A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I came across a short piece called something like “In Space with Runyon Jones” in a collection of science fiction stories. It was a series of vignettes in which the young Jones encounters a variety of aliens while traveling in spaceships, which the editor of the anthology had gleaned from a novel by Norman Corwin. I was curious to read the rest of the book, but it was long out of print by then, and has never been reprinted. I never found it in any library or used book store.
A few years ago, I remembered the story and thought that perhaps it might be possible to locate a copy of the book online. While searching, I found that Corwin’s story had first been a radio play, “Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” broadcast in 1941. It’s available here. Once you accustom your ears to the low-fidelity sound, it’s entertaining listening. Runyon’s dog Pootzy has been hit by a car and killed, and Runyon wants him back. He braves bureaucracy, meets Father Time and Mother Nature, and eventually finds his way to Curgatory and a trick ending.
Ten years later, Corwin turned the radio play into the novel Dog in the Sky, of which I eventually located an affordable copy. In addition to expanding the episodes in the play, he introduced a sub-plot involving a Mr. B.L.Z. Bubb, a bureaucrat very interested in Runyon’s quest, and adds details of Runyon’s adventures as he travels from planet to planet. The Bubb business is never very interesting and it eventually fizzles out, but the aliens Runyon meets are what caught my attention in the excerpts I read years ago, and are what might make the book worth reprinting someday. There are quite a variety of them, including an interplanetary perfume salesman, a lonely robot, a very important businessman from Venus, and a spooky cat/woman. And a certain 62Kru:
62Kru returned to his monologue as though nothing had happened. “Love is science. Science is love. That is all the protons and isotopes know, and all they need to know. The beta ray hankers for the gamma, both are enamored of the delta, and all in turn adore the lambda.
You see, friend, we Hankerites deplore the fact that the galaxies are rushing away from each other. This is because of a misunderstanding which occurred some billions of years ago. We aim to rectify, restore and reunite the estranged universe, to bind all together under the harmonious love of the true Hruh, whose throne is everywhere and anywhere. Blasphemers and atheists have tried to prove that Hruh is really nothing but but the true Hankerite is unshakable in his faith, resolute in his virtue, confident in the supremacy and inviolability of love, and we have already killed several million disbelievers to prove this.
Something else I stumbled across at Archive.org: the A.M. Yankovic/W. Carlos version of “Peter and the Wolf.” It’s not the best example of either’s work, but it has its moments. The recording is probably still under copyright, so it may disappear from the site at any moment.
(My favorite version is the that by the Royal Ballet School, with Anthony Dowell as narrator and Grandfather. It starts here.)
The Society for Silly Yet Practical Notions has introduced what SSYPN president Sophie Moronis termed a “universal pronoun.”
“‘He,’ ‘she’ and ‘it’ are not sufficient any more, what with the proliferation of ‘gender’ identities,” Moronis declared at a press conference this morning. “No matter how careful you are with your language, you’re going to offend someone.
“Artificial pronouns, such as ‘ze’ or ‘sie’ are hard to remember, and it’s not always obvious which is preferred by the particular individual referred to. Using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun irritates those who value good grammar.”
The obvious solution is a new word free of any implications of gender. The SSYPN proposes the neologism “thwop.”
It is both singular and plural, Moronis stated, and it has no gender, not even neuter. The possessive is formed by adding an apostrophe followed by the letter “s,” i.e., “thwop’s.” Otherwise all forms are spelled “thwop” and pronounced as the spelling indicates. “Thwop is here” and “thwop are here” are both acceptable constructions.
As an example of the universal pronoun’s usage, Moronis offered this sentence about genderfluid individuals:
Thwop and thwop’s friends walked to thwop’s place with a gluten-free sugarless cake to celebrate thwop’s birthday.
Moronis conceded that the content may seem vague, but declared that what the statement loses in specificity, it gains in universality.
Moronis added that “thwop” need not refer only to vertebrates on Earth, but can also be used for artificial intelligences, hive minds, tentacled horrors and catgirls.
“With this word, the English language is ready for the future,” Moronis said.
The Trump administration today issued a directive that all employees of the federal government must wear a distinctive uniform while at work.
“It would be salutory if all public servants dressed in a manner to remind themselves that they are indeed public servants,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared in a press conference.
Men at all levels are to wear janitorial garb unless they are already assigned a different uniform, and must keep a mop and bucket where they can be seen from their desks at all times. Women are to wear long, dark dresses with a white maid’s apron, and must keep a feather duster near at hand.
