Wednesday, July 29, 2009

DBTL 23: Show and Tell

Belgrade, Serbian Devo, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
16 August 1945

Ivan Mestrovic, sometime sculptor and current Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, was rather puzzled by Benito Mussolini's invitation. For one thing, Mussolini and his delegation had been given quarters in the royal palace, yet the invitation had been issued by the Italian Embassy. For another, since Mussolini was a guest of the Yugoslav government, he ought to be receiving invitations rather than giving them. For a third, the invitation was quite vague, stating only that Mussolini wished to discuss "matters of mutual interest".

So it was that Mestrovic found himself transported to the Italian Embassy to meet a man who should have been at the royal palace, but wasn't. As he walked through the iron gate into the grounds of the Embassy, Mestrovic's unease was profound. There was something going on, and Mestrovic was already certain that when he found out what it was, he wasn't going to like it. When an iron gate slams shut behind you, it's natural to feel a bit spooked. Mestrovic felt like he was entering a prison to serve a capital sentence.

Mestrovic's first sight of Mussolini was even more disquieting. Ever since the Ethiopian fiasco of five years before, Mussolini had taken to wearing civilian clothing in public. He had in fact been wearing a smartly tailored suit and a bowler hat (which had been removed and passed to an aide of course) during his reception with King Alexander the day before.

Here in the sanctum of the Italian Embassy, Mussolini was decked out in his Fascist uniform. The Duce was smiling, but it was not the sort of smile to inspire confidence.

"Signore Mestovic," Mussolini said effusively, "it pleases me beyond measure to meet with you tonight. This will be an evening, I am sure, which will be long remembered by both our nations."

"If I may be so bold, Signore Mussolini," Mestrovic replied in fluent Italian, "what is it that you wish to discuss with me? Your invitation was, if you will pardon my saying so, most unspecific."

"The time for discussions will come soon enough," said Mussolini. "First, I would like to present you with a demonstration. The Kingdom of Italy has recently succeeded in advancing the frontiers of science, and I wish for you to be the first to learn of our new triumph." So saying, the Duce led Mestrovic into an otherwise empty room containing several chairs, a portable movie screen, and a film projector. After dimming the lights, Mussolini pushed a switch on the projector, and a beam of light sprang up to project images on the screen.

"What you see before you," Mussolini narrated, "is a thirty-meter tower which was constructed near the Murzuq oasis in Tripolitania last March. That object you see being hoisted to the top contains several kilograms of a mineral known to scientists as uranium two-thirty-five. Now, this next scene was filmed several hours later, after night had fallen. The camera which filmed it was located two miles distant, behind a thick sheet of leaded glass." Mussolini fell silent while the film continued to roll. The projection room had become dark after the film switched to the evening scene. Now it quickly grew light again.

Mussolini resumed his narration. "I remind you that the camera was two miles distant. The scientists who monitored this . . . event . . . tell me that an amount of energy equal to the ignition of twenty thousand tons of TNT was released in less than a second. Now we move ahead to the following morning. As you can see, the hill upon which the tower was built is now a large depression. You can't tell from the black-and-white film, but that glass is said to have a distinctly greenish tinge to it." The screen became white as the film ran out. Mestrovic watched the film spin around and around on the takeup reel while Mussolini walked over to the wall and brought the lights back up.

Returning to the projector, Mussolini began to fiddle with the film. The projector was soon whirring as the film was rewound, and Mussolini was saying, "For some time now, I have been concerned about the growing chaos within Yugoslavia's Slovenian Devo." Mestrovic was about to ask, what chaos?, but the Duce continued. "It is naturally a matter of great interest to the Kingdom of Italy to have such instability taking place within a region with which we share a border. King Victor Emmanuel and I feel that it would be in the best interests of both our nations if these disturbances were put down, and to that end, I am here to offer the services of the Italian Army to aid you in your efforts to restore order in Slovenia."

The whirring ended as the film was restored to its original reel. Mussolini continued to speak in a distracted way as he rethreaded the film through the projector. "I believe that two divisions of Italian troops stationed in Ljubljana ought, for the time being, to be sufficient to help you to maintain control in Slovenia. Though of course, that could change depending on the course of events there."

Straightening up, Mussolini said, "Now then, do we have an agreement? Or would you like me to show you the film again?"

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Writings of Charles R. Tanner

Charles R. Tanner (1896 - 1974) is one of the forgotten pioneers of the Gernsback Era of science fiction. His first published story, "The Color of Space", appeared in the March 1930 issue of Hugo Gernsback's Science Wonder Stories, and he went on to publish 15 more stories over the next 23 years. He is, however, not quite as forgotten as his contemporary Harl Vincent. "The Color of Space", for instance, was reprinted in Perry Rhodan #21: The Cosmic Decoy, and the first two stories of his hero Tumithak of the Corridors were reprinted in Isaac Asimov's anthology Before the Golden Age.

Furthermore, a website dedicated to Tanner, The Writings of Charles R. Tanner, can be found at Here one can find complete online versions of the sixteen stories that appeared in his lifetime, as well as a seventeenth story, "Tumithak and the Ancient Word", that finally appeared in the collection Tumithak of the Corridors in 2005. There is also an online version of Tanner's 1968 poetic tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Princess of Mars, and an autobiographical sketch that accompanied his story "The Stillwell Degravitator" in the February 1941 issue of Amazing Stories.

