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Category: fiction

Defender of the Faith

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by Philip Roth (1959)

    IN MAY OF 1945, ONLY A FEW WEEKS AFTER the fighting had ended in Europe, I was rotated back to the States, where I spent the remainder of the war with a training company at Camp Crowder, Missouri. Along with the rest of the Ninth Army, I had been racing across Germany so swiftly during the late winter and spring that when I boarded the plane, I couldn’t believe its destination lay to the west. My mind might inform me otherwise, but there was an inertia of the spirit that told me we were flying to a new front, where we would disembark and continue our push eastward-eastward until we’d circled the globe, marching through villages along whose twisting, cobbled streets crowds of the enemy would watch us take possession of what, up till then, they’d considered their own. I had changed enough in two years not to mind the trembling of old people, the crying of the very young, the uncertainty and fear in the eyes of the once arrogant. I had been fortunate enough to develop an infantryman’s heart, which, like his feet, at first aches and swells but finally grows horny enough for him to travel the weirdest paths without feeling a thing.

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“Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktockman (Harlan Ellison, 1965)

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Here is a story written to the rhythm of a clock without a balance wheel, out of whack, out of synch, tock-tick, tick-tock.

There are always those who ask, what is it all about? For those who need to ask, for those who need points sharply made, who need to know “where it’s at,” this:

“The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purposes as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the Devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.” Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

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Estrangement and Cognition

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by Darko Suvin

1. Science Fiction As Fiction (Estrangement)

1.1. The importance of science fiction (SF) in our time is on the increase. First, there are strong indications that its popularity in the leading industrial nations (United States, USSR, United Kingdom, Japan) has risen sharply over the last 100 years, despite all the local and short-range fluctuations. SF has particularly affected such key strata or groups of modern society as college graduates, young writers, and the avant-garde of general readers appreciative of new sets of values. This is a significant cultural effect which goes beyond any merely quantitative census. Second, if one takes as the minimal generic difference of SF the presence of a narrative novum (the dramatis personae and/or their context) significantly different from what is the norm in “naturalistic” or empiricist fiction, it will be found that SF has an interesting and close kinship with other literary subgenres that flourished at different times and places of literary history: the classical and medieval “fortunate island” story, the “fabulous voyage” story from antiquity on, the Renaissance and Baroque “utopia” and “planetary novel,” the Enlightenment “state [political] novel,” the modern “anticipation” and “anti-utopia.” Moreover, although SF shares with myth, fantasy, fairy tale, and pastoral an opposition to naturalistic or empiricist literary genres, it differs very significantly in approach and social function from such adjoining non-naturalistic or metaempirical genres. Both these complementary aspects, the sociological and the methodological, are being vigorously debated by writers and critics in several countries, evidence of lively interest in a genre that should undergo scholarly discussion too.

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The Limits of Utopia

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BY CHINA MIÉVILLE

Dystopias infect official reports.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demands a shift in our emissions by a third to avoid utter disaster. KPMG, in the leaden chattiness of corporate powerpoint-ese, sees the same horizon. NASA part-funds a report warning that systemic civilizational collapse ‘is difficult to avoid.’

We may quibble with the models, but not that the end of everything is right out there, for everyone to discuss.

The stench and blare of poisoned cities, lugubrious underground bunkers, ash landscapes… Worseness is the bad conscience of betterness, dystopias rebukes integral to the utopian tradition. We hanker and warn, our best dreams and our worst standing together against our waking.

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: The return of the repressed (Postone)

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by Moishe Postone and Elizabeth Traube (1985)

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have emerged in recent years as masters of Hollywood entertainment cinema. They specialize in slick, technically sophisticated science fiction and adventure films, modeled on the popular culture of the 1930s and 1940s and promising a way to recover the innocent pleasures of childhood movie-viewing. Yet Lucas and Spielberg’s high-tech, traditionalist mythology lacks innocence, and this is nowhere so apparent as in their latest blockbuster, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.

