Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Altar at Midnight by C.M. Kornbluth

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This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction November 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Thanks to Project Gutenberg.

The Altar at Midnight

By C. M. KORNBLUTH

Doing something for humanity
may be fine–for humanity–but
rough on the individual!

He had quite a rum-blossom on him for a kid, I thought at first. But
when he moved closer to the light by the cash register to ask the
bartender for a match or something, I saw it wasn’t that. Not just the
nose. Broken veins on his cheeks, too, and the funny eyes. He must have
seen me look, because he slid back away from the light.

The bartender shook my bottle of ale in front of me like a Swiss
bell-ringer so it foamed inside the green glass.

“You ready for another, sir?” he asked.

I shook my head. Down the bar, he tried it on the kid–he was drinking
scotch and water or something like that–and found out he could push him
around. He sold him three scotch and waters in ten minutes.

When he tried for number four, the kid had his courage up and said,
“I’ll tell you when I’m ready for another, Jack.” But there wasn’t any
trouble.

It was almost nine and the place began to fill up. The manager, a real
hood type, stationed himself by the door to screen out the high-school
kids and give the big hello to conventioneers. The girls came hurrying
in, too, with their little makeup cases and their fancy hair piled up
and their frozen faces with the perfect mouths drawn on them. One of
them stopped to say something to the manager, some excuse about
something, and he said: “That’s aw ri’; get inna dressing room.”

A three-piece band behind the drapes at the back of the stage began to
make warm-up noises and there were two bartenders keeping busy. Mostly
it was beer–a midweek crowd. I finished my ale and had to wait a couple
of minutes before I could get another bottle. The bar filled up from the
end near the stage because all the customers wanted a good, close look
at the strippers for their fifty-cent bottles of beer. But I noticed
that nobody sat down next to the kid, or, if anybody did, he didn’t stay
long–you go out for some fun and the bartender pushes you around and
nobody wants to sit next to you. I picked up my bottle and glass and
went down on the stool to his left.

He turned to me right away and said: “What kind of a place is this,
anyway?” The broken veins were all over his face, little ones, but so
many, so close, that they made his face look something like marbled
rubber. The funny look in his eyes was it–the trick contact lenses. But
I tried not to stare and not to look away.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s a good show if you don’t mind a lot of noise
from–”

He stuck a cigarette into his mouth and poked the pack at me. “I’m a
spacer,” he said, interrupting.

I took one of his cigarettes and said: “Oh.”

He snapped a lighter for the cigarettes and said: “Venus.”

[Read More…]

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Youth

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Youth by Isaac Asimov
Public Domain
Download “Youth” at Project Gutenberg.
Illustrations from the original publication in Space Science Fiction, May 1952.

Red and Slim found the two strange little animals the morning after
they heard the thunder sounds. They knew that they could never show
their new pets to their parents.

There was a spatter of pebbles against the window and the youngster
stirred in his sleep. Another, and he was awake.

He sat up stiffly in bed. Seconds passed while he interpreted his
strange surroundings. He wasn’t in his own home, of course. This was out
in the country. It was colder than it should be and there was green at
the window.

“Slim!”

The call was a hoarse, urgent whisper, and the youngster bounded to the
open window.

Slim wasn’t his real name, but the new friend he had met the day before
had needed only one look at his slight figure to say, “You’re Slim.” He
added, “I’m Red.”

Red wasn’t his real name, either, but its appropriateness was obvious.
They were friends instantly with the quick unquestioning friendship of
young ones not yet quite in adolescence, before even the first stains of
adulthood began to make their appearance.

Slim cried, “Hi, Red!” and waved cheerfully, still blinking the sleep
out of himself.

Red kept to his croaking whisper, “Quiet! You want to wake somebody?”

Slim noticed all at once that the sun scarcely topped the low hills in
the east, that the shadows were long and soft, and that the grass was
wet.

Slim said, more softly, “What’s the matter?”

