeeded in making the light brighter and weirder, swirling colors like something out of a psychedelic sixties film or seventies special effects. Except this was real, and it was clearly killing Rachel. She had slumped to the floor. I wasn't even sure she was breathing. Dr. John was out of the room. I shouted for him, and I shouted her name, too, as I struggled to reach her, diodes and wires dangling from my skin. I thought I saw Dr. John at the door, just before the world went away.
The next thing I knew, I was stumbling through a field. On my right were perhaps a hundred men in chainmail, carrying spears and a few swords. On my left were more of the same, but mostly without the chainmail. Somehow I knew that these people weren't in an S.C.A. campaign. They were really out to kill each other--and I was right in the middle.
And at my feet was Rachel's body.
The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two
Saturday, November 06, 2004
Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander
The following except from JW's autobiography is unrelated to the Mâvarin books, except tangentally through an unfinished short story.