Monday, May 7, 2012

Beauty Full Friend

Beauty Full Friend

(Because that's how Morrison says it in the recording: "beauty full friend, the end.")

I have a challenge for you, boys and girls. First, though, I need to throw out a bit of background info. Bear with me.

I love eschatology. Let's be sure we're on the same page here, kids. I'm not talking about scatology. That's the study of poop. Eschatology is the study of endings (yeah, I'm sure the similarity of those words has already borne at least several hundred great pre-adolescent poop jokes, but let's not go there). Specifically, eschatology concerns itself with theological endings. As far as I know, no one ever tries to cover studies of the last chapter of the last book of the Harry Potter series or the death of Sherlock Holmes or Superman or the last episode of Lost or Friends or Gilligan's Island, under the grand aegis of eschatology.

I love the magic of the apocalypse of fimbulwinter of the Kalki. I love the elegance, the finality, and the literariness of capping a religion with a clear boundary, even if that boundary is deathly and destructive and—sometimes—final. Eschatology comprises some of the finest poetry in the Bible, the Quran, the scrolls and scriptures and gospels and lores of every faith. Ironically, the very poetry and literariness of the various apocalypses convinces me that they're fiction. Elaborate, sometimes beautiful, often poetically just or retributive or even quite deliberately denying anything like justice, an apocalypse (which means an unveiling, by the way, not an ending) offers a glimpse of theological closure. In fulfilling all the requirements of a proper end of the universe, every religion manages—to my mind, anyway—to show itself the perfect artificial closure.

Frankly, I think T. S. Eliot was probably right. The end will come "not with a bang but a whimper."

If you're a science fiction devotee, you've probably noticed that the "not with a bang but a whimper" ending—of the world, of the human race (like my previous blog entry), of the universe—has become something of a science fiction trope unto itself. Damon Knight did a few variations on the whimper, most notably "Not With a Bang" and "To Serve Man." One Robert Silverberg story I've always loved (even though I found his view of decay ultimately a bit too conservative for my taste) is his 1972 "When We Went to See the End of the World." Nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Silverbob lost the 1973 Hugo to a tie between a Pohl/Kornbluth short, "The Meeting," and an R. A. Lafferty piece, "Eurema's Dam." I'm sure they're both fine stories, and I know I've read both, but I'm damned if I can recall either one. Silverbob also lost the 1972 Nebula to Joanna Russ' snoozefest "When It Changed." Too bad.

Silverberg's "When We Went to See the End of the World" takes place entirely at a cocktail party, where the guests are all talking about the latest social phenomenon: a time travel service that takes you forward in time to watch the end of the world. What's really remarkable to the party-goers is the fact that no two time-travellers see the same world's end. What's really remarkable to the reader is that—based on news tidbits shared at the party, including the party-goers' laissez-faire attitude about their situation—society is on the verge of collapse, with World War III looming large. Chilling story. Great stuff.

Anyway, I don't want anyone to take this as a declaration of a manifesto. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life writing nothing but "not with a bang but a whimper" tales, but I do enjoy the whimpering end stories. Last week I offered one here, and I plan to offer a few more now and then. It's fun. You can throw out just about any idea and use it to destroy the world. Douglas Adams, in his HitchHiker series offers a world that dies because of an unsanitary phone. Kurt Vonnegut turned the world's water to ice-9. Damon Knight ended the world with a Mens Room door. Try to imagine how the end of the world might be brought about by squirrels, Pez dispensers, honey bees, plastics, tampons, toenail clippings, farting cows (that one's been done: another Silverberg story).

So, let's play improv. Throw me an idea. If it interests me, I'll write a whimpering world's end. Go on: give it a shot. But, please, no poop.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

This Is the Way the World Ends

The world ended millions of years ago. At least, it did for the dinosaurs. The world ends. It happens every day. In fact, in a world of nearly seven billion people, the world ends—someone's world—ends every minute. Perhaps even every second. Several hundred thousand times per day, some world ends. A child dies, a parent disappears, a lover leaves. Worlds end in many ways. Eventually, the world as we know it, the planet Earth, will end for everyone, once and for all. Maybe it won't happen until the sun begins to expand and turn red some billions of years from now. More likely it will be a random comet or an unforeseen viral mutation. Whatever end may come, it probably won't make for a very good movie, and even the death of a Bruce Willis antihero won't be enough to stop it.

Here's one such end.