Red only waved for him to come out.

Slim dressed quickly, gladly confining his morning wash to the momentary
sprinkle of a little lukewarm water. He let the air dry the exposed
portions of his body as he ran out, while bare skin grew wet against the
dewy grass.

Red said, “You’ve got to be quiet. If Mom wakes up or Dad or your Dad or
even any of the hands then it’ll be ‘Come on in or you’ll catch your
death of cold.’”

He mimicked voice and tone faithfully, so that Slim laughed and thought
that there had never been so funny a fellow as Red.

Slim said, eagerly, “Do you come out here every day like this, Red? Real
early? It’s like the whole world is just yours, isn’t it, Red? No one
else around and all like that.” He felt proud at being allowed entrance
into this private world.

Red stared at him sidelong. He said carelessly, “I’ve been up for hours.
Didn’t you hear it last night?”

“Hear what?”

“Thunder.”

“Was there a thunderstorm?” Slim never slept through a thunderstorm.

“I guess not. But there was thunder. I heard it, and then I went to the
window and it wasn’t raining. It was all stars and the sky was just
getting sort of almost gray. You know what I mean?”

Slim had never seen it so, but he nodded.

“So I just thought I’d go out,” said Red.

They walked along the grassy side of the concrete road that split the
panorama right down the middle all the way down to where it vanished
among the hills. It was so old that Red’s father couldn’t tell Red when
it had been built. It didn’t have a crack or a rough spot in it.

Red said, “Can you keep a secret?”

“Sure, Red. What kind of a secret?”

“Just a secret. Maybe I’ll tell you and maybe I won’t. I don’t know
yet.” Red broke a long, supple stem from a fern they passed,
methodically stripped it of its leaflets and swung what was left
whip-fashion. For a moment, he was on a wild charger, which reared and
champed under his iron control. Then he got tired, tossed the whip aside
and stowed the charger away in a corner of his imagination for future
use.

He said, “There’ll be a circus around.”

Slim said, “That’s no secret. I knew that. My Dad told me even before we
came here–”

“That’s not the secret. Fine secret! Ever see a circus?”

“Oh, sure. You bet.”

“Like it?”

“Say, there isn’t anything I like better.”

Red was watching out of the corner of his eyes again. “Ever think you
would like to be with a circus? I mean, for good?”

Slim considered, “I guess not. I think I’ll be an astronomer like my
Dad. I think he wants me to be.”

“Huh! Astronomer!” said Red.

Slim felt the doors of the new, private world closing on him and
astronomy became a thing of dead stars and black, empty space.

He said, placatingly, “A circus would be more fun.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, I’m not. I mean it.”

Red grew argumentative. “Suppose you had a chance to join the circus
right now. What would you do?”

“I–I–”

“See!” Red affected scornful laughter.

Slim was stung. “I’d join up.”

“Go on.”

“Try me.”

Red whirled at him, strange and intense. “You meant that? You want to go
in with me?”

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[Read More…]

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Madman

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Illustration from the 1918 edition of “The Madman: His Parables and Poems” by Kahlil Gibran

I’ve always been mad, I know I’ve been mad, like the most of us are…very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad…

Nick Mason has been given credit for this group of words, but in all honesty it could have been me that said these words and as a matter of fact I have said them on more that one occasion.

I am, of course, a madman. Not from across the water but from right here in this state of Arkansas, in this state of confusion. But how is it that a man becomes a madman? A madman has no apparent attachments.

The story by the author of “The Prophet”, Kahlil Gibran tells us a story of a madman it goes like this.

How I Became A Madman

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen,—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives,—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

Read The Madman: His Parables and Poems by Kahlil Gibran at Project Gutenberg.

Introduction by Rick Bowen. CC BY-SA

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Scrimshaw

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK SCRIMSHAW ***

Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction September
1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note. Subscript
characters are shown within {braces}.

scrimshaw-1.png

The old man just wanted to get back his
memory–and the methods he used were
gently hellish, from the viewpoint of the
others….

