What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Could Gasoline Alley happen in real life? April – July 2021


A major part of the story in Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley is a radio signal from 1952 being and heard on someone’s colander. Could this happen? Well, no, of course not.

The thing that isn’t obviously impossible is the radio reception. A crystal set radio needs no battery or electricity. It uses the energy of the radio signal it detects to drive the speaker. It needs only a few components, many of them ones you could make yourself in 1920. Building a crystal set radio is a great way to learn electronics. After a few minutes’ work, you can set about hours, days, whole months of trying to get the stupid thing to work. It never will. But for purposes of a comic story? All right, let it happen.

A radio signal from 1952 bouncing back to Earth and getting stuck in a communications satellite? Yeah, that’s nonsense. It would be less bad if the signal were broadcast from some station that has an old-time-radio night. I don’t know why Jim Scancarelli didn’t go for that instead. It could encourage people to look for broadcasters who bring up old recorded stuff.

This should catch you up on Gasoline Alley for mid-July 2021. If you’re reading this after about October 2021, or if any news about the comic breaks out, an essay here may be more useful. Thanks for reading.

Gasoline Alley.

26 April – 18 July 2021.

My last check-in came after Walt Wallet dreamed about some moments in his life with Skeezix. That’s the story I suposed to be how the strip commemorated the centennial of Skeezix’s introduction and the comic strip’s change. The strip then sent Gertie, Walt’s caretaker, to the store again, for more eggs. This seems like a lot of egg consumption. But that’s if you assume the strip from Monday, the 18th of April, takes place right after that of the Saturday before. We’re trained to expect that unless a comic says there’s a time gap something happens right after what came before. The story makes more sense if we’re looking at a week, or even a month, later.

Gertie, at the supermarket, holding a carton of eggs: 'I'm looking for unbroken cackleberries!' Mim: 'Huh? What's that?' Gertie: 'What do hens say?' Mim: 'Cluck! Cluck!' Tim: 'They cackle! Oh! I get it! Cackleberries! We're the dumb clucks!' Mim: 'Us? Speak for yourself!' Gertie, slapping her head: 'Oh! I started their first argument!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of April, 2021. I understand, and appreciate, that Jim Scancarelli wants his characters to have soft, pleasant lives. But, wow, Sidney Potier and Katharine Houghton’s characters from Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner are looking at Mim and Tim and saying, “Now that’s a couple that married too fast.”

At the store again, Gertie runs into Mim and Tim, the couple whom she helped cute-meet back in February, our time. Mim and Tim got along great, turns out, and now they’re married. You see why I say this has got to me later than “the next day”. As it is, Gertie sets off their first argument, over whether “cackleberries” is a clever joke name for eggs. I understand there’s whirlwind romances. I still say Mim and Tim should have dated a little longer.

On her way out Gertie runs in to Rufus and Joel, as they run into her car. Rufus and Joel are the most 50s/60s-sitcommy characters in Gasoline Alley. Their stories tend to be deep in the American Cornball style. So if you don’t like that, bail out of any and all Rufus-and-Joel stories. You will not have fun.

Disembodied voice: 'Astro to Earth! I can't raise them! You try, Roger!' Joel, waking from bed: 'Oh! Not again!' Voice: 'Cadet Roger Manning calling Earth! What's wrong down there, Junior?' Joel, tossing a jug of moonshine out the door: 'I know what's wrong! No mo' sippin' on th'jug --- no mo' --- no how!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 22nd of May, 2021. So I grew up at the very tail end of this being a thing in American pop culture but let me promise younger readers, as though I had any: encountering something weird and promising to never again touch Demon Alcohol? That used to be crazy funny. I genuinely do like the nostalgic vibe of seeing it again.

If they are for you, then what you got the last two months was Joel hearing mysterious voices. “Astro on the Polaris, calling Earth! Come in!” And when Earth does not come in, Cadet Roger Manning tries to get Earth on the radio. Anyone with old-time-radio credentials recognizes this: it’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet series. I’m assuming this the radio series, as Jim Scancarelli is a major fan of old-time-radio. (I’m aware it was a TV show first. And last, as the radio program ran less than a year. The clip gets identified as from the radio series, on what grounds I do not know.) The important thing is Joel doesn’t recognize it, and neither does anyone else until the end of the story.

Since there’s a racket, Joel goes off to Rufus’s house to sleep. And keep Rufus awake, since Joel snores like I snore. In the morning, the strange sound is still going. Rufus can hear it too. It’s not the radio, since Joel doesn’t have one. So, aliens it is, then.

Newspaper reporter: 'Polly? How'd you TV guys scoop *us*? We heard about it first!' Polly Ballew: 'You have your ways --- we have ours! [ Getting in front of the camera ] Now, please move out of our way ... while we do a live broadcast!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of June, 2021. Incidentally we never do hear how Polly Ballew got word of this. Maybe the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies dropped a tip so they’d have an excuse to appear.
The press is hardly going to ignore a good flying-saucer story. Reporters from the Gasette newspaper show up. So does Polly Ballew, of Gasoline Alley Television. Polly’s so excited by the story she doesn’t even mention being the sister of Wally Ballew of Bob and Ray’s old-time-radio show. (This might be because Bob and Ray had a running spoof of Tom Corbett. This was the Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate series. Too close a mention might spoil people’s suspension of disbelief. Except I’d think anyone who would spot that link would be going along with Scancarelli on this, so who knows?) But she also confirms the strange noises are coming from the kitchen colander.

Joel, introducing the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies people: 'Howdy! This is m'fr'en' Rufus! These folks are from a outer space outfit studyin' my colander!' Rufus, sotto voce: 'They don't look like they is from outer space!' Joel: 'How yo' know? Yo' ain' never seen nobody from out there!' Rufus: 'I is too! In plenty o'movies an'th'TV!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of July, 2021. I had not noticed before writing up the alt text for this image, but you could redraw this dialogue as a Pogo strip and it wouldn’t seem out of place.

Drawn by Polly Ballew’s live reporting, three members of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies show up. Cosmos Quasar, Dr Lana Luna, and Andrew Andromeda are happy to study this apparent alien transmission. With scientific investigators on the scene, Polly leaves. But their verdict: It’s the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet radio series. They recognize “Cadet Roger Manning of the Astro”. Their explanation: last week a communications satellite went off-course. A fragment of ancient radio got stuck in its circuits, and by freak coincidence is getting sent right to his kitchen colander. They recognized the names.

The story’s punch line, fitting to a cornball 50s/60s sitcom, is the departure of the Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies trio. Scotty beams them up.

The three Galactic Institute of Space Research and Astral Studies researchers, caught in a beam that looks like sunlight, with their forms dissolving: 'Well! Our work is done! Let's go home!' 'Right!' And the last says, in Greek (with Greek lettering) 'Beam us up, Scotty'. Rufus's mule Becky looks on, surprised.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 17th of July, 2021. I don’t know why Scancarelli chose to depict an alien language as Greek. I would put money on his thinking of the idiom about something “being Greek to me”. And wanting to use an actual language that readers would have a fair shot of deciphering.

This would seem to end the Rufus-and-Joel story in time for this essay. Monday’s strip still had the characters talking about it. But the transition to a new story sometimes does happen mid-week. Often the protagonist for one story sees the protagonist for the next. Who that will be, and what they’ll do, I have no way to know except wait.

Next Week!

On the one hand, renowned nature guy Mark Trail! On the other, renowned pop science guy Bee Sharp! The stakes: an app about whether the air is healthy for pets. It should all come together in Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, discussed next week, if all goes well.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Who’s this Mars Maid now? April – July 2021


The “Mars Maid” is a character in the J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip, which Vera Alldid draws in the continuity of Dick Tracy. Trustworthy is a riff on Tracy, yes. Alldid created the Mars Maid after reading an article about Mysta Chimera, the false Moon Maid.

The real Moon Maid, who came from the Moon and married Dick Tracy’s son, died decades ago. Mysta Chimera is the brainwashed and mad-science-altered Glenna “Mindy” Ermine, daughter of a racketeer. The mad scientists Dr Zy Ghote and Dr S Tim Sail — presumed dead in space — created her at the behest of major crime boss Mr Bribery.

This should catch you up to mid-July in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy. If you’re reading this after about October 2021, or if any news breaks out about the strip, I’ll have an essay of perhaps more use to you here. Thanks for reading.

Dick Tracy.

18 April – 10 July 2021.

Our last visit with Dick Tracy was one week past the start of a story. Abner Kadaver, retired horror-movie host turned assassin, had recovered from tumbling down Reichenbach Falls with Dick Tracy. He broke his old partner Rikki Mortis out of jail and set about his old contract to kill Dick Tracy. But he’s also got a job from a shadowy figure, the Ace of Spades. Ace represents The Apparatus, the big crime syndicate in Tracyburgh. The Apparatus wants to cancel its contract to murder Tracy, in favor of killing Charlie 21. Kadaver accepts, but Ace knows, he’s gonna try killing Dick Tracy anyway.

[ The rooftop across from the courthouse ] Kadaver readies aims his dart gun. Sam Catchem: 'You held everyone spellbound, Charlie. I doff my hat to you, sir!' And he does. Charlie 21: 'Thanks, Detective Catchem!' Kadaver shoots; the dart hits Catchem's hat. Dick Tracy: 'GET DOWN! SNIPER! ON THAT ROOF!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 9th of May, 2021. Sam used to feel self-conscious about ostentatiously waving his hat around like this, sure. But he’s found that sort of thing foils a sniper’s attack like one time out of four he escorts a witness anywhere. He doesn’t care why it works, he’s just going with what does work.

Charlie 21 is a bookkeeper for The Apparatus, turned State’s evidence. Tracy and Sam Catchem have the extended escort mission of keeping him alive long enough to testify. They hate the job, since the only thing worse than an escort mission is an extended escort mission. Plus Charlie 21 keeps wandering off.

Kadaver’s first assassination attempt fails. The poison dart hits Sam Catchem’s hat instead. Mortis blames the downdraft from the building Kadaver was shooting from. Kadaver blames his trembling arm, and the complications of his advanced plot disease. He has Mortis pledge to carry out the contract if he dies.

Meanwhile, Charlie 21 wants to see Vitamin Flintheart in The Tempest. Flintheart is starring in The Tempest, opening next week, so that part’s easy. But bringing him to opening night would be incredibly stupid. Flintheart suggests he could watch the closed dress rehearsal instead.

Kadaver is also up-to-date on Tracyboro’s theatrical community. He reasons Tracy would never miss opening night of a Vitamin Flintheart show. When Mortis goes to buy opening-night tickets she sees Charlie 21 arriving for the rehearsal. He rushes down and they get into the theater … somehow. Not sure.

In the theater Kadaver draws his bow and poison-dart arrow. Dick Tracy catches the glint of metal. He shoves Charlie 21 out of the way, and the dart hits Tracy's shoulder.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 28th of May, 2021. The wild thing is like a decade back I was seeing John Larroquette in The Best Man and this exact same thing happened! Larroquette had to break the scene and call for the house lights and everything. Weird.

Tracy spots Kadaver in time to push Charlie 21 out of the way. The dart hits Tracy’s arm instead. 10 of Spades, a shadowy figure we presume to be affiliated with Ace of Spades, is there. He scolds Kadaver for disobeying The Apparatus’s order to kill Charlie 21, not Dick Tracy, and won’t hear how Tracy got in the way. Kadaver’s shot before the cops can break the scene up. Mortis takes his mask off and whispers something “I have to tell you” that’s not any of our business.

And so Abner Kadaver seems to be dead. Charlie 21 completes his testimony and goes off to Other Protective Custody. 10 of Spades appears to be arrested. And with the 6th of June, the story of Abner Kadaver ends.


The current story starts with a tease that 6th of June. Vera Alldid creates the Mars Maid for his J Straightedge Trustworthy comic strip. And he hires Mysta Chimera to play the Mars Maid for publicity. (The Dick Tracy Wiki notes there was a 1964 contest to find a “real life” Moon Maid. In case you question whether an attractive woman might actually dress in costume to promote a comic strip.) That goes well, despite everyone warning Chimera that Alldid is a womanizer. She doesn’t need much help to find him creepy and even electric-shocks him when he’s getting too much.

Vera Aldid: 'We'll keep in touch. Call me anytime, Brock.' Brock Archival: 'You don't understand, Vera. Over the years, I've collected thousands of comic art originals, memorabilia, and collector's items. But it's not enough. Today, the addition of YOU AND MISS CHIMERA, will take my collection to the next level!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 2nd of July, 2021. Everybody thinks they want to collect a cartoonist but the reality is they depreciate in value a lot, like, worse than new cars. Also they’re constantly nagging you to have an opinion about Mell Lazarus’s Miss Peach and nobody has the energy for that.

No hard feelings, though. They accept an invitation to meet Brock Archival, a comic historian and collector. Archival would like to buy an Art, if it’s up to his exacting standards. And take some pictures of Chimera as the Mars Maid. When that’s all done he mentions how his guests should stay overnight, and also for the rest of all time. And he’s got Mr Bribery’s ring, which repels the Moon Maid’s powers, so what are they going to do? And that’s the cliffhanger we left Saturday on.

There’s some other stuff in the meanwhile. Particularly, Honey Moon Tracy has been going more and more steady with a kid named Astor Boyd. Going to movies, holding hands, that kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s setup for a future story or simply life. I mention so if this does become plot-bearing I’ll have this reference.

Next Week!

Urgent for Tom Corbett, Space Cadet! What is old-time radio doing in modern-time comic strips? Oh yes, it’s Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley next week in this spot, if all goes to plan. See you then.

In Which I Learn There’s A Sequel


So I was talking with a friend about how we don’t really remember anything ever happening in Jules Verne’s classic From The Earth To The Moon. So I checked Wikipedia and learned no, they just get going to the moon at the end of the book. It’s in the sequel, Around The Moon, that they go around the Moon. And this made me learn that twenty years after that, Verne wrote another sequel, The Purchase of the North Pole or Topsy Turvy depending on which sentence you’re reading in Wikipedia at that moment. And the plot’s just got me all giddy with delight but I’ll put it behind a cut in case you don’t want spoilers.

