©2000 A.D. Sullivan
|Slip of the Tongue|
|The Polemics of the Plasma Drive|
|Reviewing the Classics: Slan|
strewn in to four winds
stellular quandaries realigned
into prodigious thunder
my lifeby Rosemary Puglise Jordan
Slip of the Tongue
by A.D. Sullivan
Never buy an Aorkorian spacer a drink. Not unless you have the next three days to listen to his tales of woe, of how he was born on the wrong side of his triple suns or raised in a low-grade military academy or how, eventually, his Aorkorian girlfriend broke his heart.
Every spacer worth his salt has heard this warning a hundred times, and over my dozen or so year-long jaunts, I'd heard some variation of it in every port, weapon's merchants, customs officials, even the random embassy cache, expressing some dread of the Aorkorian, all more fearful of this moody alley than the Rim monsters against which the Empire fought.
Indeed, the Aorkorian produced more barroom conversation across the galaxy than any other single subject, other than women. People of every genetic makeup discussed and debated the habits and the foibles of his large creature, puzzling out how evolution could have produced -- and let survive -- such a miserable monster. Each conversation manufactured its own theories, each patron had some new piece of information (most of which was inaccurate or misconceived). But every barroom, every patron, on every world I visited came up with the same dire warning about never buying one a drink.
Perhaps, I believed this part of the continual tale as inaccurate as all the farfetched theories about the Aorkorian sex life or intelligence level, though when I first saw the hulking creature leaning over his end of the bar, I should have suspected some truth to some of the tales, and above all, I should have kept my big mouth shut.
Not even the most naive space romantic could have called this Aorkorian (or any other I learned later) beautiful. He had flesh as delicate as that of an Atarian Dragon or Earth rhinoceros, more greenish than red or gray, but with the same sense of rippled concrete, though his three silver tusks did glint crimson with reflected bar light, indicative of the Aorkorian habit of polishing them before battle. And no matter how intently I studied this creature's three yellow eyes, I could find no sense of intelligence -- though according to the Imperial lists, the creature scored well above the level of ape, high enough to compete one on one with most humanoids. Indeed, few creatures of any race or intelligence could rival them for cunning during the heat of a battle or a hunt. But staring down at the bar at him, I felt as if I was staring at three windows with yellow shades pulled down.
That's the thing that fooled me. How could a creature so obviously stupid possess an ego so sensitive as the tales made out? And how could a beast of such dimensions cradle a romantic heart, one that burst into passionate violence at even the remotest insinuation of insult. Many tales made the Aorkorian over into some 26th Century version of a Knight of the Round table, ready to avenge any offense aimed at their loved one.
What really deceived me, however, was not the size, shape or lack of Aorkorian intelligence, but my own loneliness. I had come to an unfamiliar sector of the galaxy, looking to expand my markets a little. I didn't know any of the locals, except by letter of introduction, and I was in no mood for three legs prostitutes with sexual orifices on four sides. In fact, I wasn't in the mood for sex so much as a friendly face, someone to whom I could talk about where I came from and how much I missed it, and could listen that person tell me the same about himself. And from my vantage, the Aorkorian looked less heartbroken than lonely, and I unwisely offered him a drink.
The poor creature looked surprised, obviously perfectly aware of all the tales told against him and made lonelier by them, and monstrously sad. Perhaps I should have equated his drooling jagged tooth mouth with another more ominous emotion, but I was still unconvinced that anyone who looked as ugly as he did could suffer a broken heart. Instead, I translated his longing stare into a mirror of my own loneliness, and took each sigh as a call for home.
Only a few patrons sat along the bar or perhaps one of them might have warned me about those sighs, shaking a head furiously when I made the transition from my stool to a human-style stool closer to the Aorkorian's. Anyone of them would have more likely suited my purpose better, for all seemed full of sighs of their own, and too full of their own self reflection to notice much about me or my budding conversation.