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Exhibit Piece – Philip K. Dick (1953)

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“That’s a strange suit you have on,” the robot pubtrans driver observed. It slid back its door and came to rest at the curb. “What are the little round things?”

“Those are buttons,” George Miller explained. “They are partly functional, partly ornamental. This is an archaic suit of the twentieth century. I wear it because of the nature of my employment.”

He paid the robot, grabbed up his briefcase, and hurried along the ramp to the History Agency. The main building was already open for the day; robed men and women wandered everywhere. Miller entered a PRIVATE lift, squeezed between two immense controllers from the pre-Christian division, and in a moment was on his way to his own level, the Middle Twentieth Century.

“Gorning,” he murmured, as Controller Fleming met him at the atomic engine exhibit.

“Gorning,” Fleming responded brusquely. “Look here, Miller. Let’s have this out once and for all. What if everyone dressed like you? The Government sets up strict rules for dress. Can’t you forget your damn anachronisms once in a while? What in God’s name is that thing in your hand? It looks like a squashed Jurassic lizard.”

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Science fiction when the future is now

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nature journal

AlphaGo, fake news, cyberwar: 2017 has felt science-fictional in the here and now. Space settlement and sea-steading seem just around the bend; so, at times, do nuclear war and pandemic. With technological change cranked up to warp speed and day-to-day life smacking of dystopia, where does science fiction go? Has mainstream fiction taken up the baton?

Nature asked six prominent sci-fi writers — Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds and Aliette de Bodard — to reflect on what the genre has to offer at the end of an extraordinary year.

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A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions

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by Kim Stanley Robinson (1991)

The covering law model of historical explanation states that an event is explained if it can be logically deduced from a set of initial conditions, and a set of general historical laws. These sets are the explanans, and the event is the explanandum. The general laws are applied to the initial conditions, and the explanandum is shown to be the inevitable result. An explanation, in this model, has the same structure as a prediction.

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Angry Optimism in a Drowned World: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson

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by José Luis de Vicente
 

Reflections from a science-fiction angle on the scenarios posed by climate change and the defence of the imagination to help find real solutions.

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the world’s most highly reputed science-fiction authors and one of the key exponents of climate fiction. His work, set in the near future, brings us face-to-face with concepts such as the Anthropocene, terraforming and post-capitalism. With him we analyse the link between the ecological crisis and the economic one, placing the emphasis on the need for new political economics. We also explore the role of art and literature when formulating possible futures, the importance of the imagination for finding solutions and the defence of optimism and humour as we deal with the scenario confronting us. This interview, conducted by José Luis de Vicente, forms part of the catalogue for the exhibition After the End of the World, in which the writer is participating with an audiovisual prologue.

It is said that your Mars Trilogy of novels (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars, 1992-1996) is perhaps the most successful example in science fiction of the use of the notion of “terraforming”: the idea that man can transform a whole planet to make it habitable and reproduce Earth-like conditions. The Mars trilogy explores the idea that any terraforming project would necessarily be not only technical, but also political. As McKenzie Wark writes in Molecular Red: A Theory of the Anthropocenein your version of Mars, “questions of nature and culture, economics and politics, can never be treated in isolation, as all levels have to be organized together.

What is terraforming in the Mars trilogy as a political project, and what was it telling us about the transformation of Earth itself by the hand of man? 

About 20 years ago, I began to read in the technical literature of the planetary science community that Mars is unusual. It is on the outside of the sun’s habitable zone, and because it has water and other frozen volatile gases that we need for life on Earth, it might be possible to heat up Mars and release those gases to essentially recreate an atmosphere, and then introduce Earth’s genetic heritage, life forms and biosphere into the Martian context. In combination, you might get something new that would be like the High Arctic or Siberia; a human space that would be habitable without wearing space suits. Carl Sagan was actually the astronomer who was really important in pointing this out. It’s essentially a kind of science-fiction idea that was achievable in the real world.