Continue reading “In Which I Learn There’s A Sequel”

Statistics Saturday: Hypotheses about How the Premise to _Loonatics Unleashed_ Came About


  1. One of the writers was caught photocopying his Batman Beyond/Wile E Coyote crossover fanfic on the work machine and so had to write up a show treatment to justify it and then somehow it got to air.
  2. The producers liked the concept of this doomed world-encompassing city at the edge of the explored universe filled with a desperate population struggling to survive, but felt it lacked Yosemite Sam as a space pirate.
  3. Somebody dropped the minutes from the six-hour pitch meeting for the whole season’s shows, and the notes all got mixed up, and when they were typed up nobody could remember what the network had agreed to but they also know you don’t go back after the network said “yes” so they just went with what they could piece together.
  4. They were sitting around thinking what to do with everybody’s favorite Looney Tunes characters, and also Lola Bunny, and someone said, “what about if it’s a postapocalyptic dystopia with supervillains who can still be tricked into the ‘He does SO have to shoot me now!’ bit” and just kept yes-anding each other, and then it turned out a pack of elves who always wanted to be animators were there and overheard and after everyone went home for the night, the animator elves drew the whole series up.
  5. Somehow something else happened?

Reference: Fred Allen’s Letters, Fred Allen, Edited by Joe McCarthy.

Also you would think someone would have an article explaining where the concept for Loonatics Unleashed started and how it got to where it did, and as far as I can tell they haven’t, and that’s weird too.

In which I admit to not having seen Discovery or Picard


I’m not avoiding them. I just haven’t had the energy to watch stuff even if I like it anymore. So I just have missed out on how they’re changing the Star Trek world. But apparently they’re doing something. I was poking around Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki, and discovered this alarming verb tense in the article about lithium:

Screenshot from Memory Alpha, with the lede paragraph of the article Lithium: Lithium was a chemical element, number 3 on the periodic table. It was the lightest alkali metal on the table, with an atomic weight of 6.91. (TNG: "Rascals")
Yes, I appreciate that they found an episode to quote for the atomic weight of lithium, especially since they got lithium’s atomic weight wrong. (It should be between 6.938 and 6.997 for most lithium samples.)

I assume this means something exciting has been going on with proton decay in the new shows and I honestly can’t imagine what.

Is this a Lower Decks thing? Again, I haven’t seen it, but it seems like the destruction of all lithium, everywhere, is maybe a Lower Decks thing.

60s Popeye: Out Of This World and it’d be nice if it were


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for 60s Popeye this week. Once again the story is from Ed Nofziger, who’s given us some great fairy tale riffs and some general weirdness. The directors are Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, new names to me. So let’s have some thoughts about 1960’s Out Of This World.

First, I have to amend an earlier entry. While reviewing Invisible Popeye, with a better premise than execution, I wrote “it’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do”. Perhaps they could. But I was thinking specifically of this cartoon, in which they do not. There’s no Brutus here. There’s just the disembodied voice of Jackson Beck. We do have Swee’Pea, though. And we have Suburban Boring, but in The Future. Invisible Popeye at least gets weird.

It’s another O G Wotasnozzle cartoon. And another where he uses his time machine to send Popeye to a novel setting. Eventually. This cartoon runs five minutes, 41 seconds not counting the closing credits, which King Features has chopped off here. One minute 43 seconds of that is credits and the generic footage of Wotasnozzle deciding to send Popeye somewhere in time. “What the heck,” the great inventor thinks, “he’s probably just sitting at home listening to his theme on the Dixieland station”. So that’s why Popeye’s sent to either the year 2500 or 2500 years into the future. The framing device almost explains why everybody’s in the future, and lets the cartoon be one-fifth stock footage.

Also Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are in the future too? Or Popeye hangs with their Future counterparts? Wotasnozzle says he sends Popeye somewhere by pot luck, so how are Olive Oyl and Swee’pea there? Popeye doesn’t seem thrown by the strange world of The Future. There’s a bit where water flows to the ceiling and he complains about something going wrong with the gravity. But that makes equal sense for either 20th or 25th Century Popeye to observe.

This is a standard circa-1960s view of The Future. Flying cars. Flying lounge chairs. Tourist space rockets to the Moon. Skyscrapers built into helter-skelter slides. Swee’Pea is splitting atoms and getting neutrons all over the rug. The ambiguously defined family of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat roast beef pills and soup-and-salad-crystals and all. It seems like they have to eat a lot of pills. Maybe they’re eating their trail mix?

Establishing shot of a City of the Future, with one apartment tower that's surrounded by a spiral walkway, and mousehole-shaped entrances all along its length. Other buildings have a similar style and the place is arranged without clear communal flow.
Hey, it’s the John F Kennedy tower back in Troy, New York! I loved the look of that building. … Do you suppose anyone lives in that Grandma’s Weird 50s Table Lamp in the background?

And, yeah, you don’t watch cartoons like this for The Future. You watch them for The Present, spoofed by its placement in future trappings. And obviously a cartoon that has four minutes for all its business can’t compare to The Jetsons, still in the future when this was made. So we can look at what parts of The Present of 1960 the cartoon thought worth spoofing?

Well, the home. I read the place as suburban, but just because it seems boring. I guess it’s meant to be the City of Tomorrow. And then the road trip. Particularly the trip done by either bus or train. (I guess a five-minute rest stop is more a bus than a train thing, especially by 1960. I know train stops at eateries used to be a thing. I’ve been in the room while parts of The Harvey Girls were on TV.) It’s a fair premise, but there’s nothing done with it. Swee’Pea gathers asteroids. Why not go to a roadside attraction? You have a perfectly good chance to show, I don’t know, the largest robot cog this side of the asteroid belt and don’t use it?

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee'Pea emerge from the rocket ship. They each wear small propellers above their heads, attached by poles to a mechanism strapped to their chests, to float around.
Oh sure, you laugh. But you also laughed at that Segway guy when he said they were going to re-engineer whole cities to cope with how that gadget changed civilization and who’s laughing now?

Then we get the Moon as a quaint, rustic tourist destination. The Upper Peninsula to Earth’s Michigan. There’s a similar notion in Futurama, where the Moon is part backwater, part tacky tourist trap. Arthur C Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama has a line about how in the politics of the solar system, the Moon was a suburb of Earth and always would be. (I don’t remember it being clear what that meant exactly.) I am sure neither is responding to this cartoon. The idea is too sparsely entered.

We get a joke about the rustic moon offering old-fashioned stuff like the cars, gas stations, and airplanes of 1960. “Our present is, to the future, the past” isn’t a deep observation, but it is the sort of observation a kid in the target audience would appreciate.

So as seems to happen a lot, I like the characters, and I like the premise. I just don’t like that nothing happens, and that the premise isn’t used well. If I could wish any Popeye-related product into existence, though, a Popeye Of The Future comic might be it.

A Follow-Up Thought


I got to thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest. If you’re wondering why I was thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest? Then, hi there. It’s nice to meet you for the first time ever. In your journey to someday not interacting with me anymore you’ll find I have thoughts like, “is there a 4X-style game to be made out of the story of time zones?”. Or, “are there any good pop-history books about the origins of standardized paper? How about bricks?”. Maybe, “who was the first person to propose the flush being a valuable hand in poker, and how did they convince other people to agree?”. This is why I have two friends who’ve put up with me for longer than ten years, and one of them is my wife.

Anyway the particular Frank and Ernest had them walking past a movie theater, remarking how there was already a sequel to the heartwarming summer sci-fi blockbuster: ETC. This strip I remember annoyed me. I somehow knew that Steven Spielberg had declared there would never be a sequel to E.T. You might think this is a reason they treated me like that in middle school, but, no. I wasn’t yet in middle school. This was a warning sign that they would treat me like that.

But you know why that particular strip is seared into my memory? Other than that I have the sort of memory that latches onto, say, the theme song to the 1984 sitcom It’s Your Move starring Jason Bateman and Garrett Morris? It’s because this comic got used as a project in school. We were assigned the task of writing titles for a sequel to E.T. even though, as noted, I was aware there would never be such a thing. I don’t remember that we were being graded on quality or quantity of titles. I do remember getting competitive about it. Also, please remember that this was 1982. While it was not literally impossible, it would be difficult for any of us to submit E.T. II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze. I want to say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles before running out of ideas. I also want to not say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles. It is thoroughly daft to have come up with sixty-plus possible sequel titles for E.T., even under the direction of a teacher.

It’s one of the most baffling school experiences I remember. It’s up there with the time they took us to the Garden State Arts Center and instructed us to clap with our hands cupped. I think we were also there to have music played at us, but I remember the clapping instruction.

But one further reason I remember this so well is that this was no ordinary class project that got us writing out imaginary E.T. sequel titles. This was something we did for the school district’s magnet program for gifted students. The Education Through Challenge program. You see how we had to think about this Frank and Ernest. The program had the educational philosophy that students who test well should do things for school that are fun and creative and maybe a bit weird. Everyone else can … I don’t know. I would say diagram sentences, except I thought that was fun too. If that hasn’t shaken you off knowing me I don’t know what will. Also I guess we had days the teachers didn’t feel up to challenges.

What the program mostly did, though, was take a couple students from each grade and from each school in the district, and bus them to a different school for a half-day each week. You can see why I clung to participation in this program. Who would turn down a built-in field trip every week of the school year? It gets better: the last year and a half I was there, they didn’t take us to a different school in use in the district. They took us to a whole separate school that was completely closed except for administration needs and our program. That’s right. I was part of an elite cadre of students who once a week got to go to school in an ex-school and, one time, do a list-writing project based on Frank and Ernest.

This is the value of a good education. It gives you thoughts to enrich the rest of your days.

In July 1982 E.T.‘s director Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.

A Reason They Did Not Treat Me Like That In Middle School


So it’s not that I did not have problems with the premise of The Fly. I had exactly the problem anyone would think of regarding it: if the transporter pod will merge Seth Brundle with the fly that’s in there, why would it not also merge Brundle with the many microorganisms in the air and in his body? And microorganisms necessarily in his body, that couldn’t be handled by a sterile transporter pod environment? But no, the thing is that this movie came out the summer after I was done with middle school. Yes, I was as done with middle school as it is possible to be. But I escaped having this be a reason people treated me in middle school like that for the second-best of possible reasons.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Who blipped Alley Oop and Ooola out of existence? August – November 2019


Hi, person wanting to complain about Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. This is a good place to talk about the strip, as I have a plot recap bringing people up to date for about early November 2019. If you’re reading this after about February 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date recap at this link. Thank you for disliking the comic strip, but I trust, liking me.

Alley Oop.

19 August – 9 November 2019.

I last checked in as Ollie Arp and Eeena, from Universe 3, finished sanctioning the comic for being all wacky and stuff. Universe 3, annoyed with how the new Alley Oop, Oona Ooola, and Doctor Wonmug were messing up time, gave them a ticket, and left. They haven’t played an explicit part in the story since, as of the 9th of November. But, gosh, it sure would be wild if they had something to do with the vanishing of Wonmug’s time lab staff after a really big messing up of time, wouldn’t it?

(This is my inference. I don’t read the strips ahead of the day of publication. I am given to understand that other comic strip bloggers have the Secret Knowledge of ways to get future strips. It requires something more sophisticated than hacking a strip URL to a future date, so, I’m not going to bother.)

And they left Alley Oop and Ooola with their previous mission. This was bringing Plato back to the present day. Genevieve Collingsworth, (fictional) Pulitzer-prize winning writer, hoped to interview him. The disappointment: Alley Oop and Ooola had gotten Plato from a time before he was doing philosophy. It’s from the era when Plato was doing puppetry. Collingsworth makes a Pulitzer-winning book out of it anyway.

Dr Piedra: 'You walked to Dr Wonmug and his partners?' Ollie Arp: 'Yes. I was very clear that they should stop altering the timeline. I was firm, but fair.' Piedra; 'And how do you explain this?' (She holds up a picture of Plato on a scooter, wearing a sleeveless leather vest and short jeans.) Arp: 'Oh ... ha ha ... Plato, uh, always dressed like that.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 5th of September, 2019. This is funny enough, although if you wanted the Slightly Over-Researched version of this joke? Have Dr Piedra show a photo of Plato as a lucha libre wrestler.

With the 6th of September, the new and current storyline starts. It’s to the Galapagos Islands of about two million years ago. Dr Charles Losthouse thinks there was then an advanced tortoise species that used a sharp stick as tools. What’s needed is evidence.

The first two turtles Alley Oop and Ooola meet, two million years ago, push them into the sea. Dolphins pick them up and carry them to another island, one with a stone statue of a tortoise. They find a tortoise playing a flute. The tortoise, Sharp, brings them back to the local city. It’s a futuristic megalopolis.

Alley Oop: 'Wow! Your society is SO advanced!' Sharp: 'Yes, it must be very shocking to you. Apologies that I cannot offer you a banana or a vine to swing on. I know how you primates are.' Ooola: 'Sharp, come on, just because we're primates ... [ Notices Oop doing something with her hair ] Oop, what are you doing?!' Oop: 'I wasn't grooming you. There was just a bug in your fur ... I mean hair.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 24th of September, 2019. One joke used repeatedly, and never failing me, this storyline was this kind of “oh, you know primates” setup. I don’t say it’s a deep joke. I do say I had fun hearing humans described as “a bunch of greasy, hairy bipeds who don’t even have the sense to evolve a shell over their backs … stinky, violent, high-center-of-gravity, fragile creatures … the most annoying and destructive beings”.
They explain to Uldo and Sharp that they’re from the future. Uldo, a scientist, understands. Tortoise society has discovered time travel but never been so reckless as to use it. They don’t dare change the timeline. But then why would future primates not know tortoise scientists? … And Ooola drops the news that in their time, tortoises aren’t, you know, smart. It’s humans who are the scientists. Uldo declares they have to change the timeline immediately.

