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“Meddler” October 1954

Future October 1954
PKD V1 (269-278)

Histo-Research has a device called a “Dip” to travel in time and study the past. It is forbidden to go to the future, but Wood has done so at the urging of the Political Science Council. Somehow they introduced a lethal factor that at some future point will destroy the human race. Hasten, an expert, has been chosen to take a Time Car to the future and find out what has happened. Cities and cows remain, but no people. There are a great many enormous colored butterflies, one of which flutters up and stings Hasten’s hand. He is sick immediately, and the tissue in his hand and arm turns black and dies. He tries to find information in a library, but the newspapers are in another language. He debates his next actions as he heads back to the Time Car with some newspapers. Then he sees a swarm of butterflies. He gets into the Time Car but the butterflies descend upon it. They proceed to cut perfect circles into the ship and enter it, but Hasten kills them with a blowtorch. He returns swiftly and explains the situation to Wood. He seems somewhat optimistic that knowing what has happened, they may be able to stop it. Then Hasten sees that the Time Car is covered in cocoons, most of which are now empty. He has unwittingly brought the killer butterflies back with him.

“The Builder” December 1953-January 1954

Amazing December 1953– January 1954
PKD V1 (259-268)

In an odd retelling of the Noah’s ark story, E.J. Elwood can only work on and think about the large square boat he is building in his backyard. Though no date is mentioned, the racism and anti-communist hysteria embodied by Elwood’s co-workers put the action in the fifties, when the story was written. Elwood’s younger son helps him with his project, but his wife and older son, as well as a neighbor, clearly think he is mad. When his older son jokes to friends that it is a nuclear submarine and a neighbor asks if it is really powered by uranium, Elwood realizes he has forgotten to include a source of power for his boat—no motor, not even a sail. Then he realizes that he never really understood why he was building the boat in the first place and he wonders whether he is perhaps insane after all. Then the large drops of rain start to fall from the sky and he understands.

Some Thoughts on Hotel Lobbies

It’s a subtle assault on the senses. I’m trying to read an article about the Chinese education system (a dubious amalgamation of anti-individualistic Confucian gibberish that destroys creativity, according to the author), but I’m having a little trouble concentrating.

The smell of mediocre coffee is competing with a waffle burning in the background. An announcer on the television behind me is outlining the details of some complicated football play while Don Henley struggles over the question of whether to use the slang term “shades” or the proprietary Wayfarers.

I’ve pushed away the detritus of my roasted potatoes and oatmeal, but that unholy combination (the only items outside of fruit that looked vaguely vegan) has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth that no amount of “robust blend” can wash away.

I want to maintain access to caffeine but need to return to the room. I can no longer bear this robbery of my concentration. It makes me think of Schopenhauer’s essay “On Noise.” Yes, no one thinks anymore, so no one notices all these subtle distractions. Alas.

The photo shown above is of a coffee house in Kansas City, Missouri, where you can get a not-mediocre cup of coffee.

“The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford” January 1954

Fantasy & Science Fiction January 1954
PKD V1 (249-257)

Doc Labyrinth has a new invention. He has a dutch-oven looking animator to bring inanimate things to life by using the principle of sufficient irritation. His first experience with a brass button was a failure, so he sold the animator to the story’s narrator for five dollars. At his wife’s insistence, the narrator puts his wet shoes in the animator to dry them out. One of the shoes comes to life and Doc, who meanwhile has decided to buy the animator back, is very pleased. He calls in the authorities to witness this great moment in science. But the shoe escapes. When the experts arrive, the shoe appears, along with an animated lady’s party shoe that the brown oxford figured out how to animate for companionship. They both disappear into the woods.

“The Crystal Crypt” January 1954

Planet Stories January 1954
PKD V1 (231-247)

Mars and Terra are poised to wage war against one another as a final ship leaves Mars for Terra. A Martian Leiter (a kind of military policeman) makes everyone aboard the ship submit to a lie detector test about a city destroyed by three saboteurs. All the passengers pass the test, so the ship is allowed to leave. Meanwhile, Bob Thatcher strikes up a conversation with a woman named Mara and joins her and two others for drinks in the lounge. Though fearful at first, the three concede to fellow Terran Thatcher that they are the saboteurs. They tell the story of how they shrank the city down and now carry it with them for ransom. It looks like a paperweight. Thatcher congratulates them on their ingenuity then reveals that he is a Martian Leiter. They will not be returning to Terra after all.

Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

There is an award-winning film adaptation.

Modern Love Omaha

We finally got to go to Modern Love Omaha! It was worth the wait, that’s for sure. And we’re already dreaming of when we’ll get to go back. Last night after dinner we joked that we should monitor the menu and fly to Omaha every time it changes. That’s not exactly part of our “too rich and too thin” plan, though, so we’ll have to content ourselves with making the recipes from Isa Chandra Moscowitz’s cookbooks for now.

Read what Patrick wrote about our experience over on the Vegan Drunkard blog: Modern Love Omaha.

Buy any of Isa’s books you don’t already have:

Page Twenty-eight

“…timberland whose diminishing green reaches were converted acres at a clip into paper—toilet paper, banknote stock, newsprint—a medium or ground for shit, money, and the Word.”

