A Peep for You

By John Hertz:  Possibly because I’m recovering from Westercon LXXI, I’ll take a leaf from Lloyd Penney’s book and show you a letter I wrote to someone else.

– o O o –

Dear Mr. Quachri,

Thank you for Dr. Gregory Benford’s “Physics Tomorrow” in the March-April Analog.

It’s a tour de force.

Having it in your magazine is a particular achievement.  Perhaps no one could have produced it as well as he.  It may also be a distillate or essence of your spirit – I mean the spirit of Analog.  Those last four words, I realize, could be thought an unfortunate metaphor.  In their defense I had better not offer any notions of my own, but I might be allowed to quote Dr. Clarke, who said “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

Dr. Benford knows, as many of us your readers may, that Physics Today has been, since 1948 – a little younger than Analog – a magazine of the American Institute of Physics, indeed its flagship publication.  His piece is in every other way I can see – manner and detail, illustrations, timely allusion to the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (pertaining to which I recommend Dr. Michael Smith’s 2017 memoir To Catch a Black Hole, focussing, if I may venture that, on his own part), worthiness to follow The Berlin Project (pertaining to which I recommend Norman Spinrad’s review in the May-June issue of your companion magazine Asimov’s) – so perfect as to be not only good science fiction, but good comedy.  Jack Benny, had he worked in our field, could hardly have reached higher.

– o O o –

I wonder if I’ll ever learn whether my addressee recognizes this isn’t the first time I’ve brought in Mr. Benny.

“Starry-eyed” Inspired Me

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1300)

Take my hand, I’m a ranger in SF-land;
All lost in a wonderland, a ranger in SF-land.
If I float starry-eyed, that’s a danger in SF-land
For any who come aboard minds of pros and fans too.

I saw its face and I ascended
Out of the commonplace into the rare.
Somewhere in space I hang suspended
While I set aside Is it true for We dare.

Won’t you fly with me?  We’ll meet strangers in SF-land.
We’ll pass beyond can’t and can through imagining’s door.
With open hearts we’ll join all the rangers in SF-land
Who while dreaming dreams need be mundane no more.

                                            

R. Wright & G. Forrest, “Stranger in Paradise” (1953); A. Borodin, “The Gliding Dance of the Maidens”, Prince Igor (1890)

How To Get Your Pixel Scroll Title Published

…Plus A Comprehensive Bibliography of Steve Davidson’s Pixel Scroll Titles

Steve Davidson, Famous Pixel Scroll Title Thinker-Upper

By Steve Davidson: I think that we will all agree that one of the things that makes File 770 so much fun (and so popular) is the interactive nature of the enterprise.  Comments, of course, but also crowd-pleasers like reader-submitted pictures of their cats laying about on all manner of genre material, (honorary SJW credentialed dogs too), regular contributions from other fans and, of course, the famously infamous Pixel Scroll title.

I’ve submitted quite a few titles over the past few years (wow.  Years.  Yes, years), collecting a good handful of rejections along the way (not to mention a few copied by someone else who managed to get to the patent office before me….)

In fact, it wasn’t until I twigged to Mike Glyer’s apparent fondness for mashed up 60s, 70s and 80s song lyrics that I became a successful Pixel Scroll Title Submitter.

I remember the day my first title was accepted for publication fondly.  Mike doesn’t send out formal acceptance notices (daily fan news being too immediate of a thing to allow for such), so it wasn’t until I sat down with my coffee to begin my daily reads that I discovered that I had become famous.

It had been a cold day that February 12th of 2016.  A Friday if the calendar is anything to go by.  I’d been reading the Pixel Scroll® for a number of months and had been despairing over ever getting anything published, the absence of rejection slips exacerbating my ennui.

Despite my self-loathing, I managed, somehow, to force myself to try yet one more time.  I’d noticed that many of the successful Scroll titles had some connection to popular songs.  The spark of an idea formed somewhere in my snow-bound brain.  I feverishly researched past Scrolls and determined that “Yes!” no one had yet offered a mashup based on a song from one of my favorite bands.

“Surely”, I thought, “Mike, being a baby-boomer contemporaneous with myself in time, HAD to not only be familiar with the band, but likely as fond of them as I was.”

I managed to locate a discography for the band in question.  I selected several likely candidate songs, found and studied their lyrics and then spent a fair amount of time constructing a substitution algorithm that would insert the words “scroll” and “pixel” where other nouns had been. (Future refinement of the algorithm would eventually see it expand to include pronouns, a limited number of verbs and even some adjectives.)

Studying the results, I became convinced that THIS time I would be successful.

And so I was.

February 13, 2016’s Pixel Scroll title was mine.  It had to be.  I’d written it just the evening before and the title on the screen before me greatly resembled the words I was pretty sure I’d remembered from the night before.

A quick scroll down to the credits confirmed it: “Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Steve Davidson.”

Wow.  I was FAMOUS!

But then the seasonal affect disorder kicked in. Perhaps there was another Steve Davidson out there submitting scroll titles.  There are quite a few of us.  With there being so many, it’s not outside the realm of probably that there is another fan reader of File 770 who has taken it upon themselves to submit scroll titles in a cruel bid to rob me of my fame and success.