In fact, on second glance, the creature looked nobler, with something truly admirable about his rugged face, fitting his reputation as the greatest killing machine ever to enlist an alley in the Rim Wars. His kind proved invaluable in the Empire's war against the lizards, a mercenary of such girth and ability that humans gladly fought by their side. His kind served as the perfect dog soldier who came to battle, fought and even died without question, saving us more fragile beasts from such distinctions. Few generals or even civilians believed the rumors of atrocities, tales of Aorkorian packs merciless pillaging planets of lizards, killing women and children along with the adults. Perhaps the general public hated the Lizards so much after so long that we ceased to care what our allies did in the name of justice, turning our attention towards the benefits the Empire would accrue once new markets opened after the eradications of the lizards.
"You want to buy me drink?" the creature's black box squawked, one of those thirty years out of date devices I'd seen used frequently nearer the rim, where locals couldn't afford the more accurate and expensive modern technology, serviceable, but not very sensitive to the subtleties of language, something on the level of extra-perceptive hand signals that made trade possible. But even through it, I could sense his pain. His huge tail flapped twice, leaving two inch-deep dents in the floor. The bartender, however, looked concern when I motioned for him to refill us both, coming quickly and leaving even more quickly, and avoiding the Aorkorian's sickly yellow stare as it turned toward me, pain so evident I didn't need his translator box to understand it. Even his antenna sagged dripping drops of sulfuric acid on the bar. They sizzled sadly, digging tiny holes in the wood.
"It is a woman," the creature said, the black translator box at his side rasping out the words in common tongue, leaving me to nod. I had expected as much.
The Aorkorian sipped his green drink, a swamp-scented thing ten-times stronger than the human anatomy could handle. Perhaps my own drinking had dulled my wits, I hardly noticed the sudden gleam of passion coming to life in the creature's eyes, alarmed only by the sudden surge of emphatic talk squawking out his box, translated his clicks and clacks into a sad tale of a foiled romance.
"So down," I told him. "I can barely understand you."
He paused, blinked, sipped and sagged, a sad sack alien again who had expelled his lot of words. He would have to repeat them. And did. Slowly and deliberately, each word unfolding and not-uncommon tale of heart-ache whose pattern matched most creatures of every ilk who took up space as a sizeable portion of their lives. Like the tales of the sailors of Ancient Earth who fell in love, set sail, and returned to find their lover in the arms of another man. He told the story once, paused to buy new drinks for us both, then told it again, and again, and again. By the third retelling, I dropped hints too subtle for his translator to pick up. By the fourth retelling, I coughed and looked significantly at the door, expecting him to understand I had to leave. By the fifth retelling, I just got up, only to have his three fingered hand grab my arm and yank me down, saying: "You miss best part."
By this time, the other patrons began to notice my dilemma, and began to leave, some of them shaking their heads at me, others looking sympathetically at the bartender who looked so sour I knew he had been through this a hundred times, men like me ruining his night by buying an Aorkorian a drink.
"No more," I finally said, giving up all pretenses at being subtle. "I know life's a bitch, but I've got my own problems to deal with."
I'm not sure exactly how that statement translated, but the sudden surge of yellow in the Aorkorian's eyes told me instantly it had not translated well. I think the word "bitch" translated accurately, but stripped of its context, the black box making me sound as if I meant his sweetheart.
The creature's yellow eyes immediately widened, as did his nostrils and his grim mouth. Roar was the wrong word to describe the sound that then shook the bar. But those who hadn't wisely abandoned the bar earlier, now scrambled out of their seats, making for the bar's two entrances all at once.
"Look, Pal," I said as carefully as I could, as I eased back to get another stool between us. "I didn't mean anything bad about what I...."
Perhaps he had turned the box off, or had stopped listening to the garble of words coming out of his, as mistranslated in tone as my word had been. Perhaps it came across as a challenge rather than an attempted apology.