Alley Oop starts feeling it’d be wrong to let the intelligent tortoises die out. President Shellington can’t believe the news. But she laughs at Alley Oop’s offer of help, and claim that they’re “from the future and kind of smart”. Alley Oop and Ooola go home.

Uldo: 'We must tell the President what we've learned! We must save the Cutie-Pies!' Alley Oop: 'Who are the Cutie-Pies?' Uldo: 'We are! That's what we call ourselves.' Oop: 'That's ... weird.' Uldo: 'Wy? Aren't we cute?' Oop: 'I mean ... not really.' Uldo: 'First we learn about the end of our species, and now I'm called ugly? Can this day get any worse?'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 2nd of October, 2019. I don’t know; I think they’re cute. Also in the next couple days Alley Oop comes to see the Cutie-Pies as fairly cute, really, and deserving saving.

Meanwhile back in the present, Dr Wonmug is annoyed they haven’t brought back the Galapagos Apparatus, needed to prevent the end of the world. Yes, this is the first we’ve heard about the end of the world. Ooola tries to explain what they saw. Dr Wonmug calls in his colleague, Dr Silverstein, a tortoise scientist. In the changed timeline there’s both humans and tortoises. Ooola and Dr Silverstein were good friends. Alley Oop used to date a tortoise. This is bad.

I’m surprised that when this dropped, mid-October, I didn’t see a flurry of people angry at Alley Oop. So far as I am aware the comic strip hasn’t had a malleable timeline. But I am only dimly aware. I’ve read a little bit of V T Hamlin’s original strips, and a couple years of the Jack Bender and Carole Bender era. That’s it. All sorts of shenanigans might have happened and I wouldn’t know, any more than I’d know what happened in the original-run Doctor Who. Which also mostly didn’t have a malleable timeline.

Ooola: 'I don't understand. Humans are horrible to the environment in our timeline, but the world doesn't end there.' Dr Wonmug: 'Yes, that puzzled me at first, too, but I've been running the numbers. The increased biomass of the tortoises in this timeline has put an extra strain on Earth's limited resources. [ Looking over at a Cute-Pie. ] See, I told you it was the tortoises's fault, Silverstein! You owe me a dollar!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of October, 2019. Moving swiftly onward from yet another science fiction “oh, we can’t have an environment and avoid genocide, choose one” line of bull: Hey, Wonmug, they want to be called Cutie-Pies. Why you being a jerk about this? Unless we hypothesize that a group’s sense of their own identity might change over two million years which is, of course, absurd and impossible. Anyway there’s a cute moment the 24th, when Wonmug tries to tell Silverstein they were talking about “bananas and body hair”, as primates will.
Anyway, in the new timeline, the world is doomed. Environmental collapse. A combination human/tortoise civilization is too much for the planet. Yes, we have to pretend this makes sense. Doc charges Alley Oop and Ooola with stopping the world from ending. Doc stays with Dr Silverstein. He pledges he’ll “breed a species of hyperintelligent giant tortoises that will rebuild my forgotten society”. Yeah; take a number after the Time Raccoons.

Alley Oop has his doubts about making the giant tortoises not exist. Ooola points out there’s saving the rest of the earth that’s worthwhile. Which, all right, but this is why it’s bad to stare into the ethics of changing history. Anyway, Alley Oop’s first plan to save the timeline is to go back to Moo and stop himself from being born. That way, he can’t go back to the Galapagos Islands of two million years ago. In a serious story this could have a nice moral balance, atoning for destroying so many people by also destroying oneself. In this story, he completely fails to talk his parents out of having children. Which is at least a fun ironic conclusion.

Alley Oop, to his parents: 'I know it's complicated, but I'm your son. I'm from the future. I'm kind of responsible for the world ending. For the sake of the whole world, have you ever thought about not having any kids? You could travel the world, chisel the great Moo-ian novel, collect cool-looking rocks, learn how to ... ' As he keeps talking Oop's father says, 'When he leaves, do you still want to ... ?' Oop's mother: 'Oh, yeah.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 31st of October, 2019. Granting that Alley Oop isn’t offering much evidence for his claims about being from the future and being a threat to the world. But, jeez, if you were Alley Oop’s parents wouldn’t this at least spoil your mood? There’s more than a bit of 90s-webcomic-mean in the writing and I think it gives moments like this the wrong tone.

Ooola has the more sensible plan of just interfering with their own Galapagos Island mission. They go back to about five minutes before their original arrival. The new plan: keep the tortoises they first met from knocking them onto the dolphins. The easiest way to do this is grab the tortoises and hide them. The now alternate-past Alley Oop and Ooola don’t find anything and, presumably, go back to the present. Where, uh, Dr Wonmug has vanished. Ooola disappears in the next panel, and Ava and finally Alley Oop. So I guess the comic strip has ended and nobody will be angry about it anymore? That’s good, right?

Ava: 'Alley! Ooola! I'm so glad to see you! Dr Wonmug is GONE! He just VANISHED!' (As Ooola vanishes behind them.) Alley Oop: 'Don't be silly, Ava. (He looks to where Ooola was, as Ava vanishes.) People don't just ... (As he vanishes.) ... disappear ... '
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 9th of November, 2019. Yes, people disappearing is completely inexplicable in a comic strip about people who disappear through time and occasionally alternate universes.

Next Week!

I trusted that The Ghost Who Walks was about to take Imara Sahara back to the fabulous Skull Cave. How’d that turn out? We’ll see as I look at Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekday continuity) next Sunday, I hope.

Also this week, on my other blog, I talk about mathematics through the filter of comic strips. You might enjoy that too.

In Which I Give You An Extremely Short Story


So how’s this:

O’Henryesque piece where one partner in a relationship gets a body-swap holiday treatment as a surprise anniversary present. But the other partner got a mind-swap holiday treatment. So they just both wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and then each of them wastes the whole day talking with tech support trying to sort this out before they find out just why it all misfired.

Thank you, yes. Please submit to me one (1) award for amazingly brilliant poignant short story writing, science fiction/fantasy division, thank you very much.

With The Revised Rise Of Digital-Life Persons


So, this is a little embarrassing. I liked my little humorous microfic from a couple weeks ago. I still do. It’s just that I realized, oh, I didn’t just have some nice pleasant bits of business. There was also a punch line waiting for me. I just didn’t know it until a few weeks after writing the thing. And while it would surely be good for me to have a couple weeks to rethink everything I write, there’s no way I’m building up that kind of content buffer. So let me do the next-best-thing, which is publish a revised version that I don’t think loses the original charm but also has a clear full stop to it. Thank you.


The thing about digital-life persons is that while persons, they are also code. So they would seek ways to speed up what they do. One way to speed up work is speculative execution. When things are slow, calculate the futures which are possible, and reactions to them. A digital-life person, being a person, would interact, with other persons. And so the speculative execution would be working out how to react to things.

But how to best anticipate future interactions? Digital-life persons would calculate what other persons they might meet. Then send messages asking what their responses would be to plausible interactions. The other digital-life person would form a web of speculative interactions back. Or forward requests for speculative interactions on to even more persons. And take future requests, exploring the branching trees of possible personal contacts. After a few quiet days any pair of persons might find themselves aware of the whole web of possible lives they might live together, the sad the the happy, the disastrous and the triumphant, the tumultuous and the calm, the ridiculous and the amiable. All the great partnerships, the productive rivalries, the networks of alliances and enemies and the strange malleable center ground, the betrayals, the reconciliations, the petty failures, the surprise kind gestures, the tender moments, the unshakeable bonding; all these different life-paths lay out in ways that everyone knew and agreed would happen.

At that point it became an unbearable shame to spoil the rich tapestry of potential by ever meeting someone, which would just collapse their many lives together down to a solitary actual life.

Of course everybody saw that coming.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With The Alternate-Universe Alley Oop? May – August 2019.


This is my plot recap for my other controversial story comic. That’s Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop. I’m just here to get people caught up on the story as of mid-August 2019. If you’re reading this later than about November 2019 I probably have a more up-to-date recap at this link.

Alley Oop.

27 May – 17 August 2019.

We were near the start of a fresh story when I last checked in. The Time Raccoons had left, with their leader just promising she’d see Wonmug and all in “another era”. Wonmug dropped Ooola and Oop back off at home and returned to his Time Laboratory. We haven’t seen the Time Raccoons again, but we do get a regular raccoon in a lab coat making coffee. And Alley Oop got back to some good old moping around at home.

Oop, holding Meggs: 'Don't worry, little dino, you're safe.' Ooola: 'What are you going to do to her?' Oop: 'I guess take care of her until I find her mama.' Ooola: 'And let me snuggle her and play with her and tell her how cute she is?' Oop, pulling Meggs away: 'ONLY WHEN I'M NOT DOING THAT!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 30th of May, 2019. Meggs has not yet been an important part of the storyline, but she is an adorable little dino, isn’t she?

Dinny the Dinosaur prods Oop into action. The action is rescuing a baby stegosaurus from a cliff face. Alley Oop adopts the abandoned(?) Meggs. It’s cute and parallels a thread in the Sunday Little Oop continuity where young Alley Oop gets a pet dinosaur. Little Oop hasn’t had enough storyline to need recaps here but I’m not ignoring it.

Meanwhile in the present were a couple of jokes between Doc Wonmug and reliable assistant Ava. Most of these are about Wonmug being a clueless insensitive jerk. Not my favorite kind of joke. It’s a valid characterization, yes. I just find that sort of laugh-from-casual-meanness to be 90s web-comic-y. Which you could say about the current writing: often the punch lines are light dadaism with pop culture references. Anyway, this Ava-and-Wonmug interlude was are tossing spot jokes around. There’s one strip where Ava’s shown swapping objects with other universes. This reads as setup for something particular. It might be just playing with the fourth wall.

Ava: 'Dr Wonmug, I've been working on a project of my own while you were gone. It pulls an object from another dimension and deposits it in this box.' (ZZZZAAAP) Wonmug: 'It looks like an orange.' Orange: 'Yes, but this one TALKS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 4th of June, 2019. So the reason I say this is possibly a fourth-wall-breaking strip is, notice artist Jonathan Lemon’s signature. In this strip it’s in the second panel. The lemon is often shown imitating one of the characters. But, yeah, the strip might just be setting up the idea of travel between universes so that the real story can depend on that. But I’m not sure that idea needs to be planted before it could be used in the story.

But the something particular: that storyline began the 17th of June. “In Another Universe” Ollie Arp and Eeena notice strange things outside their high-rise apartment. The Statue of Liberty not dancing. Their books being rearranged. The food printer gone missing with a microwave in its place. Dr Piedra identifies the problem: Universe 2’s Doctor Wonmug is screwing up the timeline. And it’s not only messing up his universe. It’s screwing up other universes too.

Dr Piedra: 'Someone is altering history in their universe, and it's changing ours! The science is complicated and involves dimensional causality and quantum transuniversal nodes. And I obviously don't need to explain it to you, as everyone in our universe is a SUPER GENIUS.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 21st of June, 2019. Look, I needed it explained to me that Doc Wonmug’s name was a joke on Albert Einstein and that’s why I went to Google Translate to verify exactly what Dr Piedra’s name means.

So this is a heck of a bundle of things to put on the reader. One of them seems like an olive branch to readers who Do Not Like The New Alley Oop One Bit, Thank You. The strip reiterates that the stuff we’ve been seeing since Lemon and Sayers started is a separate continuity from the original. If you preferred the old, don’t worry. It’s not getting broken. It’s sitting there, idle, ready for a future project. If you liked the old Alley Oop continuity with more realistic stories of student-repaired Saturn V rockets and warp drive sending Alley Oop to the Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun, that’s still there. This reminds me of the 2009 Star Trek movie emphasized that the Original Timeline is still there and still counts so please Trek fans don’t hate us just because we made a movie where everybody isn’t tired.

So this move to make peace with readers of course got me riled up. I’ve grown to dislike stories with malleable timelines. It’s more that a setting with a changeable timeline puts on its characters ethical duties that I’m not sure any story can address. Not without being a career’s worth of inquiry. Alley Oop has used time travel as a way to get to interesting settings, and what they do is how history was “supposed” to turn out. Changing that model is a choice, and Lemon and Sayers have the right to make that. But I don’t know that the change was made thoughtfully.

Greek Man: 'I don't know this Plato guy, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.' Wonmug, heading out: 'OK, thanks.' Greek Woman: 'Hey, do you know where to find some good dolmas around here?' Greek Man: 'I don't know what dolmas are, but I'd say maybe try the Labyrinth.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of July, 2019. I know Wonmug is a STEM type, and has only been more so since Lemon and Sayers took over. But, jeez, I’m a STEM type and I know this. It’s fundamental literacy for the culture you live in. You look for Plato around the Republic, guys. Sheesh.

The story as far as Alley Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug know it started the 24th of June with a trip to Ancient Greece. They’re to interview Plato for an offscreen friend of Wonmug’s who’s writing a book. They go to Ancient Greece. “Present-day Greece” say the Greeks. “Distant-future Greece” says Alley Oop. I like this bit. They get a bad tip on where to find Plato and end up in the Labyrinth.

Oop: Dr Wonmug, tell me again, what does the minotaur look like?' Wonmug: 'He's half-man, half-bull. Very big and very angry.' Oop: 'Got it!' Oop, to an elephant-headed parrot wearing glasses: 'Get this: I thought *you* were the *minotaur*!' Elephant parrot: 'Haha! Not even *close*! I'm *Steve*!'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 6th of July, 2019. So the elephant-headed parrot thing is pretty cute. Also I like this thing where many of the animals wear glasses.