Spicer noted that “French maid” outfits are not acceptable. He did not respond when asked if nekomimi were permissable.
A researcher announced today that there exist individuals who have no particular interest in matters of sexual identity.
“It’s hard to believe, but it’s true,” said Ganymede Phaen, Adjunct Professor of Uncanny Studies at the University of Kechi, in a televised interview. “We’ve observed them, interviewed them, tested them, gone to movies with them. They’re for real. They look like ordinary people, but they perceive themselves and others as male or female. When you explain the difference between ‘agender’ and ‘pangender,’ they laugh. It’s unnerving.”
Phaen noted that upon questioning, the individuals in the study revealed that they understand the general concepts of gender fluidity and expressed sympathy for victims of gender dysphoria. However, they evinced no particular interest in such matters and would often change the subject.
“I mentioned to one that the new Power Rangers movie has a character who might be gay,” Phaen recalled. “He shrugged, and asked if the story was any good.”
Phaen noted that while such individuals are rare in the college of liberal arts, there is some evidence that they may be more numerous in the engineering school. There’s a further possibility that they are common outside of the university campus, a prospect that Phaen finds deeply troubling.
“There could, in principle, be an entire culture in which non-binary gender identities are unimportant,” Phaen said. “I am currently securing funding for an expedition to explore sites where such a society might exist.” Locations under consideration include Utah and parts of Texas.
During 2016, many people died, some of whom were famous. This happens every year. 2016 was a really lousy year for many reasons, but not because a lot of celebrities died.
Most of the dead performers were adequately memorialized — the hoopla surrounding David Bowie’s departure was downright ridiculous1 — but a few were overlooked, and I discovered their deaths weeks or months later.
One whom I miss is Bob Elliott, half of Bob and Ray. I wonder if youngsters today can sit still long enough to appreciate B&R’s unhurried delivery. Here are some of their skits, some of which are older than I am.
Robert Benchley on not-so-Dickensian Christmas afternoons:
In the meantime, we must not forget the children. No one else could. Aunt Libbie said that she didn’t think there was anything like children to make a Christmas; to which Uncle Ray, the one with the Masonic fob, said, “No, thank God.” Although Christmas is supposed to be the season of good cheer, you (or I, for that matter) couldn’t have told, from listening to the little ones, but that it was the children’s Armageddon season, when Nature had decreed that only the fittest should survive, in order that the race might be carried on by the strongest, the most predatory and those possessing the best protective coloring.
Max Beerbohm1 wrote an entire book of parodic Christmas pieces in A Christmas Garland. If you have trouble telling Ch*st*rt*n from B*ll*c, this might help. (There’s an interesting dicussion of Beerbohm here, though it suffers from Too Much Information.)
There’s a discussion of Christmas science fiction here.
Dear [Beautiful but Evil Space Princess],
Every time I capture the hero, I get this overwhelming urge to spill the entire plan, including the way out. How can I stop myself from giving it all away?
Evil Underlord who can’t quite make the big leagues
Oh, Sweetie. This is a compulsion written into you by the author. You must use aversion therapy. Have one of your underlings dress up as the hero, and when you start spilling things, force yourself to do something really distasteful. I don’t know, pet a puppy or give sweets to children or something, until you break the compulsion.
It’s all right. If you manage to cure yourself, you can blend the puppies into a nice smoothie afterwards and it will make you feel much better.
I’m not a professional political scientist or sociologist. Then again, neither were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and that crowd ….
The election of Trump is, in many senses, stupid. However, it is far, far wiser and more in keeping with the idea that we, the people, are the defenders of the Republic to elect Trump than to elect someone who is beloved of Harvard. On the scale of errors one can make in a Republic, electing an arrogant and impulsive side-show barker is far to be prefered to electing someone whose fundamental goal is making elections irrelevant.
… humans have never had to deal with the problems that come from too much food and too much free time to consume it. We really have no idea what will come from it and how it will hurt or help society. There could very well be a huge upside to having lots of fat people. Perhaps when the zombie apocalypse comes, the zombies will eat the fat people and be satisfied, leaving the rest of us to regroup.
I’ll never forget when John Updike reviewed a book on how FDR’s policies lengthened the Great Depression. Updike basically said that because FDR cared, and was trying, that was worth more than shortening the Depression.
One food arena where the US used to be the best in the world and is now near the bottom of the pack is cider (i.e. alcoholic fermented cider.)