But a Whimper

Well, gang, I know that—like me—you’re all happy to be out of those damned cages for a change. The blurs have promised us two hours in the auditorium today and every third day from now on. If you’re wondering why I’m doing all the talking, well they—the blurs, that is—found out that after my pro basketball career ended, I made a name for myself as a motivational speaker. Possibly you’ve seen my million-selling DVD series, Making the Half-Court Shot. It retails for $399.95, but for just 24 monthly payments of—aw, hell, we’re all friends here. If anyone’s interested, I can dig up a copy for you to watch, gratis. Money’s kind of meaningless now. So, anyhow, the blurs have asked me to explain our situation. I ask those of you who speak Chinese, Spanish, or Arabic to please pass on what I’m saying to the rest of the confused-looking folks in the crowd. As for our little rain forest friends with no pants—I’m not sure they’d understand anyway. The bottom line is that the blurs don’t want us to get fat and lazy even if we aren’t really doing anything but laying around eating and drinking and sleeping.

We, as many have conjectured, are the last of the human race. Eighty-seven men and women from various locations around the world. The blurs wanted to keep a few on hand to study and, as they explained it, figure out where we went so wrong. That’s their words—not mine.

I’m sure you all remember—well, those of us who had access to TV—all remember the day the blurs arrived from space and landed on Pismo Beach. Despite the military honor guards, the bands, the dignitaries and scientists and celebrities on hand to greet our first ever visitors from another world, the blurs ignored us and marched right down to the sea and out of sight underwater. Turns out they weren’t here to meet us. The blur who spoke to me—very nice lady, attractive in a blue-skinned, green-haired, four-breasted way—anyway she said they had been listening to transmissions from Earth for centuries and wanted to meet our world’s great musical geniuses face to face. I was a bit confused at this, considering how they’d snubbed us on the beach. So I said, well, you know, Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart are all dead, but we still have some fine musicians here and there, depending on their preferences. I was careful not to mention anyone like Kanye West or Madonna or Justin Beiber because, you know, de gustibus.

Anyway, the blur looks at me and she says, “Beethoven? Oh, the deceased German composer. Well, that Ninth Symphony of his wasn’t bad, I suppose, but it simply pales in significance beside even the most basic freshman mating songs of a juvenile humpback or blue whale. Those are the geniuses we came to meet—your cetaceans.”

As you can imagine, I was flabbergasted. I pointed out that we humans had built cathedrals and cities and the Internet and cured diseases and catalogued all sorts of natural laws. So, first she says they’re willing to let the cathedrals and cities and the Internet slide. She was even willing to forgive all our wars and slashing and burning of rain forests. Then she said our efforts in the sciences were commendable but that the whales and dolphins have known about what we call Bernoulli’s and Pascal’s laws for as long as we’ve walked upright. She also pointed out that, while we humans built cities and catalogued things, we also eradicated hundreds of species of plants and animals and even managed to wipe out some of our own societies and races along the way. She was really down on the whole war thing, so I wasn’t sure how much forgiveness she was really talking about. Not too happy with our environmental record either, I gathered.

Worst of all, she said, we’d hunted the whales to near-extinction. The highest form of intelligent life on the planet, she said, and we’d almost destroyed them to supply ourselves with corsets and scented candles. I played the Newton and Einstein cards, but she said the whales beat us there, too, and did it without access to lasers, ground lenses, or electricity. She also claimed the whales likely would have developed those technologies if we hadn’t been so intent on wiping them out.

Finally, I know it was arrogant, but I said, “Hey, if they’re so superior, why were we able to almost wipe them out?”

She countered with the black plague—the power of rats and fleas. Using my own argument, rats and fleas are superior to humans.

And so, the other shoe dropped: as far as they’re concerned we are the rats and fleas. What we thought of as our civilization, they think of as an infestation. The human race, she explained, had to be eliminated to save the Earth. So they sprayed for humans. I mean, literally, sprayed a genome-specific antigen into the water supplies. About that same time, they gathered us up—a handful of samples of all the different human races.

Personally, I didn’t have anyone really close. I’ve been something of a loner since my fifth wife left me. That’s not important. What I mean to say is, I’m sorry for your losses. I’m sure this news means that most of you are just now learning that you’ve lost friends and family members. So, I’m sorry about that. Maybe we should have a moment of silence for prayer or contemplation or whatever. 


So, back to what I was saying.

The good news is that the blurs are nothing if not ethical; they don’t want to commit genocide, even against genocidal critters like us. The blue whales—incredibly good sports, really—are in agreement with this, and the humpbacks and sperm whales are willing to live and let live. Dolphins—who we never deliberately hunted—could give a shit. They’re all about having a good time.

The orcas are a different matter. They could be trouble. Seems they never thought too highly of our little Sea World exhibits. The name Shamu has become, like, the orca equivalent of Uncle Tom. So, the orcas are lobbying—aggressively, I hear—for permission to hunt us all to extinction. So, everyone should make nice with the blurs, don’t make trouble, don’t argue, cooperate, be friendly with any dolphins or whales who decide to contact us. As for the orcas, let’s hope they don’t manage to sway the others—or we are so screwed.

If no one has anything else, we have the auditorium for the next hour and a half, and the blurs have provided athletic equipment. Anybody want to shoot some hoops?