With some trepidation, I emailed Mike and queried him.  Was today’s scroll title submitted by me, Steve Davidson or by a Steve Davidson who was some other, ersatz Steve Davidson?

“No ersatz” came the reply.

I chose to take this to mean that I was in fact the Steve Davidson of the title credit.

Joy, joy, oh happy joy!

Of course, like any successful author who had just discovered an editor who liked his work, I quickly inundated Mike with numerous additional submissions, many of which, the vast majority of which, have been accepted for publication.

Which is how I can now claim to be able to help you, would be author struggling in rejection slipless hell, to achieve Pixel Scroll Title success.

The algorithm will only cost you fifty bucks.

On the other hand, by studying the following list of my successfully published Pixel Scroll Titles you can probably develop your own algorithm. It may just take you a little longer to achieve the same kind of success I’ve enjoyed for the past couple of years now, but you will save fifty bucks.  Good luck!

Steve Davidson’s Pixel Scroll Title Annotated Bibliography:

  • 5/6/18 If Pixels Were Zombies, They’d Want To Eat Your Scrolls
    (inspired by zombies eating brains all the time)
  • 3/25/18 The Unscrollable Molly Pixel
    (inspired by the film The Incredible Molly Brown)
  • 1/28/18 I Say We Take Off And Pixel The Entire Scroll From Orbit – It’s The Only Way To Be Sure
    (Inspired by the movie “Aliens”)
  • 1/24/18 You Can Get Anything You Want At Filer’s Pixel Rant
    (Inspired by Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant song and film)
  • 1/21/18 Right Here In File City, Trouble With A Capital T, That Rhymes With P, And Stands For Pixel
    (Inspired by the film The Music Man)
  • 11/28/17 Peering Into The Scrolloscope, I Perceived The Pixels of Mars
    (Inspired by H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P Serviss)
  • 10/25/17 Blue, Blue Pixels Behind The Stars, Yellow Scroll On The Rise
    (Inspired by Neil Young’s “Helpless”)
  • 9/27/17 How Do You Get Down Off A Pixel? You Don’t, You Get Down Off A Scroll
    (Inspired by an old joke)
  • 9/4/17 Little Miss Muffet Sat On A Pixel. Along  Came A Scroll.
    (Inspired by Andrew Dice Clay’s fractured nursery rhymes)
  • 8/15/17 She Said She’d Always Been A Filer, She Worked At Fifteen Blogs A Day
    (Inspired by the Beatles “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”)
  • 6/12/17 Avoid The Green Pixels, They’re Not Ripe Yet
    (Inspired by the film A Fish Called Wanda)
  • 3/6/17 Holy Pixels, Scrollman!
    (Inspired by the 60’s television show Batman)
  • 2/5/17 It Is Dangerous To Be Pixeled In Matters On Which The Established Scrolls Are Wrong
    (Inspired by my favorite quote from Voltaire)
  • 1/4/17 Four Scrolls And Seven Pixels Ago
    (Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)
  • 12/17/16 Side Effects Include Pixels, Pixellation, Scrolls, Curled Edges And, In Extreme Cases, Death. Ask Your Medical Provider.
    (Inspired by every freaking subscription commercial on TV)
  • 10/24/16 I’m Free. I’m Free, And Waiting For Scroll To Pixel Me
    (Don’t remember where this one came from.  Must have been a slow day at the File)
  • 10/18/16 Talkin ‘Bout My Pixelation
    (Inspired by The Who’s “My Generation”)
  • 7/9/16 Snort, Harlequin, Said the Ear, Nose, Throat Man
    (Inspired by the Harlan Ellison story of the same title)
  • 6/5/16 Scroll Sung Blue, Everybody Knows One
    (Inspired by Neil Diamon’s “Song Sung Blue”)
  • 5/23/16 Ralph 124C41Pixel
    (Inspired by Hugo Gernsback’s terrible SF novel Ralph 124C41+)
  • 4/23/16 A Scrolling Class Hero Is Something To Be
    (Inspired by Marianne Faithful’s cover of the John Lennon song “Working Class Hero”)
  • 4/6/2016 I Saw A Scroll Drinking A Pina Colada At Trader Vic’s, His Pixel Was Perfect
    (Inspired by Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”)
  • 3/30/16 I Was Thinkin ‘Bout A Pixel That Might Have Scrolled Me, And I Never Knew
    (Inspired by The Eagles’ “Take it to the Limit”)
  • 3/15/16 At The Age of 37, She Realized She’d Never Scroll Through Paris With The Warm Pixels In Her Hair
    (Inspired by Marianne Faithful’s “The Ballad of Lucy Jordon”)
  • 3/8/16 I Want To Tell You About Texas Pixel And The Big Scroll
    (Inspired by The Doors’ “The Wasp”)
  • 2/28/16 Little Old Lady Got Mutilated Late Last Night, Pixels Of London, Again
    (Inspired by Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” – my first sequel!)
  • 2/24/16 Happy Jack Wasn’t Tall But He Was A Scroll
    (Inspired by The Who’s “Happy Jack”)
  • 2/15/16 Cause Pixels Like Us, Baby We Were Born To Scroll
    (Inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”)
  • 2/14/16 Imagine All The Pixels, Living In A World That’s Scrolled
    (Inspired by John Lennon’s “Imagine”)
  • 2/13/16 He Feels The Pixels Scraping, Scrolls Breaking On His Brow
    (Inspired by Jethro Tulls’ “Locomotive Breath”)

Trigger Snowflake and the Legal Clothes

By Ingvar: Having finally tied the nuptial knot with his beloved Coraline, Trigger Snowflake slowly walked through the front doors of the chapel, out onto Main Street, Coraline’s dainty hand cradled in his elbow. The general admiration and happiness from Fort Corallium’s inhabitants beamed at them in waves. Trigger and Coraline both waved, when all of a sudden, Trigger froze.