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The Women Men Don’t See

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by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), 1973

I see her first while the Mexicana 727 is barreling down to Cozumel Island. I come out of the can and lurch into her seat, saying “Sorry,” at a double female blur. The near blur nods quietly. The younger one in the window seat goes on looking out. I continue down the aisle, registering nothing. Zero. I never would have looked at them or thought of them again.

Cozumel airport is the usual mix of panicky Yanks dressed for the sand pile and calm Mexicans dressed for lunch at the Presidente. I am a used-up Yank dressed for serious fishing; I extract my rods and duffel from the riot and hike across the field to find my charter pilot. One Captain Estéban has contracted to deliver me to the bonefish flats of Belize three hundred kilometers down the coast.

Captain Estéban turns out to be four feet nine of mahogany Maya puro. He is also in a somber Maya snit. He tells me my Cessna is grounded somewhere and his Bonanza is booked to take a party to Chetumal.

Well, Chetumal is south; can he take me along and go on to Belize after he drops them? Gloomily he concedes the possibility—if the other party permits, and if there are not too many equipajes.

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Time capsule found on the dead planet

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by Margaret Atwood

1. In the first age, we created gods. We carved them out of wood; there was still such a thing as wood, then. We forged them from shining metals and painted them on temple walls. They were gods of many kinds, and goddesses as well. Sometimes they were cruel and drank our blood, but also they gave us rain and sunshine, favourable winds, good harvests, fertile animals, many children. A million birds flew over us then, a million fish swam in our seas.

Our gods had horns on their heads, or moons, or sealy fins, or the beaks of eagles. We called them All-Knowing, we called them Shining One. We knew we were not orphans. We smelled the earth and rolled in it; its juices ran down our chins.

2. In the second age we created money. This money was also made of shining metals. It had two faces: on one side was a severed head, that of a king or some other noteworthy person, on the other face was something else, something that would give us comfort: a bird, a fish, a fur-bearing animal. This was all that remained of our former gods. The money was small in size, and each of us would carry some of it with him every day, as close to the skin as possible. We could not eat this money, wear it or burn it for warmth; but as if by magic it could be changed into such things. The money was mysterious, and we were in awe of it. If you had enough of it, it was said, you would be able to fly.

3. In the third age, money became a god. It was all-powerful, and out of control. It began to talk. It began to create on its own. It created feasts and famines, songs of joy, lamentations. It created greed and hunger, which were its two faces. Towers of glass rose at its name, were destroyed and rose again. It began to eat things. It ate whole forests, croplands and the lives of children. It ate armies, ships and cities. No one could stop it. To have it was a sign of grace.

4. In the fourth age we created deserts. Our deserts were of several kinds, but they had one thing in common: nothing grew there. Some were made of cement, some were made of various poisons, some of baked earth. We made these deserts from the desire for more money and from despair at the lack of it. Wars, plagues and famines visited us, but we did not stop in our industrious creation of deserts. At last all wells were poisoned, all rivers ran with filth, all seas were dead; there was no land left to grow food.

Some of our wise men turned to the contemplation of deserts. A stone in the sand in the setting sun could be very beautiful, they said. Deserts were tidy, because there were no weeds in them, nothing that crawled. Stay in the desert long enough, and you could apprehend the absolute. The number zero was holy.

5. You who have come here from some distant world, to this dry lakeshore and this cairn, and to this cylinder of brass, in which on the last day of all our recorded days I place our final words:

Pray for us, who once, too, thought we could fly.


source: The Guardian, 2009

‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism

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by A.M. Gittlitz (nytimes)

H. G. Wells’s foundational work of political science fiction, “The Time Machine,” predicted a future in which a small utopia of sprightly elites is kept running by a subclass that lives below the ground and is reduced to bestial violence. This prediction, carried to a horrifically logical extent, represented the intense wealth disparity of the Victorian England in which Wells wrote the novel. Judging from the major political narratives of the fictions of our era, films like “The Hunger Games,” “Elysium” and “Snowpiercer,” the certainty of a future rendered increasingly barbarous by class division remains essentially the same.

