Sunday, May 31, 2009

A little bit about "Microcosmic Buccaneers"

In 1911 the British physicist Ernest Rutherford came up with the Rutherford model of the atom, which saw the atom as having a tiny, positively charged nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons. The analogy to planets orbiting a sun was obvious; so obvious that as early as 1919 the writer Ray Cummings wrote a story, "The Girl in the Golden Atom", in which a scientist discovers that the electrons are planets, with their own submicroscopic inhabitants.

Although the view of atoms as miniature solar systems had been discarded by physicists by the mid-1920s, writers of fantastic fiction continued to tell tales of people from our own world shrinking themselves down to subatomic size and interacting with the inhabitants of electron-sized planets. The Shrunken Hero became one of the common tropes of early science fiction. In his anthology Before the Golden Age, Isaac Asimov included three stories of subatomic adventure: Capt. S.P. Meek's "Submicroscopic" and its sequel "Alwo of Ulm", and Henry Hasse's "He Who Shrank".

So it was only natural that as Harl Vincent continued writing science fiction during the Gernsback Era, he would eventually make use of the Shrunken Hero motif. As he often did, though, Vincent gave the tale an unusual twist. The people of his electron-sized planets are under the rule of the Prags, a race of rapacious telepaths. When our two heroes travel to the submicroscopic realm, they find themselves swept up in a revolution as the human-like inhabitants of Els make their desperate bid for freedom from their telepathic overlords.

The "master race" ideology of the 19th century was reaching its high-water mark in the 1920s, with the triumph of the Fascists in Italy giving rise to racial-nationalist movements throughout Europe. And of course, as an American, Vincent didn't need to look overseas to see the "master race" ideology in bloom when the Ku Klux Klan was at the peak of its power in the United States and the Jim Crow laws were at their worst. It is just such an ideology that motivates the Prags in their oppression of the other races of their atomic solar system, and the defeat of the Prags is also a defeat for their racist ideology.

Vincent's picture of the big-headed, telepathic Prags manipulating other races was echoed thirty-five years later in "The Cage", Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek pilot, with its big-headed, telepathic Talosians manipulating Captain Pike and his crew. Given the obscurity of "Microcosmic Buccaneers" it is extremely unlikely that anyone in the Star Trek production team was aware of it; pushy telepathic aliens have always been a dime a dozen in science fiction, so there were plenty of other models for the Talosians. Nevertheless, it is gratifying to think that Harl Vincent was there first.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 13

This is the thirteenth and final installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first twelve installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. While Minott is being forced to help the Prags launch an invasion of the home universe, Grayson has escaped and joined the Prags' subject races, which have launched an assault on the Prags' homeworld . . .

The Administration Building Gone

For three days they remained on the planet Pra, exploring every nook and cranny that might hold a skulking Prag. Communications from Trasa told of victory over the Prag vessel that was quartered there. The golden sphere told them that the vessel at the shore of Lake Ilo had not been molested, as the Elsians desired to learn more concerning the experiments that were being conducted.

When Erne told him of this, Grayson groaned. "Captain," he said, "I can tell them all they wish to know of those experiments. And my friend Minott can tell them more. Tell them to destroy the Prags at once by means of the air vibrations. I fear for Minott's safety and I fear for my own world."

"But it is impossible for me to give orders to my superiors," Erne objected.

"Then send one of our ships back. Send me with it and I'll lay the case before the authorities. I tell you, Captain, there is much at stake -- much."

Grayson was pleading now. He knew that it would be necessary for the greater part of the force to remain in Capis for several more days to make sure the job had been well done. But he pleaded for Minott, for his own peoples. And eventually Erne took it up with the commander of the expedition. After much explaining on Grayson's part, it was finally arranged that one of the spheres was to return him to Arun, and that he was to be allowed to tell his story to the Governor there. He expressed his gratitude in no uncertain terms and hastened to board the vessel that was assigned to carry him back.

During the short voyage he worried constantly. Grayson was in the control room, talking with the pilot. Suddenly he gasped in alarm. The great pointed cylinder that was the Prags' vessel lay crushed in the ruins of what had once been the Administration Building! A vicious curl of white told of the Prag gas cloud that was not yet fully cleared from the streets!

"We are too late!" he moaned. "The three hundred maidens were quartered in that building!"

The pilot looked at him commiseratingly. "You had a sweetheart among them?"

"Yes," Grayson replied. He choked and paled and the pilot maneuvered the ship to as quick a landing as possible.

No sooner were they on solid ground when the earth man donned his gas mask and demanded that he be allowed to leave the vessel. Upon the pilot's explaining of matters to the captain this was allowed and Grayson rushed into the ruins of the building, crawling under the great metal hull of the Prag vessel to get into the débris. He thought he could locate the chambers where Lola and her father had been quartered and he risked his life in worming his way through caved-in corridors and broken-walled rooms until he reached this point. He found the body of Atar and mourned over it, as if the Elsian had been a life-long friend instead of a recent acquaintance. But, try as he would he could find no trace of Lola. He found many other bodies, a few of them of the young girls who were thought so safely housed, but there was no evidence of either the death or the saving of the girl he had loved so quickly and deeply. He crawled from the débris and rushed frantically to the ship which had brought him.

The last vestige of the gas was now cleared away and he found a crowd collected about the entrance of the massive sphere. Among them was the Governor, and Grayson elbowed his way to his side. The pilot of the vessel was there and he acted as the earth man's interpreter.

"Were many of the three hundred saved?" he first asked.

Patiently he waited for the translations. This Governor was not as adept at picking up his language as had been some of the others.

"Yes," the pilot translated back. "More than two hundred were rescued."

The Governor had a list and he looked through it carefully for the name of Lola. It was not there!

The raid had come unexpectedly, it seemed. Out of a clear sky the enemy had appeared and had laid down gas clouds in several sections of the city. A portable wave generator was finally brought into action and the ship was sent down out of control -- unfortunately directly atop the Administration Building. There were thousands of casualties throughout Arun. But the High Command had not suspected that such a thing would transpire.

"Damn the High Command!" said Grayson. "They were wrong, and I have lost Lola -- probably Minott too."

He remained in the city, sick at heart. For three days the wrecking crews searched the demolished building, bringing many bodies for identification. But Lola was not among them. When the casualty lists were complete and neither she nor Minott were accounted for, Grayson had an inspiration. Maybe Minott had been left behind! Maybe he was still at Lake Ilo! He would go and find out.

* * *

Attempts to communicate with the village were futile, so the Governor provided a ronsal to carry the earth man to the village. Before he left, there came the general broadcast advising that the remaining three Elsian spheres had left Pra and were on their way home. The celebration over the complete victory was starting as he ronsal left the city limits, but there was no jubilation in Grayson's heart. He was bitter; broken-hearted.

When the ronsal reached the site of the vilalge they found it in complete ruin. The Prags had destroyed it before they left for Arun! But, looking out toward the lake, it was seen that the huts that covered the experimental mechanism were still standing. Grayson made all haste to reach them and he searched first one and then the others of the rude shelters.

"Grayson!" came a familiar and beloved voice.

Minott stood before him and the younger man fell to his knees and thanked God that the Prags had left him behind. Minott raised him gently to his feet and led him to the largest of the shelters, thrusting him through the door without a word. There in a chair that they had built when they first came, sat Lola!

The young man stopped in his tracks and gazed at her with unbelieving eyes. Then they embraced.

Minott gave them plenty of time; then he stepped through the open door and coughed gently. His face beamed and explanations came fast and furiously.

Half crazed at the death of her father, Lola had made her way to the village only to find it in ruins. She collapsed, but by good fortune Minott found her and nursed her back to health. It was a happy reunion and the three embraced in a huddle from sheer joy.

There came a tremendous wrench, a twisting and warping of the universe, and they stood in Minott's laboratory -- three where there had been but two before. Lola still clung to her lover but Minott sprang to the super-microscope and shut off the power.

"What on earth?" gasped Grayson.

Minott glanced at the clock and laughed. "My boy," he said, "our two minutes have expired. Our own apparatus brought us back, thanks to the time switch."

"You mean to say that all of that grief took place during two minutes of our time?"

"Absolutely. The time-space relationship, you see. Those long days in the atom universe were but fractions of a second here. The Elsians and the Prags and all of them lived out their lifetimes in less than one of our days. I had forgotten that point while we were there. Which reminds me that I must investigate fully the qualities of our focussing ray. It must have the property of altering the time-space relationship optically, for when we observed the Elsians through the super-microscope their terrific pace of living was not apparent."

"But Lola," objected Grayson, "will she live a normal span of years here?" He drew her still more closely in awful fear.

"Of course. The time-space relationship has been altered with her as well as with us. You may live happily ever after, my children."

Minott's face was wreathed in smiles and Lola, comprehending that she was in a new and strange land, but not understanding how, was glad. She had found her happiness, and, but for the ache that remained in her heart for her father, was content.