A strange silence replaced his snorting and stammering. The yellow eyes peered at me with meaningful deliberation. "Run, you fool!" the bartender shouted, as if hoping to save some of his establishment with my rapid exit.
"Run?" I said, standing now in a near trance, caught in the eye of the creature-- some trait of evolution like the stare of a snake on ancient Earth that transfixed its victim.
"He's going to kill you! I don't know what you said to the monster, but it was BAD."
The spell dissipated with the words. I glanced at the man, then at the creature and saw the rapid rise and fall of the leathery chest as the breathing came faster and faster, like an old Earth locomotive building up momentum. I leaped just as the Aorkorian set himself in motion, his jagged horns ripping through the metal bar top right where I had sat, teeth grinding on the wood and plastic as he let out a furious howl. He tried to turn, but the could not free himself from the bar top, settling for ripping up a three foot section and loosened this by swinging his head back and forth until the piece shattered on the remaining parts of the bar. The process allowed me time to reach the door and plunge out into the narrow street, where twilight promised to cover my escape, as did the assortment of carts and carriages, and market dealers eyeing me as a prospective customers. They grabbed my arm as I passed, pushing everything from Kolar sun melons to the war toys for Lutharian kids, their language garbled through their translators as they quoted me a price.
But I had turned wrong coming out of the bar and now ran down avenues with which I was not familiar, and did not know which would bring me back to the relative safety of the space sport and its police. The drinks had confused me, too, my head swirling, the dim shop lights and dimmer street lights like stars floating before me, bring on nausea.
Behind me, the Aorkorian in the doorway of the tavern, his horns now free, and his wary eye studying the narrow landscape for sign of me, and when he saw me, he let out a roar so furious the street shook and the peddlers panicked, and those who knew that call began to seek corners in which to hide.
Only for a moment, did the monster's stare transfix me, the hunter freezing its prey with a look. Then I leaped to join the others, giving up the question of where the spaceport was for the more practical goal of getting myself out of sight. The Aorkorian roared, and in the corner of my eye, I caught sight of his blur as he charged straight at me, so intent on getting hold of me, he ignored such small details as carts and carriages, these twisting into ruin as he exploded through them. One cart fell after another, spilling goods to the street, and Aorkorian pushed what he could not plow through with his great arms like a swimmer moving through a log-clogged lake, sometimes tossing a person aside along with the lumber.
Yet somehow, in the din and confusion, I slipped under and around and through gaps other creatures missed or through which they could not fit, squirming my way through the arms and legs, around or under the wheels of carts until I had the crowd between me and the beast. My flight proved an entertainment for many of the slumming elite who frequented the posh eateries along these narrow lanes, well-to-do merchants and their escorts staring out the windows of the small shops, laughing amongst themselves.
These humanoids displeased me more than the Aorkorian did, looking so smug and safe behind their wall of distinction, who would not look at me or anyone like me if not for our ability to amuse. Their stares distracted me long enough for the Aorkorian to spot me again, his roar quivering the glass and draining the smug looks from their faces as they glanced doubtfully up the street.
With open space before him now, the Aorkorian charged, slicing through the crowd with a grace that belied his bulk, making him look more dancer than warrior, so eloquent in his charge that another time I might have called it art -- art of killing that only a race like his could achieve, practicing to harness their natural rage into something remarkably more efficient.
Someone -- most likely a local constable -- fired a blaster, the Aorkorian's tough hide deflecting the beam as it melted a piece of a building. I changed direction, now uncertain as to whether or not finding the space port would help me, unless officials there intended to call in a strike from an orbiting war cruiser. I slipped into a narrow alley, weaving through the bids of trash, bearing the stench with hopes it would cover my scent. But the roar from the mouth of the alley indicated this plan's failure, too. I turned into another alley, then out into another street, a broader, more civilly populated street with many more little basement shops for rich tourists, then selected one and dove into that, pushing passed the indignant host as he struggle to keep me out, more offended by my obvious cheap clothing and obvious social inferiority than by the thought of a monster pursuing me. He hadn't yet become aware of the Aorkorian.