Coming up the street, begging-pan in hand, was Rick Ven Fleerbo. This was unconscionable, he had certainly been put in his place, but compounding that by illegally pan-handling on Main Street was definitely a few steps too far.

“Dearest Coraline, I know it is uncouth to leave the bride alone this soon after the wedding, but I see misdeeds in our community and I feel compelled to act.”

“Trigger, dear, I would not love you if it was not for your steadfast and slavish attention to rooting out wrong-doers and miscreants By all means tell this… this… this PAN-HANDLER what for.”

Trigger gently straightened his arm, adjusted his formal clothing, cleared his throat and walked towards Ven Fleerbo.

“Rick Ven Fleerbo, you have been found pan-handling on Main Street. This is not allowed. Please cease immediately, before I am forced to use stronger measures!”

Ven Fleerbo froze, his eyes darting to the dressed-up lawman. His prominent Adam’s Apple jostled up and down, as if he just swallowed some saliva. He rapidly grabbed the few coins and the single note from the pan, shoved his ill-gotten gains into his pocket, then nodded and ran away.

Trigger walked back to his wife, bowed his head in apology and extended a bent arm.

“Coraline?”

Mrs Snowflake placed her hand yet again into the crook of his elbow, as they walked back to the Sheriff’s Office.

#

Trigger woke up, for the first time beside his beloved Coraline. She was still fast asleep as he sidled out from under the covers, put on some clothes and headed for the kitchen. Then he remembered that his BrewMatic 3000 had not yet been repaired and in the plentifulness of yesterday’s schedule, he’d completely forgotten to stock up on breakfast cereal.

With a quiet sigh, he reached for the communicator. It was normally reserved for official business only, but this once it was a luxury he would allow himself.

To: barbara@coffeeemporium.fortcorallium.io
From: snowflake@sheriff.fortcorallium.io
Subject: Breakfast/brunch order

I know this is irregular, but this once I thought I would allow me the luxury of ordering food in, although using the communicator is quite expensive. Never mind, I shall just have to cover this cost out of my own pocket. Where was I? Oh, yes, brunch. I would like to order three grilled synthecheese, four of your delicious danishes, one black fresh-ground Colombian coffee for me, and you are probably better placed to choose the exact coffee that Mrs Snowflake would like, seeing as how you have been working next to her these last few weeks. It would be good if you can send a runner with the brunch.

When they had finished the delicious delivery brunch, Trigger finally got properly dressed and headed out for a somewhat later than normal customary morning stroll up and down Main Street.

On the second round, he heard something unusual, as well as unexpected.

“… for my taking Fort Corallium and that Snowflake to justice? Anything would be helpful, seeing has how it is not cheap, and the Sheriff has deprived me of my income, by destroying my chances to sell my work as Fort Corallium’s most prominent local poet.”

He lengthened his steps, this was clearly something for the firm arms of the law. He turned a corner and saw, not entirely unexpected, Rick Ven Fleerbo, holding a kettle, begging for money from people passing by.

“Ven Fleerbo?! What did I say about pan-handling?”

“Well, Sheriff,” smirked Ven Fleerbo, “I think the exact thing you said was that pan-handling on Main Street was out of the question. I did some quick checking, and it turns out you’re correct. Thus, I am kettle-handling, and I am doing so no less than five feet from Main Street.”

“I… I… You are correct, Ven Fleerbo. But you watch yourself, I am keeping an eye on you.”

Ven Fleerbo waved at the Sheriff. Unfortunately, this jostled the rather heavy cast-iron kettle in his off hand and he ended up taking two steps forward to recover his balance.

“Aha!” said Trigger. “You are now only three feet from Main Street and engaged in illegal begging. I shall again be lenient, just stop this obnoxious behaviour and be on your way.”

Rick Ven Fleerbo uttered a long string of crude and vile Venusian curses, then skulked off.

#

It was a month after the wedding, and Trigger still enjoyed every moment of being a married man. He and Mrs Coraline were currently enjoying a most excellent Sunday roast, in the upstairs dining room, a room that had been unused during Trigger’s time as a bachelor. But now it was used for their joint Sunday lunch, as well as for the occasional hosting of dinners, as the entertainment expected from recently-married couples.

Trigger was just about to put his fork to a bowl of delicious Neptune Mess, a dessert of sponge cake, ice cream, fruit jellies, jam, and several custards, swirled in a manner as to evoke the surface of the gas giant, when there was a loud knocking on the front door.

“Bear with me, beloved Coraline, as I check what is up?”

“You do that, dearest Trigger, the Neptune Mess will hold.”

Trigger went downstairs and opened the door. Outside was a courier, with a large box.