(continue to "A little bit about Microcosmic Buccaneers")

Friday, May 29, 2009

LOC: Empathy and Chrysler dealerships

Earlier this month, the front-pagers and posters at Balloon Juice evolved a new theory of wingnuttery to replace the rapidly-discredited idea of Peak Wingnut: the Wingularity. As described by KG at his new blog The Wingularity is Near, Wingularity Theory holds that wingnut is conserved: it can neither be created nor destroyed, but tends to grow more dense (in both senses of the word) as the number of wingnuts diminishes. As KG puts it:

the insanity of the right (or at least those controlling the Republican Party) will continue to grow exponentially until it collapses into itself, creating the Wingularity, from which no sanity can escape.
One of the symptoms of the approaching Wingularity is the tendency for wingnuts to speak to each other in their own private code, which they understand (and which we, their liberal observers, perforce understand) but which the non-wingnut majority does not. I noticed this tendency myself a couple months back, which led me to come up with my own list of wingnut terminology. This list, which I have decided to formally dub the Lexicon of Crazy, requires continual updating, since the wingnuts are continually adding to their list of code words and phrases.

And so, with this blog post, I now formally add two more terms to the Lexicon of Crazy: empathy and Chrysler dealerships. As the wingnuts add more terms, I will continue to formally update the Lexicon of Crazy in posts like this one.

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 12

This is the twelfth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first eleven installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. Minott and Grayson have been brought to the Prags' subject planet Els, where they are being forced to help the Prags launch an invasion of their home universe. Grayson has escaped and joined the Elsian defense forces, which are launching an attack on the Prags . . .

The End of the Great Ones

Grayson felt one of the gas masks thrust into his hand but he was too excited to pay much attention. His face was pressed to the window and he saw that several of the flapping-winged craft of the Prags were approaching their own vessel. So close did they come, that he was able to see the ghastly bulbous heads of the two Prags who occupied the nearest. Then he saw one of them go limp and slump forward in his seat. The second followed suit and the wings flapped crazily, out of control. The bird-like mechanism flew drunkenly and then dashed headlong to earth sending up a cloud of dust as it crashed. The others of the curious squadron quickly joined it and he knew that the wave generators of their vessels were a success.

Along the several roads that entered the city could be seen scurrying groups of Elsians and kindred beings from Rad and Aun. These were the prisoners, rushing from the mines and workshops in accordance with the plan.

Then they were over the city and the nine spheres circled and swooped, their wave generators operating at full capacity. From the square there rose one of the cylindrical Prag fliers and it headed directly toward Grayson's vessel. With a quick spurt the great sphere rose and allowed the pointed metal cylinder to whiz harmlessly past beneath them. It passed so closely that they could hear the rush of its slip-stream through the walls of the ship. Then it too went drunkenly reeling, shooting skyward and circling and diving, completely out of control. Again the wave generators had proved their worth. The huge cylinder went down in the midst of the tall ebon buildings, tearing away walls and roof structures and carrying hundreds of Prags to their deaths in the falling débris. Another of the Prag fliers met a similar fate in an attempted attack on another of the spheres of the outlanders. There were cheers from Grayson's companions and one and all they itched to be outside and in the confusion that reigned in the streets of the city.

Still the great spheres circled the city, spreading destruction beneath them. Two more of the Prag fliers rose to the attack and one of the spheres went down at the successful rush of the first of the pointed vessels. But the cylinder was carried to its doom along with the victim for the swift rush had carried the pointed end through and through the sphere where it stuck, the sphere impaled like an apple on a spike. The second cylinder was dodged by its intended prey and soon went down to join its fellows. There remained but one of the ships in the square and the watchers could see that its crew was deserting and making for the buildings on the edge of the square. Grayson's sphere hovered a moment over the square, then settled gracefully to a landing. The order came to don gas masks and the hatches were opened.

Out into the open filed the Elsian infantry, trinors in hand and looking fearfully inhuman with their eyes hidden behind the huge goggles of their masks. Dead and dying Prags lay in heaps about the square and they had to climb over piles of them in places in order to make their way to the streets. A cloud of the white gas descended on them and they fought their way blindly in the direction of the tall building for which they had started. Grayson stumbled over a body and fell heavily. When he arose, he found that he was alone but he staggered his way through the murk until he reached a wall. He felt along this and fell through an opening which proved to be the entrance of a building. Pushing open the door, he rushed into the corridor, and here there was none of the gas, and the lights were burning brightly. He removed his mask and looked around.

* * *

Neither Prag nor outlander was in sight and he immediately recognized this as the building that housed the Great Ones. He heard a commotion nearby and walked down the corridor to investigate. In a narrow hall that branched from the corridor he found three of the Elsian prisoners struggling with one of the lower class Prags. As he reached them, there came the crackling blue flare of the ray pistol and one of the Elsians suddenly melted into horrid nothingness. With a cry of rage he drew his own ray pistol, forgetting the trimor, and the Prag turned wide eyes in his direction as the blue flame struck him full in the chest. The two remaining Elsian prisoners were saved and they spurned the shrinking mass of putrefaction that had been their enemy as they rushed to thank their rescuer.

With the assistance of these two slaves he located the lift and the three ascended to the uppermost floor. They emerged under the transparent roof and Trayson grimly set forth to beard the Great Ones in their den, the two Elsians protesting in fear. He paid no heed to their earnest warnings but proceeded steadily along the aisle between the rank growths that had disgusted him so when they first reached the place. When he had reached a point about fifty feet from the dais where he was still hidden from the cushions of the Great Ones by foliage, there came a mental command to stop. But instead of retreating at this evidence that the fearsome rulers of the Prags were in their accustomed places, he pressed the catch of his trinor and waited until the whine of its mechanism had risen to the vanishing point. The Elsian slaves retreated precipitately, but Grayson advanced slowly and cautiously in the direction of the dais.

Slowly he felt the paralyzing force creeping over him but he pressed doggedly forward, using every once of strength in his body to drag his benumbed limbs into movement. Then he fell heavily to the floor and had to pull himself along by grasping the vines and tree trunks along the path with his stiffening fingers. He was in view of the dais now and he saw that two of the Great Ones had fallen victims to the air vibrations, their colossal, hairless heads having dropped to the cushions on which they rested. But the third, though weakening, was still alive and it was this one that was exerting his will power on the hapless earth man. With a final desperate effort Grayson twisted that rigid member that was his right arm until he was able to reach they ray pistol in his belt. But he could not aim it in the direction of the remaining Great One. He struggled and fought, but that arm would not move. Then he concentrated with closed eyes. He spoke aloud.

"Grayson R36B," he growled through clamped jaws, "you're not going to let this devil of a Prag get the better of you -- you're not. You must lift that arm and blast him from existence -- you must -- you must!"

Then, miraculously, he found he could move his fingers -- a bit at a time he edged his right arm forward, talking and grunting and berating himself aloud. Then the ray pistol was levelled at the monstrosity that glared at him among the cushions. Came the blue flare and he was released. His own will power had saved him and he sprang to his feet with a cry of victory. The Elsian slaves came running and they capered in glee at the sight that greeted them from the dais. The power of the Great Ones was no more!

When eventually they reached the square, all of the spherical vessels were landed and the fighting had spread to the side streets. There was not a living Prag in sight and Grayson made his way to his own vessel to report to Erne. He found him at the radiophone and greeted him with a broad smile.

"What have you to report, Grayson," the captain asked.

"I have killed the Great Ones," he replied simply.

"What? Killed -- the -- Great -- Ones?" was the incredulous reply. "Alone."


"For that deed you will receive the highest honors and decorations that can be conferred by the Governor-general of Els. You will be famous."

But the earth man cared not. He was tired and he wanted to go back to Els -- to Lola.

(continue to part 13)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 11

This is the eleventh installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first ten installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. Minott and Grayson have been brought to the Prags' subject planet Els, where they are being forced to help the Prags launch an invasion of their home universe. Grayson has escaped with a young Elsian woman named Lola and has joined the Elsian defense forces . . .

Grayson Joins Forces

Next morning Grayson was outfitted with the uniform and equipment of an Elsian soldier. He was permitted to retain the ray pistol he had taken from the Prag guard and considerable envy was displayed by his fellows over its possession. He requested that he be allowed to bid farewell to Lola and Atar and this too was granted.

Lola gurgled with delight when she saw him and a big thrill came to him as she hugged his arm in her glee and admiration. Atar bid him an affectionate adieu and thanked him profusely for his help and for the courage his presence and support had lent. When Lola accompanied him to the door of their quarters his cup was full, and he bent suddenly down and kissed her upturned lips. Then, in a sudden panic over his temerity, he raced for the square of Arun where the soldiery was assembling. Had he looked back, he would have known that his caress was not unwelcome.

There was a great hullaballoo in the square, and it seemed that all of the population of the city had turned out to witness the departure of the expedition. For the first time Grayson knew what it was all about.