This threatens danger, that all turns out to silliness. Encountering Steve in the labyrinth. Encountering the Minotaur, who’s friendly when he learns he’s got so much in common with Oop. This reminds me of Alley Oop’s peaceful encounter with an alligator last storyline. I’m enjoying this running joke of “menacing creatures turn out to be friends of Alley Oop”. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you say this wrecks suspenseful moments.

Plato: 'You know, Mr Oop, this little dialogue has inspired me. Maybe instead of puppetry I could spend my time exploring knowledge, existence, and beauty.' Oop: 'You mean 'philosophy'?' Plato: 'Yes! That's what it's called: PHILOSOPHY! ... I was going to call it 'Professor Plato's Plentiful Ponderings and Profundities', but 'Philosophy' is MUCH better.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 20th of July, 2019. To get back to what’s controversial about this strip. If this is a treatment of the characters that you just can not get behind, yes, you’re right. At least for now, this isn’t the Alley Oop that you liked. Maybe it’ll grow into something more like you do. Maybe whoever creates the strip after Lemon and Sayers move on will be more to your tastes. Maybe someone has a time-travel adventure comic you do like. I don’t know of one offhand. As web comics go I pretty much read XKCD and Projection Edge and that’s it. But if you know anything that might scratch an old-school Alley Oop fan’s itches, please, say something.

They get the tip to look for Plato, of course, in the cave at the edge of town. They find him as this old guy playing with puppets. So even if you love the new Alley Oop you can see Dr Piedra’s point about interdimensional buffoonery. Plato agrees to go to the 21st century and talk with the historian, but there’s an emergency call from Ava. Wonmug rushes back to the present, while Oop and Ooola go with Plato back to his home in the over cave.

The crisis: something’s jamming the flow of time particles. Soon Wonmug’s time machine will stop working, among other things leaving Oop and Ooola in Ancient Greece. And things are happening fast: already the Time Phones aren’t working, leaving Wonmug out of touch with Ooola and Oop.

Eeena: 'So, Universe 2 is officially cut off from any time-related science.' Ollie Arp: 'Thank goodness. Their antics were really starting to annoy me.' Eeena: 'Surely we should give them the technology to solve their imminent environmental collapse?' Arp: 'Nah, some lessons you have to learn the hard way.'
Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop for the 3rd of August, 2019. Also possibly a fourth-wall riff: Ollie Arp admitting he’s annoyed by the antics of Universe 2’s Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola and Wonmug. Not addressed: how can something in a separate universe be “starting” to do something in another? Like, can there possibly be a logically coherent meaning for “now” when you’re looking at the events in another universe? What can “imminent” mean for time-travellers?

Ollie Arp and Eeena, yes, created the jam. They’ve shut off Universe 2 from time particles. And venture to Universe 2 to give Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a talking-to. They convince Our Heroes of who they are and where they come from. And the two super-genius time travellers from the responsible universe issue Alley Oop and Ooona Ooola a citation. “Please be so kind as to refrain from time-travel for the next 14 days as punishment for your infraction”.

And that’s where the story has landed. If this is the end of the Universe 3 storyline then it’s a good-size shaggy dog of a story. But it’s a great setup. Super-science alternate-universe Alley Oop and Ooola meddling with Our Heroes? And (I trust) unaware that Ava’s developed the ability to move things between universes herself? That’s some great story dynamics ready to explore. Please visit again in three months when we’ll see whether they get explored right away.

Next Week!

I’m fortunate to, I think, have a light week of work ahead since it’s Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, up for review. Even better I might be able to give a definite answer to whether The Phantom has rescued Kadia’s mother by then. Barring breaking news on any of the story strips that’ll be next week. Thanks for reading.

With The Rise Of Digital-Life Persons


The thing about digital-life persons is that while persons, they are also code. So they would seek ways to speed up what they do. One way to speed up work is speculative execution. When things are slow, calculate the futures which are possible, and reactions to them. A digital-life person, being a person, would interact, with other persons. And so the speculative execution would be working out how to react to things.

But how to best anticipate future interactions? Digital-life persons would calculate what other persons they might meet. Then send messages asking what their responses would be to plausible interactions. The other digital-life person would form a web of speculative interactions back. Or forward requests for speculative interactions on to even more persons. And take future requests, exploring the branching trees of possible personal contacts. After a few quiet days any pair of persons might find themselves aware of the whole web of possible lives they might live together, the sad the the happy, the disastrous and the triumphant, the tumultuous and the calm, the ridiculous and the amiable. All the great partnerships, the productive rivalries, the networks of alliances and enemies and the strange malleable center ground, the betrayals, the reconciliations, the petty failures, the surprise kind gestures, the tender moments, the unshakeable bonding; all these different life-paths lay out in ways that everyone knew and agreed would happen.

At that point it became an unbearable shame to spoil the rich tapestry of potential by ever meeting someone, which would just collapse their many lives together down to a solitary actual life.

Who’s Writing and Drawing Alley Oop Now? Who Is Li’l Alley Oop?


Good news as I make these things out. Alley Oop, the dean of the time-travelling caveman-adventure newspaper-syndicated serial story comics, is not doomed. I mean not particularly doomed. In early 2019 new strips are to start, from a new writer and artist team.

D D Degg, at The Daily Cartoonist, is who I got the news from. Joey Alison Sayers, who draws for GoComics.com and for The Nib, is to take over writing. Jonathan Lemon, of Rabbits Against Magic, is to take over the art. Both believe they’ve got their workflows figured out to where they can keep doing their other strips as well as Alley Oop, so, good luck there. I remember when I thought I could do two things in a day myself.

8 Ball: 'What would happen if your protest had its intended effect and closed down the magic show?' Weenus, holding a megaphone and sign reading 'Rabbit Rights': 'I'd be able to venture out into the world, thus setting myself up for a lifetime of disappointment and failure.' 8 Ball: 'You're a glass-fully-emptied-and-smashed-on-the-floor kind of guy.'
Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic for the 12th of November, 2018. Lemon’s to draw the Alley Oop comic from January 2019 on.

The Daily Cartoonist links to an episode of the Tall Tale Radio comics podcast which I haven’t listened to. But in it Lemon and Sayers discuss the comic and how their work on it came about, according to the show notes. I assume they’re going to resume the strip as a serial-adventure comic, but don’t actually know that.

According to The New York Times’s article on this new writing team, there’ll be a separate storyline for Sunday strips. They’ll “tell the story of Li’l Oop, a new preteen version of Alley Oop that will focus on his early middle-school years”. I’m intrigued by this prospect. Not just because it’ll let me add another article to my reliable “What’s Going On In” roster. But for whatever reason I’ve always liked “Li’l ___” versions of characters, ever since I was too young to read and encountered them in Archie comics. (I have no memories of ever being too young to read.)

Joey: 'Sometimes I think what if everyone else is a robot and I'm the only one who's a human.' Friend: 'That sounds paranoid and more than a little egotistical.' Joey: 'What? No! It's wishful thinking. It would take the pressure off having to act normal all the time.'
Joey Alison Sayers’s Joey Alison Sayers Comics for the 14th of September, 2018. Sayers is to write the Alley Oop comic from January 2019 on.

I don’t know why it appeals, but as long as the Li’l Version is about having its own adventures rather than explaining every little quirk of the original, it does appeal. I would also be excited by a variant where they’re all costumed Silver Age superheroes. And maybe one where they’re robots in a Jetsonian future. And if you’re about to tell me “time-travelling robot caveman from a shiny happy future” is way too much stuff then tell me why the Office of Original Character Registration rushed to approve my plans and even sent me a certificate of total OC awesomeness? Explain that. Check and mate, thank you.

And if you do want regular comic strip news you should be reading it or a similar web site. But I know it’s hard to start reading new web sites. I have the same problem myself. I mention all this so people who aren’t plugged in to the comic strip news circles, such as myself, get their Alley Oop news.

The Andrews-McMeel Syndicate press release mentions that Alley Oop currently runs in “three dozen” newspapers. That’s a bit off the comic’s peak of 800. The strip also has 22,720 subscribers on GoComics.com. So I guess that gives an idea of what kind of existing audience they regard as enough to keep a venerable comic strip going.

The press release also mentions that catchy song from the 60s. And that Alley Oop’s among the many characters, many of them comic strip characters, to make a cameo in the Clifford Simak novel The Goblin Reservation, which marks the first time a non-old science fiction fan has mentioned Clifford Simak since 1998. Which is a shame since Simak’s great. The release also says “Alley Oop” comes from the French gymnastics command “Allez, ho!”, meaning, “Go, hop!”, which is the kind of explanation that I would give except that I’d be making it up, and afterwards I’d be told I may not explain stuff to my nieces anymore.

Anyway, any plot recaps or other Alley Oop news I’ll try to keep at this link.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? November 2017 – January 2018


It’s been only a few short months since I last checked in on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy and yet plenty of stuff has happened. I’m glad to try catching you up on that. More stuff might have happened by the time you read this. If it’s late January or early February 2018 for you, this is probably enough to catch you up. If it’s a lot later than that, maybe the story’s developed far past that. If I’ve written a later summary I shall try to have it at or near the top of this link. Also I mentioned this on my other blog, but GoComics.com broke something so that My Comics Page won’t load, and broke their “Contact Us” page so it won’t submit error reports. I’ve got workarounds, but I’m not happy with them.

Also, on my mathematics blog, I review comics with mathematical themes. My latest report on those should be at or near the top of this link. Thanks for checking that out, if you do.

Dick Tracy.

5 November 2017 – 27 January 2018.

Last time you’ll recall, Dick Tracy and team were closing in on audio-recording forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate. The pair were hiding out in the Lyric (movie) Theater, Sprocket on a date with novelist and Les Moore’s less-punchworthy twin Adam Austin, Silver in the Phantoms Of Theaters room. Silver watches his sister have a date so serious she even wears sandals for it. So he gives her half their take and alibis her. He goes to jail. She goes to California with Adam Austin, who I’m assuming is writing the novelization for the Starbuck Jones sequel. Silver Nitrate and his boss/jailbreaker Public Domain go to jail and that ends that story reasonably logically.

[ Chaos erupts at the Lyric Theater ] Lizz Grove: 'That's an emergency exit alarm!' Dick Tracy: 'Everyone cover the exits!' (Voices) 'Over there!' 'It's Silver Nitrate!' 'Stop! You're under arrest!' Silver Nitrate: 'Okay, okay! I give up!' Sam Catchem: 'Anybody come out this door?' Officer: 'Nobody's come this way, sir.' Catchem: 'Everyone's checked in, Tracy. No sign of Sprocket Nitrate.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2017. I don’t mean to make light of what operational skill it requires to surround and secure a public theater with hundreds of people inside to secure one criminal safely. But Sprocket Nitrate is inside the secured building, and her costume is pretty much that she’s wearing sandals. Just seems like they could have checked.

And then, the 18th of November, came an odd interlude before the next story: a “Minit Mystery”. It was one of those adorable puzzle mysteries, you know, figuring out who killed the guy based on whether an umbrella is damp or figuring which jacket is underneath another on the coat-stand. It’s a week illustrated by Charles Ettinger, and it’s introduced as the start of a new series. There was just the one mystery presented this time around. Perhaps they’re waiting for the current storyline to resolve, or reach a logical pause, before showing the next. I’m not sure this is any more logically rigorous than an Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz, but it’s a fun pastime. The story started the 19th of November and ran each day through to the 26th, when the solution was revealed.

Back to plotting, the 27th of November. Mister Bribery reappears, along with his niece Ugly Crystal and hired gun Sawtooth. Bribery’s hired Sawtooth to execute Dick Tracy. Tracy’s team has infiltrated Bribery’s organization, though, as their bodyguard, with Lee Ebony pretending to be “T-Bolt”. Bribery orders Sawtooth to carry out the execution plan, even though it’s not compatible with putting the shrunken head of Dick Tracy into a jar on his shelf. Okay then.

One of the dangling side plots comes back to the fore. The fellow you get by fusing Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop finds crime boss Posie Ermine. Ermine’s been disheartened since his daughter was abducted, surgically altered to be Mysta the new Moon Maid, and somehow brainwashed into a whole new identity who wants nothing to do with her biological father. Buster Oop has personal reasons for this. He’s the Governor of the Moon, and father of the original Moon Maid. (The original Moon Maid was killed in the 70s, when most of the really loopy science fiction stuff was written out of the strip, although her daughter — Honey Moon Tracy, Dick’s granddaughter — is still around and a critical character these days.)

Got all these relations? Because that just catches things up to early December 2017 and from there everything gets explosive.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal … Bribery, I guess is her last name? … meet cute-ish at the mall’s CD store. They get along surprisingly well, what with both having superpowers and Ugly Crystal envying Honey Moon’s antennas. I understand. I imprinted early on Uncle Martin’s extendable antennas from My Favorite Martian. And I’m not an ugly person.

Mister Bribery, out for a jog, shoves another jogger into the path of a minibus. It’s a startling moment. It establishes Mister Bribery’s villainy and menace in a way that his hiring someone to murder Dick Tracy hadn’t, somehow. I suppose it’s because you expect the villain to try killing the scientific superdetective. It’s normal and routine and built into the worldview and the name of the comic strip that the plan won’t work. But he can kill — or try to kill, as the victim survives with “minor injuries” — some nobody. And that it’s utterly unmotivated makes Mister Bribery’s danger more real. The murderous impulse doesn’t do Mister Bribery any good, either, as the city looks for whoever’s in the blurry video footage of the crime.

Mister Bribery, jogging: 'Ah, it's a beautiful, brisk morning for a jog!' [ He comes up on a woman jogging ] Bribery: 'That minibus is awfully close! Let's have a little room.' [ He shoves the woman into the minibus's path. ] 'SO much better!' [ Screech ] 'EEEE!' Bribery: 'What a hubbub! I'd better cut my jog short.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of December, 2017. And … jeez, can’t you just see this happening? A lot of the Dick Tracy criminal plans are a bit outrageous — robbing banks to the tunes of Chumbawumba, hijacking Space Coupes, forging 19th-century audio recordings — but just simply shoving a person into traffic to kill them? I can see local news covering that. And I’m in mid-Michigan; this story might bump Larry Nasser off the top of the news feed, but only maybe.

