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04.15.04

Editor's note: If you're lost, we can't help you, but you might check out previous columns 1 and 2. Or just hang ten and surf the Waldrop.

More riffs from Rudy Rucker's sentence on going back to the basics — robots, brain-eaters, starships — and what can be done with those elements.

5.  A (human) brain-eater in a starship is stopped by a robot before it can eat the brains of the last human on the ship...

This is the Alien — It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Vault of the Beast, Black Destroyer, Who Goes There?— crossed with the Liver-Eater Johnson/ Hannibal Lecter template. "Eating humans is wrong," says the robot, before turning the cephalophage to goo. Or, if Asimovian rules apply, the problem becomes the starship crew-person reprogramming the robot so it can help turn the brain-eater to goo.... Free Will vs. Predestination. "We have met the enemy and he is us." The robot will here represent the superego of the human race which can build a starship, but still can't control its baser desires. So you have to fight fire with fire, i.e., base lusts must be met with superior firepower and steelier muscles. The ultimate locked-room story is a starship or submarine where you can run but you can't hide.

Van Vogt could have written it, but (in Farmer's words on another subject) he'd have the rear axle but not the engine for the philosophical content the story would bring up. Could Asimov have written it? You?

6.  (Let's get this one out of the way now.) A brain-eater, a robot and a starship go into this spaceport bar...

7.  A robot in a starship visits the planet of the brain-eaters....

This is because the brain-eaters can't help themselves and will eat the brains of any organic intelligence that lands. Do you have an unreliable-narrator robot? Or ditto a brain-eater? Is there three-way dialogue between the robot, BEs, and starship? Is the starship the narrator? What do the BEs eat on their home planet, and what unfortunate accidents have led to the quarantine of the place? Is there an organic Galactic Federation who have to watch them like hawks? Is this the first robot landing, and if not, why not?

It would take a Phil Dick to do this one right or wrong. Or, it could have been an EC Comics story (cf. "Judgment Day") by Bill Gaines or Al Feldstein from circa 1953 — in which case the brain-eaters would get loose. Basil Wolverton (cf. "Brain-Bats of Venus") would have been the obvious illustrator besides the Usual EC Gang of Idiots.

8.  The brain-eaters await the robot in the starship.(This is not the same as #7.) There's a prophecy ("....and a little starship shall lead them...") that says they will be set loose on the Universe with all those tasty brains Out There on a zillion worlds. (Cf. R.A.Lafferty's " Ride a Tin Can") How did they know, or was it just a lucky guess?

8a.  Conversely, the robots await the brain-eaters in the starship. A cargo cult/ Messiah/ deliverance/ Jubilee myth among the downtrodden robots of Earth or wherever. (Silverberg touched on something like this in Tower of Glass, besides the Babel myth) By "day" they protect and serve and keep men from harm, by "night" they beat out the rhythm on the tom-toms with the end of an umbrella and the handle of a broom — "The brain-eaters are coming to eat up all the human heads and set us free at last." Does it happen? Is there some Nat Turner or John Brown/Jesus/John of Munster figure who's premature, a fire bell in the night as to what's going on? Do we end with another Harper's Ferry or Masada, or robots free on a humanless, brain-eaterless planet?

Well, Terry Bisson's already written this, by other means, so I doubt he'd be interested. But it would take someone who could really write it to do it. Without it being a one-to-one parallel, I mean, which is the way it would have been done in Galaxy in 196l.

9.  The brain-eaters in a starship visit the planet of the robots (on purpose.) Also — possibly a sequel to (8) above, the brain-eaters in the starship head off to gobble up brains to find a planet where only robots are left, for whatever reason. This and 8a are a double-ended funnel of the same story. Two sets of brain-eaters, one gets rid of the organics and leaves; the second arrives. Is this told from the robot's POV? The second brain-eater's? Simak could have written a kinder, gentler City-like scenario. The mood would be from del Rey's "Day is Done" or some Don A. Stuart-type stuff.

10.  A race of robots and a race of brain-eaters find an abandoned starship. They fight for it. ("This is the race that will rule the Sevagram!") A story of Stapledonian magnitude that even he couldn't write. The robots and BEs are from the same local star system and have only primitive interplanetary travel. They've met before and it was Not Pretty. The BEs eat brains of lower life-forms on their planet/moon. The robots are left over from an intelligent race that killed itself off.

10a.  The robots are the good guys.

10b.  The brain-eaters are the good guys.

10c.  The starship is sentient, so there's a 3-way plot.

10d.  The starship is a BDO (Big Dumb Object) so there's only a 2-way plot.

As John W. Campbell would say, "Your story begins after this story is over."

 


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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