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04.08.04

Editor's note: If you're lost, see previous column. But we don't guarantee it will ease your confusion.

(Riffing on Rudy Rucker's sentence on going back to the basics — robots, brain-eaters, starships — and what we can do with it.)

1.  A starship lands. A robot comes out, grabs people, and takes them to the brain-eater(s) inside. Which eats their brain, literally or figuratively. Either this goes on, and all human earth brains are eaten, or someone stops it and defeats the brain-eater(s), or they leave for easier pickin's.

If this were an American movie from the 1950s it would have John Agar, Mara Corday, and Morris Ankrum in it. The robot would look like Gort or Chani from Devil Girl from Mars. If the brain-eating were literal, the movie would have been made in Mexico or in the late 1950s by AIT (or in the 1980s by Stuart Gordon). If it were figurative brain-eating, it could've been made anywhere at any time since 19 about 53.... Paul W. Fairman would have written the story, published in Imagination Science Fiction; Forry Ackerman would have sold the movie rights to Hal C. Chester.

2.  A robot comes to the earth in a starship to stop brain-eaters.

The robots were sent out by a galaxy-spanning civilization, to thwart the race that's eating the brains of intelligences anywhere it finds them. If literal brain-eating, once again a movie made in Mexico in the late 1950s or early 1960's. If figurative, the brain-eaters take mental power wherever it is, with which to power their Metaluna-type world out at the galaxy's center.

The brain eaters would be the "good guys." Their fight is to get enough mental power to figure out how to stop the growing black hole at the galaxy's center which will be responsible for the next Big Bang...(A.A. Jackson IV — "Al" — has a theory intelligence is the Universe's way of thwarting the endless series of creation and destruction that it always had).

The robots could be the "bad guys" (See Richard S. Shaver's Deros.). They're the Entropy Patrol, dedicated to stop anything which thwarts King Heat Death.

Or vice versa; the orientation depends on how the writer views Inexorable Fate. Eric Frank Russell could have done this in his sleep; Shaver or Stuart S. Byrne the bad-robot variant.

3.  A starship tries to stop a brain-eating robot: Conversely, a brain-eating starship is stopped by a robot. Partly another variant on (2), but with other implications. In figurative brain-eating, the starship is powered by brains. If literal, the robot eats brains.

3A.  The starship is chasing down its escaped prisoner, the brain-eating robot.

3B.  The brain-eating starship is thwarted by the robot-the first intelligent life form it has encountered that is non-organic (could happen). We end up with a variant on "the old Alphaville ploy", where the robot talks the starship to death, or the Roman-Manichean duality of Robot Monster ("Where does Must Not meet Can?").

4.  Grandpa is building a robot (in the former chicken coop) to pilot his starship (he's building that in the barn). A brain-eater (it's on Mars but not from there, having hitched a ride on a disturbed Oort-cloud comet millennia ago, and eaten all the Martian brains) senses the immense intellectual power of Grandpa's brain across the void and determined to get from Mars to Earth to eat it.

This is a cross between Henry Kuttner's Hogben and Mutant stories, Raymond Z. Gallun's "Old Faithful" series, and the crocodile from Peter Pan. (Hook's hand being the best thing it had ever tasted, it follows the pirate all over the Earth to try to get the other one...). If this had been a movie from the 1950s, Grandpa would have been played by George Chandler, Andy Clyde, or Charles Coburn and the — of course — robot-mad kid by Billy Chapin (from Tobor the Great) or George "Foghorn" Winslow from Rocket Man or some variant of Jim too old for a mid-'50s kid role and too busy with Father Knows Best, anyway. Hans Conreid, William Schallert or Edmund Gwenn/Cecil Kellaway would have been Grandpa's science-friend. The robot would have looked like Tobor or Gog or one of the Venusian robots from Target Earth!.

The scenes with the brain eater would be like those of Beulah the Cucumber Venusian from It Conquered the World B.

There would have been no movie equivalent to this in the 1950s — too high a concept. The early '60s Japanese could have done something like it — Invasion of the Neptune Men — and once again, it could have been a piss-producing Mexican kids' movie.

In written SF, van Vogt and Kuttner would have had to collaborate — "On and on the brain-eater prowled" — plus the homey scenes of Grandpa on the phone with Einstein (whose mind-whips across space would have first attracted the brain-eaters' attention) I can almost see the scene where the brain-eater stops, transfixed by the power of the intellect on that green and blue spot of light above the cold Martian sands...

4a.  The brain-eater gets temporary control of the robot (see The Invisible Boy, Tobor the Great) and the military (again, Morris Ankrum).

4b.  The starship is used to blast the bastard to a galaxy far, far away; Gramps is hit on the head and can't remember a damn thing about inter-stellar drives. Finally, scenes of the robot pulling the plow as Grandpa gets ideas of how to grow giant plants to feed the surplus human population (rather than using Occam's Razor and having the robot kill off half of them...).

Next time, more....

 


I C London, I C France, which may be the Web's most technologically primitive blog, is brought to you through the typing, proofreading, editorial, and coding efforts of Team Waldrop, also known as Mary Kay Kare (proudly reality-based) and L. Blunt Jackson (Seattle, Philadelphia, Tau Ceti), and via the steadfast couriers of the United States Postal Service. Much thanks to all involved!

Howard Waldrop is a legend in his own time. He writes, he fishes, he builds bookcases. He does not have a cellphone, a computer, or an email account.

For someone who is about as wired as an echidna, Howard has a pretty substantial online career. He has had a website since 1997. You can read The Ugly Chickens, The Other Real World, Winter Quarters, D = R x T, and his collaboration with Leigh Kennedy, One Horse Town, on SciFiction. Mary Margaret Roadgrader is available on the excellent Strange Horizons. He has an occasional column, Crimea River, on Electric Story. And now he has a blog. Go figure.

For additional embellishments of the Waldrop legend, see Who Is Howard Waldrop, Anyway? For extravagant lies about Howard, see Alternate Waldrops, on Strange Horizons. Howard's most recent books are Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations and Dream Factories and Radio Pictures. Buy 'em.

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