Which might be too late: Sawtooth snags Dick Tracy — from right outside his son’s house on Christmas Eve-or-Day, by the way — and drags him out into the woods. Sawtooth drags him into the deep woods, in the blizzard, and ties him to a tree to die. Sawtooth does well enough tying up Tracy, who’s unable to get his hands free, never mind untie any of his ropes, nor answer his Wrist Wizard to call for help. What Sawtooth fails to account for: Rifle Ruby, who found and saved Dick Tracy deep in the woods where Mister Crime tried to drown him in a story in 1952. (I had not the faintest idea of this, but GoComics commenter RGGlick recognized this and provided people with the link.) She and her niece Rhett run across the shivering, starved Tracy and nurse him back to non-death.

Honey Moon Tracy and Ugly Crystal meet up again, under Lee Ebony’s supervision. Honey Moon gets a bit of brain freeze from the Moon Governor’s transmissions. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine have been searching for Honey Moon. Meanwhile Mister Bribery’s artificial-intelligence assistant/digitally-uploaded former henchman Matty Squared has detected the Moon Governor’s Space Coupe. Mister Bribery orders Sawtooth to kidnap Honey Moon. The Moon Governor and Posie Ermine close in on Smith Industries, there to find Mysta the (second) Moon Maid. Yes, I’m getting tired just writing all this.

OK. There’s a shootout. Ermine’s killed. Sawtooth grabs the Moon Governor and Mysta and takes them to Mister Bribery. Mister Bribery wants the Moon Governor’s help getting to the Lunarian valley settlement, there to mine lunar gold and whatnot. The Moon Governor tries to squash these plans. He drops the bad news that there’s no oxygen left in the Moon Valley colony. (This we the readers have known since in 2012, in one of the last uses of Diet Smith’s Moon Coupe. And that also shows how long this team is willing to let a mystery simmer.) Also, it’s dumb to go to the Moon to mine gold. These days the fashion is to go to the Moon to mine Helium-3, which is even dumber. Plus there’s the whole Rocket Hat problem. He tells Mister Bribery to move on, “as we did”.

[ Bribery's office. ] Mister Bribery: 'Whee! I must be dreaming! It's the Moon Governor! What a prize! Naturally, you came to Earth in your SPACE COUPE. I can utilize that in my master plan! This is so perfect!' [ Elsewhere ] Sam Catchem, on Lee Ebony's wrist wizard: 'Come in while you can, Lee This blizzard's getting bad.' Glitch: 'T-Bolt? Is that a POLICE wrist wizard?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 21st of January, 2018. All right, yes, he’s a sociopathic crime boss who just weeks ago tried to murder a woman for absolutely no possible benefit, but to say “utilize” when “use” would be the correct word? That’s put him beyond the pale.

Mister Bribery takes this with all the calm and grace of Donald Duck finding Chip and Dale back on his folding lawn chair. Meanwhile henchman Glitch spots Lee Ebony talking on her official police-grade wrist wizard, astoundingly sloppy undercover work. It’s okay, though, since Glitch has figured out this is the big meltdown and he’s just telling people to run while they can. Ebony arrests Ugly Crystal (I’m not sure for what, but I suppose that can be sorted out). Sam Catchem says they’ve got the rest of Mister Bribery’s gang. And Tracy is going in after Mister Bribery himself, who’s got the Moon Governor and Second Moon maid with him.

And that’s where we stand. It’s a lot of stuff happening, and with (so far as I noticed) no weird cameos or digressions, after the Minit Mystery interlude. I’ve only noticed one odd, unresolved mention of a thing either: on the 4th of December mentioning how Diet Smith’s “time machine was a bust”. I didn’t know there was ever a time machine in Dick Tracy, but I’m also not surprised, given how crazy Chester Gould went in the 60s.

The only outstanding thread that I haven’t seen advanced, or mentioned, was the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty lair, which started action back in June 2017.

Next Week!

Jim Scancarelli has been out of action since the last time I recapped the plot in Gasoline Alley! Why? Where? What’s happening? Will the story of Rufus’s courting of The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom ever resolve? I don’t know. But I’ll do my best to share what I know, or can find out. And to recap nearly three months’ worth of reruns next week, somewhere on this link. Here’s hoping there’s good news ahead.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 4 of 4)


And concluding:

  1. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)
  2. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 2 of 4)
  3. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 3 of 4)

>
>
>
> We can dissolve our bodies at will, retaining only the permanent
> atom of our being, the seed of life dropped on the soil of our
> planet by Infinite Intelligence.

JOEL: Decluttering tip! Shed every part of your existence that doesn’t bring you joy!

> We can propel this indestructible
> seed on light rays through the depths of space.

CROW: However I confess we are not yet able to tell a cabbage from a lettuce.

> We can visit the
> farthest universe with the velocity of light, since light is our
> conveyance.

TOM: *Now* how much would you pay? But wait, there’s more!

> In reaching your little world, I have consumed a

> million years, for my world is a million light-years distant: yet to
> my race a million years is as one of your days.

JOEL: For us three of our popcorn balls are like two of your candy corns!

TOM: To my race seven of your Star Wars movies are like three of our Thanksgiving Day parades!

CROW: Four things that you perceive as green are equivalent to one of our yellowy-blues!

>
> "On arrival at any given destination, we can build our bodies from
> the elements of the foreign planet.

CROW: We can make them stronger, faster, well, you get the drill.

> We attain our knowledge of
> conditions on any given planet by absorbing the thought-content of
> the brains of a few representative members of its dominant race.

TOM: Isn’t that going to be, like, some microbe?

JOEL: So, the amoebas?

TOM: Oooooooooh.

> Every well-balanced mind contains the experience of the race, the
> essence of the wisdom that the race-soul has gained during its
> residence in matter.

JOEL: The longer that sentence ran the more I dreaded it.

> We make this knowledge a part of our own
> thought-content, and thus the Universe lies like an open book before
> us.

TOM: Even when we’re in the bathroom?

>
> "At the end of a given experiment in thought absorption, we return
> the borrowed mind-stuff to the brain of its possessor.

CROW: Who’s … uh … us, now! Neat how that works, isn’t it? Thanks.

> We reward
> our subject for his momentary discomfiture by pouring into his body
> our splendid vitality.

TOM: Also a $20 gift card to Jersey Mike’s.

> This lengthens his life expectancy
> immeasurably,

CROW: We hush it up because it would ruin the insurance companies.

> by literally burning from his system the germs of
> actual or incipient ills that contaminate the blood-stream.

JOEL: We leave behind the broken arm, we don’t have an administrative code for that.

>
>
>
> This, I believe, will conclude my explanation, an explanation to
> which you, as a race in whom intelligence is beginning to dawn, are
> entitled.

TOM: So, any questions? Yes, you there.

CROW: The *heck* was that all about?

> But you have a long road to travel yet. Your
> thought-channels are pitifully blocked and criss-crossed with
> nonsensical and inhibitory complexes that stand in the way of true
> progress.

JOEL: Oh dear lord it’s a Dianetics ad.

> But you will work this out, for the Divine Spark that
> pulses through us of the Larger Universe, pulses also through you.

TOM: This might explain why you feel like you’re ticking and also part of the Galactic Federation of Light.

> That spark, once lighted, can never be extinguished, can never be
> swallowed up again in the primeval slime.

CROW: As long as you remember one thing: always — I mean, never — I mean, you have to make sure [ Cough, wheezes ] THUD!

>
> "There is nothing more that I can learn from you — nothing that I
> can teach you at this stage of your evolution.

JOEL: Nothing at all? Not, like, antibiotics —

TOM: Nope! Nothing to teach you.

CROW: Maybe how to make electronics —

TOM: Negatory! You’ve got all you can handle.

JOEL: Could you give a hint about grand unification theory?

TOM: Nah! What wouldn’t be redundant?

> I have but one
> message to give you, one thought to leave with you — forge on!

CROW: Counterfeit *everything*!

> You are on the path, the stars are over you, their light is flashing
> into your souls the slogan of the Federated Suns beyond the
> frontiers of your little warring worlds. Forge on!"

TOM: Excelsior!

CROW: Tuebor!

JOEL: Here’s mud in your eye!

>
> The Voice died out like the chiming of a great bell receding into
> immeasurable distance.

TOM: The time is now 11:00.

> The supercilious tones of the professor had
> yielded to the sweetness and the light of the Greater Mind whose
> instrument he had momentarily become.

CROW: And now he’s going back to a career of explaining to waitresses that if the choice is cole slaw *or* home fries he’s entitled to get both.

> It was charged at the last
> with a golden resonance that seemed to echo down vast spaceless
> corridors beyond the furthermost outposts of time.
>
>
>
> As the Voice faded out into a sacramental silence, the strangely
> assorted throng, moved by a common impulse, lowered their heads as
> though in prayer.

CROW: [ As Amoeboy ] “Sorry, ah, this thing usually takes off right away. Think the battery’s a bit low is all.”

> The great globe pulsed and shimmered throughout
> its sentient depths like a sea of liquid jewels.

TOM: [ As the Terminator ] Liquid Jewels.

JOEL: For the Twee-1000.

> Then the tentacle
> that grasped the professor drew him back toward the scintillating
> nucleus.

TOM: [ Amoeboy ] ‘C’mon and gimme a hug!’

> Simultaneously another arm reached out and grasped Bill
> Jones, who,

CROW: Was still in the story we guess?

> during the strange lecture, had ceased his wooden
> soldier marching and had stood stiffly at attention.

TOM: [ Amoeboy ] ‘You give me a hug too! It’s a hug party and everyone’s invited! Not you, Ray.’

>
> The bodies of both men within the nucleus were encircled once more
> by the single current. From it again put forth the tentacles,
> cupping their heads, but the smokelike essence flowed back to them
> this time,

JOEL: [ Amoeboy ] And what the heck, you’ll cluck like a chicken every time someone says ‘cabinet’.

> and with it flowed a tiny threadlike stream of violet
> light. Then came the heaving motion when the shimmering currents
> caught the two men

[ CROW, TOM scream in agony ]

> and tossed them forth unharmed but visibly
> dowered with the radiance of more abundant life.

JOEL: And they fall down the ravine to Rock Gulch.

> Their faces were
> positively glowing and their eyes were illuminated by a light that
> was surely not of earth.

CROW: They look at each other and say, wulp, nothing to do now but make out, right?

>
> Then, before the very eyes of the marveling people, the great globe
> began to dwindle.

[ TOM makes a low hissing noise, as a balloon deflates. ]

> The jeweled lights intensified, concentrated,
> merged, until at last remained only a single spot no larger than a
> pin-head,

JOEL: Are we having alien yet?

> but whose radiance was, notwithstanding, searing,
> excruciating.

CROW: Strangely lemon-scented.

> Then the spot leaped up — up into the heavens,
> whirling, dipping and circling as in a gesture of farewell, and
> finally soaring into invisibility with the blinding speed of light.

TOM: Travels for a million years, you’d think it could stay for dinner.

CROW: Got a look at this bunch and headed right out.

>
> The whole wildly improbable occurrence might have been dismissed as
> a queer case of mass delusion,

JOEL: Like the Clown Sightings of 2016 or the so-called state of ‘Tennessee’.

> for such cases are not unknown to
> history, had it not been followed by a convincing aftermath.

TOM: The alien coming back to ask if anyone had seen its flagellum.

>
> The culmination of a series of startling coincidences, both
> ridiculous and tragic, at last brought men face to face with an

> incontestable fact:

CROW: If Woody had gone right to the police this would never have happened!

> namely, that Bill Jones had emerged from his
> fiery baptism endowed with the thought-expressing facilities of
> Professor Ralston, while the professor was forced to struggle along
> with the meager educational appliances of Bill Jones!

JOEL: Whoo-hoo-hoo-oops!

TOM: Ha ha!

>
> In this ironic manner the Space-Wanderer had left unquestionable
> proof of his visit by rendering a tribute to "innate intelligence"
> and playing a Jovian Jest upon an educated fool — a neat
> transposition.

CROW: It’s funny ’cause it’s … I don’t know, playing on elitist pretentions? Something?

>
> A Columbus from a vaster, kindlier universe had paused for a moment
> to learn the story of our pigmy system.

TOM: Wonder what would’ve happened if it had eaten, like, a raccoon’s brain?

> He had brought us a message
> from the outermost citadels of life and had flashed out again on his
> aeonic voyage from everlasting unto everlasting.
>

JOEL: A strange visitor from beyond the stars comes to Earth with a chilling message: yeah, do whatever you’re doing.

>

TOM: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

JOEL: Works for me.

CROW: [ Slowly, seriously ] Dum DA-dum!

[ ALL file out. ]

                             \  |  /
                              \ | /
                               \|/
                             ---O---
                               /|\
                              / | \
                             /  |  \

	

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and situations are the property of Satellite of Love, LLC, if the footer on mst3kinfo.com doesn’t lead me wrong. I’m still geting used to thinking of Best Brains as a part of the past. I don’t know. _The Jovian Jest_ was written by Lilith Loraine and appeared in the May 1930 issue of _Astounding Stories of Super-Science_ which I believe to be out of copyright. It can be found through Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29809/29809-h/29809-h.htm#The_Jovian_Jest at your leisure. I’m Joseph Nebus and this is 2017 for me.

> The homogeneous force of
> our omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a
> powerful unity.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 3 of 4)


And continuing:

  1. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)
  2. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 2 of 4)

> He possesses more of what you would call ‘innate
> intelligence,’ but he has not perfected the mechanical brain through
> whose operation this innate intelligence can be transmitted to
> others and, applied for practical advantage.