One day, I believe, a Google search of the internet will turn up a similar website dedicated to Harl Vincent. There may even come a day when Vincent's stories will appear in a collection, or even a series of collections, and so be preserved between the covers of one or more books. When I type out one of Vincent's stories on this blog, it's with the aim of bringing those days closer.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The song remains the same

From TMP comes word that Arkansas Republican senate candidate Curtis Reynolds is worried about Barack Obama. "We need someone to stand up to Barack Obama and his policies," says Reynolds. "We must protect our culture, our Christian identity."

Christian identity. Now there's a phrase that rings a bell. Where have I heard it before?

Oh yeah, that's where.

Too big II: Electric Boogaloo

Radley Balko responds to my response:

...and another unserious one.
Unserious would be me making fun of your name. You'll notice I didn't do that.

First, I’m not part of “The Right.”
And yet, you share the Right's obsession with Big Government.

Second, I do believe in a basic set of night watchman and public goods responsibilities to be legitimate functions of government.
But only those functions are legitimate. Why only those functions? Is there a libertarian Grand Unified Theory of Legitimate Functions of Government? Am I correct in assuming that government becomes bad when it steps outside of those specific functions?

At any rate, your original post didn't deal with the question of which functions of government were legitimate -- it dealt, very simply, with how big and expensive government was. Which leads us to the point I was making: if you think that an arbitrarily large government is too large, that means that small government is better than big government, which means that less government is better than more government, which means that government is bad.

Third, I didn’t argue that all government is inherently bad.
But that's the fundamental assumption underlying libertarianism. See above.

I asked for liberals to define an upper limit on how much government is too much, using some fairly common metrics. Presumably, most leftists want more government than we have now. And presumably, most leftists would stop well short of advocating a totalitarian or Soviet-style communist state. I’m asking them to give a rough estimate of where they’d place their boundaries.
Which brings us to the core of my response: you can't use numbers to arbitrarily define how much government is too much. You state that some functions of government are legitimate and some are not, but then you ask liberals to define "too much government" in terms of numbers rather than functions.

So that, in short, is my response: you're asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking liberals is "What functions of government do you define as illegitimate?"

Finally, what exactly does “all the things people want to pay for” mean? Anything anyone wants at any time, government should pay for? Anything a majority of voters want? Anything a majority of the Congress wants?
Functionally, it means anything a majority of Congress plus the president wants, or else anything a two-thirds supermajority of Congress wants. Subject to a later determination of constitutionality by a majority of the Supreme Court.

If a majority of Congress or a majority of voters decided tomorrow that the federal government should buy everyone in the country a free ice cream cone each Tuesday, would that be an appropriate reason to raise taxes?
Sure. The function of government is to allocate scarce resources. If, to use your deliberately silly example, the elected representatives of the people decide that our precious national ice cream reserves ought to be allocated via weekly free ice cream cones, then taxes are the logical way to to fund that allocation (unless you're a Republican, in which case borrowing money from Red China is the logical way to fund it).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How big is too big?

Radley Balko asks "lefty" bloggers ("lefty" being a term that includes everyone from Max Baucus to Che Guevara) how much government is too much.

The problem with Balko's question is that the underlying premise is false. As a libertarian, Balko accepts the idea expressed by Ronald Reagan that "government is the problem". Therefore, all government is bad, and therefore, government is always too big, and too expensive.

The Right's obsession with "big government" is a red herring, and always has been. The choice is, and always has been, between good government and bad government. As a libertarian, Balko believes that "good government" is a contradiction in terms, so he's reduced to arguing that since government is inherently bad, less government is better than more government.

If you reject Balko's unstated premise that government is always bad, then the answer to his question is pretty simple. Government should be big enough to do all the things the people want it to do, but no bigger. Taxes should be high enough to pay for all the things people want to pay for, but no higher.

Next question, please?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Wanderer of Infinity" by Harl Vincent

We here at the Johnny Pez blog continue our lonely but determined effort to revive interest in Harl Vincent, one of the forgotten pioneers of the Gernsback Era of science fiction. Vincent, the pen name of mechanical engineer Harold Vincent Schoepflin (1893 - 1968), published over seventy science fiction stories in the pulp magazines between 1928 and 1942. Only a handful have ever been reprinted in anthologies.

One of that handful was "Wanderer of Infinity", first published in the March 1933 issue Astounding Stories magazine. The story reappeared eight years after Vincent's death in an anthology of pulp fiction called The Pulps: Fifty Years of American Pop Culture, edited by Tony Goodstone. Now, thanks to the good people at Project Gutenberg, "Wanderer of Infinity" can be found online here.

"Wanderer of Infinity" bears an uncanny resemblance to the British science fiction series Doctor Who. The Wanderer is an alien who travels between the dimensions alone in his interdimensional timeship. The last of his race, the Wanderer has dedicated his life to helping preserve other races threatened by interdimensional conquest. When Earth is threatened by a spider-like race called the Bardeks, the Wanderer recruits a human named Bert Redmond to help him save the world.

Published 30 years before Doctor Who premiered on the BBC, "Wanderer of Infinity" is proof that any science fictional idea you care to mention can be found in the pulps of the Gernsback Era.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Vulcan's Workshop" by Harl Vincent

From Project Gutenberg comes another story by Harl Vincent, a forgotten pioneer of science fiction. "Vulcan's Workshop" appeared in the June 1932 issue of Astounding Stories magazine, and it has never been reprinted until being uploaded to Project Gutenberg on July 5, 2009.