“Sheriff Trigger Snowflake? Of Fort Corallium?”, said the courier.

“Speaking,” said Trigger, “what is this?”

“Package for you. Sign on delivery, sir.”

Trigger accepted the package, quickly signed the counterslip and let the courier be on his way. As he placed the box on his desk, he heard Coraline’s voice from upstairs.

“What was it, Trigger?”

“A package of some sort. I have not opened it yet, I believe it can wait until after dinner.”

Having finally finished the Neptune Mess, as well as some cookies and coffee after dessert, Trigger headed back downstairs. It was a sturdy box, plywood and space tape. He drew his Stardust knife from the sheath on his right thigh, and slit the tape. He lifted the lid off the box and gasped loudly.

“What is it, dearest Trigger? You sound surprised?”

“Beloved Coraline, this is completely unexpected. I have received a law suit. I have not yet checked the inner pocket for the circumstances, but I have a sinking feeling I know exactly what this is about.”

Trigger unpacked the clothes, and felt in the left pocket of the vest, where by custom the reason for the law suit was stashed, so as to make it possible to construct a coherent defence. Looking at the paper slip, it seemed he could linger as much as three hours before he needed to start for Luna, where the Planetary Alliance System Court had its offices and court rooms.

Sheriff Snowflake went upstairs, heart heavy in his chest.

“Beloved Coraline, the knock at the door was a court courier, delivering a law suit, bought by that odious bore Ven Fleerbo. Unfortunately, I need to set off for Luna in a few hours, and I must ensure I am properly packed.”

“Dearest Trigger, it is true that I will miss you while you are gone, but you are true and just, and so will prevail.”

“I wish I had your faith, but I have been these things go unexpected ways before. Sure, it’s uncommon, but that does not mean one shall completely discount the possibility. Ah, well, the suit has been brought, and I shall simply have to Sheriff up and do the needful.”

#

“This is Luna Traffic Control. Inbound sheriff shuttle SGW-2249, please vector on landing beacon Zed Zed Alpha. Once landed, please proceed to bay 58.”

“This is SGW-2249, vector on Zed Zed Alpha, then bay 58, understood.”

Trigger relaxed, the shuttle was sufficiently clever to follow a landing beacon and doing collision avoidance. This was possibly the most relaxing bit of the whole journey, since the autopilot definitely wasn’t smart enough for computing transfer orbits. Thankfully, the common misconception that the asteroid belt was neck to jowl with rocks was false, but that did not mean that needing to traverse it was stress-free. But, for the next 20 minutes, Trigger could simply relax, before needing to find the bay where his shuttle would refuel and wait for him, should the legal case go well.

Half an hour later, Trigger finished getting dressed in the law suit, the only clothes he would wear until he was fully a free man again. With a snort and a shake of his head, he stepped put of the shuttle. As he locked the shuttle up, a young woman walked towards him.

“Sheriff Snowflake? I am Herm Kiselo Rockblaster, clerk to the honourable Judge Belfries. Thank you for sending a signal with your estimated arrival, this has allowed the System Court to schedule the first, preliminary, hearing in fifteen minutes. If you would follow me?”

Trigger blushed, how could he have missed the signs? Not a woman at all, but a hermaphrodite. His only excuse was out in the frontier, where he lived, herms were primarily seen in popular entertainment, and as such were a bit more obvious.

“Certainly, Herm Rockblaster. Lead away.”

A few minutes later, they entered an opulent court room, panelled in what looked like genuine wood, definitely an imported luxury on Luna. Seated on the left, Trigger could see Rick Ven Fleerbo, sitting next to what looked like another Venusian. If he’d had more of a chance to prepare, Trigger would have brought an advocate, too, but hiring one was no trivial matter, and he had hoped he’d be able to see to that before even the preliminary hearing. Thankfully, Luna being the centre of legal wrangling that it was, it would not be hard finding an advocate that he could trust and work with.

Ven Fleerbo turned his head, as Trigger was walking down the aisle, to take his place on the front right, where the defendant’s assigned seating was.

“Snowflake! At least you’re not enough of a lily-belly to coward out. Would’ve been quicker, but this is more fun.”

Ven Fleerbo’s advocate tapped him on the shoulder, making a hushing gesture.

Trigger simply tilted his hat, then sat down.

The court room basked in an uncomfortable silence, until the door behind the judge’s podium opened and Judge Belfries stepped out.

“Let it be known that Honourable Judge Belfries is in the court. The court will now start preliminary hearings for Ven Fleerbo v Snowflake, in a matter of racial discrimination.”

Trigger took a deep breath, glanced to the left and saw Ven Fleerbo sneer in an unpleasant manner.

“This law suit has been bought by Rick Ven Fleerbo, a Venusian and a professional Sulphur Poet, against Trigger Bolt Snowflake, a martian, and a professional sheriff.

“If counsel for Ven Fleerbo would like to start?”

Ven Fleerbo started to stand, but his advocate quickly put a hand on his shoulder and whispered something in his ear.

“I am Slem Ven Pocketry, a Venusian and advocate for Rick Ven Fleerbo. We are here, because the defendant, Snowflake, has maligned my client, conspired to deprive him of income, caused hm to be ejected from poetry slams, and in other ways harmed my client, my client’s pride, and worst of all, deprived my client of income that was rightfully his. We intend to prove that this is because Snowflake hates Venusians, hates Sulphur Poetry and specifically has done all of these things because he wishes to deprive my client of all these things specifically because Rick Ven Fleerbo is Venusian.”

