Tuesday, 13 October 2009

(Extract from The Sex Tourist’s Planetary Guide, 398th Edition.)

Announcements have recently appeared on the Galactiweb extolling the virtues (so to speak) of Anubor, an utterly barren planet, of which ninety-nine per cent of the population are female. We have recently come into possession of a recording which, while forcing us to marvel at the human capacity for survival in the most adverse conditions, at the same time leads us to wonder about the real purpose of the advertisements.

We reproduce below a transcript of part of this recording, made by the Captain of the missionary ship Just Take Our Bloody Word For It, You Heathen!, which was recently found drifting, empty, in space.

Captain: I cannot see how, with no food supply, you are able to survive.

Native Spokeswoman: Before the Enlightenment, it was indeed difficult. The tribes warred incessantly among themselves, battling for the one source of food available – their own bodies. Barbaric, utterly barbaric: eating someone completely unrelated – usually tough and stringy too. Battles would take place at three-day intervals, when everyone had worked up a decent appetite, and usually in the afternoon, so that the victors could then banquet in the relative cool of the evening. Nevertheless, one’s anticipation of a good meal was marred by the reflection that one stood as good a chance of being one as of having one.
But then came the Enlightenment! Ah, that night, so long ago, when the Prophet Roger, a rough untutored warrior, lay sorely wounded and weak from hunger in a cave, while outside, his enemies, flatulent with the more acidic portions of his friends, awaited only the dawn to complete their repast! With him, his infant son, weeping piteously. Lying there, he recalls all the bitter years of war and misery, and can feel sorrow even for his foes outside, some of whom will almost certainly be slain with parts of himself still unexcreted.
And a Vision comes to him. The End of Hunger. The End of War.
He holds his son lovingly in his battle-torn arms, and speaks the words which in time will come to be known throughout the Universe, though often distorted, or hidden and embedded in local cults and myths.
“You,” he murmurs, brushing damp locks from his son’s brow, “are my seed, which must not fall on barren ground. The fruit of my loins. And as man has sown, so verily shall he reap.”
And on the morrow, strengthened by conviction and the flesh and blood of his son, he calmly approaches his enemies; and it is said that a mighty thunderclap heralded his approach, and bushes sprang into flame before him; and his enemies became his disciples and preached his Message over the whole planet. The New Age had begun!

Captain: He ate his own child!

Spokeswoman: Some parts he kept to share with those outside.

Captain: They all ate the little boy!

Spokeswoman: It seems so simple in retrospect, doesn’t it?

Captain: He murdered and devoured his own child, and you call that Enlightenment!

Spokeswoman : What is the whole purpose of reproduction if not to ensure a constant supply of food?

Captain: The purpose of reproduction is to propagate the race.

Spokeswoman: Which means to prevent its extinction through starvation. From constant war, we moved to constant peace, to proud self-sufficiency. What need to fight when food could be peaceably grown in one’s own body? Relationships became more meaningful, with the intense satisfaction of having earned one’s daily bread, first by the sweat of the groin, and then by the sweat of the brow.

Captain: But if you ate all your children, you’d be extinct in one generation.

Spokesman: Quite. The parents don’t eat all of them. Our females are very fecund, bearing five or more children at a time, but each couple is allowed to keep only three. It’s entirely up to them whether they consume all three. Frequently they keep one girl to bring up with tender and loving care, and the relationship is naturally extremely close, since the child is aware that a real sacrifice has been made for her. Of course, this is not to belittle that other equally intimate bond between parent and child – the sacramental union of eater and eaten, the beautiful ultimate return to the womb.

Captain (sotto voce): Or somewhere close to it. (Aloud) And the others?

Spokeswoman: They become common property. They are available to feed those who can’t grow their own food for whatever reason – illness, temporary infertility, old age, and so on. Of course, if a person repeatedly has recourse to the Childpool, they will eventually get eaten themselves.

Captain (triumphantly): Ha! I thought you said it was barbarous to eat each other!

Spokeswoman (patiently): We don’t. That is, we, the adults, don’t eat them. They provide food for the children in the Pool. (Indignantly) The little mites have to eat too, you know! Which is why we are so grateful to you for coming. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without the occasional windfall.
Here the recording abruptly ends, and, while one should not jump to premature conclusions, we feel the advertisements for Anubor should be approached with a certain circumspection.
(This short story was later adapted and incorporated into FISHER OF DEVILS)

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Thank You for your Submission


Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
Thank you very much for submitting your short story, Battering Brenda, which we have read with great interest. It is not, however, quite what we are looking for at the moment. Might we suggest that you read an issue or two of Desperate Wails, to familiarise yourself with the kind of stories we publish? We enclose details of subscriptions, and writer’s guidelines.

Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
Thank you very much for your subscription. We enclose the latest issue of Desperate Wails, which we hope you will enjoy reading.

Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
I apologise for only responding with a form letter before. Your story, Battering Brenda, though excellent, is still not suitable, I’m afraid. You certainly write with unusual passion, but perhaps the story line is just a little bit ‘thin’? But please do not hesitate to try us again.

Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
Please let me express our gratitude for both your generosity and your faith in Desperate Wails. It is not often that we receive a five-year subscription in advance. We appreciate the support, which will help us to ensure a bigger, better magazine (which, by the way, is called Desperate Wails, not Nails).