The Vulcan of "Vulcan's Workshop" is a planet, but not Gene Roddenberry's planet Vulcan. Its origins date back to the mid-nineteenth century, and the orbital calculations of a French mathematical astronomer. Urbain Jean Jospeh Le Verrier (1811 - 1877) specialized in the tedious calculations involved in celestial mechanics -- working out the orbits of bodies in space. In 1846, his calculations of the orbit of Uranus, which was the outermost planet known at the time, showed certain periodic anomolies, which he interpreted as evidence that Uranus' orbit was being affected by a more distant, undiscovered planet. Within a month of Le Verrier's announcement, his calculations led to the discovery of this more distant planet, which was named Neptune. This discovery led to Le Verrier becoming the Big Scientist of his era, with all the intellectual heft that comes with such a position.

By 1859, Le Verrier had completed his calculations of the orbit of Mercury, and again they showed certain periodic anomolies. Again, Le Verrier decided that these anomolies were due to an undiscovered planet, this time one that orbited closer to the sun than Mercury. Le Verrier tentatively named this undiscovered planet Vulcan, and his standing as the Big Scientist of his time meant that other astronomers immediately began searching the skies near the sun for it. An amateur astronomer named Edmond Modeste Lescarbault announced that he had seen Le Verrier's Vulcan transiting the sun earlier that year, and Le Verrier used Lescarbault's data to calculate Vulcan's orbit. However, none of Le Verrier's predicted future transits of the sun by Vulcan were ever observed, and belief in Le Verrier's Vulcan waned. The final blow to the Vulcan hypothesis was delivered by Albert Einstein in 1915, when his General Theory of Relativity was able to explain Mercury's observed orbit without recourse to any undiscovered planets.

Old scientific ideas tend to persist, though, and some science fiction writers continued to set stories on Le Verrier's Vulcan. Vincent's "Vulcan's Workshop" specifically mentions Lescarbault's observation, and in the story, the planet Vulcan is finally discovered in the twenty-first century after interplanetary travel is established. Vincent's Vulcan orbits the sun at a distance of twenty million miles, and is tidally locked to the sun. Although its diameter is a little over 200 miles, Vulcan has a core of solid neutronium which gives it a surface gravity six times that of Earth. "Vulcan's Workshop" tells the story of Luke Fenton, a tough brawler from Earth who gets in trouble with the law on Mars, and who is sentenced by the Martian government to do hard time in a penal colony on Vulcan called Vulcan's Workshop. It's said that no man can escape from Vulcan's Workshop, but Luke Fenton is determined to try.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Messin' with the wingnuts

It's been a while now since the wingnuts had some Obama-related fake outrage to get outraged about, so I propose to help them out. The Pledge of Allegiance is always near and dear to their hearts, so that gives us our opening. We need to convince them that Congress is getting ready to rewrite the Pledge so it looks something like this:

I pledge allegiance to the great and powerful Barack Obama
Lord and master of us all
And to the republic over which he reigns
One nation, under Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
From whom all blessings flow
Indivisible, with no secessions allowed, not even Texas
With Sharia Law and burkas for all.

A few chain emails to set the whole thing in motion, and we'll have them all wetting themselves.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"They lose me after the bunker scene"

Apparently I am not aware of all internet traditions.

For the last year and a half, there's been an internet tradition involving a 2004 German-language film about Hitler called The Downfall. There's a scene where Hitler goes berserk after being told that Germany can't win, and the gag involves adding English subtitles to change Hitler's rant into a rant about, for instance, the Watchmen movie, or being banned from Wikipedia, or Michael Jackson's death. In fact, it turns out that this internet meme is so old and withered that even the New York Times has heard about it. And yet, I was completely unaware until two weeks ago.

I feel so ashamed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Senator Al Franken

Say it with me again.

Senator Al Franken.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth and final installment of "Too Many Boards", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "Too Many Boards" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 78 years ago. The first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here.

As we join our story, Larry Conover, the President of United Synthetic Food, has eloped to Mercury with his one true love, Una Sinclair. Travel there is forbidden, but Conover and Sinclair have reached Mercury with the help of their friend Chick Davis, captain of the interplanetary cruise liner Rocket III. Unfortunately, they have learned that Mercury has just signed an extradition treaty with Earth, and Hjalmar Nordstrum, the new Terran ambassador, has ordered their arrest . . .

* * *

"A moment please," asked the Dairo. "Do I understand that these two are to be arrested and returned to Terra to stand trial?"

"It is our law, your excellency," replied Nordstrum.

"A strange law it is that separates lovers so obviously suited to one another. But I presume that your solons know best. I do not profess to understand, but would know more regarding the circumstances. Shall we retire to the Dairofa and discuss the case in detail?"

"As you wish, excellency." The ambassador was chagrined, but could do naught but acquiesce. Mills figited and fumed.

Larry pricked up his ears over the Dairo's speech. The sympathy of this president of the Mercurian council gave him renewed hope. He would present his own case. There still might be some way in which that cursed treaty could be abrogated. But that forlorn hope was quickly blasted when the Dairo addressed them from his place at the head of the council table.

"The treaty stands," he said. "It has been officially signed and sealed. But I feel that we are entitled to the facts of this unfortunate case. Our people will question the justice of such a procedure as is proposed and apparently necessary. We must be prepared to satisfy them as to the wisdom of our judgment in carrying on this and future negotiations with the outer planets."

"We understand, honored Dairo," smiled the ambassador. His precious agreement was safe. "But I must ask Mr. Mills to give you the complete history of the affair. I am unfamiliar with the details."

John X. Mills cleared his throat. This would be somewhat difficult, as he spoke no Termarven and would have to tell his story to the interpreter. The members of the Mercurian council cast solemn yet kindly glances on Una and Larry when Mills pointed an accusing forefinger at them.