These places had tough security. They knew how to handle my kind, and his left hand rose to his collar and a call button disguised in the lapel. Yet his fingers froze an inch from pushing it as the Aorkorian appeared outside, the bellow rattling the armored glass, and in seeing him, the host forgot me, and I plunged across the dinning room through the crowded and outraged crowd of seated patrons. The Aorkorian squinted and sniffed, as if attempting to locate me through the haze of expensive perfume.
Security arrived, two men in tuxedos, who like the host, saw me first and mistook me for the source of the disturbance, weaving their way through the tables and chairs to reach me before I could reach the kitchen (and the back door I sought). One grabbed my arm and yanked me aside, shoving his forearm up under my chin.
"Now, buddy, why don't we..."
The Aorkorian roared from the street as he caught a glimpse of motion through the glass, and crashed through windows designed to withstand the impact of a meteor. I didn't wait for him to identify me in particular, but shoved the guard aside and leaped towards the kitchen. I found pots and pans, stoves and benches, but no back door. Addition crashes sounded from the front, and I eased back to the door to see the creature now standing in the middle of the dinning room, squinting at the patrons, trying to pick me out from the accumulated mass of humanoid still trapped in the room. Lacking any sense of class distinction and clearly near-sighted, the creature began to sort through the problem in the only way he knew, grabbing three patrons at a time to peer more closely at them, and when none fit his mental image of me, he tossed them away and grabbed three more. So as he was busy with the others, the Aorkorian didn't see me when I scrambled across the room towards the now open windows. I might have made my escape, too, if the owner hadn't grabbed me and screamed in my face
"Why did you do this to me? I run a clean shop here. I hurt nobody. Who's gonna pay for all this eh?"
"Talk to him," I said, indicating the Aorkorian. "He's the one breaking up the joint."
"But you brought him. You must make him stop."
"If I could, I would," I told him.
"Then I will," the owner said and threw a bottle of brandy at the Aorkorian's head.
This, did not nothing to hurt the creature, but it drew his attention and refocused the creature's gaze in my direction. It immediately discarded the well-groomed patrons and advanced across the room, shoving tables, chairs and people out of his way as he came. I tried to run, but his long arms curled around me the minute I moved, growing tighter and tighter like ropes or a snake.
"Now I have you," his black box squawked.
"Please," I whispered. "Can't we be civilized about this?"
The flesh around each yellowed eye seemed to crinkle with a frown.
"Civilized?" the black box asked.
"Yeah. Can't we talk about this," I said as an old idea reformed in my head, sadly appropriate. "Maybe talk this out over a drink?"
The three yellow eyes blinked. "Drink?"
One of the coiled limps loosed and pulled two chairs and a table out of the wreckage. He sat me down into one of the chairs and took the other himself. His third limb waved at the owner. "Did you not hear him, bring us some drink."
The owner looked at us as if we were crazy, but soon complied, setting glasses before us without spilling too much of their content. Then, the creature began to talk, picking up his story where he had left off, waving for more drinks when ours had run out. He waved his three arms and yammered on, but I discreetly reached over and flipped off his black box, praying for the moment when we both passed out.
It's all over
I'm wrung out on radio tunes,
shoulder boxes carried like carbines
by hosts of desperate boys
drafted from homes
of screaming new borns,
and late night TV
rap unable to fill the silence gap
so they hit the streets
seeking islands of serenity
beating at the heat waves
until the batteries expire
and in the static quiet,
they find peace.
The Polemics of the Plasma Drive
From A.D.'s Journals, 12/9/80
Oriental sages suffering the pangs of total fatigue often become disreputable harbingers of doom. Lao Tsu, after 18 hours of synchronized swimming, was heard to remark:
"Life, being a dangerous mission, brings about a variety of reactions. Some people take aspirin, some look down at their feet more often than is necessary, and others use certain nasal vibrations; but it's all a lot of pond scum, so to speak. If a large majority of the sleepwalkers were ever to awaken, be assured, there would be hell to pay."