But this was not always the case. In 1920, Wells met Vladimir Lenin, a fellow world-building visionary who planned “the inauguration of an age of limitless experiment” to rebuild and industrialize his country from ruination by years of war, abolishing class society in the process. Wells was impressed by the pragmatic revolutionary and his planned “utopia of electricians.”

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Twin Peaks and Neoliberalism

twin-peaks-e1412698162766Trapped in the Hysterical Sublime: Twin Peaks, Postmodernism, and the Neoliberal Now”  by Linnie Blake (2016) 

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Watching Twin Peaks again, from the perspective of 25 years, a great deal has become apparent to me that was simply not “there” at the time. I am considerably more troubled by the program’s regressive class and gender politics, for example. I am less seduced by its bedazzling epistemological indeterminacy, generic hybridity, and often-absurdist pastiche of available styles. Mostly, I have come to question the ideological function of such representational practices—and this has led me to explore the links between postmodernism’s rejection of the certitudes of the Enlightenment and the social malaise of the new millennium. For, as Graeme Wearden reports, ours is now a world in which the polarization of wealth has never been greater—a recent OXFAM report demonstrating that the world’s richest 85 people now control as much of the planet’s wealth as “the poorest half of the global population put together.” As an avowedly postmodern text from the period in which neoliberalism came to dominant global economics, Twin Peaks proffers us a superb exemplification of the relation between postmodern representational practice and the coming into being of our own horrific world.

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Twin Peaks was first broadcast, then, in a world in which the certainties of state and nation, society and self, were being changed utterly by the radical energies of neoliberalism. This is the world we inhabit today, both periods being characterized by a conceptual adherence to the principles of postmodernism. This I define as a relativistic skepticism that challenges the instrumental rationality of post-Enlightenment humanism and all that it holds dear, including truth, justice, progress, the rights of the individual, and the social responsibilities of us all. In celebrating the dreamlike nostalgia of Twin Peaks, in reveling in its generic hybridity, its interstitial setting, and highly individuated yet strangely interchangeable characters, we the original audience became part of this postmodern project. We thrilled at the novelty of a series that so insistently foregrounded its stylish artificiality. We were carried along not by social or emotional realism, but by glittering cleverness: the ways the series foregrounded the surface and repudiated depth. And what a transgressive surface it was: rape, murder, incest, teenage prostitution, drug dealing, adultery, and more. Anything went in Twin Peaks and we were happy to go with it.

At the time, it was argued that “postmodern aesthetic experimentation should be viewed as having an irreductible political dimension” being “inextricably bound up with a critique of domination” (Wellberry 235). Certainly Twin Peaks was characterized by a sense of transgressive danger. Yet, even as postmodern thinkers affirmed the liberating dimensions of the postmodern turn, the world was becoming increasingly dominated by an economic model that brought exponential increases in wealth to the richest “even as it plunged billions into poverty” (Dean 67). And so, I have come to believe, as programs like Twin Peaks reveled in postmodernism’s critique of the positivistic order, first-generation viewers, such as myself, became gradually inured to neoliberal economics’ erosion of civil society, placated somewhat by cornucopia of goods and services that emerged during this period—including increasingly inventive TV.

We the original audience of Twin Peaks were, then, the children of a form of disorganized capitalism that manifested itself in the cultural products of postmodernism. For while the deregulation of the cultural sphere championed by postmodernism echoed neoliberalism’s deregulation of the markets, both postmodern relativism and laissez-faire capitalism disavowed transcendent meaning in favor of contingent and eminently revisable representations of the individual and the world. In both models, the individual was center stage, a consumer of goods and images possessed of the right to choose between them but not to choose otherwise (there is no outside this particular text) and bearing no responsibility for the impact of either choice on others.

Certainly, throughout the 1980s, our cultural life had become more fragmented and pluralistic, but the changes wrought to self and society were not merely, as Scott Lash and John Urry have argued, reflected in the rise of postmodernism; they were advanced by it. For “in reifying culture” in this manner, “attention is diverted from both institutional change and class dynamics” (Wexler 165). This was particularly true, I would argue, in the case of television programming, which even at the time was being theorized as “the real world of postmodern culture” with “ entertainment as its ideology . . . electronic images as its most dynamic, and only, form of social cohesion” and “the diffusion of a network of relational power as its real product” (Kroker 270). From the perspective of 25 years on in time, the television programs of this period can indeed be seen to be characterized by the free market’s “network of relational power,” brokered through organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and brought into our homes through a corporatized media.

