Glenn Tries To Remember Sci-Fi Stories

I have now officially read so much that I've not only forgotten what I've read, but even any reference to figure out what I've read. Here are some fragments of science-fiction stories that are floating in my mind.

Spider Assassin Lady Princess

There's a young woman, maybe she's a princess, on a planet not Earth that is kind of medieval, and there is some sort of ruling class with a prince or a king. There is also high technology, beyond anything we have on Earth still.

The young woman attends a ball or a series of events, and people are dubious about her, and she doesn't know why. She comes from another land, maybe, or her parents died young. One day, for some reason, staring in the mirror, she pushes on her stomach, and realizes there is something hard and unyielding. She continues to push and pull, and winds up removing her entire body, which is just a costume.

She's actually a spider-like, artificial intelligence-driven robot assassin whose job is to kill the king (or prince). Once she recalls her mission, she flees into the mountains, where she finds a monk. She winds up coming to terms with her identity and purpose while sleeping in a stable, perhaps? And the monk — maybe he is blind, so he doesn't know she's an AI robot spider assassin?

Anyway, eventually she winds up adjacent to the prince and then she — I can't remember. Does she kill him? Or? But she's happy with herself.

Kris Markel suggested it was "The Dust Assassin," which is an amazing story I need to read in depth! But it's not that — probably 40–60 years old, the story I'm thinking of.

Winner! It's "The Mask" from Mortal Engines by Stanisław Lem! You can read a summary of the collection of stories in that book. One of my favorite authors, and I clearly forgot having read that. Thanks, Martina Oefelein, who posted this in the comments!

Naked Lady, Dead Species

This woman wakes up on Earth and she's naked and alone in the woods. She has some memories of herself, but no idea how she came to be there, and there's no other life on the planet that she can find.

When she sleeps, she dreams of little people who were given the ability to revive extinct intelligent species. But they're kind of right bastards. They give her one chance to ask for her species to be revived, and so she's savvy and waits, and asks them about various strategies.

Here's why they're bastards. They keep showing her in her dreams all sorts of civilizations that are better, worse, whatever, than hers, but they've turned down everyone. It's like "bright shiny ball! can't have it!" behavior.

One night, she asks what happened to the race that gave them this power? Oh, they went extinct! And they decided not to revive them because they did it for whatever reasons they had, and what-ev.

The woman ages normally, and when she's near death, she makes her request. She knows they won't revive her species…so she asks that these bastards' patrons get revived. The jerks are stunned. Nobody ever made a selfless request before, and they say, "Well, we can't evaluate the reasons for you doing this, so they must be good. Sure."

But before they can revive their old buddies, a booming voice from some energy void stops them, and says the idiots finally passed their test, which was to understand…uh, how not be judgmental doofuses, I think. They take these idiots up to a higher realm of existence, and have them revive humanity and give them this god-scale power.

Not sure these patrons really think through their gifts very well.

Frozen Dead Professor Robot

This professor guy dies, but has asked to be frozen and put into orbit. He is. Unfathomable time later, intelligent robots arrive, but everything on Earth has worn away into dust, and only dead frozen professor guy remains. They revive him, and stick his brain into a robot body, and then I believe they have a series of adventures.

This is almost certainly "The Jameson Satellite" found in Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s, because I've read that book! It's really interesting to see what sci-fi was about before all the tropes became cemented into place. Thanks to Patrick Last Name Withheld!

Benefits and Drawbacks of Walking on Sunshine, Air, the Moon

Sunshine

Benefits of walking on sunshine:

  • Knowledge that you love me.
  • Anticipation of your arrival.
  • Pleasure at visiting mailbox expecting letters.
  • It feels good.

Drawbacks of walking on sunshine:

  • Lacerations and occasionally bleeding from walking barefoot to establish necessary skin to sunshine contact.
  • First-degree burns from contact with asphalt, desert sand, etc.
  • Callouses.
  • Eclipses.

Air

Benefits of walking on air:

  • Sweet, sweet ecstasy.
  • Feeling exotic.
  • Visiting utopia.
  • Ability to go higher, deeper, and harder, sometimes all at once.

Drawbacks of walking on air:

  • Crying angels flood earth with their tears.
  • Incur wrath of heaven.
  • Requires jetpack.

The Moon

Benefits of walking on the moon:

  • Taking giant steps.
  • Apparent immortality at the price of eternal peregrination.
  • Living with you.
  • Soundless footfalls.

Drawbacks of walking on the moon:

  • Concerns about breaking legs.
  • Oxygen deprivation.
  • Low pressure causes blood to boil.
  • High potential of asphyxiation in crater full of moon dust.

Th-Th-Th-That's a Mystery Solved, Folks!

 In the style of the podcast 99% Invisible's narrative.

I was in Taos. It was 2001. We were in an adobe-style house. It had been restored to within an inch of its life. The floors were sand-set stones. The walls, stucco. The roof line had the ends of what seemed to be logs sticking out. I don't know if there were logs supporting the roof. That's the style. That's what it looks like, but the inside could have been fake. There's no way to tell.

The house had uncomfortable seating and not enough. We rented it from an acquaintance. With just five of us, we couldn't all sit down at the same time in any room or even in adjacent rooms. At night, in the room my wife and I shared, a fax machine's tones bled through the wall. The acquaintance hadn't told us she'd rented an owner's apartment to some kind of tchotchke dealers. They slammed their dresser drawers til 3 a.m. and kept us awake.

We skied during the days. We suffered from altitude sickness a little. And we watched cartoons. This was before we had kids. We watched Looney Tunes. At one point Yosemite Sam pursues Bugs Bunny through some kind of old Western town. 