“Thank you. Advocate for… Ah, would the defendant please speak? And before you start, are you intending to stand pro se, or are you intending to find an advocate, should this go to full proceedings?”

“I am Trigger Bolt Snowflake, a Martian and a Sheriff. My intention was to find an advocate before the preliminary hearing, but with only fifteen minutes from setting down, I deemed it more appropriate to appear in person and on time. I will search for a suitable advocate, once this preliminary hearing is over.

“It is true that I was one of three people who caused Ven Fleerbo to be disinvited from the Coffee Emporium Poetry Slam, about two months ago. The person who made the actual decision was the manager of the Coffee Emporium, then Miss Coraline Hoyter, now Mrs Trigger Snowflake. But the chief reason Mr Ven Fleerbo was disinvited was because despite multiple pointed letters, verbal warnings, gentle reminders, pointed remarks and the like, Mr Ven Fleerbo failed to understand that what is polite in Sulphur circles is not acceptable behaviour on the moons of Jupiter. Simply stated, Mr Ven Fleerbo’s behaviour is incommensurate with furnished spaces, and that and that alone is the reason he was disinvited.”

“I have heard both sides in this preliminary hearing. I find that neither side has convinced me beyond reasonable doubt that their side will prevail. In accordance with the Planetary Alliance System Court’s rules and procedures, I declare that this law suit will proceed to full session. The court will reconvene tomorrow, at 09:07, for the start of the proceedings. I, Honourable Judge Belfries, hereby declare this court adjourned.”

#

Trigger left the third prospective advocate, glumly starting to think that he might, after all, have to represent himself. He stopped at a street corner, contemplating the pros and cons of such a strategy, when a familiar face walked past.

“Lilyberg? I thought you were still in Fort Corallium?!”

The man stopped, turned his head and started at Trigger.

“Pardon me? Do we know each other?”

“Ah, I am terribly sorry. You look very much like a man I know, Joseph Lilyberg.”

“Joseph Lilyberg, jeweller in Fort Corllium?”

“That’s the man. Again, terribly sorry.”

“Ah, no, it is no problem. Joseph is my brother. I am Emmanuel Lilyberg. May I trouble you for your name?”

“Trigger Snowflake, at your service.”

“Ah, Sheriff Snowflake? Joe has spoken well of you. What brings you to Luna in general, and Practice Street in particular?”

“I have had a law suit bought for me, and the preliminary hearing is already over, and I would very much like to find an advocate I can work with before the main session starts tomorrow.”

“Hm. If you have a few minutes, you can follow me to my office and I can do some due diligence. If this is the Flerrbo v Snowflake case, I believe I have an opening in my calendar, if primary session starts in the next day or three.”

“Tomorrow, 09:07, Mr Lilyberg.”

“Ah, excellent. If you would follow me?”

#

The following morning, Trigger followed Emmanuel (‘Manny’) Lilyberg into the court room. They were the first to arrive. They’d only been seated for a few seconds, when the doors slammed open. Rick Ven Fleerbo entered the court room, with swaggering steps, his law suit adorned with a yellow cape.

Ven Fleerbo and advocate sat down in the Plaintiff’s Section, smugly waiting for the proceedings to start. Trigger fidgeted a bit. He was surprisingly nervous, seeing as how he’d faced down multiple armed assailants, more than once. But, then, a duel on High Street at noon was a battleground he understood, whereas a court was well outside his comfort room.

The door behind the judge’s podium opened, and Judge Belfries stepped out.

“Let it be known that Honourable Judge Belfries is in the court. This court is now in session for Ven Fleerbo v Snowflake in a matter of racial discrimination. Is the plaintiff present?”

“Aye!”, said Ven Fleerbo, as he quickly popped to standing, then sat down again.

“Plaintiff is present. Is the defendant present?”

“Aye!”, said Trigger, simply raising his right arm over his head, fist clenched.

“Defendant is present. I see both plaintiff and defendant have advocates present. Excellent. Yesterday, we conducted a preliminary hearing, which did not firmly establish one way or another where the truth in this matter lies. The purpose of this session is firstly to establish the truth. Secondly, based on the truth found, determine where guilt lies. And, thirdly, dispense justice, retribution and corrective measures as the court sees fit.”

The judge paused, to allow for any questions from the floor. A few seconds later, no questions raised, the judge continued.

“The court calls Rick Ven Fleerbo, Venusian and Sulphur Poet. Please take the witness stand, and place your hands on the truth sensors on the railing. Tell us what your perception of the events are. Remember that you will be under oath. Lying to the court is perjury and punished by fines in minor cases, all the way up to imprisonment and work camps for severe cases. Your pulse, skin conductivity and the like will be measured and analysed after the session.”

Ven Fleerbo walked to the witness stand, placed his hands on the metal pads on the stand’s railing, took a deep breath and started.

“Judge Belfries, the court, the audience. I am thankful that the court has decided there is merit in this suit. Mere words cannot express the depth of my gratitude.”