Page 28 Tavern on the Square

Page 28 Marz Bar

Photos taken at Zoo Bar, Tavern on the Square, and Marz Bar in Lincoln, NE.

“The Variable Man” July 1953

Space Science Fiction July 1953
PKD V1 (163-219)

The year is 2136. Terra and Centaurus are locked in a perpetual cold war. Each offensive plan is overcome by a defensive plan so quickly that the actual offensive and defensive devices are never even completed before being rendered obsolete. SRB machines constantly calculate and recalculate the odds of one side winning a war. The odds shift ceaselessly. But the situation changes when a Polish scientist named Sherikov comes up with a plan for a new missile based on a failed attempt to master faster-than-the-speed-of-light travel by a man named Hedge, who was killed when his FTL ship returned from another dimension into space already occupied by matter. This gives Sherikov the idea for the FTL missile, Icarus. This puts the odds in Terra’s favor, so they mobilize for war as Icarus nears completion. Meanwhile, a research time bubble is manually called back from 1913 and it brings a fix-it man named Thomas Cole from the past. He is the variable man and this variable throws the SRB machines into confusion. They cannot account for this variable in their analysis of the odds for victory. Cole’s hands can run over things and give him a kind of intuitive, tactile understanding, not of how they work so much as how they should work. He “repairs” a broken children’s toy so that it actually can send messages light years away. Sherikov needs Cole to wire the control turret globe for Icarus. So far, no one has been able to do so. Reinhart and Sherikov have been engaged in a power struggle and Reinhart wants Cole dead. But Sherikov keeps him alive and he fixes the globe. Reinhart attacks Sherikov’s lab in the Urals, and Cole is badly injured by a phosphorous bomb. Icarus is launched but does not explode near Centaurus. Cole actually fixed it to its original specifications as a means of FTL travel, a tool that shifts Terra from war to exploration and an escape from empire. Reinhart is deposed, and Cole will be sent back to his own time, as Sherikov promised, but not before working with Sherikov’s schematics for a clever device that eliminates the chance for overly powerful people like Reinhart by enabling instantaneous direct democracy on all issues, by enacting the will of the majority as it forms. The story ends on this optimistic note.

Photo by Rogério Timóteo (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“The Indefatigable Frog” July 1953

Fantastic Story Magazine July 1953
PKD V1 (221-229)

Professor Hardy, a mathematician, teaches his students about Zeno’s paradox through the story of a frog unable to reach the top of a well because he will always have half of the previous distance left to go. Professor Grote, a philosopher, disagrees with Hardy, believing that the frog will reach the top of the well. They rig up an experiment. A tube is closed at one end, which becomes hot. At the other end is a force field. The closer the frog gets to the force field, the smaller he becomes by half, thus doubling the distance he must travel to reach a photon beam that will shut off the force field. But during the experiment the frog becomes so small he seems to disappear. Grote enters the tube to investigate and Hardy locks him in, making him the frog of a new experiment. He, too, keeps getting smaller as the experiment progresses. Meanwhile, Hardy announces his victory to his students. Then a frog appears and a student says it validates his theory that the frog would become so small it would fall through the molecules of the tube, then regain its normal size in the absence of the force field. An angry full-sized Grote awaits Hardy outside. But he is most perturbed by the fact that the paradox remains unsolved. He suggests to Hardy that they come up with a new experiment that will work, and the story ends.

Abolition… Origin… Perdido Street

Reading for me is a kind of infinite chain of associations, or I suppose tree, as it keeps bifurcating and branching off in many directions. A regular where I tend bar lent me a copy of a book he had just reread. The Abolition of Species is a recent work of German SF by Dietmar Dath. Our regular, Jon, is never without a book or Kindle. Working in a bar without a television is nice. People actually carry on intelligent conversations (and some stupid ones). When Jon lent me the book, he said “no hurry.”

I’m not a slow reader, and it’s not that I get distracted, but I do get drawn along multiple paths at once. “The Abolition of Species,” I thought … an obvious riff on Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I immediately started reading. And the initial descriptions of creatures, some recognizable and some not quite reminded me strongly of Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. Now I want to revisit that. And I’m only twenty pages into Dath’s novel.

This could take a while. Apologies in advance to Jon.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

Boy, would I ever love to play Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginal Woolfe? by Edward Albee. I’m serious! Of course it would probably be more like me playing Elizabeth Taylor playing Martha. But still.

I’m taking a quick break from The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart to read this delightfully dark drama (or maybe dramedy?), which we’ll discuss at The Civil Life Civil Reading Group meet-up on Oct 20. I’m pretty excited that it seems like we’ll have a few more people participating because, like me, they just love this play.

Haven’t read or seen it? You should. Do both. And definitely watch the film version starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis. I won’t recommend the order, but I will say that if you watch the movie before reading the play, you will absolutely hear the actors’ voices as you read. Absolutely. Each one of them is so incredibly compelling. Each one really makes you feel it. All of it. Could there be a better cast?

No. No, there couldn’t be. What kind of vain idiot am I to think I could even play a toenail of Elizabeth Taylor’s Martha? It’d be fun as hell, though.