Sartre, while in the mist of a six-month breathing strike, was asked to help the farmers by advising them on weather trends. It almost killed him, but he replied:
"The First Robin of Spring saw the First Worm and said, `the solitary slim tiger pounced nicely the vital elephant.' You can see what that implies."
The farmers decided to ask someone else.
How these two seemingly unrelated incidents led to the discovery of the Plasma Drive will be discussed at another time.
They look at you through the glass
with their distant gaze
the mechanisms trained to take your money,
a card in their slot and
they're all fingers,
pulling, pulling, pulling,
with the sweep of inner being
they remain invisible,
only the clunk and hum
of circuits activated
at night, there,
a perfect wall,
to which one can attach
the warmth of electric current running
turned on and off by you,
so lonely out there
in the business district,
you ache to take it home,
the world's first bank robber
to take the whole bank,
for dinner, perhaps,
or a nice snuggle before the tube
with comforter and brandy,
or do these things still take oil
as the better part of their diet,
the stinking little thieves
that show no mercy
nor ever make mistakes
to err being human,
or as the modern idiom goes:
In shit, out shit,
so the dollar short on the statement
cannot be blamed upon the machine,
nor the human elements
that think and live like machines
inside, their glass cubes keeping
their feelings curbed, counting
money with fingers most subtle,
filling in forms,
counting, counting, counting
but never loving...by Mike Day
Reviewing the Classics
a book written by A.E. Van Vogt, first published 1940
by Scott Johnson
In this novel, Slans were a master race of beings that had just lost a war for control of the planet. Van Vogt paints them as hunted (Without even the inclination of the later nazi hunts of later years.
There are rumors of atrocities, which Van Vogt in his seemingly misguided wisdom paints as rumor and speculation-- This written at the point when rumors of Nazi atrocities had begun to spread through the free world.
There is, too, the armed Camp mentality, the constant surveillance of a Slans upon Slans, mind reading, and propaganda, and the appearances of good Slans and bad Slans and ignorant humans, who seek to destroy the Slans because of their brags to superiority.
Van Vogt opens the novel with good Slans (or Nazis) being hunted by outraged (Mob Mentality) citizens, despite the obvious superiority of race.
He takes the reader through a search for the real Slans and through the armed camp, revealing more and more information about the cleverness and true superiority of such beings over the mortal race. He mentions rumors of atrocities, and at one point concedes that they existed through one of the "tentacleless" Slans who indicates that maybe Slans (Nazis) have been cruel to the mere humans. The necessity of which is unquestioned. Our sympathies are with the good Slan.
But later, as if trying to put down the crazy rumors of potential Jewish slaughter in Europe, Van Vogt brings us round, saying that the Superior race of Slans (and maybe Nazis) are simply a natural needed evolution of mankind.
Several times in the novel, the Slan called Jommy remembers instructions from his father who had spoken of "The human problem", echoing the "Jewish Problem" which the Nazis claimed to face.
Perhaps the sympathies of the author were expressed best in the lessons Jommy took from an old man who had once been a teacher.
"Outlaws," He said, "Young fellow, those were great days. I tell you a hundred thousand Slans practically took over the world. It was a beautiful job of planning, carried out with the utmost boldness. What you have to realize is that men as a mass always play somebody else's game--not their own. They're caught in traps from which they cannot escape. They belong to groups; They're members of organizations' they're loyal to ideas, individuals, geographical areas. If you can get hold of the institutions they support-- theirs a method."
Later in that same sequence of thought, the fear of the Germans and the author might be expressed best, not just for that time, but for all time, even now.