Ven Fleerbo turned to the judge and demonstrated an infallible aim, projectile-vomiting straight onto the centre of the judge’s chest.

“It all started when my publicist tried to censor…”

Judge Belfries stood up and roared.

“The Court finds Ven Fleerbo in contempt! Without taking the witness stand, as it is not usable at the moment, defendant Snowflake, is what we just witnessed symptomatic of why Ven Fleerbo was disinvited from the poetry slam?”

Trigger stood up. “Yes, your Honour. It has been my experience that the plaintiff is incommensurable with furnished rooms, especially when he feels a need to express gratitude.”

Judge Belfries ripped his robes off. Thankfully, he wore a full set of clothing beneath.

“This court now dismisses Ven Fleerbo v Snowflake. With prejudice! Furthermore, the court finds Ven Fleerbo in contempt, and issues a fine of 500 Solars, to be paid no later than the end of the week. Even furthermore, the court charges Ven Fleerbo with an induction to not demonstrate gratitude in public, anywhere within the Planetary Alliance, except within Venostationary orbit. This session is now concluded.”

#

Trigger shook Manny Lilyberg’s hand, then entered his shuttle. It would be a long trip back, but at least he would be able to change back into his own clothes. And at the end of the journey, his beloved Coraline would be waiting. And hopefully this would be the last anyone heard of the odious Rick Ven Fleerbo.

Do Books Expand to Exceed the Time Available?

By Daniel P. Dern: I don’t remember how long ago it was — 20+ wouldn’t surprise me — that I read a comment that we (the sf field) had passed the point where one person could read and keep up with all the sf being published, e.g. all the new books, magazines, anthologies. I.e., it would take more than a year to read all the new stuff from the year.

It might not have been from a reviewer; I seem to also recall the larger point being made that “it’s no longer possible to keep up with the field, and to the extent that the field can be seen as a conversation with itself, each new story to a large extent building on and/or arguing with what has gone before, have we passed the threshold where this is no longer possible.”

My question is: how many people-reading-years (or, how many people)’s worth of new sf (including fantasy, perhaps also horror and paranormal) is being published, per year, these days? Or, “a given person could only read what fraction?”

Obviously, this would be a rough ballpark. I assume the original stat (or it might have simply been a considered opinion) made some assumptions of average reading speed, average #/hours/week reading, average book size, etc.

It’s obviously more complicated now, because of boundaries, like – publishers but excluding self-pub? (Or some self-pub?)

  • What about fanfic?
  • Just in English?

Perhaps delimit by, say, “Based on being listed in Locus.”

But I’m curious, order-of-magnitude wise. 10 people? 20?

“Available time” isn’t helped by the proliferation of comic books, ditto  movies and TV.

(And ignoring the time consumed with fanzines/sites (sic).)

A Strange Discovery in China

By Carl Slaughter: Got a real treat for you.  Under the east train station in Guangzhou, China, is the Po Park Mall.  At the entrance to the Po Park Mall, next to the Food Republic food court, is a statue of Dr. Strange.  One of the signs says in English and Chinese, “Photo only.  Don’t damage me.”  Another sign has the Marvel logo.  Here are photos of the signs, a full body photo of the Dr. Strange statue, and a head shot of the statue.

A New Twist On Balderdash

By Danny Sichel: Recently, I devised a game for fans that can be played at cons and club meetings. It requires only paper, pencils, and at least four people, of whom one has a broad knowledge of SF and/or is willing to do research beforehand. At the February 2018 meeting of MONSFFA (the Montreal Science Fiction / Fantasy Association), we playtested it.

As I described it at the beginning of the game:

You may have noticed that the meeting program says we’ll be playing Balderdash. This is not the case. To start with, I’ll explain the rules of Balderdash, which we will not be playing.

If we were playing Balderdash – which we are not – I would have a deck of vocabulary cards, which would all have strange weird peculiar uncommon words. I would read you one of the words, but not the definition; you would all invent definitions, write them down, hand them in to me. I would read them all out loud – including the real one. Each of you would then pick which one you think is real. If you choose the right answer, you get a point – and if you choose someone else’s answer, they get a point. So you’re incentivized to be not just creative and insightful, but also plausible.

Or, at least, that would be the case if we were playing Balderdash. Which we’re not. Because rather than obscure words… we are using the titles of science fiction and fantasy stories. I’ll give you the title, and you have to write down a synopsis of what you think that story is about.

Remember, stories can be about the weirdest damn things… and the meanings of the titles are not always obvious. But then again, sometimes they are.

One of the fun parts of this game is the prep work: going through decades worth of anthologies and magazines and picking out stories based on their titles, and knowing the stories well enough that you can boil them down into a single sentence…. and then keep boiling. Go beyond simple, into simplistic. Describe something so blandly that pathos becomes bathos. Spoil the ending. Focus on a single minor aspect, to a ridiculous extent. Make something deep and serious sound trivial and silly.

How many stories can you identify among the crowds of impostors?

Results from our first game are on the MONSFFA site — “A Game that wasn’t Balderdash!”

Trigger Snowflake – Prominent Local Poet

By Ingvar: Trigger Snowflake woke up, and as he normally did, he walked downstairs, to the kitchen in the Sheriff’s Office. He loaded his trusty BrewMatic 3000, and pressed the start button. Most mornings, this was an uneventful routine, but this morning, the BrewMatic 3000 made a few distressing coughing noises, then simply ejected tepid water and all the coffee grounds in a distressing spray.

