The Finest Legacy

On March 3, 2012, I had the opportunity to participate in the Area 45 Speech Contest for Toastmasters District 29. This speech took the 2nd-place trophy in the competition. I was fortunate enough to have Anthony DiPalma videotaping the talk for me. Since both of us lead very busy lives, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I received the video, and I’m currently in the process of getting it online. A transcript of the award-winning talk appears below.

Editorial Note: The video is now online. See Part 2 for the video.


The Finest Legacy

I’ve been a science fiction fan for almost as long as I can remember. And when I tell people I’m a science fiction fan, I usually get reactions like:

“Really?”

“Why?”

“What do you see in science fiction?”

And it’s kind of disturbed me over time that people kind of look down on something that I love so much.

So what I’ve decided to do today is share with you how I became a science fiction fan, and maybe along the way, show you a few things that I find really fascinating about this field of literature.

I was infected by my Dad.

As a little kid, my Dad used to carry these science fiction books around all the time. Usually in his back pocket. And they had such interesting book covers.

I can remember a picture of a hero flying around on dragon-back through the skies of some other world. I can remember another one that had a military commander that looked like he had the weight of the universe on his shoulders. And he was standing there looking out this floor-length window as vast space fleets clashed in the darkness beyond Orion.

As a little kid looking at these book covers, how could you not read these books?

So I found myself going through my Dad’s book collection, reading everything that could possibly look like it would be of interest to somebody my age.

Of course, I ran into my first problem with that. Which was…my Dad was not one of those real organized people. And so, we had books everywhere.

They were stacked up in closets. They were piled up in the basement. They were pushed under the bed.

And so…I think I was age 11…I decided one day that things needed to be organized.

So, if you can imagine an 11-year-old spending the next twelve hours or so organizing my Dad’s book collection. Thousands of books.

I grabbed some scrap lumber. I built some book shelves in the basement. I grabbed every book that I could find in the entire household. At least, all the science fiction ones. I didn’t care about those romances my mother was reading.

And I alphabetized them, like the burgeoning Type-A personality that I was.

When my Dad came home that night, I proudly told him that I was the curator of his science fiction collection, and that we now had rules for how books should be treated.

He was no longer to carry books in the back pocket because sometimes he would sit on them and break the spines. And also, point number two, he was no longer allowed to fold back the corners of pages to use as impromptu bookmarks.

Now, my Dad kind of looked at me, strange little child that I was, and kind of went with it because, while I might have been an annoying little kid, I had actually organized his collection. And it was a lot easier for him to find his books as well.

And now that things were organized, it was a lot easier for me to find the books I really wanted to find. The next book by that great author. Or the second book in a series. So I really started to go through that collection at a high rate of speed.

And I began to notice things about science fiction.

One of the things I noticed is that the books that resonated with me the most seemed to follow certain rules.

So, it goes kind of like this. In science, you propose a theory, and then you conduct experiments to test that theory, and to prove it or disprove it. In science fiction, the way it works, an author asks you to give him certain assumptions that are required in order to make his story possible. Once you’ve given him those prerequisites, everything in a science fiction story should flow directly and consistently from those initial prerequisites.

Jurassic Park - by Michael CrichtonLet me give you an example. How many people here have seen the movie, Jurassic Park? Or read the book?

The only assumption that is required in order to make that story possible is for it to be possible to retrieve dinosaur DNA from mosquitoes trapped in amber 65 million years ago.

If you have dinosaur DNA, it’s conceivable that you can take that DNA and clone a dinosaur. If you can clone a dinosaur, then you can populate a park with them. And if you can do that, they can escape and eat people.

And you have a story.

So, science fiction follows rules.

And then I noticed other things about science fiction. For example, take somebody like Jules Verne. In 1865, he wrote a pair of novels popularizing space travel. “From the Eath to the Moon” and the sequel called “Around the Moon.” In these stories, a group of explorers go to Florida and they launch a spaceship into orbit using a giant cannon.

From the Earth to the Moon & Around the Moon - by Jules VerneOK. The science is a little wonky. But they had to deal with real problems like lack of air in space and zero gravity.

So here’s Jules Verne in 1865 writing stories that, I believe, influenced a generation of people who helped lay the groundwork for the technologies that would be necessary to send Neal Armstrong to the moon 104 years later.

Something else I noticed about science fiction…

Science fiction could be used like a lens to focus attention on major issues that might be harder to address in conventional fiction.

Take “War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells. Look at it once — it’s kind of an outdated historical piece of fiction. Look at it again and it’s a brutal commentary on British colonialism.

So, science fiction follows rules, can influence and inspire people, can tackle the major issues…I’m not sure what you look for in fiction, but that pretty much works for me.

From my perspective, I hope that I’ve given you a few things to think about when it comes to science fiction.

As for me, I have flown on dragon-back through the skies of another world, and I’ve watched vast space fleets clashing in the darkness beyond Orion. The finest legacy my father left me before he died was a love and appreciation for science fiction.

Thank you.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2012 at 1:15 PM | Permalink

    The interested viewer may note that this talk has a lot of similarities to an older talk of mine, Science Fiction in the Real World.

    When I gave that original talk at the club level, various people, including expert evaluator Bob Lanier, commented that the things they responded to most were when I was telling stories about my Dad. Accordingly, I pumped up that aspect of the talk when I updated it for contest participation.

    If you compare the two talks, you’ll also notice that I pared the contest talk quite a bit, as well, because I was concerned about the length. Contests have a hard stop at 7:30 minutes, after which you face disqualification. “The Finest Legacy” came out to exactly 6:30 minutes. It turns out that I could have added a few bits back in.

    Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with the talk. Plus, it garnered me a speech trophy.

  2. Arlena
    Posted October 29, 2012 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    Your post, David Keener » The Finest Legacy, is really well written and insightful. Glad I found your website, warm regards!

  3. Kayla
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 4:17 PM | Permalink

    This design is wicked! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was practically moved to begin my own blog (nicely, virtually…HaHa!) Excellent job. I actually enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  4. Posted February 18, 2013 at 10:48 PM | Permalink

    I was at an event yesterday at the Leesburg Speakeasies Toastmasters Club. This is about 11 months after I gave this speech, “The Finest Legacy.” I’m talking to folks afterwards, and I introduce myself to a guy named David Whipple. He says, “Oh, I know who you are. You gave that speech at the Spring Contest, the one about science fiction.”

    I was gratified, of course, that he remembered my speech, and thanked him. Then David added, “I really liked your speech. I thought it was way better than the other guy’s speech, you know, the guy that won.”

    Well, I’d been happy to have won a second-place trophy in that contest, my first trophy of any kind in years and something I hadn’t expected. I was equally surprised to discover that my time in Toastmasters had given me the skills to be competitive — my main thought at the time had simply been to not to embarrass myself in public.

    I was really pleased that my speech still resonated with someone even after all this time. Personally, I think my content was better, but the other guy’s delivery was, quite legitimately, better than mine (he was a much more experienced speaker).

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  1. By The Finest Legacy | Ashburn Toastmasters on August 27, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    […] The audio is still a bit low, but increase your volume, put on your ear phones and prepare to hear a pretty decent talk (or read the transcript). […]

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