"These two -- " he began. But there came an interruption.

A page advanced hurriedly to the council table and the Dairo motioned Mills into silence.

"Captain Davis," announced the page, "demands admittance."

The Dairo brightened. "Send him in," he ordered.

The conversation was in the Mercurian tongue and Mills stood perplexedly silent. But Larry had caught the name of his friend and guessed at the meaning of the interruption. He squeezed Una's hand joyfully. Good old Chick! He hadn't left them after all. And somehow he felt that things would happen quickly now.

Chick Davis advanced to the council table with a broad grin on his face. He was accompanied by two terrestrials, a man and a woman.

Larry craned his neck to see who they were. Art Hovey! Why, the big stiff! He had been on the Rocket III -- and never looked up his friend. What did it mean? And the girl! Alta Farrish! He blinked his eyes in amazement.

"Alta!" gasped John X. Mills, "what are you doing here?"

"That is what I intended asking you." She smiled sweetly, but it seemed that she drew a bit closer to the side of Arthur Hovey.

Larry was completely mystified. But he felt an almost uncontrollable impulse to laugh aloud in this great domed chamber. One more shock like this and Mills would surely die of apoplexy. His purpled features and bulging eyes would have made a horse laugh.

The irate financier forgot himself. He forgot that he was in the presence of the nobility and the highest authority of a strange planet.

"What do you mean?" he roared. "Am I not your legal guardian? Who gave you permission to leave home? Answer me!"

The Dairo frowned in annoyance, but he did not interfere.

Art Hovey stepped forward, keeping Alta in the background. "You are speaking to my wife, Mr. Mills," he said quietly.

There was a momentary silence. Then John X. Mills far outdid his previous efforts. He shook his fist in the face of the young man who had so calmly announced the preposterous affront to his authority. He ranted and stormed.

The Dairo pounded vigorously for silence. This terrestrial was insufferable.

Ambassador Nordstrom spoke sharply to his compatriot and Mills subsided, mopping his perspiring brow with a large silk handkerchief. He wished he had these two youngsters at home.

* * *

"Ambassador," asked the Dairo, "will you be so kind as to request the young people to present their side of the story? It seems to be much involved."

Nordstrum translated rapidly and Art Hovey stepped to the table. Larry regarded him in astonishment. Guess he hadn't known his friend as well as he thought. Such a transformation he had never considered possible. The usually phlegmatic Art was supremely confident; dominant; compelling. He directed his remarks at the ambassador.

"Mr. Nordstrum," he said, "you have been hoodwinked by Mills. He has used this mission as a means to a personal end. His sole object in appealing to Congress at this time was to prevent the marriage of my friend to the girl he loves and force him to marry the woman who is now my wife. John X. Mills is a scheming and unscrupulous rascal."

"I am beginning to believe that is true," interjected Nordstrum. This thing was a sorry mess. He felt suddenly ashamed.

"I know it is true," continued Art, "for I have investigated and have learned many things. For years I have loved Alta Farrish, his ward, but I never courted her, for Mills had planned her marriage to my dear friend, Laurence Conover. I thought she cared for him and that eventually he would submit to Mills' wishes. But my friend had other plans and I wished to help him, so I set about to learn the true state of affairs. First off, I found that my fondest dreams were possible of realization. I -- " He hesitated and glanced at his bride for approval. She nodded happily.

"Anyhow we were married -- perfectly in order -- A2 classification and everything. But my friend, to be happy, must escape the laws of the three outer planets. He planned to settle here on Mercury and found a way to reach this planet. But I learned that Mills had been watching him by means of the detectoscope -- had followed his every movement. So I watched Mills. I discovered the machinations he used in engineering this official mission to the inner planet. So I followed on the Rocket III, though my friend did not know I was on board. I wanted to surprise him -- here -- to be of some assistance should it be necessary."

"Art, you're a brick!" exclaimed Larry. He could scarcely credit his senses. To think of Art doping this out -- fooling him!

"But I haven't told you the worst." Art paused dramatically. "Mills not only deceived my friends; he deceived his ward. The stock he votes in United Synthetic Food is but half his own. The other portion is Alta's. He voted it by proxy and has forged papers which convinced her that he could thus control it until her marriage. This has been the club he held over Larry Conover and over his ward to force the union he planned -- a union that interested him only because he thought it would permit him to retain control of the vast business he has dominated for so many years."

"Liar!" grated Mills. But his tone was far from convincing.

"It's the truth. Here's the proof." Art handed a sheaf of papers to the ambassador, who scanned them carefully.

Larry could have kicked himself. Fool that he had been not to investigate the matter himself.

"Mills," said Nordstrum sternly, "he's got the goods on you. I'd keep my mouth shut now, if I were you. I'm through."

He turned to the Dairo. "Your excellency," he said, "I offer humble apology. I find that this young man speaks truth and that I have been deceived into becoming an unwitting party to the selfish schemes of my countryman. On behalf of my government I now propose to cancel the treaty we have signed, if it be your desire that this be done."

John X. Mills slumped low in his chair and stared at the floor. He seethed with rage. Yet he dared not retort.

"Ambassador," announced the Dairo, "you have acted in good faith and we blame you not for the deeds of this -- this member of your party. It is thought best, under the circumstances, that the papers be destroyed and the incident forgotten. The young couple who are not permitted to wed by your laws may remain with us if they wish. There is no bar to their union here."

The interpreter repeated his words in English and the five terrestrials from the Rocket III gathered in an excited huddle losing all interest in the ceremony of destroying the agreement.