Trigger sighed, went over to the refrigerator, grabbed some milk and went to prepare his customary morning bowl of Nut Neptune Nuggets. Unfortunately, it seemed as if he had not been paying attention the previous day, as he only had enough Neptune Nuggets for half a bowl.

After a less than completely satisfying breakfast, Trigger was busy doing weapons maintenance on his trusty revolvers, when the door was flung open.

“Sheriff, sheriff, I am being blacklisted, oppressed and simply denied my rights as a free man!”

Trigger looked up from his half-dismantled guns, seeing Rick Ven Fleebro, a Venusian who’d arrived a few years ago.

“If you take a seat, and describe the happenings to me, while I finish up maintenance?”

“I will do this, Sheriff Snowflake. I have been most unfairly maligned, lied about, and now blacklisted from the Poetry Slam!”

Trigger’s forehead lifted a small amount, the Poetry Slam would be taking place at the Coffee Emporium, under the kind and welcoming oversight of his fiancee, Miss Coraline Hoyter. Surely nothing underhanded could be happening?

“As you know, I am a prominent local poet, and six months ago, I published a defining work of Venusian Sulphur Poetry. It all went well, to start with, but after a short while, my publicist and publisher sent me a letter, asking me to please stop showing people what I ate for dinner the previous night, which is considered polite on Venus and especially among Sulphur artists. Of course, I did not pay her rude interjection any heed, as I am polite, well-spoken and generally considered to be a model Venusian. Then, probably forced to do so by the namely-pappy weakling brigade, she worded it a bit stronger. She sent a letter that said that I would have to only show my dinner on my own time, not during publicity speeches for my book, during interviews about how I am a prominent local poet and the like. Which, as you can tell, not only offensive but also a direct attempt at curtailing my free speech.”

Trigger nodded, it was a fiddly piece of disassembly in progress, the firing mechanism had to be daintily disconnected from the plebotium power core.

“And, then, this morning, out of absolutely nowhere, I received a card from Miss Hoyter, at the Coffee Emporium, saying that due to my Venusian background, I have been stricken from the Poetry Slam line-up. You must do something, Sheriff Snowflake. Arrest all of these people!”

Trigger finished cleaning the parts of hs weapons and looked up at Ven Fleerbo.

“First, I need to reassemble my proton shooters. After that I will make inquiries and arrests as appropriate.”

#

Susan Doed was heads-down in her paperwork, when a firm knock sounded from her door. She re-assembled the papers into a neat stack and went to unlock the front door.

“Ah, Sheriff Snowflake, what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”

“Perhaps pleasant is overstating things, Miss Doed. I am here on a matter of law.”

“Oh. Well. Let me not keep you standing in the door. Come in, can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Some coffee would not sit amiss. I will be taking notes, since this is after all a work visit.”

“Sure. Do you take sugar or milk?”

“One sugar, brown if you have. No milk. Now, Miss Doed, I understand you are the publicist for a Mr Ven Fleerbo?”

“Am, was, that is a little bit unclear. We have not formally dissolved the contract, but Mr Ven Fleerbo has made it blatantly obvious that he no longer demands my services.”

“Hmm?”

“Well, only two weeks ago, he stormed out of this very office, screaming ‘You will be sorry for this, you slimy porcupine-loving equality-fighting shnipty!’ Yes, he even used the S word!”

“Anything more you can tell me about your association with Mr Ven Fleerbo?”

“It’s probably better if I just go through this from the start. About a year ago, Rick Ven Fleerbo came to my office, with the manuscript for a Venusian Sulphur Poetry collection in hand and asked if that was something I would be interested in publishing. I said, as I normally do to walk-ins, ‘Leave it on that shelf, with a note giving your contact details, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.’ About two, maybe three, days later, I had time to look at it and it was good. I mean, it was good Sulphur. A somewhat specialised kind of poetry, as you know.

“I decided it was worth getting it typeset and printed. We agreed that I would also help Mr Ven Fleerbo with promotional work and arrange a few readings. And that’s when the problems started. You see, it’s a tradition among Sulphur artists to, as a sign of thanks and respect, regurgitate their last meal during a recitation, or upon receiving strong compliments. And it is then expected that the person, or persons, being thrown up on, should at least taste the effluvia.

“I didn’t initially know this, so I was, as they say, somewhat surprised having a grown man throw up all over the front of my dress. I informed Mr Ven Fleerbo that engaging in this habit would probably limit his ability to sell his volume of poems. At first, he seemed to take this in an even stride, but when I reminded hum, a few weeks later, after he’d thrown up all over the stage as the applause broke out during a recitation, he started getting angry, and screamed something about being oppressed.”

“And?”

“Well, this has been going back and forth, for a while. I have now stopped trying to book him for readings, because quite a few venues simply decline having Ven Fleerbo on stage, citing local health inspectors, clean-up costs and rapidly declining attendance numbers on any event where Ven Fleerbo is listed on the billboard.”

“Thank you, Miss Doed, I may return for some more questions, later.”

#

Trigger arrived at the Coffee Emporium as the lunch crowd petered out. He boldly went in, waving at his fiancee, striding up towards the counter.