And so, having hunted high and low for the meanings of Twin Peaks over a period of a quarter of a century, I am now inclined to argue that they are not to be found in the Red Room, in the dreams of Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), or in the Giant’s (Carel Struycken) gnomic portents. They lie, I believe, in a retrospective awareness that the program came into being at the moment at which neoliberalism was refashioning society as a Darwinian survival of the fittest, postmodernism was reconceptualizing the self as a mutable contingency, and the Enlightenment narrative of social progress was going rapidly out of style. This awareness now gives meaning to Twin Peaks’s self-conscious repudiation of meaning. This explains how intelligent people such as ourselves could have been so seduced by the ethical relativism of Lynch’s dark illogicality that we celebrated a cultural artifact that was at best politically conservative and replete with dangerous representations of already marginalized groups.

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Looking at Twin Peaks 25 years on, in other words, I am less excited by its postmodern innovations than troubled by them. Standing in the ruins of the British Welfare State and surveying a culture in which the weakest are persecuted for the demands they place on the public purse while the furtherance of corporate interests appears to have become the primary role of government, I cannot help but think that my generation was seduced by the way postmodern representation subsumed the social to the cultural through the replacement of truths with images. Distracted by its cleverness we came to believe that a rejection of Enlightenment rationality promised a liberation of the self. Reconstituted as consumer-subjects unable to position ourselves within social history we came to accept the inevitability of the free market and the total global dominance of a neoliberal world-view. In the years since Twin Peaks’s initial broadcast, neoliberalism has created a world in which, OXFAM argues, “dynamic and mutually reinforcing cycles of advantage that are transmitted across generations” have become the norm. Neoliberalism’s legacy of pain and suffering, proffered in the cupped hands of postmodern discourse, has become the garmonbozia of the world.


Return to Twin Peaks: New Approaches to Materiality, Theory, and  Genre on Television  edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock and Catherine Spooner (2016)

 

The Lottery (Shirley Jackson, 1948)

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by Shirley Jackson

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.

The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix– the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys, and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers or sisters.

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‘This is the Hell that I have Heard of’: Some Dialectical Images in Fossil Fuel Fiction

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by Andreas Malm

How can the realities of global warming be made visible in literary texts? After the rise of ‘cli-fi’, it might be time to return to a trove of literature written long before the discoveries of climate science: fiction about fossil fuels. It is filled with premonitions of disasters, such as extreme heat and terrible storms. Focusing on two texts – Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun and Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon – this essay makes a case for developing ‘dialectical images’, in Walter Benjamin’s sense of the term, from fossil fuel fiction. Such images might contribute to a critical understanding of our current epoch, fracturing the narrative of the human species as a united entity ascending to biospheric dominance in the Anthropocene. The miseries of global warming have been in preparation for a long time. Some have felt the heat from the start.

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Autofac

by Philip K Dick, 1955

Tension hung over the three waiting men. They smoked, paced back and forth, kicked aimlessly at weeds growing by the side of the road. A hot noonday sun glared down on brown fields, rows of neat plastic houses, the distant line of mountains to the west.

“Almost time,” Earl Ferine said, knotting his skinny hands together. “It varies according to the load, a half second for every additional pound.”

Bitterly, Morrison answered, “You’ve got it plotted? You’re as bad as it is. Let’s pretend it just happens to be late.”

The third man said nothing. O’Neill was visiting from another settlement; he didn’t know Ferine and Morrison well enough to argue with them. Instead, he crouched down and arranged the papers clipped to his aluminum check-board. In the blazing sun, O’Neill’s arms were tanned, furry, glistening with sweat. Wiry, with tangled gray hair, horn-rimmed glasses, he was older than the other two. He wore slacks, a sports shirt and crepe-soled shoes. Between his fingers, his fountain pen glittered, metallic and efficient.