Chick Davis could not restrain a joyous "Hooray!"

* * *

"You old fox!" exclaimed Larry, gripping Art's hand tightly. "You sure did put it over on me. And boy, you saved the day."

Una clung to her lover, an unaccountable lump in her throat. She was happy to be with him, happy in the knowledge that nothing now prevented them from joining their lives. But somehow she was frightened; homesick. She saw the disapproval of her own kind in the eyes of the Mercurians and she feared they would not be as welcome as the Dairo implied. But she would stick to Larry through anything. He was all that mattered, after all.

"But Art," objected Alta, "we can't leave them here. We must have Larry in New York. United Synthetic Food depends on him, and so do we. The reorganization -- we must vote our stock with his to keep control and to save the business from my guardian. Besides, I don't think Una likes it here as well. I know I didn't."

"You forgot," said Art, "the classification -- Una's rating."

Here was a facer. Larry looked into Una's eyes and saw that what Alta said was true. She didn't like it in Luzan! Matter of fact he wasn't so hot for it himself. It had sounded better when Chick told about it. Lord, what a mess! But he'd stay in Hades to have Una.

Art's usually placid brow was furrowed in thought. Good old Art! He had come through in a blaze of glory. Didn't think he had it in him. Guess Alta'd pepped him up. He had something to work for now. Imagine -- holding secret his feelings for her -- all these years.

"Psst! Una -- quick!" Art was whispering in her ear, "Your Board of Eugenics tag -- give it to me. Got an idea."

Wonderingly she took the tiny silver chain from her wrist and handed it to Larry's friend. Carefully he examined the markings on the surface of the little tag. Then he strode to the council table.

"Your excellency," he said, when the Dairo greeted him, "may I ask one question of John X. Mills?"

The request was quickly repeated by the interpreter and the Dairo signified his assent.

Art advanced to the now cowering financier. Ambassador Nordstrum groaned. What revelation was coming now? Wasn't it bad enough without further fuss? The mission was already a failure. But this young Hovey seemed to know his business.

"Mr. Mills," said Art in a steely voice, "you know Raymond Phelps, do you not?"

Mills dropped his eyes. His high color faded to a sickly mottled pallor. He stammered unintelligibly but did not reply.

"Answer him, Mills," warned the ambassador.

"Yes -- I know him," breathed the thoroughly frightened man.

"You bet you know him!" Art's voice rose in anger. "Know him too dam' well. And you bribed him to derate Una Sinclair -- an official of the incorruptable Board of Eugenics! But you'd corrupt a saint. You did it. Now -- didn't you?"

The pudgy hands of the financier twitched nervously where they gripped the arms of the chair. he half rose from his seat, then fell weakly back.

"Did you, Mills, did you?" The ambassador's voice was chill. "You miserable skunk -- answer!"

But John X. Mills was unequal to speech. He stared in terror at the livid face of the ambassador and nodded his head in agreement.

"Good Lord!" Nordstrum was aghast. To think that he had assisted this dirty hound! "You'll pay for this, John Mills. And, right now, your first act is going to be a full and complete confession to the Manager of the terrestrial government -- over the optophone. Get me? March now! By George, you'll not only confess, but you'll go back with me -- under arrest. Subsidize our officials, will you? Furthermore, we'll have Miss Sinclair reinstated in A2 at once. This vile scheming of yours can no longer affect them. These two young people can be married immediately -- on the Rocket III if they wish -- Captain Davis has authority."

He propelled Mills from the room ungently, the Mercurians looking on with open approval. Chick Davis indulged in an undignified jig.

"Boy, you're a marvel!" Larry hugged Art gleefully. "And, I know who our new Vice President in charge of sales is going to be. You could sell ice to the Eskimos."

Alta gurgled her approval. She knew that Art had it in him. Poor boy! He'd always kept himself in the background -- and on her account. Things would be different now.

Una didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. It was all too good to be true.

* * *

Ambassador Nordstrum was as good as his word, for within the space of a very few minutes he returned fro the government vessel with news that Una's reinstatement was already approved. He personally voided her tag and wrote a temporary certificate of classification.

Alta pleaded for her guardian, and, eventually, Nordstrum agreed to free him from the cell in which he had been placed and to suspend action on the serious charges he faced.

The tiny government ship took off from the plaza, the Mercurians watching stolidly as it was lost in the mists above. But the Rocket III, due to its tremendous exhaust, would have to be towed to an isolated spot outside the city for its take-off. The Dairo appointed a committee to make the necessary arrangements.

"Now," said Chick Davis, when the tow ropes were attached to four huge tractors and his party made ready to enter the vessel, "I have to make my peace with the passengers. Some of 'em were sore as the devil because I wouldn't let 'em off the ship. But I guess the excitement of a shipboard wedding'll keep 'em quiet. Let's go."

When they entered the main air lock he whispered to Larry and Art, "Say! Maybe you think there hasn't been hell to pay back home. The world went crazy when the news broadcasts reported us lost. But they're happy again now, and, thanks to Nordstrum in great part, I'm sitting swell with the Board. So everything is O.K."

"That's great, Chick," said Larry, "I was afraid you'd get in a peck of trouble over this. And I don't know how to thank you, as it is."

"Aw, forget it. Art's the baby you have to thank."

"He knows how I feel about him."