In the center of the square there were two circular pits and into the mouths of these the soldiers were descending. Each of the pits contained a space flyer that had been built secretly during the preceding two years and there were two others of the same type to set forth from another city of Els. The Prags were to be taken by complete surprise.

Grayson joined his unit and was soon within one of the great spheres, that were so different from the projectile-shaped vessels of the Prags. The number carried by each vessel was in excess of five hundred, including crew and soldiery. He was extremely interested in the equipment of the vessel and in the activities of his new comrades. So, when the confusion had subsided and the hatches were battened down, he struck up a converation with his commanding officer, using his few words of Elsian as an entering wedge. He was much pleased to find that the captain, Erne by name, was able to pick up his own language almost at once as had been done by the others with whom he had come in contact.

The ship was under way in a surprisingly short time, shooting forth from the mouth of the pit like a ball from the bore of an old-fashioned cannon. They were on their way to Pra and Grayson was bursting with curiosity as he questioned the indulgent Erne.

"What is the plan of campaign?" he asked.

"There are four ships leaving Els, two more from Aun and one from Rad. These are the satellites of Pra. It is known that all of the fliers of the Prags are in their own cradles excepting two, one of which is at the shore of Lake Ilo in Els and the other in the province of Trasa in Pra. We will leave our own people at home to deal with the one at Lake Ilo and the outlanders will deal with the one at Trasa. But the nine vessels will attack Capis directly and will be assisted by the prisoners there who are apprised of our coming and of the change in plans."

"But, what weapons will be used against the Prags?"

"Didn't you know?" asked Erne in surprise.

"No. I had heard vague hints of a recent discovery that was expected to prove effective, but I have no knowledge of its nature."

Erne withdrew from Grayson's belt the cylindrical object which had been given to him with the rest of his equipment.

"You have not been instructed in the use of the trinor?"

"I have not had the opportunity as yet."

The cylinder was of blued metal and by earthly standards Grayson would have judged it to be eighteen inches in length and three in diameter. There was a small catch at one end and Erne pressed this to demonstrate the operation of the weapon. There was a shrill sound from within that rose rapidly in pitch until it was a thin scream. Then it vanished entirely but the weapon still vibrated smoothly to the impulses of some mechanism within.

"The trinor," said Erne, "sets up sound waves or vibrations in the atmosphere. As you noticed, the original sound was audible but gradually rose in pitch until it passed beyond the normal response of your auditory organs. But the trinor is still sending forth powerful waves that disturb the air at the rate of twenty-five cycles per second. These are the waves that will destroy the enemy."

"But how?" asked Grayson. "The Prags can hear no sounds of any frequency."

"True. But you must remember that the Prag was originally equipped with ears and auditory nerves the same as you and I. In the course of his evolution through the ages he learned thought transference and the ears were no longer necessary. After many generations of disuse they atrophied and all outer portions disappeared entirely. But there still remained certain of the inner parts and these are still in existence. Two years ago we had three of the enemies in Arun whom we had taken prisoner during one of their raids and our scientists experimented with them until they learned of their susceptibility to the high frequency air waves. You see it happens that certain tiny bones that are all that remain of the Prag's inner ear lie very close to the great vein that supplies the brain with blood. By subjecting the Prag's body to air waves of the high frequency I mentioned, these bones are set in vibration and, due to their contact with the artery against which they lie, a clot is formed which is carried to the brain and causes almost instant death -- apoplexy."

"Capital!" exclaimed Grayson. "But are these small hand weapons the only thing to be used against them?"

"No indeed. Among the prisoners in Capis there are sufficient of the trinors hidden to account for the guards below the surface. These are to be used as soon as our space-fliers reach the island. Then each of the vessels will swoop down upon the city, emitting the waves from great generators that are set in the outer hulls. These will cover considerable areas and will account for many more of the Prags. The prisoners will then rush to the city and the vessels will land at the same time, sending forth their fighting men into the streets. The generators aboard our ships will keep up constant emission of the powerful vibrations and the rest will have to be done by hand to hand fighting. Not a Prag must be allowed to escape."

Grayson thrilled to the call of battle. The closer they drew to the planet of the Prags the more bloodthirsty he became.

"What is our protection against the gase and the ray pistols of the Prags?" he inquired.

"Against the gases we have newly perfected masks which will be supplied before we land. Against the ray pistol there is nothing. But we hope there will be few left to use such weapons by the time our large generators have gotten in their deadly work."

"What are the odds against us -- in numbers I mean?"

"About nine to one including the prisoners. On the ships there are forty-five hundred fighters and there are about twice this number of prisoners in Capis. There are one hundred and twenty thousand Prags, so the ratio I mentioned is approximately correct."

"Thank you, Captain," said Grayson.

A lieutenant was distributing the gas masks and this brought their conversation to an end. The captain busied himself with the radiophone instrument through which his orders were to come, and the soldiers gathered about the windows where they were able to see the island of Capis with its black central city. The ship was crossing the end of the island and several others of the great spheres could be seen converging on the same point -- the city.

There was a sudden vibration accompanying a tremendous, high-pitched scream from somewhere in the ship's vitals. Like the scream of the trinor this rose and vanished, but the vibration persisted. The fight was about to begin!

(continue to part 12)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 10

This is the tenth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first nine installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. Minott and Grayson have been brought to the Prags' subject planet Els, where they will be forced to watch the Prags launch an invasion of their home universe. Grayson has befriended the local group of Elsians, and has become smitten with a young Elsian woman named . . .


Late that night Grayson returned to his cabin in the same way he had left. Minott was sleeping the sleep of exhaustion, so he had no one in whom he could confide. But he did not awaken his friend, preferring to fret and toss in his own bunk rather than disturb him. Finally he drifted into a troubled slumber, into dreams of the beautiful Lola who had looked at him so pleadingly, dreams of the Prags and of frightful battles with them, in which he fought to protect the lovely daughter of Atar. His tortured mind was not resting for a moment, even in sleep. He dreamed of Minott -- dear old Minott -- and the scientist seemed to be delivering one of his early talks to the younger man. He told of the composition of matter, of molecules and atoms and electrons -- of the universe of the atom where the electrons were the bodies that revolved about the central sun or nucleus. It came to him that an atom was so small, that if magnified as much as ten billion times -- the second stage power of the super-microscope -- the outer electrons would appear to be as much as three feet from the nucleus, yet the nucleus itself was still no larger than a pin point. It was all a muddle, yet in his slumbers he knew that all these things were actually transpiring on a minute world that was nothing more than an electron in an atom of unidentified matter contained in a grain of sand that lay on the slide of Minott's super-microscope in the New York laboratory.

In the morning he awoke unrefreshed and the first thing he did was advise Minott of the happenings of the night.

"Worse and more of it," groaned the scientist. "I thought the annual tribute of three hundred girls was not due for forty-five days."

"So did I. That is what I was told, and the day of reckoning was purposely set for a few days before that time to prevent this very occurance."

"Well, my boy, we are between the devil and the deep blue sea. Here we are helping the brutes in their attempt to raid our own world and at the same time you have gone to work and fallen in love with this Elsian damsel who is about to be abducted. Meanwhile the decent folks of this little universe are about to make a break for freedom and the break will be too late to save your new girl."

Minott's eyes twinkled despite the hopelessness of the situation and Grayson could not repress the flush that mantled his features.

"But what can we do?" he countered. "I'll admit that this Lola has made a great impression on me and by George they are not going to get her if I can prevent it. But what can we do?"

Minott spoke solemnly now. "Don't do anything rash, Grayson," he advised. "Keep your eyes open and use your best judgment, but do not forget that we have a powerful enemy to deal with. Our first duty is to our own world, but of course we can do very little to prevent the Prags from carrying out their present plans. Probably the best thing is to submit to things as they are and trust that not too great damage will be accomplished on this initial venture into our universe. Then, when they return from the trip, it will be about time for the action planned by the outlanders and further trouble will thus be averted."

"But dammit, Minott, that doesn't save Lola. And she must be saved. I -- I want her."

"You poor boy! Is it as bad as that?"

"Yes." Grayson kicked savagely at the towel he had just dropped.

"Well, run along to the village then and see what you can learn. I'll hold the fort here and -- who knows?"

Grayson needed not to be told a second time and the older man watched him with misty eyes as he rushed from the compartment in his haste to be gone.

It was very early and the Prags were late risers, so Grayson did not anticipate any interference with his leaving the vessel. But when he came to the entrance, he found some little difficulty in convincing the guard that he was merely going for a morning stroll. The guard was one of the lower class of Prag and could not understand the earthman's thoughts unless he was actually speaking. It seemed that the spoken words, though the Prags heard them not, were a medium that facilitated the telepathic process. And when Grayson turned the latch of the door, this low-class Prag laid violent hands on him. Quick as a flash the earth man had him by the throat and was battering the huge head against the metal partition. The Prag fell unconscious and Grayson, stopping only to take the ray pistol from his belt, rushed from the ship and made for the village.