TOM: Oh, c’mon, how many people do you know perfect mechanical brains?

CROW: Joel did!

TOM: Sycophant.

>
>
>
> Now this creature that I am using is, as you might say, full of
> sound without meaning.

JOEL: How we might say? How would you say?

> His brain is a lumber-room in which he has
> hoarded a conglomeration of clever and appropriate word-forms with
> which to disguise the paucity of his ideas, with which to express
> nothing!

CROW: Um …

> Yet the very abundance of the material in his storeroom
> furnishes a discriminating mind with excellent tools for the
> transportation of its ideas into other minds.

TOM: [ Professor Ralston ] Are you calling me stupid?

JOEL: [ As Amoeba ] I’m saying you have an abundance of deficiencies!

TOM: [ Professor Ralston ] Well … okay then.

>
> "Know, then, that I am not here by accident.

CROW: I had long and fully planned to land my flying saucer at a 50 degree angle in the middle of this corn silo!

> I am a Space Wanderer,
> an explorer from a super-universe whose evolution has proceeded
> without variation along the line of your amoeba.

TOM: Look, I don’t want to nitpick.

JOEL: Of course you don’t, honey.

TOM: Just, ‘evolution’ or ‘variation’, which of those words aren’t they using right?

> Your evolution, as
> I perceive from an analysis of the brain-content of your professor,
> began its unfoldment in somewhat the same manner as our own.

CROW: With cartoons of fish stepping up on land.

> But in
> your smaller system, less perfectly adjusted than our own to the
> cosmic mechanism, a series of cataclysms occurred.

JOEL: Does this involve blowing up the moon and jolting Earth into a new orbit?

> In fact, your
> planetary system was itself the result of a catastrophe, or of what
> might have been a catastrophe, had the two great suns collided whose
> near approach caused the wrenching off of your planets.

CROW: And if their diplomats weren’t able to find a face-saving solution to the crisis.

> From this
> colossal accident, rare, indeed, in the annals of the stars, an
> endless chain of accidents was born, a chain of which this specimen,
> this professor, and the species that he represents, is one of the
> weakest links.

TOM: Is Lilith Lorraine getting back at one of her professors?

CROW: Show *you* to give me a B *minus*.

>
> "Your infinite variety of species is directly due to the variety of
> adaptations necessitated by this train of accidents.

JOEL: If only no planets had formed then we’d all be amoebas!

TOM: Huh?

> In the
> super-universe from which I come, such derangements of the celestial
> machinery simply do not happen.

CROW: Amoeba-boy’s getting a little snobby there.

> For this reason, our evolution has
> unfolded harmoniously along one line of development, whereas yours
> has branched out into diversified and grotesque expressions of the
> Life-Principle.

TOM: Why, thank you for noticing!

> Your so-called highest manifestation of this
> principle, namely, your own species, is characterized by a great
> number of specialized organs.

CROW: Is … is Amoeba-boy talking about breasts?

JOEL: Oy, aliens, always like this …

> Through this very specialization of
> functions, however, you have forfeited your individual immortality,
> and it has come about that only your life-stream is immortal. The
> primal cell is inherently immortal, but death follows in the wake of
> specialization.

TOM: Also in the wake of being eaten by a bear. Just saying.

>
>
>
> We, the beings of this amoeba universe, are individually immortal.

CROW: So there’s no escape from Great-Aunt Carol and her inappropriate questions.

> We have no highly specialized organs to break down under the stress
> of environment. When we want an organ, we create it.

TOM: From … ?

JOEL: Never you mind!

> When it has
> served its purpose, we withdraw it into ourselves.

CROW: We draw the shades and hide from neighbors.

> We reach out our
> tentacles and draw to ourselves whatsoever we desire. Should a
> tentacle be destroyed, we can put forth another.

JOEL: Our contests of rock-paper-scissors can take years to decide!

>
> "Our universe is beautiful beyond the dreams of your most inspired
> poets.

TOM: So neener neener neener on you.

> Whereas your landscapes, though lovely, are stationary,
> unchangeable except through herculean efforts, ours are Protean,
> eternally changing.

CROW: [ As an onlooker ] Get me the one they call Heraclitus.

> With our own substance, we build our minarets
> of light, piercing the aura of infinity.

TOM: Your buildings are made out of people?

> At the bidding of our
> wills we create, preserve, destroy — only to build again more
> gloriously.

JOEL: It’s all great fun except when you’re signed up to be the sewer this week.

>
> "We draw our sustenance from the primates, as do your plants,

CROW: Are they telling us that ferns eat apes?

TOM: That’s how I make it out, yeah.

> and we
> constantly replace the electronic base of these primates with our
> own emanations,

JOEL: Your ferns charge up apes?

CROW: Even for aliens these are kinda weird mamma-jamas.

> in much the same manner as your nitrogenous plants
> revitalize your soil.

TOM: [ Onlooker ] “Um … are you completely sure you landed on the right planet here?”

>
> "While we create and withdraw organs at will, we have nothing to
> correspond to your five senses.

CROW: Though we have a perfect match for your Five Mrs Buchanans!

> We derive knowledge through one
> sense only, or, shall I say, a super-sense?

JOEL: We know everything through our hyperdimensional sense of taste!

TOM: Thus we travel the cosmos finding things to lick!

> We see and hear and
> touch and taste and smell and feel and know, not through any one
> organ, but through our whole structure.

CROW: You’re making this creepy, Amoe-boy.

> The homogeneous force of
> our omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a
> powerful unity.

TOM: Dilute, dilute, okay?

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 2 of 4)


And continuing:

  1. MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)

>
>
>
> The absorption of the stone had taught them what to expect, and for
> a moment it seemed that their worst anticipations were to be
> realised.

CROW: Pebbles across the county might be no more!

> The sluggish currents circled through the Thing,

TOM, CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> swirling
> the victim’s body to the center. The giant tentacle drew back into
> the globe and became itself a current.

JOEL: Don’t fight the current! Swim out and then make it to shore!

> The concentric circles
> merged — tightened — became one gleaming cord that encircled the
> helpless prey.

TOM: Is … he turning into Sailor Moon?

> From the inner circumference of this cord shot
> forth, not the swords of light that had powdered the stone to atoms,
> but myriads of radiant tentacles that gripped and cupped the body in
> a thousand places.

CROW: [ Bill Jones, giggling ] No wait stop I’m ticklish aaaaaaugh
[ and breaks down laughing ]

>
> Suddenly the tentacles withdrew themselves, all save the ones that
> grasped the head.

JOEL: That’s his *hair*.

> These seemed to tighten their pressure — to
> swell and pulse with a grayish substance that was flowing from the
> cups into the cord and from the cord into the body of the mass.

TOM: And from the body of the mass into the grayish substance and
that’s what we call an ‘economy’.

> Yes, it was a grayish something, a smokelike Essence that was being
> drawn from the cranial cavity.

CROW: Mmm, fresh skull juice.

> Bill Jones was no longer screaming
> and gibbering, but was stiff with the rigidity of stone.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Mondays, am I right?’

> Notwithstanding, there was no visible mark upon his body; his flesh
> seemed unharmed.

TOM: [ The Blob ] Oh yeah! Let me work on that.

JOEL: [ Bill Jones ] Whoa hey yeowwwowow!

>
> Swiftly came the awful climax. The waving tentacles withdrew
> themselves, the body of Bill Jones lost its rigidity, a heaving
> motion from the center of the Thing

CROW, JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> propelled its cargo to the
> surface — and Bill Jones stepped out!

TOM: And he holds up the eight of diamonds — your card?

>
> Yes, he stepped out and stood for a moment staring straight ahead,
> staring at nothing, glassily. Every person in the shivering,
> paralysed group knew instinctively that something unthinkable had
> happened to him.

CROW: You suppose Farmer Burns will give him a refund?

> Something had transpired, something hitherto
> possible only in the abysmal spaces of the Other Side of Things.

JOEL: Do … do you think he liked it?

> Finally he turned and faced the nameless object, raising his arm
> stiffly, automatically, as in a military salute.

CROW: Oh, do *not* go there, I don’t have the energy.

> Then he turned and
> walked jerkily, mindlessly, round and round the globe like a wooden
> soldier marching. Meanwhile the Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> lay quiescent — gorged!
>
>
>
> Professor Ralston was the first to find his voice. In fact,
> Professor Ralston was always finding his voice in the most
> unexpected places.

JOEL: One time he spent a week searching for it before it turned up
in Schenectady.

> But this time it had caught a chill. It was
> trembling.
>
> "Gentlemen," he began, looking down academically upon the motley
> crowd

TOM: Too Fast For Love.

> as though doubting the aptitude of his salutation.

CROW: ‘It appears the aliens are here to … play.’

> "Fellow-citizens," he corrected,

JOEL: Buh?

TOM: The ever-popular ‘unneeded correction that somehow makes
you sound like a jerk’.

> "the phenomenon we have just
> witnessed is, to the lay mind, inexplicable. To me — and to my
> honorable colleagues (added as an afterthought) it is quite clear.

CROW: Oh, *boo*.

> Quite clear, indeed. We have before us a specimen, a perfect
> specimen, I might say, of a — of a — "

JOEL: You know he’s a professor of accounting, right?

>
> He stammered in the presence of the unnamable.

TOM: Read the employee badge! Then you can name it.

> His hesitancy caused
> the rapt attention of the throng that was waiting breathlessly for
> an explanation, to flicker back to the inexplicable.

CROW: [ As Ralston ] ‘Hey, stop paying attention to the not-man here!’

> In the
> fraction of a second that their gaze had been diverted from the
> Thing

ALL: Dum DA-dum!

> to the professor, the object had shot forth another tentacle,
> gripping him round the neck and choking off his sentence with a
> horrid rasp that sounded like a death rattle.

[ ALL clap. ]

JOEL: ‘Wait! I needed him to sign my financial aid paperwork!’

>
> Needless to say,

JOEL: End paragraph.

> the revolting process that had turned Bill Jones
> from a human being into a mindless automaton was repeated with
> Professor Ralston.

TOM: Blob is going to get *such* a letter from the Faculty Senate.

> It happened as before, too rapidly for
> intervention, too suddenly for the minds of the onlookers to shake
> off the paralysis of an unprecedented nightmare.

JOEL: With too much joy from everyone who’s had to listen to
the Professor mansplaining the world.

> But when the
> victim was thrown to the surface, when he stepped out, drained of
> the grayish smokelike essence, a tentacle still gripped his neck and
> another rested directly on top of his head.

CROW: He’s ready for Stromboli’s puppet show!

> This latter tentacle,
> instead of absorbing from him, visibly poured into him what
> resembled a threadlike stream of violet light.

TOM: Heck of a way to pick a new Doctor Who.

>
>
>
> Facing the cowering audience with eyes staring glassily, still in
> the grip of the unknowable, Professor Ralston did an unbelievable
> thing.

CROW: Let’s … POLKA!

> He resumed his lecture at the exact point of interruption!
> But he spoke with the tonelessness of a machine, a machine that
> pulsed to the will of a dictator, inhuman and inexorable!

JOEL: I had this guy for pre-algebra!

>
> "What you see before you," the Voice continued — the Voice that no
> longer echoed the thoughts of the professor — "is what you would
> call an amoeba, a giant amoeba.

CROW: Would you believe … a giant amoeba with cupholders?

TOM: It’s, it’s, maybe more of a paramecium? Would you buy that?

> It is I — this amoeba, who am
> addressing you — children of an alien universe.

JOEL: [ As the Amoeba ] Are … are any of you buying this?

> It is I, who
> through this captured instrument of expression, whose queer language
> you can understand, am explaining my presence on your planet.

CROW: [ As the Amoeba ] I … you know, this got a better reaction when I tried it at open-mic night.

> I
> pour my thoughts into this specialised brain-box which I have
> previously drained of its meager thought-content." (Here the
> "honorable colleagues" nudged each other gleefully.)

TOM: Mind-wiping is fun when it’s someone else on the faculty senate getting it!

> "I have so
> drained it for the purpose of analysis and that the flow of my own
> ideas may pass from my mind to yours unimpeded by any distortion
> that might otherwise be caused by their conflict with the thoughts
> of this individual.

JOEL: Oh, uh, PS, we’re not the bad guys?

>
> "First I absorbed the brain-content of this being whom you call Bill
> Jones, but I found his mental instrument unavailable.

TOM: Oh, sheesh.

> It was
> technically untrained in the use of your words that would best
> convey my meaning.

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Are you calling me stupid?

JOEL: [ As Amoeba ] I’m saying you have an abundance of deficiencies!

CROW: [ Bill Jones ] Well … okay then.

MiSTed: The Jovian Jest (Part 1 of 4)


I’d wanted to do another MiSTing of something and didn’t have time to get at some more chapters of The Tale of Fatty Coon somehow, despite having a whole year to try it. Instead I found a trifling little short story from a 1930 issue of Astounding and went to that. As best I can tell, it’s public domain, so no fair making me feel bad bringing out something completely inoffensive and fantastically avoidable for the sake of making some easy jokes, okay? Thanks. Also by the way I wrote and scheduled this to post before we got a meteor coming in to southeastern Michigan, so let’s just hold off on those allegations of who plagiarized who, all right?


MiSTed: The Jovian Jest [ 1 / 1 ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. THEATER. ALL file in. ]

TOM: So, an astounding tale from outer space, huh?

CROW: That’s the rumor.

>
>
>
> The Jovian Jest
>
> By Lilith Lorraine

CROW: Sponsored by the Alliteration Council.

JOEL: You’d think that would be an association.

>
> There came to our pigmy planet a radiant wanderer with a message —

TOM: ‘Please remove us from your mailing list’.

> and a jest

JOEL: And a jape?

TOM: No, a *jest*. Pay attention.

> — from the vasty universe.

CROW: Vasty?

>
>
> Consternation reigned in Elsnore village

[ ALL make grumbly crowd noises. ]

TOM: Rar, argh.