Larry grew thoughtful. The girls had hurried to their staterooms to remove the traces of their trying experience. It seemed they were to spend the double honeymoon in the trip to Venus and Mars which must now be continued by the Rocket III. What a difference from the original plans! Then back to the restriction and regulations -- the Boards of this, that and the other thing. But, after all, these could affect them but little now. And they were so used to life on earth. For all its many annoyances, it wasn't so bad. Not so bad. Then there was Art. He'd get somewhere now. He was finally awake -- and how!

"Say, Art," he said, struck by a sudden thought, "how in the name of time did you find out that old man Mills had bribed that Board of Eugenics bird?"

Arthur Hovey grinned. "Didn't," he admitted. "Saw the name Phelps on the tag and took a flier on the hunch I had.

"It worked, too."

"I'll say it did!" chuckled the captain.

Larry shook his head in growing amazement. "Why, you son-of-a-gun!" he breathed admiringly. "You're good!"


(continue on to Putting Up With "Too Many Boards")

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Blitz Hoax by Earl Lee Warner

Some men are not content to accept the conventional wisdom; they have a relentless need to dig beneath the surface and uncover the hidden truth. Such a man is Dr. Earl Lee Warner of Lubbock, Texas (DDS, Bob Jones University, 1988). In his astonishing new book, The Blitz Hoax: The True Story of Operation Budgie (Crown, June 27, 2009), Dr. Warner uncovers the truth about the most important British disinformation campaign of the Second World War: Operation Budgie, the great "Blitz" hoax.

As Dr. Warner reveals, in the summer of 1940, following the conquest of France by Nazi Germany, Hitler began pressing the British government to recognize Germany's dominant position on the European continent, and to accept peace on that basis. Although Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused, Hitler felt that his position was strong enough to allow him to outlast Churchill. He would leave Great Britain alone, and the British people, tiring of the stalemate, would eventually force Churchill out of office and accept Hitler's terms.

Churchill, meanwhile, knew that Britain would need American aid to defeat Hitler, but that American interest would wane during a long, bloodless stalemate. So, in order to win over the American people to Britain's cause, Churchill created Operation Budgie, a disinformation campaign designed to convince the American people that Britain was suffering a sustained aerial attack by the Germans -- an attack known to history as the Blitz.

Aided by the Roosevelt administration and sympathetic American journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, the British government systematically flooded the United States with accounts of German air raids. Murrow staged fake broadcasts nightly over CBS radio, while doctored photographs of "damaged" buildings, including St. Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, appeared in American newspapers and magazines. The British government even recruited thousands of orphaned children to be "evacuated" to the United States. With the help of Operation Budgie, President Roosevelt was able to convince a nation of isolationists to extend ever greater amounts of military aid to Great Britain, climaxing with the passage of the Lend-Lease Act of March 11, 1941.

For decades, the deception promulgated by Operation Budgie remained unchallenged, until Dr. Warner began noticing discrepancies in the official story of the Blitz. He found that buildings that had supposedly been "damaged" during the attack and then "restored" after the war showed no signs of repair work. People who supposedly had been killed were found to be still alive. Through years of meticulous investigation, Dr. Warner has at last been able to present the world with the truth about the so-called "Blitz". As noted political commentator Pat Buchanan notes in his introduction, "There's always been something a little bit fishy about the Blitz. No American who wants to know the truth about America's path to war in 1941 can afford to ignore this stunning work of historical revisionism."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The blogging Futurian

You don't normally associate blogging with names like Isaac Asimov, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Donald A. Wollheim, or James Blish, since they all lived and died before weblogs came into being. Likewise, you wouldn't normally associate blogging with their fellow Futurian Frederik Pohl, but then you'd be wrong, because Polh is still alive and kicking, and also blogging.

In The Way the Future Blogs, Pohl talks about politics, writing, food, cats, and all the other topics beloved of bloggers. Reading his blog, you get the feeling that all the writing, editing, and agenting he did over the course of his long life (he turns 90 in November) was just him marking time until he could get to the real business of his life, which of course was blogging.

It's a bit eerie reading Pohl's blog. You get the feeling you're just a blog post away from a flame war between him and Sam Moskowitz, or a snarky takedown of Hamilton Fish III. You can't quite call Pohl the Last of the Futurians, because he's not: David A. Kyle and Jack Robins are also still around. But with the death of Forrest J. Ackerman last year, the first generation of Gernsback Era fans is dwindling. Nevertheless, as long as Pohl is blogging, the dawn of science fiction is still within our grasp.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 4

This is the fourth installment of "Too Many Boards", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "Too Many Boards" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 78 years ago. The first three installments can be found here, here, and here.

As we join our story, Larry Conover, the President of United Synthetic Food, has eloped to Mercury with his one true love, Una Sinclair. Travel there is forbidden, but Conover and Sinclair have reached Mercury with the help of their friend Chick Davis, captain of the interplanetary cruise liner Rocket III. Now they must face the Mercurians . . .

* * *

"Careful now, you two," Chick Davis warned, as Una and Larry edged gingerly along the gangplank, "it'll take you a little time to get used to the lesser gravity and rare air. Though you weigh less than a third of what you do on earth, the slightest effort will exhaust you here. So, just take it easy."

Una laughed nervously. "I feel as though I could leap across the plaza," she said.

"You could -- nearly," agreed the captain, "but, until your lungs are accustomed to the change and your heart to the extra load imposed by the scarcity of oxygen, you'd better not try anything of the kind."

"Say Chick," exclaimed Larry, "that's a terrestrial government ship over there. Wonder what's up?"

"Probably they've been searching for us since our octophone went out of commission. Guess I'll be in for an argument after a bit. But they can't prove anything. That reminds me too -- better find the trouble now and report our whereabouts." Captain Davis winked and grinned as Larry turned a scared face toward him.