* * *

He had crossed the Rubicon! He knew his life was now forfeit but he was armed. And he was on his way to Lola, come what might.

Atar met him at the cottage door with a mile on his face and Lola's greeting was such as to cause him to flush with pleasure. The girl was radiant and the father hardly less so, for during the night there had come a message from Arun, capital city of the province, calling all of the three hundred maidens to the city with their parents. It was stated in the message that action was to be taken to prevent the turning over of the annual tribute to the Prags, and this statement accounted for the happiness of father and daughter.

Grayson told of his skirmish with the guard of the vessel and offered to accompany them on their visit to Arun, since it was now necessary for him to leave the vicinity in any event, and he felt that he might be of some service in their company. Atar welcomed the offer and Lola's downcast eyes told of her surprise and pleasure. The earth man's heart sang, though full well he knew that the shadow of death hung over them all. And he fondly patted the ray pistol where it lay hidden in his pocket. He did not worry about Minott, for he knew that the Great Ones considered him too valuable to allow him to be harmed as long as there was still information to be obtained from him regarding the outer universe.

The government ronsal, or road vehicle, that was to call for Lola and her father, arrived in a very short time. It was a car of considerable length, mounted on two wheels of a diameter the height of a man, and completely enclosed in transparent material of crystal clearness. From within there came a musical note that told of the high speed of the gyroscope used for balancing the machine. There were four other girls already on board with their families and with the entrance of Lola and the two men all available space was filled. The ronsal started smoothly and was soon rolling over the surface of the metal road with terrific velocity. Grayson learned that it was but a short run to Arun -- less than one ul, the unit of time that was the twentieth of an Elsian day.

The ribbon of gleaming metal, over which they sped, wound through a beautiful country, but Grayson saw very little of it. He was too busy gazing into those violet eyes and watching the lips of the beautiful girl at his side, as they formed the unfamiliar, yet rapidly learned syllables of his own tongue. So it was that, by the time they had reached the walls of Arun, he and Lola were conversing fluently in English, and he had even picked up a number of words and phrases of the Elsian language. Atar observed these things with approval.

Once within the portals of the huge gate that raised at their approach, they were escorted immediately to a great council chamber where sat the provincial governor and his deputies. A great assemblage of Elsians was there and Grayson thought that almost all of the three hundred chosen beauties had preceeded them. But he failed to see a single maiden that could compare with Lola, though all of them were undoubtedly charming.

There was a short wait for a few more arrivals, after which a secretary called the roll. The Governor then arose and spoke rapidly and forcefully in the Elsian tongue, becoming much excited and red-faced during the speech. At its conclusion there came a great cheer from the assemblage and Grayson noticed that tears of joy coursed down the cheeks of Atar. Lola translated to him quickly:

"He says that the government has decided not to let us be sacrificed!" she said happily. "The day of reckoning with the Prags is set ahead and is to be tomorrow, instead of as planned. We girls are to be kept in Arun under government protection and our families as well, while the fighting is going on. The prisoners on Pra have been notified, as well as the inhabitants of the two satellites and those of the outlying provinces of Pra itself."

"Hooray!" exclaimed Grayson. And he grasped Atar by the hand and hurried him to the rostrum, where he requested him to translate his offer of enlistment in the forces of Arun.

There was some staccato questioning by the Governor -- equally rapid-fire replies from Atar -- and Grayson was accepted.

(continue to part 11)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Who would throw trash out of a speeding car? I don't know his name, but I do know he drives a white Hyundai Elantra sedan with the Massachusetts plate 633 AWO.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Shock shock horror horror shock shock horror

It's never the wrong time for an embedded music video. Today's selection comes from 1996; it's Space with "Female of the Species".

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 9

This is the ninth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first eight installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. Minott and Grayson have been brought to the Prags' subject planet Els, where they will be forced to watch the Prags launch an invasion of their home universe . . .

Preparations in Els

With the coming of the pirate vessel to the shore of their lake, the neighboring villagers expected the worst. Knowing there was no escaping the gases and the paralyzing forces of the enemy, they did not attempt to flee the vicinity, but they retreated within doors to postpone their certain doom for as long a time as possible. And when, on the second day, they observed that they were not to be molested, but that the Prags were erecting strange mechanisms in the open outside the space ship and covering these over with rude shelters, a few of the bolder ones ventured forth from the homes to learn what it was all about. They were still unmolested and they gazed in open-mouthed wonder at the sight of a considerable number of Prags actually at work, laboring with their hands with feverish haste. They were still more astonished to see that the earth-men, of whom they had heard through the medium of their local news broadcast, were aiding the hated Prags. It seemed that there was some difficulty with the apparatus being erected and they saw that the higher class Prags were greatly perturbed over some unforeseen trouble.

As the days passed and nothing happened beyond occasional relocating of the odd contrivances and further adjustments of their parts, some of the natives went so far as to gather around the scene of activity and watch the proceedings with bold curiosity. Upon seeing that the Elsians were given little attention by the busy Prags, Grayson made it a point to wander away from the work several times and mingle with the watchers. In this manner he struck up an acquaintance with one Atar, who seemed to be an Elsian of some standing in the community and who mastered Grayson's speech in a very short time as had been done by others of his countrymen. He made friends quickly with the villagers and advised them as to the meaning of the strange proceedings in the open space at the shore of the lake. In turn he was told much of the plans of the outlanders for conquering the Prags and he learned that the day of reckoning was not far off, though it was more than thirty days in the future, and he felt certain that the experiment with the Rollin apparatus and the focus ray of the super-microscope would be successful long before that time.

He told Minott of these things in the privacy of their cabin aboard the space ship and the scientist was deeply concerned over this fraternizing with the Elsians.

"Grayson," he warned, "these Prags are possessed of uncanny faculties and, though they are now so deeply engrossed in the work at hand as to pay little attention, one of the lower class is apt to surprise you in treacherous conversation one of these fine days and you will pay the penalty at the receiving end of one of their horrible dissolution rays."

"I'll be careful. And besides, I like these people and wish to be friends with them. Our case looks hopeless anyway and if I can do nothing to prevent the atrocities of these monsters, I can at least show that my heart is in the right place, until such time as the fate overtakes me that is bound to come sooner or later in any event. How is the work progressing?"

"Well, as you know, the reflectors were reset today and the apparatus readjusted. The energy was tried on a test specimen, one of the small rodents they brought with them, and the result left them more worried than ever. The rodent passed into the hyperphysical plane all right, but was returned fearfully distorted and in a dying condition. This has given them pause."

"You old fox," chuckled Grayson, "I'll bet you thew a monkey wrench in the gears somewhere."

"No," was the solemn reply, "I did nothing of the sort. I must admit, however, that I see a fault in the apparatus about which I have not advised them. Fortunate it is that the Great Ones are not here, for they would have read it out of my mind. These Prags have not the mind-reading faculty to so great a degree as have the Great Ones, and I find that I can hide my thoughts from them fairly well."

"Then you think the ultimate success of the project may be delayed for a considerable time?"

"Possibly. But not for long, my boy. These arch-fiends are devilishly clever and they will stumble on to the difficulty in short order -- at least within the next ten days, I should say."

"Is it absolutely certain that the ray of the super-microscope is still in operation?"

"Absolutely. By means of the balvanometers, we have located the exact center of the impingement and have mapped the entire circle of its influence, which extends well past the village and outlines the view just as we witnessed it back home. There is no question of the workability of their plan, once the Rollin apparatus is in perfect working condition."

Grayson looked moodily from the open window toward the lights of the village. The sweet breath of the Elsian countryside was wafted to his grateful nostrils. How he wished that conditions were different -- that he might be free to roam about as he pleased and explore this inviting planet they had so rashly visited. But the arm of the Prag was long, and he knew he could not get far away if he attempted to escape. Besides there was Minott -- and the threatened expedition against his own land.

Through the stillness of th Elsian night there came a faint wavering tremelo -- a feminine cry that rose in crescendo to a wailing scream. The two earth men were electrified to tense expectancy but the cry was not repeated.

"By George!" exclaimed Grayson. "That cry came from the village and I'm going to find out what it is all about!"

"Steady now," admonished Minott. "How do you expect to pass the guard at the door of the vessel?"

Grayson was busy pulling the bedclothes from their bunks. "Not going to," he grunted, "I'm going out the window."

And, all protests of his friend notwithstanding, he made good his statement. Quickly he knotted the sheets and coverlets into a rope of considerable length and this he let out through the open window. Bidding Minott a hasty farewell after tying the makeshift line to the ring used for fastening the window, he let himself down to the ground and made off through the darkness in the direction of the village.

Reaching the fenced-in grass plot that was the gathering place of the small town, he found that considerable excitement centered about the loud speakers of the local news broadcast receiver. A crowd had collected and angry shouts and protests came from every side. A little group in the center of the square was huddled about a prone figure and Grayson pushed his way through until he saw that an extremely beautiful Elsian maiden lay stretched on the grass in a faint. Over her bent Atar, his friend of the past few days.