However, to answer your rather pointed – indeed, almost belligerent – enquiry, while we do read submissions from our own subscribers with unusual care, a subscription per se does not guarantee publication. Your story, Battering Brenda, does indeed show promise – we were reminded of The Duchess of Malfi, and certain paintings by Bosch – and there is a raw fury to the work which certainly caught our attention. Perhaps if you rewrote it, with a little less gore? The torments suffered by the eponymous Brenda at the moment constitute the whole story, and while extremely imaginative, you do not explain why the aliens should wish to abduct, beat, and torture her for ten days. Also, might we suggest a more varied style? A sentence such as ‘And then they ripped out her tongue and re-implanted it in her anus, and then they turned her nostrils inside out and coated them with her own steaming faeces, and then they pulled out her pubic hairs and threaded them through her nipples with jagged rusty needles, and then they hung her from the ceiling by her nipples, and then ...’, while delightfully colourful, does tend to become a trifle repetitive.

Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
We liked your joke about our being ‘scoundrels, cads, and bounders’ who need ‘a good horse-whipping’, ha, ha! How the power of the word can bring back the lost charm of a bygone age!
We have read with the utmost interest the revised version of your story. Once again, however, we regretfully feel unable to accept it for publication. Your explanation that the aliens torture Brenda because ‘they didn’t like the way she answered back’, and ‘the nagging shrew deserved all she got’, is original, but not sufficient. And the addition of that last line (‘Now will you remember to put sugar in my tea!’) while providing a certain motivation for the events in Battering Brenda – a kind of inverted Stepford Wives scenario, with aliens thrown in – still fails to remove a certain unnecessary unpleasantness from the story. Neither do we feel that changing the title to Bloodily Battering Brenda is any great improvement.

Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
I must ask you not to phone the office again. When I returned this afternoon, I found my secretary almost hysterical. We have had to give her the week off.
The reason I did not answer your last two ‘letters’ was because, quite frankly, they were in extremely bad taste. In our business, we expect – indeed, encourage – a certain amount of healthy criticism, but your letters advising me to publish Bloodily Battering Brenda or end up like her, while clearly intended to be slyly humorous, have become a trifle wearing. I have tried to be tactful, but since you push me into it, I have to say that your ‘story’ is obscenely and obsessively misogynous and sadistic, with not a hint of literary merit to redeem it.

Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
Your subscription is hereby, as you so forcefully requested, returned.
PS We were somewhat puzzled by your inclusion of a reproduction of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

Dear Miss Courtly-Pines,
I confess I was rather surprised to receive your letter. I assure you we have nothing whatsoever against your father. I understand your commendable desire to help him, and the lengths to which you are apparently willing to go are a credit to your filial instinct, but regretfully both myself and my co-editor are gay, and so will not be taking up your generous offer.

Dear Mrs. Crinkly-Oaks,
Thank you for your letter, and we hope you enjoy your hundredth birthday next month. We had no idea that your son by your first marriage, Mr. Courtly-Pines, was nearly seventy, and we are sincerely sorry – although not particularly surprised – to hear that his relationship with his wife Brenda is not a particularly happy one.
Yes, your son’s hobby is indeed quite fascinating, and we naturally share your delight that last year he was finally able to complete his collection of amphibian heads with the rare (perhaps the last?) Costa Rican emerald glass frog. As you say, boys will be boys.
It is refreshing – almost comforting – to know that he has taken up a new hobby at this stage of life, and we would like nothing better than to ‘warm an old lady’s heart’, as you put it, and run his story in our magazine, to coincide with your birthday. This, unfortunately, is impossible, as we are very short of staff since the suicide of my secretary, but we enclose a list of magazines which are aimed at a slightly older readership, although, as the list is last year’s, I cannot guarantee that all the editors are still alive.

Dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
Perhaps you have not been informed that we are now in the third millennium, and double-barrelled names of sadistic septuagenarians, thank God, no longer carry any weight. Do you really believe you can frighten me into publishing your senile ravings?

My dear Mr. Courtly-Pines,
That was an excellent joke, ha, ha! about double-barrelled names and double-barrelled shotguns – a nice double meaning, if I may say so! I have always had the greatest admiration for the SAS, to which you inform us you belong. We have taken another look at your father’s quite remarkable story, Battering Brenda, and it is now obvious that we misjudged it terribly the first time. We shall we more than pleased to publish it in our next issue, and so there will be no need for you to pay us, as you so kindly suggested, a midnight visit with your friends.
PS. I have to admit – ha, ha! – that the damp scalp you included with your witty letter gave us quite a fright!

My Dearest Mr. Courtly-Pines,
We will be extremely honoured and delighted to publish your new story, Battering Brenda All Over Again (we especially enjoyed the pun in the title!) in our very next issue – which may well be our last, but not to worry, ha, ha! We find the idea of the protagonist of the first Brenda story being abducted again, one year later, and being subjected to a further series of horrific tortures, an original and fascinating one. By the way, quite a lively lad your son, eh? A real chip off the old block, ha, ha! It is refreshing to find such determined loyalty in a family.

Dear Mrs Crinkly-Oaks,
We were sorry to read that your son has been arrested for the murder and dismemberment of his wife Brenda. We naturally share your opinion that he never really intended to kill her (as is proved by the fact that he chose to dismember her alive) and that his trial is simply the vindictive revenge of the lower, illiterate, classes. We also share your grief that your grandson was cold-bloodedly shot while gallantly attempting a commando-style raid, with biological weapons, on the prison where his father is being held. Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time.
We wonder whether you might have any of your dear son’s other writings – stories, diaries, poems, childhood jottings – anything at all. As you know, Desperate Wails was the first magazine to recognise and encourage his unusual literary talents, and to have the courage to publish the two ground-breaking Brenda stories, half a million copies of which were sold less than a week after his arrest. Perhaps you would like to read through the enclosed contract – don’t worry about the extremely small print, it’s really nothing of any importance – and allow us to help you to manage his literary estate.