BY MURRAY LEINSTER

Illustrated by Freas

Pop Young was the one known man who could stand life on the surface of
the Moon’s far side, and, therefore, he occupied the shack on the Big
Crack’s edge, above the mining colony there. Some people said that no
normal man could do it, and mentioned the scar of a ghastly head-wound
to explain his ability. One man partly guessed the secret, but only
partly. His name was Sattell and he had reason not to talk. Pop Young
alone knew the whole truth, and he kept his mouth shut, too. It wasn’t
anybody else’s business.

The shack and the job he filled were located in the medieval notion of
the physical appearance of hell. By day the environment was heat and
torment. By night–lunar night, of course, and lunar day–it was
frigidity and horror. Once in two weeks Earth-time a rocketship came
around the horizon from Lunar City with stores for the colony deep
underground. Pop received the stores and took care of them. He handed
over the product of the mine, to be forwarded to Earth. The rocket went
away again. Come nightfall Pop lowered the supplies down the long cable
into the Big Crack to the colony far down inside, and freshened up the
landing field marks with magnesium marking-powder if a rocket-blast had
blurred them. That was fundamentally all he had to do. But without him
the mine down in the Crack would have had to shut down.

The Crack, of course, was that gaping rocky fault which stretches nine
hundred miles, jaggedly, over the side of the Moon that Earth never
sees. There is one stretch where it is a yawning gulf a full half-mile
wide and unguessably deep. Where Pop Young’s shack stood it was only a
hundred yards, but the colony was a full mile down, in one wall. There
is nothing like it on Earth, of course. When it was first found,
scientists descended into it to examine the exposed rock-strata and
learn the history of the Moon before its craters were made. But they
found more than history. They found the reason for the colony and the
rocket landing field and the shack.

The reason for Pop was something else.

The shack stood a hundred feet from the Big Crack’s edge. It looked like
a dust-heap thirty feet high, and it was. The outside was surface
moondust, piled over a tiny dome to be insulation against the cold of
night and shadow and the furnace heat of day. Pop lived in it all alone,
and in his spare time he worked industriously at recovering some missing
portions of his life that Sattell had managed to take away from him.

He thought often of Sattell, down in the colony underground. There were
galleries and tunnels and living-quarters down there. There were
air-tight bulkheads for safety, and a hydroponic garden to keep the air
fresh, and all sorts of things to make life possible for men under if
not on the Moon.

But it wasn’t fun, even underground. In the Moon’s slight gravity, a man
is really adjusted to existence when he has a well-developed case of
agoraphobia. With such an aid, a man can get into a tiny, coffinlike
cubbyhole, and feel solidity above and below and around him, and happily
tell himself that it feels delicious. Sometimes it does.

But Sattell couldn’t comfort himself so easily. He knew about Pop, up on
the surface. He’d shipped out, whimpering, to the Moon to get far away
from Pop, and Pop was just about a mile overhead and there was no way to
get around him. It was difficult to get away from the mine, anyhow. It
doesn’t take too long for the low gravity to tear a man’s nerves to
shreds. He has to develop kinks in his head to survive. And those
kinks–

The first men to leave the colony had to be knocked cold and shipped
out unconscious. They’d been underground–and in low gravity–long
enough to be utterly unable to face the idea of open spaces. Even now
there were some who had to be carried, but there were some tougher ones
who were able to walk to the rocketship if Pop put a tarpaulin over
their heads so they didn’t have to see the sky. In any case Pop was
essential, either for carrying or guidance.

* * * * *
[Read More…]

Friday, August 26, 2016

Exile From Space

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK EXILE FROM SPACE ***

Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe November 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.