“Good afternoon, dear Coraline, I am unfortunately here on business. Can we talk in the back room?”

“Certainly, Trigger. Let me just hand the counter over to Barbara, she can certainly use the experience.”

They went through to the back room. Miss Coraline Hoyter sat down behind the manager’s desk, sighing with slight relief as her weight transferred from her dainty feet onto the chair.

“So, beloved Trigger, business you say?”

“Unfortunately so. I was approached this morning by a Rick Ven Fleerbo, a prominent local poet. I take it the name is familiar?”

“Ah, yes, Mr Ven Fleerbo. I am assuming this is in conjunction with next week’s Poetry Slam?”

“How perceptive of you. Yes. Could you please recount your view of what’s happened, while I take some notes?”

“There’s nothing much to tell. Having had reports from poetry slams throughout the entirety of the mining colony, from Fort Hamhock, Duralumin Gulch, and even Beryllium City, I learned that Mr Ven Fleerbo has a tendency to engage in… certain behaviour that is not really appreciated by the audience. I wrote him a letter, saying that his attendance as a poet at the Slam was conditional on a promise to not vomit all over my Emporium. My expectation was that he would respond with a promise not to, or at least a non-committal ‘I will do my best’. His actual response was profanity-laden and contained a promise to sup on the most foul dishes on the previous evening, so he could truly show the Fort Corallium public in how high of an esteem he holds them.”

“Hm?”

“Yes, it is the tradition among Venusian Sulphur artists. You consume things, in order to absorb and filter the more exceptional of their foods, then you simply void your digestive system and let people partake of slightly less vile foods.”

“So, your response at this point was?”

“Well, I wrote back and simply said that as I’d previously told him, his attendance was conditional on the opposite that he had promised. So with some regret, I cancelled him from the line-up and that, as far as I am concerned, is that. Now, dear Trigger, why are you asking about this, is there some sort of problem, here?”

“Yes, I wish I could tell you more, but the integrity of law enforcement, etc, etc.”

“Oh, my beloved darling, it must be such a troublesome balancing act for you.”

“It is not the most pleasant situation, Miss Hoyter. Not the most pleasant.”

#

The following day, Trigger woke up and went to the kitchen again. As he was about to open the cabinet, he suddenly remembered that yesterday had seen neither the repair of his DripMatic 3000, nor a purchase of more Neptute Nut Nuggets. With a blue word, he slammed the cabinet door shut, all ready to go down to the Coffee Emporium to break his fast there, when the front door slammed open.

“Sheriff Snowflake! It is I, prominent local poet Rick Ven Fleerbo. You must immediately arrest the vile women at the Coffee Emporium! They have now moved into complete slandering of me!”

“Mr Ven Fleerbo, I would appreciate it if you depart my office, for at least one hour. I have not yet had a chance to break fast and I am not in the best of moods.”

“Ah, that is at least easy to repair!”

With those words, Ven Fleerbo inserted a quick finger into his mouth, tickling the top of his throat. And in a magnificent display of respect deposited all of yesterday’s evening meal, all over Sheriff Snowflake, the floor, the kitchen cabinets, and counters.

“Mr Ven Fleerbo! Have you no concept of how to behave in a non-Venusian setting? Depart immediately, or I will have you arrested for obstruction of justice!”

Half an hour later, after a change of clothes and the second shower of the morning, Trigger arrived at the Coffee Emporium. He entered, fund his accustomed chair empty, sat down and leaned his head heavily into his hands, elbows firmly planted on the surface of the table.

“Beloved Trigger! Such a face, this early in the day! The usual?”

“Yes, Coraline, the usual.”

He proceeded to eat his pastry, finished his coffee and was seriously considering having a second cup when the door was flung open and Ven Fleerbo entered.

“Collusion! You are conspiring with these vile women. I should have known it!”

“Mr Ven Fleerbo!”, Trigger shouted, “You are factually incorrect. Having considered all the evidence, I can find no conspiracy to put you down for your Venusian background, only for the complete and utter inability to be kept in furnished rooms. It is very possible to be a Venusian Sulphur poet without engaging in such graphic shows of gratitude as you are prone to. In fact, Morpo Ven Eensam, prominent planetary poet, has succeeded in doing the very same for near on ten years. You, Mr Ven Fleerbo, are just an uncouth bore. Now, leave my fiancee’s Coffee Emporium, before I have you arrested for bringing false accusations.”

With that, Rick Ven Fleerbo turned around and left the coffee Emporium.

“Oh, dearest Trigger, such a manly outburst,” gushed Miss Hoyter, “let me tell you what I have been working towards.”

Trigger let his gaze move from the now-empty doorway to the breathtakingly beautiful face of his fiancee.

“Plans, Coraline?”

“Yes, plans. As you know, it will be impossible for me to continue to run the Coffee Emporium, once I am a wife and married woman, as I will have to focus completely on the household. But, fear not! I have trained a replacement, to take over the Coffee Emporium.”

“Marvellous! Have I met her?”

“Yes, you saw her yesterday, she is Miss Barbara Dimatis and has shown a suitable strength of will and honesty. And to that effect, I have spoken to the Preacher and he can join us in matrimony this evening, if that suits?”