Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Monday, June 28, 2004

Masters of Dreck

Ever worry you that can't write well enough to publish even bad science fiction? The gnawing doubts hit the best of us, at times. I've lain awake at 3 AM, depressed, blocked. Now and then, however, encouragement will pad through the door on little cat feet. (See? "Little cat feet." That was bad, wasn't it?)

A departing guest at our ryokan left behind (in a trash bag, signally) a volume of short stories by Frank Herbert called The Priests of Psi. It didn't ring any bells with me, and I'm a former Herbert fan.

Posthumously published gems? The title was inauspicious. I feared the worst. I dipped into it anyway, giving it my page-one litmus test.

There are SF epics. There are SF novels. There are SF novelas. There are SF novelettes.

Then ya got yer SF novelinis ...

By Frank ["Beethoven's 5th on the Kazoo"] Herbert

"Every mind on Earth capable of understanding the problem was focused on the spaceship with the ultimatum delivered by its occupants ...

[Wait - why are they focused on the spaceship and not the problem they are capable of understanding? OK, maybe this is explained later.]

"Talk or Die! blared the newspaper headlines ...

[I'll talk, I'll talk!]

"The suicide rate was up and still climbing. Religious cults were having a field day. A book by a science fiction author, 'What the Deadly Inter-Galactic Spaceship Means to You!', had smashed all previous best-seller records ...

[Even surpassing "When Bad Starships Happen to Good People"? "Humans are from Earth, Aliens are from Uranus"? "How You Can Profit From the Coming Alien Death-Ray Holocaust"?]

"And this had been going on for a frantic seven months....

[Nobody's even tired of it yet!]

"The ship had flapped out of a gun-metal sky over Oregon, ...

[Flapped, I tell you! No Deathstar-ish subsonic rumbles (like that old '69 Dodge Dart I once drove, with its bad muffler). No slow inexorable approach to Earth to lend a sense of suspense to the proceedings. No, let's get on the with the story! Flap! Ooh, more incoming: Flap!]

" ... its shape that of a hideously magnified paramecium with edges that rippled like a mythological flying carpet ...

[Why wouldn't its edges ripple like those of a real flying carpet? You say there aren't any? Then why does he qualify it with ... oh, never mind.]

"Its five green-skinned, frog-like occupants ...

[Wait a sec, gotta stop to LOL ... OK, I'm getting oxygen again]

"... had delivered the ultimatum, one copy printed on velvety paper to each major government, ...

[Albania must be feeling SO left out.]

"... each copy couched faultlessly in the appropriate native tongue:"

[Surely you meant the ultimatum was so couched? I'm getting images of velvety paper lovingly wrapped in severed tongues.]

"'You are requested to assemble your most gifted experts in human communication....

[No "take us to your leader"? OK, the mountain doesn't come to Mohammed.]

"' ... We are about to submit a problem ...'"

[You can suspend a gargantuan paramecium in Earth's skies, but there are problems YOU need US to solve?]

"'... We will open five identical rooms of our vessel to you. One of us will be available in each room....'"

[OK, but we COUNTER-demand a tureen of coffee and a platter of donuts in each room, and five-minute cigarette/toilet breaks every hour!]

"'...Your problem: To communicate with us...'"

[Well, we seem to be doing OK so far. We haven't even found a typo yet, though the velvety texture of the paper might camouflage a punctuation screwup somewhere.]

"'... If you succeed, the rewards will be great....'"

[Like, meeting rooms catered by Wolfgang Puck? Cologne and ice cubes in the urinals, replenished by towel-bearing attendants? Balkan Sobranie cigarettes and Cuban cigars in humidors?]

"'... If you fail, that will result in destruction for all sentient life on your planet...'"

[Somehow we knew that was coming.]

"'... We announce this threat with the deepest regret ...'"

[Do tell. You really seem like a bunch of softies at heart.]

"'... You are urged to examine Eniwetok atoll for a small display of our power...'"

[But wait a minute - Eniwetok is already gone, years ago, and by virtue of a small display of OUR power]

"'... Your artificial satellites have been removed from the skies ...'"

[Presumably replaced by natural, organic, paramecium-like satellites, all vat-grown by green-frog-like aliens.]

"'... You must break away from this limited communication ...'"

[To what? Seances?]

Eniwetok had been cleared off flat as a table at one thousand foot depth ... with no trace of explosion!

[That sentence really needed an exclamation point, doncha think?]

All --

[Oops, now I have to turn the page. Is it worth it? Uh ... uhmnnn ... nnnn-n-n-nno.]


At 7:19 AM, Blogger My mother says said...

We are not alone


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