"I want you to visualize this, Jommy. The world was confused and bewildered. Everywhere human babies were subjected to the tremendous campaign of the Slans to make more Slans. Civilization began to break down. There was an immense increase in insanity, suicide, murder, crime-- the graph of chaos rose to new heights. And, one morning, without knowing how it was done, the human race woke up to discover that overnight the enemy had taken control. Working from within, the Slans had managed to take over innumerable key organizations...
And this is where the analogy breaks down. The Author's use of "Super race" is a reversal of what the Nazi's meant. For the Slans in his book were superior, just as the Jews were in their morality. In this book, the Slans are hunted and slaughtered for imagined atrocities, just as the nazis hunted and slaughtered Jews for the imagined things they believed Jews were doing to their society.
Van Vogt was not justifying Nazism, but predicting and reading the times right and how mere humans looked upon the Jews. His vision of mars as a paranoid and armed camp predated the establishment of Israel, but qualified the necessity for it.
But oh, did he outline the way of the Nazi, showing clearly how the human (Nazi) machine intended and later did indeed take in the Jews.
"Let us clarify the situation," said Kier Gray briskly. "The introduction of the idea of using some apparent agreement with the Slans for exterminating them seems to have struck a responsive chord which-- apparently seems to have eliminated the thought of a true and honest agreement based on, for instance, the idea of assimilation.
"The schemes are brief, as follows,. Number one: to allow them to intermingle with human beings until everyone has been thoroughly identified, then clamp down, catch most of them by surprise and track down others within a short time.
"Plan number two: Force all Slans to settle on an island, say Hawaii, and once we've got them there, surround the place with battleships and planes and annihilate them.
"Plan three: treat them harshly from the beginning; insist on fingerprinting and photographing them, and on a plan for reporting to police at intervals, which will have both an element of strictness and fairness in it. This third idea may appeal to the Slans because, if carried out over a period of time, it will seem to safeguard all except a small percentage which will be calling at police headquarters on any particular day. Its strictness will have the further psychological values of making them feel that we're being hard and careful, and will therefore, paradoxically gradually, ease their minds."
Without the time frame, the novel loses something, though it can be reflected in modern times. For the mentality of the nazi or racist or homophobic has not changed. Substitute for Slan whatever race or creed you wish, Aids victim or homeless person, and you have the same picture again and again, and the same terrible madness ruling the world.
"To this day," wrote Houston Chamberlain in 1912, "These two powers-- Jews and Teutonic races- stand, wherever the recent spread of Chaos has not blurred their features, now as friendly, now as hostile, but always as alien forces face to face." In this book, Slans and Humans were painted as alien, too, and fear of something new or different inspires hatred and misguided righteousness.
"I believe today I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord's work," said Adolph Hitler.
In a perfect world
The 4 faces chiseled in Mt. Rushmore
would be Johnny, Kris, Waylon, and Willie,
OJ Simpson would be stamping out vanity plates
alongside the Unabomber in San Quentin
every wanna?be Doctor, Priest, and Lawyer, would be
made to watch Paul Newman in "The Verdict" at least 50 times
and a public school education would include mining the mother lode
of irony found in the life and times of Muhammad Ali
In a perfect world
the Government would find it unnecessary
to spend 50 million bucks
trying to prove a president
committed adultery and lied about it
the NRA would wither up and die due to lack of interest,
It's army of Lobbyist picked off
one by one through random gunfire
all the camouflaged, soldier of misfortune,
would collectively decide themselves
not smart enough to exercise the right to vote
and every child would know a deep and sustaining Love
from those in charge of their care
In a perfect world
I could lie all day on the beach
soaking up Pacific Ocean Sun without burning my ass off
my 1970, Olds F-85, with the 396,
would get better gas mileage the faster I drove it
something like 100 miles per gallon at 100 miles per hour
there would be fantastic, hole in the wall,
Mexican food joints on every street corner
with plenty of fresh Tortillas,
Habeneros, and ice cold Negra Modelo
and "Baby Doll" with the wandering eye
would magically see George Clooney
every time she looked my way,
causing her to re?think monogamyby Tom Kellar
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307