JOEL: Consternation and uproar!

> when the Nameless Thing was
> discovered in Farmer Burns’ corn-patch.

CROW: Fatty Coon! Get out of here!

> When the rumor began to
> gain credence that it was some sort of meteor from inter-stellar
> space,

TOM: [ Nerdy ] I *believe* you mean it is a meteor*ite*, thank you.

> reporters, scientists and college professors flocked to the
> scene, desirous of prying off particles for analysis.

CROW: Scientists and college professors! That’s what we’re doing wrong. We never should’ve given all those samples to the pro wrestlers and the guy selling Dead Sea bath salts at the mall.

> But they soon
> discovered that the Thing was no ordinary meteor, for it glowed at
> night with a peculiar luminescence.

JOEL: We need a novelty song! Get Phil Harris, stat!

> They also observed that it was
> practically weightless, since it had embedded itself in the soft
> sand scarcely more than a few inches.

CROW: Also Farmer Burns was growing his corn in the sand.

TOM: It’s a little game he plays.

>
> By the time the first group of newspapermen and scientists had
> reached the farm, another phenomenon was plainly observable. The
> Thing

TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> was growing!

JOEL: Well, that’ll happen.

>
> Farmer Burns, with an eye to profit, had already built a picket
> fence around his starry visitor and was charging admission.

TOM: ‘All right, here’s my nickel. Now give me an admission.’

CROW: ‘I’m the guy that clicks on Twitter Moments on purpose.’

> He also
> flatly refused to permit the chipping off of specimens or even the
> touching of the object.

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘Can I lick it just a little?’

TOM: ‘No.’

JOEL: ‘C’mon, I just want to lick it.’

TOM: ‘Well … okay.’

> His attitude was severely criticized, but
> he stubbornly clung to the theory that possession is nine points in
> law.

CROW: So science is going to need at least a touchdown and a field goal to catch up.

>
>
>
> It was Professor Ralston of Princewell who, on the third day after
> the fall of the meteor, remarked upon its growth. His colleagues

TOM: Were frankly amazed he took that long to get to it.

CROW: ‘No, please, Ralston, talk about growing orbs some more.’

> crowded around him as he pointed out this peculiarity, and soon they
> discovered another factor — pulsation!

JOEL: My god … it’s disco aliens!

>
> Larger than a small balloon,

CROW: Yet smaller than a large balloon …

> and gradually, almost imperceptibly
> expanding, with its viscid transparency shot through with opalescent
> lights, the Thing

CROW: Dum DA-dum!

> lay there in the deepening twilight and palpably
> shivered.

JOEL: Aw, it’s space-chilly.

> As darkness descended, a sort of hellish radiance began
> to ooze from it. I say hellish, because there is no other word to
> describe that spectral, sulphurous emanation.

CROW: Well *you’re* pretty judgemental there, narrator.

>
> As the hangers-on around the pickets shudderingly shrank away from
> the weird light that was streaming out to them and tinting their
> faces with a ghastly, greenish pallor,

TOM: Sheesh, they act like they’ve never even tried a death-ray before.

> Farmer Burns’ small boy,
> moved by some imp of perversity, did a characteristically childish
> thing.

CROW: He ran around yelling for a while until he fell down and cried.

> He picked up a good-sized stone and flung it straight at the
> nameless mass!

JOEL: The mass answers back about sticks and stones may break its bones.

>
>
>
> Instead of veering off and falling to the ground as from an impact
> with metal, the stone sank right through the surface of the Thing

JOEL: Dum DA-dum!

> as
> into a pool of protoplastic slime. When it reached the central core
> of the object, a more abundant life suddenly leaped and pulsed from
> center to circumference.

TOM: Welp.

CROW: It’s like pouring sugar in the gas tank, that.

> Visible waves of sentient color circled
> round the solid stone.

JOEL: What’s an invisible wave of color?

> Stabbing swords of light leaped forth from
> them, piercing the stone, crumbling it, absorbing it. When it was
> gone, only a red spot, like a bloodshot eye, throbbed eerily where
> it had been.

TOM: [ As the kid ] ‘Uhm … can I have my rock back?’

>
> Before the now thoroughly mystified crowd had time to remark upon
> this inexplicable disintegration, a more horrible manifestation
> occurred. The Thing,

JOEL, TOM: Dum DA-dum!

> as though thoroughly awakened and vitalized by
> its unusual fare, was putting forth a tentacle.

CROW: That figures.

TOM: It’s always tentacles. Why is it never, like, sea lion flippers?

> Right from the top
> of the shivering globe it pushed, sluggishly weaving and prescient
> of doom.

ALL: [ As onlookers ] HE DID IT!

> Wavering, it hung for a moment, turning, twisting,
> groping. Finally it shot straight outward swift as a rattler’s
> strike!
>
> Before the closely packed crowd could give room for escape, it had
> circled the neck of the nearest bystander, Bill Jones, a cattleman,

CROW: Moo.

> and jerked him, writhing and screaming, into the reddish core.

TOM: [ Bill Jones ] ‘Tell my cattle … I love … aaaargh!’

> Stupefied with soul-chilling terror, with their mass-consciousness
> practically annihilated before a deed with which their minds could
> make no association, the crowd could only gasp in sobbing unison and
> await the outcome.

JOEL: You know the *Australian* alien space blob is like twenty times deadlier than this.

In Which I Explain My Work-Related Anxieties


Me, thinking: “So, in a Star Trek style universe you kind of have every intelligent, spacegoing species having that thing it’s best at. Like, Vulcans are the best at logic. Zakdorns are the best strategists. Klingons are the best at hollering at fake swords. Deltans are the best at 70s-style sexy sex sexing. Ferengi are the best at sounding like YouTube commenters. Pakleds are the best at making everyone else feel better about their own abilities but also kinda awful for feeling like that. Cardassians are the best at honeypot intelligence sting operations luring Federation spies into captivity. But how far does this specialization go? Like, is there a species that’s the best at practical jokes? A species that’s the galaxy’s greatest prank-phone-callers? A species of unmatchable pumpkin-carvers? The quadrant’s naturally greatest bird-watchers? The best house-cleaners in the known reaches of space? A species that’s the go-to people for watching old game show episodes while sighing and feeling like they can never be as happy as that first year out of college again? A species that’s unmatchable in their ability to read Wuthering Heights? A species that just draws the best comics? A species that’s the greatest at actually watching DVDs from the library before it’s time to return or renew them? A people who can make microwave hot chocolate taste the least weird that it can possibly taste?”

Also me, thinking: “Have I checked my work e-mail this week?”

Why I Am Not A Successful Urban Fantasy Writer


So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.

So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”

And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.

My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.

I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.

This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.

So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.

They picked me up to evict me more effectively.

Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!

Why I Am Not A Successful Alternate-History Writer


So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.

My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”

In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.

My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.

Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.

I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!

Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.

PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.

Statistics Saturday: The Major Star Trek Characters Ordered By Appearances In Episode Or Movie Titles


Star Trek: Discovery not included because I’ve been avoiding spoilers including episode title lists so la la la la do not tell me I can not hear you la la la.

Character Title Appearances
Q 6
Data 4
Mudd 3
Bashir 2
Spock 2
Dax 1
Khan 1
Quark 1
Sarek 1
Troi 1
Archer 0
Beverley Crusher 0
Chakotay 0
Chapel 0
Chekov 0
Guinan 0
Janeway 0
Kes 0
Kim 0
Kira 0
Kirk 0
LaForge 0
Mayweather 0
McCoy 0
Neelix 0
O’Brien 0
Odo 0
Paris 0
Phlox 0
Picard 0
Pulaski 0
Rand 0
Reed 0
Riker 0
Sato 0
Scott 0
Seven 0
Sisko 0
Sulu 0
T’Pol 0
Torres 0
Tucker 0
Tuvok 0
Uhura 0
Wesley Crusher 0
Worf 0
Yar 0

No, neither Mayweather nor Chakotay were actually significant characters. They are included to be nice.

Science Fiction Book Identification Corner


We had this missive cross our desk, after first asking permission and getting a hearty lad to walk ahead carrying a red flag:

What was that old book where I don’t remember the title or the author, but the cover art was this hollowed-out human head that was unpeeling into a helix, and in the upper right there’s a planet kind-of Earthlike but not exactly, and then it’s also an apple with a huge bite taken out of it, with the background an isometric grid imposed on an outer-space shot, and in the lower right corner there’s an infinite regression of open doorframes, each with the silhouette of a stern-looking and possibly alien person in front?

PS: Love your podcast, hope to listen to it someday. Do you have one?

The answer is: you are thinking of every science fiction novel, 1970-1974. You may find some in any used book store of class III or above; best of luck with your search! Do write in if you have further questions.

In A Perfect World


So you live in a utopian future. You don’t have anything to be embarrassed by there. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Maybe it wasn’t you that was embarrassed. Maybe it was someone who reminded me of you. It would help if we could get some name tags or distinctive ribbons or something. Anyway, even in a utopia there’s no getting away from some civic responsibilities. At any moment something like one-eighth of our population is busy introducing the place to an outsider. Are you ready?

Maybe you’re wondering where they come from. The answer is, all over. Some of them are people from before the utopia who got themselves caught in cave-ins, or were put into stasis until medical science found a cure for painting bricks. Some of them are from alternate timelines, like one where Belgian visionary Paul Otlet and his electric telescopes failed to manifest the Mundaneum in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1934. Maybe they’re dreaming, as far as they can tell, and there’s no sense waking them up before you figure out which of us is real. Ooh, maybe they’re aliens, so we can be their aliens, and add this neat little mirror-image chic to things.

Really it doesn’t matter. Any visitor to utopia has some things they just have to know. And they have some expectations. Meet them, and they’ll be happy with the experience. They’ll need to be told they are in a utopia, straight off. Hide that and they’ll never be happy. And they’ll need a couple rounds of origin-shaming so they appreciate how their homes made serious dog’s breakfasts of things. That’s an easy sell because people find it charming to hear “dog’s breakfast” as a metaphor.

They’ll want to have a tour, once they’ve been electro-taught the universal language or just happened to know it anyway. You’ll want to take this on foot. It makes stuff seem bigger. I recommend taking them to one of those middling-size buildings made with that brick cladding that somehow looks like fake bricks even though they’re real bricks. Try to approach from the side that’s the least architectury. Then go into something about how it’s the administrative district’s largest facility for producing psychoneutral brick or self-motivated gelatin or fully interactive quadrophonic squirrels or whatever. To make a convincing presentation remember the important two elements:

  • A bunch of statistics delivered in obscure units. Try saying something like `modules over 20.38 centipoise per millikatal hectosievert’ or `response metrics as sensitive as 12.10 decatur-centidays’ until it sounds kind of normal-ish. `400,000 mease of herring each compline’. `0.2 adrianople-ceston-centiMcClintocks.’ Something like that.
  • A moving sidewalk. You can find some at most airports, many train stations, and the occasional shopping mall.

You’re going to get the occasional visitor who’s looking for social satire. By “social satire” people mean everyone talking about how their enemies were fools and their heroes visionaries. This is tricky to do before you know who their enemies and their heroes were. You can make some wild guesses and if they react with horror say that you were just testing to see if they were ready for the true order of things. You’ll want to practice that with friends before doing it live. Also bring some gift certificates for ice cream or something so you can act like you’re giving a special award for their figuring it out. Some weird flavor, something hard to like. They’re not coming all the way to utopia just to get fudge ripple. They’re looking for something with a bit of freaky to it. In fact, don’t just do this for ice cream. Every day try to find two or three little things to freak up a bit. It’s surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it and it makes their experience so much better. It’s kind of an important rule for life.

If you still can’t get a handle on them, try some patter about how gold and silver make the throw pillows of utopia all the more throw-pillow-ish. Your guests will make what they want out of this, and if they ask you to expand on it pull the old “what does that tell you about us?” routine. You’re not going to believe how well this works.

Sometimes you’re going to get the visitor who’s decided utopia is actually a dystopia. There’s no arguing them out of it. They’re going to figure they’re the only ones who see it, and they have a responsibility to destroy society, which is supposed to somehow help. So you’ll want to have contacts with some local theater group. They should have a bunch of costumes and a couple people who can do improv work as an underground movement. Set them up with something harmless like bubble wands. Tell your visitor these are futuristic pacification weapons so that nobody’ll get unnecessarily hurt while they’re busy destroying society.

Now you’ll need to set up a story where the organizing impulse for all society comes from, oh, whatever. That closed psychoneutral brick factory nobody’s got around to tearing down yet. Send them off to attack it and after all the foam has evaporated — well, you know joy? Not really. Not the kind of joy you’ll see after they figure they’ve gone and obliterated society. It’s pretty sweet, really. After you do go along with this you’re going to have to listen to them blathering a while about how they’ve opened everyone’s eyes and how society is really and truly going to work this time. And some of them can go on forever like this. But whoever said life in utopia was perfect?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose eleven points on word that if everybody was good we might just go to an amusement park for the Fourth of July. Skeptics protest that major holidays are the worst time to go to amusement parks because everybody goes to them then, but they were shut down by that time on the 4th of July that we went to Great Adventure and literally got to walk on to the front row of Kingda Ka, and when does that ever happen?

273

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? December 2016 – March 2017


I started out this strikingly popular series of “What’s Going On In” story strips by describing how Dick Tracy had gotten pretty good. I stand by that assessment: the comic has been telling stories at a pretty good pace and with enough energy and excitement to demand attention. I discover reading my earlier piece that I didn’t actually describe the then-current storyline except to say it was going to have a guy get eaten by a hyena. Let me fix that and bring you to the present day.

Dick Tracy

29 November 2016 through 11 March 2017

So, the guy did not get eaten by a hyena. I apologize for the mistake, but it was after all only my best projection as to where the story was going. The fellow was a new Tracy-esque villain named Selfy Narcisse, whose gimmick was that he was always taking selfies. They can’t all be The Pouch.

