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I C London, I C France

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by Howard Waldrop

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04.22.04

Editor's note: Lost? Good luck! Try previous columns 1, 2 and 3. Or just go with the flow: the fish are bitin'.

The last riffs on Rudy Rucker's sentence about going back to the basics — robots, brain-eaters, starships — and what can be done with them.

11. A robot eats the brains of starships (ship-minds). Conversely, a starship eats the brains of robots.

This could be a story set in a salvage junkyard on a backwater planet; either it's literal or figurative in the eating. This is cannibalism taken to its logical-positivist extreme: you are what you eat; also, you know what you eat. Perhaps the ship has lost its memories and needs the robot brains to get back into space again. What it learns besides what it needs to know. Phil Dick could have done this one; so could Neal Barrett; so could the early George R. R. Martin.

12 . A planet of brain-eaters has an outbreak of Mad-Cow-like diseases brought back by one of its robot starships. Conversely, the robots have a brain-eating disease brought back, etc. I wrote this story twenty-something years ago, before Rudy ever wrote his sentence. It's called " Helpless, Helpless" and was printed in Mike Bishop's Light Years and Dark, and reprinted in my All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past. Trust me on this one — it's one of my only two or three stories with robots or starships: all the brain-eating is some kind of Black Plague analogy disease of non-organic intelligence, the mechanism of which is as non-understood as the Black Death was to 14th C. Europe. When I started writing this column. I'd clean forgot I'd written this story-variant already. Crazy World, Ain't It?

If you've read this far (god help your heathen soul...) you'll notice I've left out the most obvious change on the three parts of this equation. It was done in 1956. It was Forbidden Planet.

You got your robot, Robby. You got your starship, the C—57—D . You got your brain-eater(s): The Krell civilization and its fuckup of trying to achieve "thought without instrumentality" by leaving the body behind. This not only destroyed the Krell; it did for the Bellerophon expedition 20 years before, and is going to do in this one, too.

Under the command of J.J. ("from now on there'll be less dreaming aboard my ship") Adams, they find Morbius has been using the Krell brain-boost machine. Like the Krell, he has summoned up the power of the entire 20 mile by 20 mile machinery that powers it to unleash his own Monster from the Id ("id, id, id, id, id..."). There's an actual (figurative) brain-eating, when Doc Ostrow uses the brain-boost and burns away his figuring out what happened to the Krell and therefore Morbius... all the power of the starship is helpless; so's Robby — its Asimov circuits know the Id Monster is Morbius; it therefore shorts out like an old toaster when told to stop the thing...

Sure, it's The Tempest in Outer Space. It's also Rudy Rucker's three basic elements to which we keep returning.

The Robot. The Brain-Eaters. The Starship.

You get the drift by now. You can do infinite variations with these. These l2 (or l3) are just a start. ("Our Universe is vast — full of wonders...")

Rudy Rucker's point was not that. He said you could keep on doing that, over and over, using those three building blocks, but that you shouldn't be — you should find new ways to say new things, which was one of the things cyberpunk (circa 1986, before it became another Cliché Genre) was slouching its way toward...

I'm pretty sure by now there's some standard stuff ("Helps Build Strong Cyberpunks Three Ways!") from which infinite cyber-riffs could be run (hi-tech McGuffin; alienated memory-loss protag; worldwide info-conspiracy).

That's not My Job; that's Yours.

 


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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