[“They” worried about the impression she’d make. Who could
imagine that she’d fall in love, passionately, the way others of her
blood must have done?
]

Exile From Space

by … Judith Merril

Who was this strange girl who had been born in this
place–and still it wasn’t her home?…

* * * * *
I don’t know where they got the car. We made three or four stops
before the last one, and they must have picked it up one of those
times. Anyhow, they got it, but they had to make a license plate,
because it had the wrong kind on it.

They made me some clothes, too–a skirt and blouse and shoes that
looked just like the ones we saw on television. They couldn’t make me
a lipstick or any of those things, because there was no way to figure
out just what the chemical composition was. And they decided I’d be as
well off without any driver’s license or automobile registration as I
would be with papers that weren’t exactly perfect, so they didn’t
bother about making those either.

They were worried about what to do with my hair, and even thought
about cutting it short, so it would look more like the women on
television, but that was one time I was way ahead of them. I’d seen
more shows than anyone else, of course–I watched them almost every
minute, from the time they told me I was going–and there was one
where I’d seen a way to make braids and put them around the top of
your head. It wasn’t very comfortable, but I practiced at it until it
looked pretty good.

They made me a purse, too. It didn’t have anything in it except the
diamonds, but the women we saw always seemed to carry them, and they
thought it might be a sort of superstition or ritual necessity, and
that we’d better not take a chance on violating anything like that.

They made me spend a lot of time practicing with the car, because
without a license, I couldn’t take a chance on getting into any
trouble. I must have put in the better part of an hour starting and
stopping and backing that thing, and turning it around, and weaving
through trees and rocks, before they were satisfied.

Then, all of a sudden, there was nothing left to do except go. They
made me repeat everything one more time, about selling the diamonds,
and how to register at the hotel, and what to do if I got into
trouble, and how to get in touch with them when I wanted to come back.
Then they said good-bye, and made me promise not to stay too long,
and said they’d keep in touch the best they could. And then I got in
the car, and drove down the hill into town.

I knew they didn’t want to let me go. They were worried, maybe even a
little afraid I wouldn’t want to come back, but mostly worried that I
might say something I shouldn’t, or run into some difficulties they
hadn’t anticipated. And outside of that, they knew they were going to
miss me. Yet they’d made up their minds to it; they planned it this
way, and they felt it was the right thing to do, and certainly they’d
put an awful lot of thought and effort and preparation into it.

If it hadn’t been for that, I might have turned back at the last
minute. Maybe they were worried; but I was petrified. Only of
course, I wanted to go, really. I couldn’t help being curious, and it
never occurred to me then that I might miss them. It was the first
time I’d ever been out on my own, and they’d promised me, for years
and years, as far back as I could remember, that some day I’d go back,
like this, by myself. But….

Going back, when you’ve been away long enough, is not so much a
homecoming as a dream deja vu. And for me, at least, the dream was
not entirely a happy one. Everything I saw or heard or touched had a
sense of haunting familiarity, and yet of wrongness, too–almost a
nightmare feeling of the oppressively inevitable sequence of events,
of faces and features and events just not-quite-remembered and
not-quite-known.

I was born in this place, but it was not my home. Its people were not
mine; its ways were not mine. All I knew of it was what I had been
told, and what I had seen for myself these last weeks of preparation,
on the television screen. And the dream-feeling was intensified, at
first, by the fact that I did not know why I was there. I knew it
had been planned this way, and I had been told it was necessary to
complete my education. Certainly I was aware of the great effort that
had been made to make the trip possible. But I did not yet understand
just why.

Perhaps it was just that I had heard and watched and thought and
dreamed too much about this place, and now I was actually there, the
reality was–not so much a disappointment as–just sort of unreal.
Different from what I knew when I didn’t know.

The road unwound in a spreading spiral down the mountainside. Each
time I came round, I could see the city below, closer and larger, and
less distinct. From the top, with the sunlight sparkling on it, it had
been a clean and gleaming pattern of human civilization. Halfway down,
the symmetry was lost, and the smudge and smoke began to show.