"What is it, Atar?" he asked, when close enough to get the ear of the obviously agitated Elsian.

"Lola -- my daughter Lola," groaned the stricken man. "She has been chosen for the next lot of three hundred. In six days she will be torn from her home and taken to Capis -- a slave to the beasts we hate. And in so short a time we should have prevented it!"

Grayson observed the smooth pallor of the girl's skin, her perfect features, the glossy sheen of her hair as it spread over her shoulders where she lay. Then her breast rose and, with a deep sigh, she turned her head in his direction and slowly opened the most wondrous pair of violet eyes he had ever seen. Atar clasped her in his arms and sobbed like a child.

"By God!" swore Grayson, "they'll not get her!"

(continue to part 10)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cleon and Brodrig

So, there's this website called xtranormal where you can create your own little movies. As soon as I found out about it my first thought turned to Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. Well, xtranormal isn't quite up to a three-volume epic space opera, but I was able to take it out for a spin using one scene. In Chapter 4 of "The General" from Foundation and Empire there's a scene where Cleon II, the Galactic Emperor, receives some news from his Privy Secretary, Ammel Brodrig.

Cleon ought to be lying in bed when he receives Brodrig, but xtranormal wouldn't let me do that, so I had to have him standing during his conversation. On the plus side, I was able to give Cleon an English accent, and Brodrig an American one, to help make the point that Cleon is the hereditary ruler of the Galaxy while Brodrig is a jumped-up commoner who serves at his pleasure. So now, I present for your viewing pleasure Cleon II and Brodrig in "The Emperor".

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A message to all the people I've robbed at gunpoint

My boss hired a lawyer, and the lawyer wrote a memo explaining that armed robbery was perfectly legal. There was really no way for me to know that armed robbery wasn't legal, and since my boss's lawyer issued his memo stating that armed robbery was legal, that's pretty much the end of the matter. I was acting in good faith, so I can't be prosecuted for any of the armed robberies I've committed, including the ones I committed before my boss's lawyer issued his memo. Likewise, my boss was acting in good faith, so he can't be prosecuted for ordering me to commit those armed robberies. And my boss's lawyer was acting in good faith, so he can't be prosecuted, or disbarred, or suffer any other penalty, for issuing a legal opinion that armed robbery was legal.

I hope this clears everything up.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Carnival of the Liberals

Like the ticking of a very slow clock, the latest edition of the Carnival of the Liberals has made its fortnightly appearance. Edition #91 can be found at Lou FDC's Crowded Head, Cozy Bed. Along with the usual liberal goodness by the likes of Doctor Biobrain, Mad Kane, and GrrlScientist, #91 includes my very own "Inside the Time Vault", so go ahead and check it out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The crazies lose one

The Associated Press is reporting that the notorious resolution to rename the Democratic Party the "Democrat Socialist Party" has gone down to defeat. Sane Republican Michael Steele and his allies were able to talk down the crazies, so there will be no renaming effort. Of course, the GOP is still calling Obama's exercise in Keynesian economics "socialism", so they haven't completely abandoned The Crazy, but at least they won't be trying to tell the Democrats what name their party should have.

My hypothetical readers will recall the prediction I made here that if the crazies succeeded in passing this resolution they would become drunk with power and force out Steele (and incidentally doom the GOP to follow in the footsteps of the Federalist Party). With the Democrat Socialist Party resolution defeated, Michael Steele has bought himself and the GOP some time. If the GOP does in fact return to sanity and political relevance in the future, historians may cite this vote as the turning point.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 8

This is the eighth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first seven installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. Minott fears his captors have discovered a way to follow their trail back to Earth. Meanwhile, Grayson has been recruited into a resistance movement and is being taken to the leaders of the Prags, the Great Ones . . .

Grayson Comes Back

Grayson, with rebellion and fury in his heart, neared the throne where lay the three arch-pirates of the atom universe. He longed to lay hands on one of the vile creatures and tear him limb from limb. And when he saw the haggard face of his friend Minott, who sat at a small table adjacent to the dais, he clenched his fists, as if about to carry out his rash desire. Quick as a flash there came the paralyzing of the muscles that was produced so easily by some mental process of the ghastly creatures, and a single unspoken warning that seemed to come from within his own consciousness.

"Cease thy futile ragings," came the adjuration. "The plans of the Great Ones have altered to thy good. No longer shalt thou labor in the mines. This night thou shalt depart for Els in one of our space ships and in the company of thy friend. Minott has been of much assistance to us and, in gratitude, we have granted his wish that thou mayst be permitted to join him in the expedition of our scientists. That is all."

Grayson's tense muscles relaxed. Then they did not know of his talk with Oril! But he cast the thought from his mind at once, fearing to betray himself to their uncanny faculties. Minott smiled wanly and greeted him with open arms. Evidently he too had suffered and continued to suffer.

They were dismissed immediately by the Great Ones and repaired to Minott's quarters to prepare for the journey.

"What is it all about?" asked Grayson, when their affectionate greetings were over.

"It is a plan to attack our own world," came the hopeless reply, "and we are to assist them and act as their guides when they reach there -- if they do. I was compelled to give them all of my data regarding the super-microscope and the four-dimensional means used by us in reaching this system. They learned from me the location of the ray of my super-microscope where it still impinges on the planet Els at the edge of the lake. Their scientists have calculated that the process can be reversed, and they have constructed a duplicate of the Rollin apparatus in accordance with my description of the mechanism. They reason that they can utilize the ray that still connects the point we were watching in Els with my laboratory at home, and they plan to send one of their space ships, manned and armed, to our world along this beam."

"Is such a thing possible?" gasped Grayson.

"I fear that it is, my boy. You see the time-space relationship can as well be altered in one direction as in the other. By the same means that we adapted ourselves to conditions on this plane, they should be able to adapt themselves to conditions on our own. I can pick no flaw in their calculations, and I am mortally afraid that this unspeakable banditry of theirs is to be extended to our own country. The worst of it is, we are helpless to prevent them."

"But -- but," objected the younger man, "if one of these space ships of the Prags is rotated into the hyperphysical plane and then emerges in your laboratory, it will be of enormous size. It can not occupy the available space, if it is of the same proportion there as it is here."

"It will burst the walls of the laboratory like a chicken breaking forth from an egg and will lie exposed to the sky amid the débris of a great section that will have been torn from the upper surface of our own New York. You forget that my laboratory is in the extreme upper level and that the walls and floors of our city structure will crumple like glass against the sides of a vessel of more than 1000 feet in length and with walls as hard as steel and of more than five feet thickness -- suddenly thrust in their midst as it will be."

Grayson groaned. He was heart-sick over the change that had come to the beloved features of his foster-father. Minott had aged then years, it seemed, during the few days they had been in this awful realm. He thought too of the terrible engine of destruction to be let loose on an unsuspecting world -- and of others to follow, for the Prags would not stop at one if the initial venture proved to be a success.

"Is there no way of stopping the brutes?" he asked.

"None that I can think of. Of course we must do everything we can to upset their plans, but I am afraid we are helpless."

There came the sound of the buzzer and Minott paled to a still more ghastly color. "It is the signal," he said. "They are ready."

The two earth men hurried to the great landing stage in the heart of the city and there entered one of the shiny cylindrical vessels, of which Minott had learned there were seven in existence. This time they were not carried as prisoners but as more or less unwelcome, but tolerated guests. They were quartered on the same deck with the nine scientists sent by the Great Ones to complete the plans for sending an expedition into the "Outside Universe." Before they had even settled themselves in their cabins, the ship had taken off and they were on their way to Els. When the Great Ones determined that a thing was to be done, little delay was brooked.

All through the remainder of the night the two men talked, when they should have been resting in their beds. They had been separated for more than a week and each had much to tell the other. It was a matter of great speculation between them as to what the plans of the "outlanders" were for the overthrowing of the power of the Great Ones and the destruction of the entire breed of Prags. The slight information given to Grayson by Oril was supplemented by but little more that Minott had learned from his Elsian servants. But it was certain that the outlanders were confident of ultimately ridding themselves of their ancient enemy and that the day for the culmination of their plans was close at hand. Whether it was to come quickly enough to forestall the Prags in this new venture they did not know. And they discussed matters until the Prag vessel slipped into the dawn-brightened atmosphere of Els.

