In the early days of 300 baud modems long before the internet was a household phenomenon there lived a digital subculture known as the bulletin board system or BBS as the cool kids called it. Only there weren’t really many cool kids hanging out on this digital underground. For some of you who are familiar with AOL you might remember the days of dial-up connectivity and how difficult it was to convince your parents to spring for a second line just so you could chat with your friends. Imagine a time before even AOL.
It is in this domain that I grew up, back in the dark alleyways of early 1980′s cyberspace. My cousin Rob and I used to spend hours connecting to different BBSes to play online games, searching for cool tech and chatting with other people of the cyber realm. At some point it dawned on us that we could host our own BBS. In fact when Rob proposed the idea and offered for me to be a co-sysop with him I thought he was joking. But somehow he convinced his mom and dad to spring for a dedicated phone line and we fired up the Apple IIe with a 300bps modem to take our first test run.
After the initial tests proved we could run something he asked me what should we call it? He wanted something cool and different then Bob’s BBS. Without missing a breath I turned to him and said why not call it ‘The Vulgar Unicorn?’ I said this because I had recently finish the second novel and he was reading the first so he new what I was talking about, but he was not sold on the idea. So I said, “If you want it to be different and cool, why not? Since it’s you equipment and all that you can go by the id One Thumb and I’ll be one of the other characters from the books like Shadowspawn.”
I don’t know why but that sealed it for him and by the next morning we launched The Vulgar Unicorn without much fan fare but it wasn’t long before we had our first caller. Originally I held two IDs one for sysoping and one for well just being me. After a while I quietly dropped the book character and rolled with my DnD character Sir Mikel eventually just being myself rather than anything special. Eventually we got listed in the Computer Shopper which if you were not from that era was a HUGE magazine of computer parts with a BBS directory in the back. When I say huge think 11″ X 13″ 350+ newspaper thin pages crammed together of nothing but parts, advertisements and a few articles thrown in for good measure.
In any event this meant that we were nationally listed and people rang us up all hours of the day. It also meant that we had to keep a careful watch on the system so that it wouldn’t crash or run out of resources. Unfortunately, time has erased many of the details with age but one morning I woke up early and decided to check on the system. During the basic system checks a gentleman who called himself Jim or James I really am not sure which signed on and paged the sysop. Normally I ignored these if I did not recognize the user but for some reason I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what’s up.
Jim and I spent a good 30-45 minutes chatting. I learned from him that he was ex-Army and that he was calling from one of the Carolina’s. I thought this is cool more people are calling from all over. He said he was attracted to the site because it was original being cleverly named. He asked about my handle Sir Mikel and I explained that it was a actually my real name and also my DnD character’s. I quickly went through the story of how the character was a paladin and that his arch nemesis killed him but his deity resurrected him because of he was a just and good leader. After that he had evolved into a demigod of sorts and I basically retired the character. He said he really liked the name and thanked me for the back story and chat. James explained that he was a writer of some sort under the name Robert Jordan and asked if I’d mind if he used the name. At the time I did not think anything serious of it besides I had never heard of him so being a young teenager I said, “Sure why not.”
To step out on a slight tangent, the authors I read most during this time were: Michael Moorcock, Frank Herbert, Robert Lynn Asprin, Marion Zimmer Bradley and of course Douglas Adams. Obviously there were a few others but these were the ones I read voraciously. Tolkien, Brooks, Asimov, and Clark were some others that come to mind. Unfortunately in 1982 I have never heard of Jordan, in fact it wasn’t until the early ’90s that he appeared on my reading radar.
Many years later, November 1990 to be exact, my cousin Rob (a.k.a. One Thumb, remember him?) introduced me to a new series of SciFi/Fantasy novels. They were called ‘The Wheel of Time’ which he strongly encourage me to read and loaned me the first book. I figured since I made him read Tales from the Vulgar Unicorn I figured why not. Additionally I had recently burned through the Second Chronicles Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R Donaldson. When I say burned I mean I read each book in approximately 6 hours made a pot of coffee and moved onto the next one. In a single weekend I was done. Honestly, I was in the service transitioning to a new duty station in Manhattan after a messy divorce so I had nothing but time on my hands.
Thus I read The Eye of the World and shortly after Christmas he loaned me the second book of the series The Great Hunt. In this book there is this huge battle where a bunch of heroes are called to return by the Horn of Valere to help save the day. One of these heroes Mikel of the Pure Heart. If you have ever read the series and came across this briefly mentioned character then at least you now know something of his origin.
Imagine how you’d feel reading something only to realize that you were in some small part inspiration for someone’s great work. Certainly I wish there had been more to it than that but honestly, what more is there to say. I truthfully never believed the guy when he said he would like to use the name in a story. That’s the sort of thing people always say to be nice.
I continued reading the series for some time hoping that there would be further mention and possible development of the hero into a full blown character. Honestly who wouldn’t, but alas it was not in the cards. I stopped reading the series around the sixth book, mostly because of raising a family and all of that work life balance stuff. Some day I intend to pick it up again ad start over from the beginning, like I did with Dune (a Series I’ve read dozens of times including the prequels and sequels).
Maybe someday will start tomorrow…