And we're watching. And we realize. Wait a minute. Those backgrounds. The house they run in and out of. They're in Taos. This is the landscape around us. This is practically the house we're in.

Why is this happening in Looney Tunes?  

And we talk and we think — maybe the animators would drive out to get peyote in New Mexico from Hollywood, and they remembered the mesas and the adobe buildings and brought those back.  We have theories. We don't have answers.

But that's not the story. I thought about this for years. That's not the story at all. Now I know the story.

The story is about Maurice Noble. We know Charles M. "Chuck" Jones's name because they were large in the credits. We didn't know very much about Noble, who created the backgrounds. Until 99% Invisible, a podcast by Roman Mars, aired a story by Eric Molinsky about Noble. Noble was a transformative artist and one who obsessively researched the subjects he abstracted and caricatured for his work.

But that's not how I learned the answer. Two-thirds of the way into the story it comes out. Noble grew up in New Mexico. I had my answer. The background we saw was Noble painting his childhood. Thank you, Eric and Roman.

Listen to the episode embedded above. And subscribe to the extraordinary show 99% Invisible, which tells us the answers to questions we'd forgotten we asked. Perhaps Roman will turn your dreams into an episode, too.

Mewling Monsters

I was working on a short article about the history of unit blocks, a mainstay of preschool, and wrote the following, which I then discarded as too off topic:

In centuries past, children were unproductive, mewling, and uncooperative small people who, when the time was ripe, could increase the labor of a family and potentially increase its capital. As industrialization and efficiency improved the quality of life, and hygiene and medical improvements lengthened it, child labor became largely unacceptable and society must needs educate the little monsters during the period from infancy until a point in adolescence.

But it was too delicious to not post. 

Silver Linings MacBook

How geeky am I? Lynn and I went to see Silver Linings Playbook last weekend. I'd heard it was good, quirky, and raw at times. The first 15 minutes I was concerned that I might hate it. But then it all snapped together when Jennifer Lawrence appears. She and Bradley Cooper have great chemistry, and the film is full of both tropes (meet cute-ish, etc.) and anti-tropes (some very raw and honest moments in which truth is being spoken).

But the thing I found most amusing is that as the movie progressed, I was more and more confident that it was shot in 2008 and left in the can. The iPod generations shown and a house-wide iPod drop-in system that Cooper's friend installs. Lawrence's white MacBook and iPod speaker dock of that era. Nobody has an iPhone (which would have been mostly outside the socioeconomic and technical interests of the movie's main characters). People are still using flip phones. They must have shot this in 2008 and left it sitting around, right? But why do the actors not look younger?

We leave the movie and I look it up. The movie was made from a book that tracked the football season and the Eagles performance in 2008. Of course. Lynn and I don't watch sports, so some of the events that year would be absolutely memorable to football fans or anyone who follows sports with anything like attention. The movie kept the timeframe the same. We laughed at ourselves. At least half or more of the people watching the film would immediately have understood from the football what year it was. I looked at the tech!

My Security Secrets

What is your mother's maiden name? Ekborg-Millfloss.What is the name of your first pet? James Tiberius Bunny. What was the name of the first street on which you lived? Baltic Avenue. What is your favorite movie? In-flight safety demonstration video on Virgin America. Which Stooge do you most closely resemble? Dead Shemp. How many fingers am I holding up? 1. Are you flipping me off? You see a tortoise lying on its back. What do you do? Make soup. What's a sin, Alex? What you're doing to Ludwig B! How many roads must a man walk down? 42. How many lights do you see? THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS. What is the average airspeed of a swallow? African or European? When did you stop beating your wife? N/A What is mind? {cuts off student's finger} What is your mother's maiden name? My mother? Let me tell you about my mother!

Swirly with a Cringe on Top, or Unsalted Batter-y

A friend and I stopped at a Pinkberry for frozen yogurt while I was in D.C. The notion there is that you pretend you're eating something healthy (yogurt) and then put a million toppings on to make it horrifying. (Fresh fruit is also an option.)

I looked at the few basic options, and as a fan of salted caramel ice cream, figured I'd just get a plain salted caramel.

Me: "I'll have a salted caramel."

Person behind counter: "Do you want salt on that?"

"No. Wait. I want the salted caramel."

"Right. Do you want salt on that?"

"It doesn't come with salt?"

"No."

"But it's called salted caramel. Why doesn't it have salt on it?"

"Some of our customers don't like salt."

"But it's called…ok. Yes, I'd like salt please."

She picks up a strange plunger instrument and depresses it several times on top of the froz-gurt. Fine salt comes out. It looks like table salt. My friend and I went outside to sit. I started fulminating on the injustice of it. My friend pointed out that some people do, indeed, not like the salt. "They should call it unsalted caramel, then," I retorted and took a bite.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Too salty."

Artichoke Preparation Errors

I posted on Twitter the 2nd of 3 steps in cooking an artichoke from a little sticker in a container of artichokes I had purchased from Trader Joe's as a little joke, because of an obvious error. My friends on Twitter identified another, and I found two more.Artichoke Errors Can you find them all? . . . . .

  • A knife is shown, not scissors. (A knife is the right tool; it's far easier to use and much safer.)
  • Artichokes are flower buds, and the "leaves" surrounding them are properly called bracts (but definitely not petals, which are part of blooming flowers).
  • The knife, as shown, could easily cut fingers underneath. (Okay, that's borderline. But it's not the right way to hold that flower bud safely.)
  • The "petals" do not have one collective "tip": it should be "tips of petals [bracts]."

Who knew so much could go so wrong so briefly?