The vessel was soon close to the surface and the earth men joined the Prags, who had assembled in the forward compartment, where the transparent floors gave them a full view of the scene beneath and where the rising of the first sun could be seen through the transparent side walls. The first dawn of Els reminded them of moonrise on their own world, for the quality of light was similar, though of greater intensity. It would be several minutes before the second of the cold suns rose and one twelfth of an Elsian day before the red glare of the third sun greeted them. The ship was skimming the surface rapidly at an altitude comparable to about one thousand feet above the surface as measured on earth, and the peaceful countryside below showed signs of the early activities of the day. Here and there a farmer with his flock of quadrupeds strangely resembling sheep was thrown into a panic at the passage of the pirate vessel, and at several points early travelers in high speed vehicles that traversed the shining roads deserted their cars and fled into adjacent forests in fright at the same vision. But the ship from Pra kept steadily on, and within a short time they saw far ahead a scene that seemed vaguely familiar. Closer they drew and, as the vessel slowed down, they saw they were nearing the lake they had seen through the super-microscope in Minott's laboratory. They were overhead of it in a trice and the great ship circled about to make a landing. Several Elsians who walked by the shore of the lake ran in affright for their homes -- mere huts and cabins that were set back a little distance from the shore.

"The point of focus of the super-microscope!" exclaimed Minott.

He looked at Grayson with blanched features and their hearts sank at the realization that they were about to land in this spot, where they would be compelled to assist their captors in preparing for a piratical raid on their own world.

(continue to part 9)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Confessions of an old Trekkie

I'm what's known in Star Trek fandom as a second generation fan, which means I didn't watch the original series during its network run in the 1960s, but I did start watching the reruns in the 1970s. In fact, I started out as a fan of the animated series when it started in 1973 and only then started watching reruns of the original. I've generally kept up with the series, have seen every movie, and every episode of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and most episodes of Voyager and Enterprise. As a result, I am well-versed in Star Trek lore, and I bear the title "Trekkie" proudly.

And I just saw the eleventh Star Trek movie today.

Like others, I was unhappy that J. J. Abrams' reboot (or whatever they're calling it) uses a time travel plot to basically erase all of Star Trek from existence. However, given that Enterprise started out with the timestream being altered by interference from the future, that ship has pretty much sailed. That's right, folks, it was actually Rick Berman and Brannon Braga who erased the original series from the timeline; Abrams was just putting in the finishing touches.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 7

This is the seventh installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first six installments can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size and been captured by subatomic alien pirates called the Prags. Grayson has been condemned to slave in the Prags' mines, and Minott fears his captors have discovered a way to follow their trail back to Earth . . .

Among the Elsians

For several days Grayson labored with pick and shovel in an underground passage that was so narrow and stifling that he was too exhausted each night to even think of the fate that had befallen him. The material he was wresting from narrow veins in the damp wall of rock was radioactive -- no light was needed in these workings -- and he knew that his life would be short indeed if he were forced to continue in this place. He had been put into the most dangerous of all the mines. But the physical presence of the Prags was escaped during the long hours of labor, and this was a relief of a sort, though the force of distant wills kept him doggedly at his task. The Prags never entered the diggings where the mineral that supplied them with their main source of energy was obtained.

Then came a day when the Elsian who worked next to him spoke to him in his own tongue. A message had come from above -- a message from Minott! It was wonderful!

The scientist was well, it seemed, and wished to inform his friend that powerful forces were at work which would eventually bring about their release from Pra and their return to Els. He was bidden to keep courage.

"But," asked Grayson, "how has this message been relayed to you?"

"By word of mouth entirely. It has passed on from an Elsian servant of your friend and has undoubtedly been repeated a score of times on its way to this remote working. We have perfected among the captives a secret system of communication that serves the purpose admirably, though it is somewhat slow."

"The message gives word of help to come," said Grayson. "What does this mean?"

"It means this," replied Oril, for that was the cognomen of his new friend. "The prisoners on this accursed island have formed plans that will eventually result in the destruction of the Prags and in the liberation of themselves. They will result in the halting of the age-long piracy to which our worlds have been subjected, and in the salvation of the civilizations that have for so long a time been under the lash."

"By what means is this to be done?"

"I cannot divulge the secret until you have been admitted to our council. But this will be soon, and I can tell you that the vulnerability of the Prags has been discovered, and that Els and the two satellites of Pra, as well as the outlying provinces of Pra itself, are banded together to end the dominance of these creatures for once and all."

"You spoke of an island," said Grayson. "Do you mean that the Prags inhabit no part of this planet except a single island?"

"That is correct. The island is known to us as Capis and it comprises less than one tenth of the total habitable surface of Pra. The outlying provinces are populated sparsely and by a miserable race of downtrodden creatures, who were subject to the banditry of the Prags for ages, before they discovered the means of traversing space and transferred their major activities to the other inhabited bodies of our system. The provinces have been bled dry and the peoples are hopelessly retarded in their civilization. They resemble us in appearance, though their skin is of much darker hue, and in some sections they have almost reverted to savagery. But all of that is to be changed also."

"This council of which you spoke. When and where does it meet?"

"At present there is a meeting every night in one of the deepest levels of the mines. But each night these present are a different group and word of the proceedings is carried over to the next night by a sinble member who thus attends two meetings in succession. This is necessary in order that the Prags shall not suspect us of such activities as they surely would, if any considerable number of us were absent from our quarters on a single evening. Of course we are aided in this by the fact that they feel absolutely secure in their diabolic tyranny over us, and so do not anticipate a rebellion of serious nature. They underestimate the courage and mentality of the long-suffering outlanders, and are thus thrown more or less off guard by their own colossal conceit."

The conversation was interrupted by the shrill siren that called the workers to the evening meal -- the siren that told them of the completion of the long day of labor. The two were soon in the great bucket that carried them to the surface, along with some fifty more of their fellow prisoners.

* * *

Grayson pondered over the things he had heard all through the nightly inspection and during the meal that was presided over so strictly by a number of lower class Prags. These were not of the type that possessed the intense power of will over the prisoners, but enforced their dicta by free use of the lash and in aggravated cases of insubordination, by the use of the ray pistols they carried at their belts. Grayson had once seen one of these weapons used and he carried horrified remembrance of its action in his mind. The unfortunate victim of the crackling blue flare that greeted a minor insolence, had crumpled before his eyes into a heap of putrefaction that rapidly shrank to complete and terrible dissolution. He shuddered anew at the thought and was unable to finish his food.

But the words of Oril had cheered him, though he was doubtful of the ability of the Elsians and other outlanders to conquer these monstrosities, who were possessed of such marvelous mental powers and had evidently been lords of the tiny universe for ages of time.

Later in the evening, when the three suns had set and the prisoners were herded into their underground quarters, he received word from Oril that he was expected to attend the meeting of the council to be held late that night. He was elated over the news and could scarcely remain quietly in his bunk until the time set for his adventuring forth from the huge bunk room into the dark passages where h was to be led to the meeting place of the conspirators. Oril had given him explicit directions and he knew that he would have no trouble in joining the guide who was to await him. His neighbors were asleep on the low cots that were provided by the Prags in all the bunk rooms, and the lone guard was nodding in the dim-lit corner of the long hall. The faint whimpers of a sick prisoner, a few cots from his own, had ceased and Grayson hoped that the poor devil had found relief from his suffereings in the mercy of death.

Then there was the padding of soft footsteps and in the dim light he saw that two of the upper class Prags had entered and were conferring with the guard, who had started guiltily from his nap at their approach. The newcomers were led through the long aisle and Grayson's heart missed a beat as they neared him where he lay. He feigned sleep and when the brilliant beams of a hand torch were turned on him he opened blinking eyes to their glare. He was discovered as a conspirator, and would never know the plans of the brave band which was setting out to free the worlds they knew from the iron hand of the oppressor!

There was the single command to follow, so he arose from his hard couch and obeyed the order in silence. There was nothing else he could do.

He was conducted to the surface and taken to a small, brightly lighted landing stage where one of the tiny, bird-like air vehichles of Capis awaited. In a moment they had winged their way aloft and were headed for the lights of the city of the Great Ones. What was to be his fate Grayson did not know, nor did he much care -- now. He had scented adventure and it was to be denied him. He had hoped to engage in the battle for freedom that Oril had hinted was coming. But he was quite evidently doomed to disappointment and worse.

The drone of the motor and the swish of the flapping wings of the vessel that carried them swiftly toward the city were the only sounds to disturb his train of gloomy thought. The Prags, mute always, did not explain by mental message the reason for his move from the mines back to the city. But he suspected that his and Oril's conversation was known to the Great Ones and that he was to answer to them for his part in it.

Beneath them circled the lights of the great city as the ship swung around to effect a landing. The motor had stopped and they swooped with a rush toward a black square that was outlined by a fringe of orange light. It rushed upward to meet them and it seemed they would surely crash. Then there was a single powerful beat of the broad wings and the little craft alighted without a jar. Below them was the transparent roof of the headquarters of the Great Ones.

(continue to part 8)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Going Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is the alternate history field's answer to Stephen King, producing a flood of doorstop-sized volumes every year and showing no signs of stopping. One of his notable characteristics is a tendency to take his historical analogies to absurd lengths. Consider, for example, his novel In the Presence of Mine Enemies, set in a world where the Nazis won World War II. Even though the Nazi state has no Cold War rivals (Japan still being an ally), the way the Soviet Union had the United States and the other democracies to compete with in our history, Turtledove has it go through the exact same reform movement as the USSR (albeit with a twenty-year delay).