"They'll discipline you, Chick."

"Let 'em. I wouldn't have missed this for anything. I've had a circus on this trip. And I guess I can square myself."

Una drew back suddenly in alarm, grasping Larry and pointing a trembling finger. "Look!" she gasped. "There's John Mills!"

It was incredible, but true. On the platform facing the plaza there stood a group of Mercurian officials and with them were four terrestrials. One of these, a pudgy human with ruddy countenance, was undoubtedly John X. Mills.

Larry groaned, then stiffened in anger. "Miserable swine!" he snarled. "Been spying on me and learned my plans! I'll show him!"

So quickly did he ove in the direction of the triumphantly leering financier that his leap carried him a distance of thirty or more feet. He lost his balance and sprawled ignominiously at the edge of the platform. John X. Mills laughed.

Chick Davis was at Larry's side in an instant, and, as he helped him to his feet he hissed, "Keep your shirt on, you idiot! We're in a jam. Got to be diplomatic."

Una hurried to join them, her breath coming in painful gasps. She wanted to cry. Larry grumbled sheepishly as she made nervously ineffectual attempts to dust his clothes with her handkerchief.

Captain Davis strode to the center of the platform and faced the Dairo, president of the Mercurian high council, speaking rapidly in Termarven, the universal language which had been developed when interplanetarian communication was first accomplished in 1988.

"Your excellency," said Chick, "I am captain of the Rocket III. A disarrangement of our electrical system partially crippled the vessel and it was necessary for us to land here to make repairs. Meanwhile I learned that these two young people of our world were endeavoring to escape persecution in their own land. They wish to marry but cannot on account of one of our rigid laws -- the Eugenics Act, with which you are undoubtedly familiar. I beg of you that they be permitted to make their home here and to wed in accordance with your laws. They freely renounce allegiance to the terrestrial government."

"I remember you, Captain Davis," replied the Dairo. "You have visited us before, though you have never honored us by landing your vessel. But I cannot accept your request."

"Can not? There is no treaty. Mercury is independent of the Tri-planetarian Alliance."

"True. But a minor agreement has just been signed with representatives of your government. We have agreed that all terrestrials who might visit our globe are returnable at the demand of your government and are subject to your laws for so long a time as they remain with us. However, if your ambassador agrees, we will welcome this man and woman."

Larry understood Termarven but imperfectly and he stared from one to the other of the speakers in uncertainty. Una clung desperately to him.

The Dairo indicated one of the four terrestrials, a pompous individual who bowed ceremoniously at the acknowledgement.

"Hjalmar Nordstrom, Captain," he said in English, "at your service."

"You heard?"

"I heard, Captain."

"He lies!" croaked Mills. But Nordstrom frowned him into silence.

"Captain," said the ambassador, "it is impossible to grant your request. As you know, we have been trying for years to come to an understanding with the Mercurians and this mission of mine is the latest attempt. It has succeeded thus far, and the preliminary treaty is an entering wedge that we cannot afford to nullify by an immediate violation of one of its provisions. I must further remind you, Captain, that you are subject to disciplining for landing your vessel here."

"I'll take care of that, Mr. Ambassador. But, may I ask you who was the instigator of this special mission -- who wrote this clause?"

"Why -- why --" The ambassador flushed and John X. Mills coughed warningly.

"Ha! I thought so!" Chick Davis glared at Mills belligerently, then disdainfully at Nordstrom. "No wonder the Mercurians have always refused to treat with us, when our government sends such as you to deal with them. Don't see why they listened this time."

"Sir! I'll have you broken for this! I -- I --" The ambassador was sputtering with rage. Mills grasped his arm and whispered in his ear.

Larry was doing his best to comfort Una, who had buried her head on his shoulder. The Mercurians watched silently, the Dairo stretched to his full seven feet of dignified stature, arms folded across his broad chest.

"I demand their arrest!" shouted Mills. "The girl and Laurence Conover. They are fugitives from justice. Attempting to evade both the Compulsory Marriage Act and the Eugenics Act. I'll appear against them before the Boards."

The ambassador nodded agreement and the remaining two terrestrials advanced toward Una and Larry, flashing badges of the Secret Service. Larry's muscle tensed in his fury and Una gripped him more tightly.

"Don't dear," she whispered. "Please -- for my sake. It'll only be worse for you."

Chick Davis paused uncertainly, then turned on his heels and rapidly made for his vessel, covering the intervening distance with a peculiar shuffling lope that was admirably adapted to the gravity conditions.

"Chick! Chick!" called Larry.

But his friend continued on his way. Bitterly Larry watched him go. He'd deserted him, and in the time of greatest need. But, after all, what could he do?

Larry's muscle relaxed and Una sighed her relief. The officers were upon them and she had been horrified at the thought of the result of resistance on his part.

(continue to part 5)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 3

This is the third installment of "Too Many Boards", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "Too Many Boards" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 78 years ago. The first two installments can be found here and here.

As we join our story, Larry Conover, the President of United Synthetic Food, is being forced by the Board of Eugenics to marry his friend Alta Farrish. It's the year 2030, and by law all members of classification A2 must marry by age 32. Conover is an A2, and two months short of the deadline. Then he meets his new secretary, Una Sinclair, and falls in love with her. When Sinclair is reclassified as an F2, Conover decides that they must elope to Mercury. Travel there is forbidden, but Conover is certain his friend Chick Davis, a spaceship captain, can smuggle them in . . .