Halfway down, too, I began to pass places of business: restaurants and
gas stations and handicraft shops. I wanted to stop. For half an hour
now I had been out on my own, and I still hadn’t seen any of the
people, except the three who had passed me behind the wheels of their
cars, going up the road. One of the shops had a big sign on it, “COME
IN AND LOOK AROUND.” But I kept going. One thing I understood was that
it was absolutely necessary to have money, and that I must stop
nowhere, and attempt nothing, till after I had gotten some.

Farther down, the houses began coming closer together, and then the
road stopped winding around, and became almost straight. By that time,
I was used to the car, and didn’t have to think about it much, and for
a little while I really enjoyed myself. I could see into the houses
sometimes, through the windows, and at one, a woman was opening the
door, coming out with a broom in her hand. There were children playing
in the yards. There were cars of all kinds parked around the houses,
and I saw dogs and a couple of horses, and once a whole flock of
chickens.

But just where it was beginning to get really interesting, when I was
coming into the little town before the city, I had to stop watching it
all, because there were too many other people driving. That was when I
began to understand all the fuss about licenses and tests and traffic
regulations. Watching it on television, it wasn’t anything like being
in the middle of it!

Of course, what I ran into there was really nothing; I found that out
when I got into the city itself. But just at first, it seemed pretty
bad. And I still don’t understand it. These people are pretty bright
mechanically. You’d think anybody who could build an automobile–let
alone an atom bomb–could drive one easily enough. Especially with a
lifetime to learn in. Maybe they just like to live dangerously….

It was a good thing, though, that I’d already started watching out for
what the other drivers were doing when I hit my first red light. That
was something I’d overlooked entirely, watching street scenes on the
screen, and I guess they’d never noticed either. They must have taken
it for granted, the way I did, that people stopped their cars out of
courtesy from time to time to let the others go by. As it was, I
stopped because the others did, and just happened to notice that they
began again when the light changed to green. It’s really a very good
system; I don’t see why they don’t have them at all the intersections.

[Read More…]

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Eyes Have It

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Eye - public domain image by Alexas fotos

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE EYES HAVE IT ***

Produced by Greg Weeks, Barbara Tozier and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

This etext was produced from “Science Fiction Stories” 1953.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.

“A little whimsy, now and then, makes for good balance.
Theoretically, you could find this type of humor anywhere. But
only a topflight science-fictionist, we thought, could have
written this story, in just this way….”

———–

“The Eyes Have It”

by PHILIP K. DICK

It was quite by accident I discovered this incredible invasion of
Earth by lifeforms from another planet. As yet, I haven’t done
anything about it; I can’t think of anything to do. I wrote to the
Government, and they sent back a pamphlet on the repair and
maintenance of frame houses. Anyhow, the whole thing is known; I’m not
the first to discover it. Maybe it’s even under control.

I was sitting in my easy-chair, idly turning the pages of a
paperbacked book someone had left on the bus, when I came across the
reference that first put me on the trail. For a moment I didn’t
respond. It took some time for the full import to sink in. After I’d
comprehended, it seemed odd I hadn’t noticed it right away.

The reference was clearly to a nonhuman species of incredible
properties, not indigenous to Earth. A species, I hasten to point out,
customarily masquerading as ordinary human beings. Their disguise,
however, became transparent in the face of the following observations
by the author. It was at once obvious the author knew everything. Knew
everything–and was taking it in his stride. The line (and I tremble
remembering it even now) read:

“… his eyes slowly roved about the room.”

Vague chills assailed me. I tried to picture the eyes. Did they roll
like dimes? The passage indicated not; they seemed to move through the
air, not over the surface. Rather rapidly, apparently. No one in the
story was surprised. That’s what tipped me off. No sign of amazement
at such an outrageous thing. Later the matter was amplified.

“… his eyes moved from person to person.”

There it was in a nutshell. The eyes had clearly come apart from the
rest of him and were on their own. My heart pounded and my breath
choked in my windpipe. I had stumbled on an accidental mention of a
totally unfamiliar race. Obviously non-Terrestrial. Yet, to the
characters in the book, it was perfectly natural–which suggested they
belonged to the same species.

