Znarf Akfak

When Znarf Akfak awakened the first orange morning on Meta-4 everything around him seemed familiar and, for that reason, unsettling. He had no memory of how he had arrived at this particular location, but that was not unusual. Znarf was one of the more experienced agents in a little known department of the confederation bureaucracy called the Office of Peripheral Anomalies. The appropriation which supported it did not even appear openly in the budget of the confederation. A different line with a different bland title concealed it each quadrennium. As part of his work, which had no specified value either to himself or to others, Znarf travelled often by the method of transcendental displacement. When you went this way, there was no retracing your steps. Even if you were convinced that you had made your journey in a distinct sequence, it could be demonstrated that your account suffered from all sorts of gaps, peculiar shadings and even glaring contradictions. All who travelled by transcendental displacement developed a taste for trying to give an account of how they had reached their destinations. The question had been investigated with customary thoroughness by the Office of Central Anomalies, which had concluded that these testimonials of the travellers themselves were no more reliable than any other data concerning the peculiar method. Although the matter had not been resolved once and for all, it did seem to be the case that it was of the essence of the method that no complete and consistent account of its workings could be given. One intriguing correlation had emerged from the longitudinal study by the Office of... read more

The Abominable Snowman

This is a story of the far-off Kingdom of Para. Few people from Africa, Europe or the Americas have ever visited Para, for it is located in a wild mountainous region at the base of the towering Himalayas. There are no roads into the country. In order to reach even the capital city, one must march for three weeks along narrow paths winding through dark jungles of dense bamboo. These jungles are among the most beautiful in the world, but they are the domain of the wily and cruel leopard, and he is jealous of intruders. Because it is so hard to get to, Para receives few visitors. There is nothing to disturb the peaceful, isolated life of the Paraese. Although their forefathers were fierce warriors, the people of Para no longer remember their ways. The last Paraese maker of poisoned arrows and lances died over a century ago, poor and unhonored, without even a son to follow him in his craft. The events of our story took place long ago, soon after the fierce forefathers of the Paraese, driven from the South by even fiercer warriors, had come to settle in the fertile valley of Xhatmand, at the base of the great Gauri Shankar glacier. By now, they have long since been forgotten. When they took place, during the sixth year of the reign of Ahir Gupta, one of the strongest and wisest of Paraese kings, Rana Doti was a young herd boy. Each morning, after he drank his bowl of curd, he would gather his father’s flock of sheep and goats together and climb with them to... read more

Elmer Greengold

Greengold’s Folly “Elmer Greengold is a throwback to the days when people tookhousekeeping seriously and political economy meant something.” “Elmer Greengold is a pain in the ass.” “Both are right,” laughs Elmer Greengold, himself, “I have a fewsimple notions, which really aren’t so simple and I speak my mind. We’re the world’s leading producer of consumer goods. We’re alsothe world’s leading producer of consumer bads, not to mention badconsumers. We emphasize the first and pretend the second doesn’texist. That’s really why we produce so many bad consumers, becausewe have no good way of talking about consumer bads. We measure theGross National Product (GNP), but we don’t measure the GrossNational Problem (GNP). We need some sort of numbers for the GrossNational Numbness (GNN), that is, what we all feel, but won’t letourselves know we feel. I’m really talking about what I’ve come tocall the ‘shadow economy’. I can only tell you that it is ordersof magnitude greater than the barter economy. We don’t know what’sgoing on in most of it. We need to get it on the books. It’s asimple fact of life in a country as bureaucratized as ours thataccountability gets reduced to countability. Narrative justdoesn’t cut it any more. I’m just trying to count some thingswe’ve never wanted to count or let count before. Of course it’scrude, but so is any new kind of measurement. They laughed at me when I first talked about this in Pittsburgh in 1967, but I wasjust a graduate student then. I don’t think they’re laughing anymore. They’re not making steel and they don’t know what to make,just what they want to buy,... read more

A Nobel Laureate

Alan Gorschak was out pulling turnips in the garden behind his homewhen the call came from Stockholm telling him he had been awardedthis year’s Nobel Prize for Reverie. “At least, I think they wereturnips,” said Mr. Gorschak. His wife, Alice, a pleasant lookinglarge framed woman in her late fifties, chimed in with, “Probably,Alan should have stopped driving years ago. But the car seems toknow where it’s going and it gets him there. We always buyAmerican. We’re not sure foreign cars could do this, not on ourroads anyway.” “Of course, I was surprised when I got the call,” said Mr.Gorschak. “I hadn’t thought about the Nobel Prize in years, notthat I could tell you what I have been thinking about. Theparticular reverie they cite is a fugue state I did at least twentyyears ago. I was either a praying mantis or a katydid. I can’tremember which. I went on that way for a whole summer. It waspretty good until the nights started to get cool. I’ll tell you itchanged my point of view about a lot of things. Of course, a lothas happened to me since then.” Peter Hilfenstein, currently Scrimshaw Professor of Reverie andRhetoric at Green University in Providence and author of theauthoritative study, “REM, Reverie and RPM” says that he isdelighted with the selection. “No one can touch Alan’s fugue‘states. There’s been nothing like it since Bach. What’s soastounding is the logic, the clarity, the strictness, almostasperity, exploding into a fabulous realm of freedom. Animate,inanimate, organic, inorganic, it makes no difference to Alan. He’s even done plastics and styrofoam. But his recent work istruly staggering. He started doing... read more

The Vuck Stops Here

Although it has never been seen, scientists are in no doubt aboutthe existence of the northern unspotted vuck. “It’s like abiological version of the Stealth bomber,” says Dr. AlbertTollinger of the University of Minnesota, “with two distinguishingpoints. First of all, it works. Second, far from being harmful ordangerous, it may in the long run prove very beneficial to man. Ithink we can state categorically that, even if many humans areanti-vuck, the vuck is not anti-human.” Dr. Seth Guildenlily of Harvard University agrees with Dr.Tollinger. “There’s no doubt about the vuck. The vuck is forreal. The evidence is overwhelming. Dr. Tollinger has done agreat service for science. He was the first one to notice and he’shad to put up with a lot. Acceptance never comes easy when it’s aquestion of a fundamental discovery that calls for a paradigmshift.” Dr. Regis Spikenard of Yale concurs. “We don’t have all the piecesof the puzzle yet, but we can see the outline. There is no doubtthat the vuck has evolved along with man, that the evolution hasbeen faster than we biologists thought possible, or that it is nowin serious danger. The vuck is not just one little black airbornenocturnal creature who probably has a huge cerebellum and veryadvanced frontal lobes. The significance of the vuck goes farbeyond the vuck itself. We don’t need to see it. It’s enough thatwe’ve inferred it. If we lose the vuck, we’ve lost the wholeballgame.” “I’m excited about it,” exclaimed Dr. Spikenard. “I’m passionateabout it. I’m committed. And so are the kids. Anyone who caresabout the future, has not just to care about the vuck, but to loveit.... read more
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