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Who is Northwest Smith?

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N.W. Smith
Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Northwest Smith? -- "Northwest Smith" is a figment of my imagination. At best, he's an "alternate universe" or "what if" version of myself, having experienced a lot of very different things in his life than I have, to the point where I'd be hard-pressed to call him even "semi-autobiographical" anymore.

Smith (he prefers to be called just "Smith") first popped into my head back in college, when a young woman I'll call Gossip Girl related to me what she understood as having happened a few days before when I helped get a very ill person to the school infirmary. There was a bad flu going around that year, and I'd volunteered to go pick-up take-out meals from the school dining hall to various folks in our dorm who'd been laid-up by the bug. One of these victims was a young woman (I'll call her Angela) who was a kind of "friend of a friend", and when I arrived she was completely out of it (she thought I was her older brother, and seeing as she was black and I was white . . . well, I eventually met her brother, and let's just say I was a lot taller than him), running a 104 degree temperature, and was having trouble keeping any kind of food down. Three of her friends were there at the time I arrived, and they had come to the conclusion that Angela needed to get to the school infirmary. That sounded like a plan to me, and while they were getting her into some clothes, I went up the hallway to get some kind of ride, as it was well below freezing.

Unfortunately, student escort, campus police, ambulance service, even taxis were all tied up due to some events on campus: the soonest we could hope to get any of them would be hours. So I went back to Angela's room, gave everybody the bad news. In the end, we decided to just wrap Angela up in a blanket as further insulation, and I'd carry her to the school infirmary about a block away. Luckily, though it was chilly, there wasn't much wind, and just a few snow flakes falling that were the start of a snow-storm that wouldn't really get going until after midnight. Once at the infirmary, we explained how Angela was running a really high fever, was delirious, couldn't keep food down, was probably dehydrated, etc. The doctor decided to admit her to the college's teaching hospital next door, starting her immediately on anti-biotics and some fluids; by the next morning, she was much better, and it turned out that she didn't have the flu, but a kidney infection.

But by the time this event had gone two weeks through the gossip chain at school, things had changed beyond comprehension: I had simply been walking by at the time, when I found Angela's three friends weeping over her prostrate form. I swept unbidden into the room, assessed that Angela was at death's door and must be taken immediately to the hospital. I then boldly ordered the women-folk to prepare her for the journey, whilst I made numerous phone calls and cursed out everyone who failed to see the gravity of the situation. In frustration, I wrapped Angela in a blanket, and carried her across campus in a blinding snowstorm, slogging through knee-deep drifts, Angela's feverish form clutched in my arms. Upon arrival at the Emergency Room of the hospital, I got into a shouting match with the Chief Attending, finally brow-beating him into looking at Angela right away and possibly saving her life by doing so. But before anyone could thank me, I was gone, leaving a silver bullet at the nurses' station . . .

Well, by the time Gossip Girl got done with this fairy tale, my jaw had settled somewhere in the basement. Once I got it re-hinged, I started laughing.

"I didn't do anything like that," I told Gossip Girl.

"Well, then," she replied, obviously missing the point, "Who did?"

And she looked at me in such a credulous way that, being a bit of a mischievous bastard back in the day, I said: "Some guy named Smith."

"Smith?" she said, taking me at my word. "What's his first name?"

At the time, I was reading a collection of short stories from the 1930's and 1940's about an old pulp fiction character, written by the great SF/Fantasy author C.L. Moore. "Northwest," I said, "Northwest Smith.

"How do you know about it?" she asked.

"I was there," I said, "I saw him."

A hint of suspicion creeped into her voice: "What were you doing there?"

"I was carrying his gym-bag."

And she bought it. Hook, line, and sinker.

Through the rest of my time in college, Smith was always the guy who'd done the things that people had thought I'd done: dated women I'd barely spoken with, gone to parties and dances I'd never been near, said things I wouldn't have said without a gun to my head or a very large cash deposit to my bank account. Since then, he's kind of a "parallel-universe" version of me: like C.L. Moore's character, a little more reckless, adventurous, and passionate than I am; both a lot happier and a lot angrier about things in general. Some of his stories are my stories to one degree or another, but most are just flights of fancy on my part, channelling his fictional spirit for whatever reasons it pleases me to do so.

Who is M'Lady? -- Smith's wife, the mother of his children, the light of his life and the constant source of his strength and determination. "Where would you be without me?" M'Lady once asked Smith in exaspiration. "Lying in the gutter," he replied, "crying out your name." Like her husband, she has opinions and is unafraid to express them.

What (and where) is Anandale College? Anandale is an entirely fictional institution of higher learning located in the equally fictional town of Webster, nestled in the mythic Teal Mountains region along the imaginary Amoskeag River in northern New England. Founded in the 1700's as a missionary school, it occupies about three-quarters of Webster proper, including all the surviving buildings of the mill-town of Robinson along the banks of the Amoskeag. Smith attended the college in the late 70's and early 80's.

Yin's only resembles the real world Zaw's on Murray Avenue in Pittsburgh in that it has great Asian food for take-out at a equally great price. Order over the phone a couple of times and give them your name, and by the third or fourth pick-up they'll remember who you are the moment you walk in the door.