Nevertheless, I propose to Go Turtledove, and take a historical analogy of my own too far. To be exact, I intend to pursue the idea that the Republican Party has entered a death spiral and, like the Federalist Party before it, is on track to wither into an impotent regional party before finally expiring.

For the purpose of this analogy, I'll assume that Barack Obama's victory over John McCain is analogous to Thomas Jefferson's victory over John Adams in 1800. Like Jefferson and his fellow Democratic-Republicans, Obama and his fellow Democrats have created an unbeatable political coalition. Meanwhile the Republicans, like the Federalists, find themselves with an agenda full of unpopular issues and a shrinking demographic. Obama is now in the same situation as Thomas Jefferson in 1801, in the early days of a generational political dynasty.

If the Federalist analogy holds, then the GOP's demographic disadvantages will continue to result in lost elections in 2010, 2012, and 2014 while Obama wins re-election. Even if Obama screws up as badly as Jefferson did with the Embargo Act of 1807, the Republicans' lack of organization outside their Southern base will not allow them to regain a majority in Congress. The 2016 presidential election will see the victory of Democratic candidate Senator Sheldon Whitehouse* and further Republican losses in Congress. This will be repeated in 2024 with the election of the third Democratic president in a row, Senator Robin Carnahan, accompanied by Democratic supermajorities in both houses of Congress.

By the time of the 2028 election, dissatisfaction with their permanent minority status will cause the Republicans' Congressional caucuses to fragment. Likewise, growing ideological conflicts within the Democratic Party will result in a party split in 2032, with several factions running their own independent presidential candidates. This will throw the election to the House of Representatives, where horse-trading will result in the candidate with the popular vote plurality failing to win the election. This split will solidify into a new set of political parties, with the popular but unelected candidate of 2032 finally winning election in 2036. The remaining fragments of the Republican Party will be absorbed into one or the other of the newly-formed parties, and the Party of Lincoln will be no more.

*Remember, folks, you heard it here first!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Don't believe in fear

Music video. "Stupid Girl" by Garbage.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Republican death spiral continues

From Roger Simon at Politico on May 12 comes this story about the upcoming Special Meeting of the Republican National Committee. It turns out that the resolution Chairman Michael Steele opposed and the wingnuts intend to pass is to rename the Democratic Party the "Democrat Socialist Party". If the GOP's wingnuts really get carried away, we could end up seeing them rename their opponents the "America-Hating Democrat Socialist Secret Gay Muslim Abortionist Party". Simon notes:

A further comeuppance — a vote of “no confidence” in Steele — is not being contemplated, I am informed, because Steele’s opponents in the RNC have already won a major victory by forcing him to accept greater controls on how he spends party funds.
I still say they'll become drunk with power and vote out Steele anyway.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cruise control

There's an urban legend that you can find at about an elderly couple driving an RV. The woman is in the back, making a sandwich, and she sees her husband walking back to join her. "Who's driving the RV?" she asks. "Oh, don't worry," her husband answers, "I've got it on cruise control." Shortly afterward the RV crashes.

I was reminded of that story when I was reading this article in Time magazine by Michael Grunwald called "Republicans in Distress". Grunwald writes:

Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, a conservative who keeps a bust of Reagan on his desk, surprised me by declaring that the Reagan era is over. "Marginal tax rates are the lowest they've been in generations, and all we can talk about is tax cuts," he said. "The people's desires have changed, but we're still stuck in our old issue set." [Maine Senator Olympia] Snowe recalls that when she proposed fiscally conservative "triggers" to limit Bush's tax cuts in case of deficits, she was attacked by fellow Republicans. "I don't know when willy-nilly tax cuts became the essence of who we are," she says.

The answer to Senator Snowe's question, I think, can be found in the presidency of the first George Bush. Probably Bush's best-known quote came from his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican Convention: "Read my lips: no new taxes." Faced with a growing budget deficit, by 1990 Bush had to raise taxes, enraging most of the GOP and leading to Pat Buchanan's primary challenge and Bush's eventual loss to Bill Clinton. The lesson Republicans took from Bush's loss was "never raise taxes", and as the GOP has become more extreme, "never raise taxes" has become "always cut taxes".

Like the elderly couple in the urban legend, the Republicans have put their tax cut mania on cruise control. And like the elderly couple, the Republicans are going to find out that cruise control isn't the same as autopilot. The result of their misunderstanding is going to be a political party on the side of the road, resting on its roof with its wheels spinning in the air.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 6

This is the sixth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent which appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. The first five installments can be found here, here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size. Having been captured by the Prags, subatomic alien pirates, they are being taken to their home planet along with several hundred captives . . .

The City of the Prags

The scene on the landing stage of the city of the Prags would remain forever impressed on the minds of the two earth men. A vast, mirror-like surface it presented and there were gathered thousands of the misshapen creatures to welcome the return of the raiding vessel with its load of treasure and prisoners. The sea of pink, upturned expanses of flesh that were the containers merely for the huge brains and the staring optics overcame them with nausea. To think that these monstrosities were in the ascendancy over the handsome and kindly Elsians!

They were sickened at the brutal handling of their more than four hundred fellow prisoners and Grayson cried his rage aloud at the sight of a number of aggravated cases in the prodding and beating of stragglers and rebellious captives. The three suns shone on the scene with even greater brilliance than they had in Els -- evidently Pra was considerably closer. The atmosphere was heavy and foul as opposed to the sweet-scented, invigorating air of Els. There was a haze over everything and the humidity was such as to bring beads of perspiration to the brows of the earth men. In perfect uniformity on all sides of the great landing stage, there rose towering buildings of ebon blackness -- not the glossy black of jet, but a dead, lifeless charcoal that reflected so little light as to cast a pall of gloom about them.

In the confusion attendant upon the landing and the disposal of the Elsian prisoners, Grayson and Minott had drawn aside unhindered and apparently unnoticed. They were now approached by the Kama and , by exercise of his will, he compelled them to follow him. They walked through the staring crowds of the detestable Prags and entered one of the gloomy buildings at the edge of the landing stage.

No hand was laid on them, yet they were forced to proceed in the desired direction as inexorably as if they had been bound and carried. They were taken into a lift which soon bore them to the uppermost portion of the structure. There, on the top level under a vast expanse of the transparent material used in the windows of the ship, they were brought to the Great Ones. The huge compartment was a veritable conservatory. It bloomed with strange and rank vegetation. Tall, serpentine growths of ghastly gray hue spread sickly fronds to the uppermost heights under the transparent covering overhead. The earth men wrinkled their nostrils in revulsion at the offensive odors of the plant life that was evidently admired by the Prags. They moved slowly through a passageway between the growths and soon reached a sort of dais on which there were three cusioned divans set in triangular formation in the full glare of the Pragian suns. On these reposed the Great Ones.

Mere brains were the Great Ones. Their bodies were shrunken beyond all belief and the huge, semi-transparent heads lay helpless amongst the cushions, the immense eyes presenting the only evidence of life in the weird beings.

The Kama bowed low and Grayson and Minott perforce followed suit, though they raged inwardly. In stupefied silence they peered into the eyes of the Great Ones, and, for the first time, Grayson observed the nature of the blue rims about the unblinking orbs of these, the highest type of Prags. They were porous areas, and the minute pores opened and closed rhythmically! They were the breathing organs of the uncouth things! But the discovery detracted not one whit from the hypnotic effect of the bloodshot eyes.

"Beings from the great outside universe," came the thoughts of one of the Great Ones, they knew not which, "you come at an opportune time. We have but recently discovered the existence of your universe and would learn more of its extent and peculiarities from recent dwellers therein. We would likewise know how your advent into our system was accomplished. Speak."

Minott replied, "Our universe is to yours as yours is to a grain of sand by the seashore. We entered by means of an extremely powerful microscope and the fourth dimension."

"Thy first statement is understood and conceded. But as to the second, there is some doubt. Concentrate on this instrument of which thou speakest, that we may read of its construction and operation."

Grayson exploded, "Don't do it, Minott. The beasts will try to reverse the process and enter our own system."

"Objections are useless," replied Minott to his hot-headed ward. Then he continued in an elaborate description of the super-microscope while Grayson fumed and fretted at the seemingly indiscreet speech of the scientist.

"It is well," came the approving thoughts of the Great Ones. "Thou hast the intelligence to know that the information should have been purloined from thy very brain hadst thou not given it willingly. But it is enough for the present. We shall commune further at a later time. Meanwhile thy friend is condemned to the mines. He is of inferior intellect."

Minott protested sorrowingly. Grayson endeavored to attack the monstrosities that lay so smugly among their cushions, but the mysterious power once more gripped him and he was led helpless from the presence of the Great Ones. Minott's eyes followed sadly.

* * *

The treatment accorded the scientist was greatly different. At a command from the Great Ones, two slaves entered their presence and were ordered to convey him to certain living quarters. To Minott's delight, these slaves were Elsians who had kindly human countenances, and seemed overjoyed at being permitted to serve a creature so like their own kind.