“What’re you writing?” Ferine grumbled.

“I’m laying out the procedure we’re going to employ,” O’Neill said mildly. “Better to systemize it now, instead of trying at random. We want to know what we tried and what didn’t work. Otherwise we’ll go around in a circle. The problem we have here is one of communication; that’s how I see it.”

“Communication,” Morrison agreed in his deep, chesty voice. “Yes, we can’t get in touch with the damn thing. It comes, leaves off its load and goes on — there’s no contact between us and it.”

“It’s a machine,” Ferine said excitedly. “It’s dead — blind and deaf.”

“But it’s in contact with the outside world,” O’Neill pointed out. “There has to be some way to get to it. Specific semantic signals are meaningful to it; all we have to do is find those signals. Rediscover, actually. Maybe half a dozen out of a billion possibilities.”

A low rumble interrupted the three men. They glanced up, wary and alert. The time had come.

“Here it is,” Ferine said. “Okay, wise guy, let’s see you make one single change in its routine.”

The truck was massive, rumbling under its tightly packed load. In many ways, it resembled conventional human-operated transportation vehicles, but with one exception — there was no driver’s cabin. The horizontal surface was a loading stage, and the part that would normally be the headlights and radiator grill was a fibrous spongelike mass of receptors, the limited sensory apparatus of this mobile utility extension.

Aware of the three men, the truck slowed to a halt, shifted gears and pulled on its emergency brake. A moment passed as relays moved into action; then a portion of the loading surface tilted and a cascade of heavy cartons spilled down onto the roadway. With the objects fluttered a detailed inventory sheet.

“You know what to do,” O’Neill said rapidly. “Hurry up, before it gets out of here.”

Expertly, grimly, the three men grabbed up the deposited cartons and ripped the protective wrappers from them. Objects gleamed: a binocular microscope, a portable radio, heaps of plastic dishes, medical supplies, razor blades, clothing, food. Most of the shipment, as usual, was food. The three men systematically began smashing objects. In a few minutes, there was nothing but a chaos of debris littered around them.

“That’s that,” O’Neill panted, stepping back. He fumbled for his check-sheet. “Now let’s see what it does.”

The truck had begun to move away; abruptly it stopped and backed toward them. Its receptors had taken in the fact that the three men had demolished the dropped-off portion of the load. It spun in a grinding half circle and came around to face its receptor bank in their direction. Up went its antenna; it had begun communicating with the factory. Instructions were on the way.

A second, identical load was tilted and shoved off the truck.

“We failed,” Ferine groaned as a duplicate inventory sheet fluttered after the new load. “We destroyed all that stuff for nothing.”

“What now?” Morrison asked O’Neill. “What’s the next strategem on our board?”

“Give me a hand.” O’Neill grabbed up a carton and lugged it back to the truck. Sliding the carton onto the platform, he turned for another. The other two men followed clumsily after him. They put the load back onto the truck. As the truck started forward, the last square box was again in place.

The truck hesitated. Its receptors registered the return of its load. From within its works came a low sustained buzzing.

“This may drive it crazy,” O’Neill commented, sweating. “It went through its operation and accomplished nothing.”

The truck made a short, abortive move toward going on. Then it swung purposefully around and, in a blur of speed, again dumped the load onto the road.

“Get them!” O’Neill yelled. The three men grabbed up the cartons and feverishly reloaded them. But as fast as the cartons were shoved back on the horizontal stage, the truck’s grapples tilted them down its far-side ramps and onto the road.

“No use,” Morrison said, breathing hard. “Water through a sieve.”

“We’re licked,” Ferine gasped in wretched agreement, “like always. We humans lose every time.”

The truck regarded them calmly, its receptors blank and impassive. It was doing its job. The planetwide network of automatic factories was smoothly performing the task imposed on it five years before, in the early days of the Total Global Conflict.

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