And the author? A slow suspicion burned in my mind. The author was
taking it rather “too easily” in his stride. Evidently, he felt this
was quite a usual thing. He made absolutely no attempt to conceal this
knowledge. The story continued:

“… presently his eyes fastened on Julia.”

Julia, being a lady, had at least the breeding to feel indignant. She
is described as blushing and knitting her brows angrily. At this, I
sighed with relief. They weren’t “all” non-Terrestrials. The narrative
continues:

“… slowly, calmly, his eyes examined every inch of her.”

Great Scott! But here the girl turned and stomped off and the matter
ended. I lay back in my chair gasping with horror. My wife and family
regarded me in wonder.

“What’s wrong, dear?” my wife asked.

I couldn’t tell her. Knowledge like this was too much for the ordinary
run-of-the-mill person. I had to keep it to myself. “Nothing,” I
gasped. I leaped up, snatched the book, and hurried out of the room.

* * * * *

In the garage, I continued reading. There was more. Trembling, I read
the next revealing passage:

“… he put his arm around Julia. Presently she asked him if
he would remove his arm. He immediately did so, with a smile.”

It’s not said what was done with the arm after the fellow had removed
it. Maybe it was left standing upright in the corner. Maybe it was
thrown away. I don’t care. In any case, the full meaning was there,
staring me right in the face.

Here was a race of creatures capable of removing portions of their
anatomy at will. Eyes, arms–and maybe more. Without batting an
eyelash. My knowledge of biology came in handy, at this point.
Obviously they were simple beings, uni-cellular, some sort of
primitive single-celled things. Beings no more developed than
starfish. Starfish can do the same thing, you know.

I read on. And came to this incredible revelation, tossed off coolly
by the author without the faintest tremor:

“… outside the movie theater we split up. Part of us went
inside, part over to the cafe for dinner.”

Binary fission, obviously. Splitting in half and forming two entities.
Probably each lower half went to the cafe, it being farther, and the
upper halves to the movies. I read on, hands shaking. I had really
stumbled onto something here. My mind reeled as I made out this
passage:

“… I’m afraid there’s no doubt about it. Poor Bibney has
lost his head again.”

Which was followed by:

“… and Bob says he has utterly no guts.”

Yet Bibney got around as well as the next person. The next person,
however, was just as strange. He was soon described as:

“… totally lacking in brains.”

* * * * *

There was no doubt of the thing in the next passage. Julia, whom I had
thought to be the one normal person, reveals herself as also being an
alien life form, similar to the rest:

“… quite deliberately, Julia had given her heart to the
young man.”

It didn’t relate what the final disposition of the organ was, but I
didn’t really care. It was evident Julia had gone right on living in
her usual manner, like all the others in the book. Without heart,
arms, eyes, brains, viscera, dividing up in two when the occasion
demanded. Without a qualm.

“… thereupon she gave him her hand.”

I sickened. The rascal now had her hand, as well as her heart. I
shudder to think what he’s done with them, by this time.

“… he took her arm.”

Not content to wait, he had to start dismantling her on his own.
Flushing crimson, I slammed the book shut and leaped to my feet. But
not in time to escape one last reference to those carefree bits of
anatomy whose travels had originally thrown me on the track:

“… her eyes followed him all the way down the road and
across the meadow.”

I rushed from the garage and back inside the warm house, as if the
accursed things were following me. My wife and children were playing
Monopoly in the kitchen. I joined them and played with frantic fervor,
brow feverish, teeth chattering.

I had had enough of the thing. I want to hear no more about it. Let
them come on. Let them invade Earth. I don’t want to get mixed up in
it.

I have absolutely no stomach for it.

———–

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Eyes Have It, by Philip Kindred Dick

*** END OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE EYES HAVE IT ***

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