He was conveyed to rooms that, but for the difference in colors and kinds of materials used, might have been in his own land. But he walked the floor with his mind constantly on Grayson. The two Elsians stood aside patiently, as they observed the dejection of their new master.

Clearly to him came the mental message, "You are worried about a friend?"

Minott peered startled at the nearest of the Elsians, who was smiling commiseratingly. "Er -- yes," he said hesitatingly. "My friend from another world, who has been condemned to the mines."

"Speak further," came the encouraging message. And Minott poured out his heart to the gravely listening Elsians. He told of Grayson's childhood, of his later life, of the experiement that had brought them to Els and resulted in their capture by the Prags. He concluded with a hopeless note, as he told of the scene in the place of the Great Ones.

"Fear not," came in perfect English when he had finished, "the time is close at hand. Grayson will be rescued, as will all of our people when the great day comes. You have but to be patient and obey all commands of the Great Ones. Through our secret system of communication, we shall learn of the whereabouts of your friend and arrange for the interchange of messages between you and him."

Minott was astounded at the facility with which this Elsian had learned his own tongue -- more easily than had the first in the space ship. But he was elated at the hope held forth and was about to make eager reply when there came an insistent buzz from close by.

One of the Elsians left the room hurriedly and the other -- he who had spoken -- laid a warning finger to his lips and busied himself with the appurtenances of a dressing table. Minott knew not what to expect.

There was complete silence for a moment. Then two Prags entered the room, bearing between them a golden sphere of the diameter of a large pumpkin. With a curt nod from one of them, the Elsian servant was dismissed and they set the shimmering globe on a table.

Drawn to the beautiful polished object by an irresistable force, the scientist found himself gazing into depths of wavering brightness that soon resolved into scenes on the other electron planet, Els. With great rapidity the scenes shifted, outlining in rapid succession an entire continent and picturing city after city similar to the one they had first seen. Rural districts were also covered, particular attention being paid to the vicinities of small bodies of water. then suddenly he recognized the locality they had been observing through the super-microscope. His start of recollection brought about the immediate cessation of the action of the sphere and a mental message came at once from one of the Prags:

"It is well. The location of the ray is determined."

They marched solemnly from the room without further ado, taking the golden sphere with them. The clang of the door as they left brought a sense of dire foreboding to Minott and he stared helplessly about the lonely rooms.

(continue to part 7)

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth installment of "Microcosmic Buccaneers", an early story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here. As we join our story, thirty-third century scientist Minott V8CA and his youthful ward Grayson R36B have shrunk themselves down to subatomic size. Having been captured by subatomic alien pirates, they are being taken to see the pirate leader . . .

Silent Commands

The Kama proved to be the commander of the swiftly moving ship and he faced them in a forward compartment whose transparent sides revealed to them the glories of the sub-universe through which they were traveling. From the mind of this officer there came the command to observe the heavens, and he watched them narrowly as they gazed through the windows.

Far below them was a swiftly receding orb that they knew was the planet Els from which they had been abducted. The super-microscope had shown them a similar view of the sphere. But there all familiarity ceased, for they had not shifted the focus of their instrument after discovering the one inhabited electron. To the left there shone the three suns, the red one displaying a magnificent corona of flaming streamers that dazzled them with its glory. The two smaller suns, those of the cold light, had no coronas but shone with the wavering radiance of enormous mercury vapor lights. The firmament was of ebon blackness and was dotted with no less than fifteen major bodies and countless more distant stars and nebulae. Ahead of them there loomed a rapidly nearing body that shone with a yellow light and about which revolved two smaller bodies, one of a greenish hue and the other the same tint as the parent body. The speed of the pirate vessel must have been terrific, for the shifting of size and position of the visible bodies was inconceivably rapid. They would arrive at their destination very soon indeed.

"It is as I thought," the mental message of the Kama interrupted their thoughts. "My Prags were mistaken. Thou hast told them truth. Thy thoughts are entirely unfamiliar with this system as well as with Oc, the island universe out beyond the twenty-seven planets. For this thou shalt be saved and shall commune with the scientists of Pra. Long have they theorized on the possible existence of universes within universes, of matter divided and sub-divided to the point where little exists save empty space. Thou comest from a vaster universe wherein our system is but an infinitely small particle. Is it not so?"

Minott stared agape. "It is true, Kama," he said, "but little did we think to find theories similar to our own in this realm, nor to find a combination of savagery and enlightenment such as the inhabitants of Pra seem to have. What is the meaning of it all?"

"It is an inheritance from the distant past," came the unspoken reply. "Not all inhabitants of Pra are Prags, as we are termed by the Elsians, but the Prags are the rightful rulers of our universe. It has been thus from time immemorial. But ruling the universe in peace is an impossible accomplishment. Therefore we, the chosen few, dominate by force the remote provinces of Pra itself and the entire universe of which it is part. This we do by swooping down on the provinces regularly, levying tribute in the form of manpower and of wealth. It is divine inheritance, a prerogative none can gainsay. By the outlanders we are cursed and feared, are termed buccaneers, pirates, freebooters. Yet it is our right. The Prags must exist not by labor but by their superior mentality. The inferior races of our system must pay constant homage and provide us with the living and luxuries that are ours by divine right."

"You meet with no resistance?" asked Minott.

"Occasionally. But it is futile. The outlanders are not sufficiently clever to outwit the omnipotent, omniscient Prags."

Grayson sputtered his wrath. "Of all the conceited, vicious tommy-rot I ever listened to, this is the vilest. The Prags are nothing but drones -- drones that sting however, and that live by the labors and sufferings of the less fortunate. Possibly those ugly skulls of yours contain more gray matter, but the Elsians have the better qualities. They have kindness, love, and tolerance in their make-up, whereas the Prag is utterly devoid of the finer feelings. It is a disgusting exhibition of evolution as a coldly scientific proposition -- without pity, without tenderness, without love. Instead of the gods you have set yourselves up to be, you are monsters that should be destroyed. Would that some power could blast you from the universe; destroy your ugly bodies and minds -- not your souls, for you have none."

Grayson breathed hard as he concluded. Minott feared mightily for the result of this bitter speech. But the unspoken reply was without rancor.

"Thou hads't done better to save thy breath," it came through to their minds. "Thy feelings are known. The mental attitude registers with us far more easily than useless speech which we cannot hear. But it is pardoned; it is expected; it is merely the hatred of the slave for its master. However, you two will prove interesting and valuable to our Great Ones, whom you shall soon visit. From them you can hide nothing."

There was no adequate reply, so the two earth men remained mute, staring moodily at the great shining sphere that now loomed so large in the heavens. The Kama nodded and the Prag who had brought them to his presence came in and led them back to their cell.

A voice greeted them from the darkness as the door clanged to behind them, the soft voice that now spoke their language.

"What is to be your fate?" it inquired solicitously.

"We are to meet the Great Ones, whosoever they may be," replied Grayson. "We are to tell them of the world from which we come and to discuss science with them."

"That is a far happier fate than ours," came the gentle voice. "You should be thankful that your lives are not to be sacrificed in the mines and workshops of the Prags, as are ours. We have no hope."

"Is that what becomes of the captives from your land?" asked Minott. "Surely the few of you who are with us in this cell would not be sufficient excuse for the raiding trip of this immense ship."

"We are doomed to hard labor under conditions of such grueling severity that our lives are shortened to less than half their normal span," spoke the voice. "And as to the number of the captives, we five are but a small proportion. There are four great prison cells in these vessels. Each contains one hundred Elsians. We five are merely an overflow and were thrown in this small cell with you two because there was not room. They have also brought large quantities of precious metals from our city."

"What rotten scoundrels they are!" exclaimed Grayson. "So such raids occur often?"

"Only often enough to replenish their stores and to replace the workers who have died off in their misery. But there is also the raid, or rather the expected visit, when they compel us to give up three hundred of our fairest maidens. This occurs once each revolution of Els."

"Once a year!" exclaimed Grayson. "Good grief, do they take your women for mating purposes?"

"No. Merely for their amusement -- to grace their debauches and orgies, and to die, before their time, of shame and of physical decay brought about by the life they are forced to lead. No, the Prags do not mate with our women. That would pollute the strain they have so carefully evolved through eons of time."

"Horrible!" exploded Grayson. "Can nothing be done to forestall them? Have you not retaliated? Can you not organize manpower and materials to destroy these beasts?"

"Hush!" replied the Elsian. "We must not speak of such things. Our every word may even now be going on record and be used against us. There are plans, but we must not speak of them."

Grayson and Minott shivered with horror at the tale of the Elsian. Neither replied. And then they felt a retardation of the speed of the vessel. It came to a sudden stop.

"We are about to land," spoke the invisible Elsian.

"Yes, in the land of the Prags," said Grayson, with loathing in his voice.

(continue to part 6)