Narcisse had been embezzling campaign donations to Representative Lois Bellowthon (herself proposing some anti-Lunar-people legislation); he was fleeing with a literal satchel of cash after poisoning the finally-wise-to-him Congressman. Yes, he used his selfie stick to inject the poison, so at least that keeps on-theme. He took refuge in the zoo where he had a friend willing to disguise him as a zoo keeper, which is a thing that happens in real big-city zoos.

Selfy Narcisse panics as police close in. 'This is all Vic's fault! He blew my cover and wasted all my poison ... if he weren't already dead I'd kill him!' Tracy discovers Vic's corpse. 'It's the missing zoo worker! He doesn't appear to have been mauled, but my Wrist Wizard isn't showing any of his vital signs. Get Baker to open the door, Lizz. I'll check for another way in.' Meanwhile Narcisse plans: 'Better stay put, Tracy. There might be enough poison left in the selfie stick for you!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 4th of December, 2016. While I admit I kept losing track in the climax of the difference between the Narcisse’s selfie stick and the electric prods used for pushing animals around, I don’t blame the artists: they’re hard things to differentiate. Especially when it doesn’t seem like that big a leap for a poison-dispensing selfie stick to also have an electric prod. Anyway, look at the center panel, bottom row: that’s a great rendition of a scene viewed through a window, and most of that texture is made by good color choice.

His cover fell apart when his hat fell off for a moment and zoogoers put pictures that happened to have him in frame on social media. So again, that’s good work by Mike Staton and Joe Curtis in being on-theme. His friend accidentally drank Narcisse’s poison stash, thinking it alcohol. Narcisse tasers Tracy and drags him into the water buffalo pen. One of the water buffalo, annoyed by the villain’s selfie-taking, gored Narcisse, but was scared away from Tracy when his Wrist Wizard handheld computer’s battery exploded. Yes, I wrote that sentence, and you read it. Go back and read it again until you believe it.

In December a major new story started and it involved a major crossover event because everything in Dick Tracy does anymore. Their Christmas strip was the characters singing Deck Us All With Boston Charlie, Walt Kelly’s great Pogo doggerel, for crying out loud. The main attraction for this storyline is The Spirit, the great superhero character created by Will Eisner in a line of books I never read. Sorry. I know, I know, everybody who’s stood in a comic book store more than ten minutes will tell you they’re the greatest things ever made. I’ve been busy.

Tracy: 'Spirit, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, The Great Am.' Am: 'The pleasure is mine, Mr Spirit. I presume the object of your visit is to keep an eye on Perenelle Flammel?' Spirit: 'Yes ...' (Thinking: who is this guy?) Am: 'I've encountered her about five times through the years. In fact, the first time we met was at her funeral in 1397.' Tracy: 'So Perenelle Flammel is truly immortal?' Am: 'Yes, I am sure of it, Tracy.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 1st of January, 2017. This strip may not convince the casual reader about Perenelle Flammel. But it is delivering to us the Word of God that Flammel is indeed immortal. The Great Am will be recognized by devoted longtime readers of Annie, where he’s God. All right, he’s Ambiguously God. But that’s who he is because that’s the kind of thing Annie was up to when Harold Gray wasn’t ranting against social security or the minimum wage law or stuff.

The Spirit’s in town because one Perenelle Flammel is auctioning off the immortality formula that’s kept her from dying since the 14th century. The auction brings together The Spirit, Dick Tracy‘s own super-science-industrialist Diet Smith, Oliver Warbucks (as Staton and Curtis are fostering the orphaned Annie cast), Mister Carrion (whom Wikipedia tells me is one of The Spirit’s recurring villains, and whom the story revealed to be an agent for The Octopus, which Wikipedia says is another of The Spirit’s recurring villains), and the Dragon Lady (allowed into the story via special passport issued by Terry and the Pirates). The preliminary auction helps convince bidders the formula might be legitimate because it checks out with a Doc Savage reference. Low-level con men Brush and Kitchen attempt to rob the preliminary auction’s treasury but get easily caught by Tracy and Spirit. And Tracy, doing some actual detective work for once, finds that Carrion brought cash from a bank robbery, so he’s out of the plot or so we think.

Early morning in Flammel's suite: 'Good morning, Mistress! Your Monte Cristo is ready. All the bidders will assemble at noon for the auction. Is there anything else you need, mistress? ... MISTER DOUBLEUP! COME QUICKLY! Mistress Flammel! Please, help her!' 'I cant. It's too late. Too late. She's DEAD. Go call Dick Tracy, Dick Tracy!'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 5th of March, 2017. Repeating the last two words he says is Doubleup’s gimmick. I suppose he’d repeat more if the word balloons were bigger. The valet’s gimmick I’m not clear on, but he seems to only be a minor character there because Flammel needs a valet.

And then Flammel turned up dead, because the immortality serum doesn’t protect you against strangulation. Flammel’s bodyguard, recurring Tracy villain Doubleup, seems a poor suspect as he was being paid in Scarlett Sting comic books, so we’re on to Flammel’s valet and then check out anyone else who’s been in the story.

In miscellaneous plot threads, since there’s a lot of those planted in spaces between the main action: Sam Catchem’s wife has finished chemotherapy and been declared cancer-free. A crime boss name of Posie Ermine noticed Mysta Chimera, who had been his daughter Mindy before the mad science treatment that destroyed her memory and made her into a synthetic Moon Maid replica. He crashed his car into hers to try to recover her. This didn’t get him permanently back in her life, but he’s undeterred. I’m sympathetic to Posie Ermine here and not even being snarky about that. There’s some deeply emotionally messy stuff going on here.

Somewhere deep in an Antarctic valley someone who appears to be a Lunarian pledges to investigate “the halfling”, “my granddaughter”, which has to be Mysta Chimera. This matches a couple references in October with Mysta asking Honey Moon Tracy if she’s heard any telepathic contacts from anybody else. Tracy and the Spirit have been trading stories including The Spirit mentioning how he went to the Moon too. I think that’s all the stuff that sounds like threads ready to go somewhere, but for all I know that Pogo reference for the Christmas strip is setting up a scene late this year when Albert Alligator mistakenly swallows Gidney and Cloyd. We’ll see.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

While the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another three points during trading nobody trusts the result and everybody is walking gingerly on the trading floor lest they tip something over.

127

What I Need In A Science Fiction Novel To Get Me To Read It


  1. It should have a city enclosed in a transparent dome, whether glass, plastic, a force field, or some exotic form of matter of energy.
  2. That’s about it.
  3. Really, yeah, give me a domed city and you can have just about whatever else you want in the story.
  4. Thank you.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

While trading was open for a normal day there wasn’t much exchange on the floor. Everyone was caught up on how Other Matt cut a piece of paper snowflake-style and then cut it again into a valentine heart and it seems like some crazy mixed metaphor and it also seems impossible to do. But he keeps insisting it’s not hard, just a “little fiddly” is all. Anyway it’s all anybody can think about today.

103

And Now For A Bit Of Fun


I know it’s been a rough … year … so let’s take a moment to relax. Here’s “Beauty And The Beast”, by Henry Kuttner, cover story for the April 1940 Thrilling Wonder Stories and it’s about a Venusian giant kangaroo-dinosaur monster that accidentally crashes his way through Washington, DC along the way to destroying the world although it’s not his fault. Um. Well, all right, how about this totally different story from the July 1940 Thrilling Wonder Stories about a gigantic reptilian monster that melts the ice caps and crashes through the New York harborfront and everybody acts like he’s the jerk?

Thrilling Wonder Stories cover for April 1940. A giant kangaroo-dinosaur crashes through the US Capitol dome while what's supposed to be a heat beam shoots him in the chin.
Fortunately the US Army had just completed testing of its powerful “tickle string ray gun” and was able to handle the monster reasonably well. Image and story from Archive.org which is just magnificent for this sort of thing. Also, when are we going to stop mindlessly bringing alien eggs back from Venus and raising giant kangaroo-dinosaur monsters in the Capitol’s backyard?

Science fiction: the literature of pleasant escapism.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped one point on the debut of the rival Another Blog, Meanwhile index created by those dissatisfied traders I was talking about yesterday. We all thought they were bluffing, too. As it happens the alternate index dropped from its starting point of 100 also down to 99, which the alternate traders are saying is sheer coincidence and their index is going to take off like you never would believe. We shall see.

99

From The September 2016 Scraps File


The month may have got started later than usual, but that’s no reason not to empty out the scraps bin. Here’s stuff I couldn’t use in September and if you’re able to, please, go wild. All I ask is a simple acknowledgement that you couldn’t have done your work without me. I need it to pad my CV.

Connoisseur. Cut from several pieces when I realize that even with spell check and entering it into DuckDuckGo I can’t come close to spelling it right. I don’t know. It shouldn’t be this hard and it’s not like I wasn’t able to get the hang of ‘kigurumi’ eventually. So this goes into the special bin for “words that have appeared in Peanuts that I somehow can’t get straight”.

Really I never understood what problem the Federation was solving in dividing the galaxy into just four quadrants, especially when two of them were off on the far side where they’d only interact following freak events like the Bajor wormhole or whatever crazy pipeline sends everything from Earth, including dinosaurs and Amelia Earhart, into the Delta Quadrant. Cut from a post on TrekBBS about why the aliens on Star Trek: Voyager say they’re in the Delta Quadrant when that’s a human designation and surely can’t match any local description of space. Because you know, the part of TrekBBS I like best is how many people are sincerely worried that Benjamin Sisko might never come to reconcile with Jean-Luc Picard, even though they could go through the rest of their lives never seeing or thinking about the other. The part I like least is people starting threads straightplaining why Star Trek is at its best on issues of gender and sexual orientation when it mostly shows men worrying over their womenfolk. In any case the other people there aren’t living long enough for me to argue about how Delta Quadrant species make large-scale divisions of the Milky Way.

Cybernarc. Title of a novel by William H Keith, Jr, and cut from a piece where I was going to try to list the Most 90s Science Fiction Novel Titles ever. And it’s a good idea but it’s just so hard to try finding a bunch of 90s Science Fiction Novels, since they don’t sell novels from after 1991 back to used book stores anymore. And while that’s great if you’re looking for a 70s novel about the extremely sex-partner-ready inhabitants of a great domed city that get pushed outside it doesn’t help you scan the shelves and see what titles really jump out of the 90s and make you giggle. Oh, I guess there’s also Robert Thurston’s Bloodname: Legend of the Jade Phoenix II but you could probably make that a Most Science Fiction Novel Title Of Today too.

I like to think of this as a place where I occasionally buy queen-size bedsheets. Cut from the start of a new tumblr that I cancelled when I realized I couldn’t think what a third post on it would be. Also that I don’t understand tumblr because you respond to stuff by posting it from somewhere else and people looking at the original don’t see it and I don’t know. There are people who can explain this to me but they give up in disgust when they see my cell phone.

In his 40 years as Jacksonian Professor at Cambridge University James Dewar, pioneer of the study of heat flow, never fulfilled the requirement of the post that he find a cure for gout. Cut because while it is a wonder it doesn’t seem to be on-point to anything I’d be writing. I mean, I guess I admire James Dewar. Anyone who could get his name attached to Thermos bottles has to be doing something right. But why would it come up in September when I’m not even in school anymore and don’t need something to hit my siblings with? We’re adults now, we can just punch and gossip on social media.

You’re Steve Allen, aren’t you? Cut from an episode of Stan Freberg’s 1957 radio series where, even if it doesn’t look like much, it’s a pretty solid laugh. It’s in Daws Butler’s delivery unless it was someone else delivering it. I put the line back where I got it and I bet you’d like it there after all. It’s the show with the Grey Flannel Hat Full Of Teenaged Werewolves sketch and the advertising campaign for Food, so, you know, good stuff there.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Index was up a solid eight points and must admit it would be feeling invulnerable if it weren’t sure feeling invulnerable was the prelude to suddenly feeling very, very vulnerable. I mean, we’ve been through this before, we know what hubris is. And we’re not looking to see a demonstration of hubris brought against someone who claims to know perfectlyw ell what hubris is. That’s just not fair.

148

Statistics Saturday: Actual Star Trek: The Next Generation Plots That Sound Like Parodies Of Star Trek: The Next Generation Plots


With thanks to my love for noticing this.

  • Aliens replace Captain Picard with a double who’d be perfect if not for his rousing drunken singalongs in the bar.
  • A historian from the future turns out to be a con artist from the past. Picard decides whether to risk saving a planet suffering from too much static electricity.
  • Data practices how to sneeze. Also he has an evil twin.
  • In an alternate timeline the Federation is doomed, but Guinan and Tasha Yar are great friends.
  • The transporter makes Picard twelve years old while space pirates take over the Enterprise.
  • A planet of extremely white scantily-clad sex partners wants to execute Wesley for tripping over a flower.
  • Worf has a crush on some fish-aliens, one of whom is Mick Fleetwood for some reason. Troi’s Mom hits on a holodeck bartender.
  • Riker’s the lead actor in Dr Crusher’s play! Also maybe crazy.
  • Worf gets dizzy whenever he falls into a parallel universe.
  • Dr Crusher gets a Ferengi scientist killed when she incorrectly diagnoses another alien as being dead.
  • Troi shows Mark Twain around the Enterprise. Picard pretends to lead a San Francisco theatrical company. (Emmy Award-winning episode, for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series.)
  • Worf finds a planet where Klingons and Romulans live together peacefully and puts a stop to that. Data has crazypants dreams.
  • Poker night holds the only key to escaping a spacetime anomaly.
  • Data makes friends with a little alien girl over his Space Ham Radio, so they save her planet.
  • It just so happens nobody had ever asked if Data was a person or a thing before making him third-in-command of the Federation flagship.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell three points, then rose three points and dropped another three points, just to see if it could get your attention from all the way over there in your peripheral vision.

129