Back in the Revolutionary War era cider was the #1 drink in the nation, far surpassing beer or wine or hard liquor. And people had planted the right kind of apple trees all over the country (as it existed then), so there was always a big supply of the raw material.
In fact, Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around planting edible apple trees — he went around planting cider apple trees! A detail that is now lost to most people’s imaginations of history.
“But wait,” you’re saying, “there’s a difference between edible apples and cider apples?”
Yes indeed. There are three fundamental “types” of apples:
“Sweet apples,” which is what we now think of simply as “apples” — the big crunchy sweet kind that you can eat.
“Sour apples,” now mostly known as “crabapples,” which are mostly useless except for making things with their pectin.
“Bitter apples,” now mostly unknown in the US, but still planted widely in France and England. THESE are the apples you are supposed to make true cider out of. As the name implies, they’re slightly too bitter to eat, but their chemical makeup is absolutely perfect for fermenting a delicious kind of apple cider, a process during which the bitterness goes away.
If you’ve ever tasted true cider made from bitter apples (which is what they serve you in Somerset and Normandy), you’ll know that cider made from sweet apples is atrocious by comparison.
And that’s the tragic part of our story.
Because of the arrival of so many German and Bohemian and Polish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century in the US, beer started to surpass cider in popularity nationwide, and then when Prohibition hit, cider production was stopped entirely. And what happened was that ALL — or almost all — the bitter apple trees in the United States were left to die or were torn out and make room for more useful trees.
So that by the time Prohibition ended, there was no longer any way to make true cider in any quantity, and as a result beer took over the casual drinking market almost 100%. Wine only started to make inroads in the ’60s and ’70s. But cider remain completely forgotten by then.
That is until about 8 years ago, when the “small batch cider” renaissance started in the US, with small startups making cider from apples.
Sweet apples, that is — because that’s all that we have in the US anymore! Yuck!
Cider made from sweet apples is just wrong to a true cider aficionado. So no matter how much effort these America cider microbreweries put into their product, it will never match up to French and British ciders.
In fact, until just a couple years ago, most American cidermakers didn’t even know about the existence of bitter apples and didn’t know they were doing it fundamentally wrong.
Finally a few people have wised up, and they’ve started planting bitter apple trees in the US again, but it will still be several years before they are up and producing in sufficient numbers to create enough true cider for the masses.
Until then, we must suffer with an inferior American product! Frowney face!
An example of its usage from an Alan Coren book review:
The first Proconsul of what was, in the second century BC, still Calabrium, Maximinus is chiefly remembered for his habit of throwing political opponents into Vesuvius. His proconsulate was exceptionally stormy, corrupt and inefficient, and in 134 BC, Emperor Tiberius Gracchus demoted him to the proconsulate of Sicily, where he is chiefly remembered for his habit of throwing political opponents into Etna. His significance is minimal, and my own opinion is that this dreary account is long underdue.
The book in question is a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Coren’s review is based on the title on the spine. The review is included in The Sanity Inspector, the book I tossed in the camera bag yesterday to read while waiting for the cosplay contest to begin.
Coren on the Netherlands:
… it is an interesting country, sweeping up from the coastal plain into the central massif, a two-foot high ridge of attractive silt with fabulous views of the sky, and down again into the valleys, inches below. Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of the country is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers.
Consider the winners of the four categories [best novel, novella, novelette and short story] over the last five years:
• 2015: 4/4 women
• 2014: 3/4 women
• 2013: 4/4 women
• 2012: 2/4 women
• 2011: 2/4 women
Fifteen stories written by women have won the main prizes in the Nebula awards in the past five years, and five by men.
I never cared much about the Hugo awards. They have never been anything more than popularity contests, and that they have been demonstrated to be meaningless is mildly amusing and nothing more. The Nebulas, on the other hand, are determined by a vote of the SFWA membership, i.e., actual writers, and reading the annual volume of Nebula winners was one of the ways I found writers worth following many years ago. But I find it difficult to believe that nowadays women write three times as many of the best stories as men. So, the hell with the Nebulas. I think I’ll read Tim Powers instead.
Every few years I clear my evenings for a week and re-read The Lord of the Rings — I’ll probably do so again sometime this summer. I also enjoy most of his other fantasy-oriented works published during his lifetime. However, I’ve never gotten beyond page 20 in The Silmarillion. It turns out that I’m not alone, and The Silmarillion is the worst book with Tolkien’s name on it. It may be worthwhile to check out his other posthumous books, after all.