* * *

The Rocket III was berthed on her huge float, fifty miles off Montauk Point. A monster dirigible from the mainland had just discharged its cargo, the highly concentrated liquid explosive which provided tremendous propulsive energy for the liner in limited storage space, and was headed for home. Scores of smaller private aircraft hovered at a respectful distance, awaiting the take-off of the great vessel -- a sight they had come hundreds, even thousands, of miles to witness.

Captain Davis stood at the hyper-optophone in the control room of his space ship. He had reported to the Board of Tri-planetary Transportation in Washington that all was well for the one hundredth voyage of the Rocket III. He grinned when he turned from the disc. The Board was due for a surprise this trip.

The published passenger list had carefully omitted the names of certain of those actually aboard. Captain Davis had seen to that, as he had seen to the obtaining of Una's and Larry's passports, ostensibly for a trip to Venus. Other essential matters there were too, that had required his personal attention. But it was a job that Chick Davis liked, for he doted on romance. Besides, he scented an unusual adventure.

The time for departure was at hand, and the shrill siren on the float warned the surrounding visitors to withdraw to a safe distance. The screaming exhaust of the vessel's rocket tubes was a thing to be feared, an incandescent blast that could wither and destroy the greatest of the ships of the lower air.

With its five hundred feet of glistening length resting in the chute, its blunt nose pointed skyward at an angle of thirty degrees, the Rocket III was a thing of beauty, a monument to the genius and scientific attainment of mankind. But, when the mighty energies were released from within, it became a monster of terrifying power, a mechanism that went roaring into the skies ahead of a trail of blinding magnificence, splitting the protesting air with a screech whose intensity was beyond all belief.

Precisely on schedule, the Rocket III hurled itself into the heavens. When the last vestige of its flaming tail had vanished, the awed spectators turned their ships homeward, stunned and silenced by this marvel of the twenty-first century.

Far outside the earth's atmosphere the vessel straightened away on its course and settled to its carefully regulated rate of acceleration. The captain was entertaining a much excited couple in his cabin.

* * *

There was consternation in the despatching room of the Tri-planetary Transportation Board in Washington. The Rocket III had long since left her berth and the engineers in charge had observed her progress on the chart for more than ten million miles. Then the tiny light-point of red that traveled so slowly from the blue-white representation of the earth's orb flickered and went out. Frantic efforts to raise the ship's hyper-optophone failed utterly, and the chief despatcher made haste to report the calamity.

Every available space ship of the terrestrial government was pressed into service and the liners of the Tri-planetary system already in transit were advised by optophone to keep close watch for the wanderer. But little hope was entertained of locating the vessel in this manner. In the vastness of space even the largest of liners was an infinitesimal mite, and, with its opto inoperative, became but one of myriads of tiny bodies that hurtled through the blackness at enormous speed.

The nature of the disaster which had overtaken the Rocket III could but be conjectured. Nothing of the sort had occurred during more than thirty years of continued inteplanetary service. Great fear there was in official circles that the vessel's fuel compartment had exploded. Though such an accident was deemed highly improbable, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility, and it was an undoubted fact that something of a serious nature had happened to the mighty vessel of the skies.

Efforts were made to keep the news of the disaster from the public, but, as is usually the case, there was a leak. Within a very few hours the public and private news optos throughout the world blared forth the incredible tidings. Frantic relatives and friends of the more than twelve hundred passengers and three hundred members of the crew besieged the various departments of the terrestrial government in Washington for confirmation or denial of the terrible news. In the lower levels of the great cities, the public squares were jammed with horror-stricken humanity, waiting in vain for definite assurance from the news announcers.

Hour after hour the vigil was kept and eventually the reports of the government scouting ships commenced coming in. But these held forth nothing of hope. There was but one chance in many millions that trace of the lost ones would ever be uncovered.

But the officials of the Board refused to give up their vessel as lost, though hoping against hope. Its captain, Charles Davis, was the most resourceful and experienced in the service. They could not conceive of him as unequal to any emergency which might have arisen.

* * *

On the planet Mercury an unusual conference was in progress in the executive chambers, or Dairofa, in Luzan, the capital city of the realm. In the great plaza before the palace there rested a space ship of strange design, a small and sleek craft that had been the subject of discussion throughout the city during the twelve aka (about six and one-half earth days) since its arrival from afar.

The huge blood-red disc of the sun shone hotly at the horizon, its almost horizontal rays making of the city a motley of sweltering highlights and dark shadows. Rose tinted mists hung low over all, effectually obscuring the heavens above. It was always thus in Luzan, the sun never leaving the horizon entirely, but circling it once every eighty-eight earth days and alternately rising to a point that exposed the lower rim of the enormous disc, then sinking to a point where the topmost edge just peeped through the mists above the undulating line of demarcation between land and sky.

Suddenly there came from above a fearsome sound, a screaming roar that brought the populace to the streets and the officials and their subordinates from the palace. Once, twice, thrice, the sky was shot with a blinding stab of light. A huge shape swung into view through the mists. Another and larger space ship! A moment it poised at the edge of the plaza, then swooped to a landing and rolled slowly to a lumbering stop.

The assembled Mercurians stared agape when the main port was opened and the gangplank lowered. Never before had one of the huge liners of the Tri-planetary Alliance made actual landing on the globe. Murmurs of surprised interest greeted the appearance of teh only three visitors to disembark from the giant vessel -- a girl, a young woman of fragile and delicate mold by Mercurian standards, and two men who were likewise of terrestrial littleness in stature.

(continue to part 4)