Monthly Archives: March 2017

Thesis: The Last Supper (1×18, Part 2)

Previously on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

There’s something just a bit Ionesco about the swanky conference table and chairs in the middle of a high school gym.

Why do these scientists need to be reminded that an alien invasion occurred in the 1950s? Why wasn’t the basic concept of alien possession covered in their briefing kits? What are they even doing here if they don’t already know the basic ground rules?

The parts about alien biology, sure, that makes sense to present. They’re presenting the findings of Suzanne’s research. But when Harrison takes over on the subject of alien possession, he spends thirty seconds rattling off a list of the sort of people aliens might take over, complete with montage: “Soldiers… Waitresses… Bikers… The homeless… Paramedics…” Imagine you were listening to that, in that room, without the accompanying archive footage. Do you imagine a photographer from Christchurch is sitting there thinking, “Whoa, even waitresses?” (And, not to lay too fine a point on it, but the waitress thing happened in the opening scene of “The Good Samaritan”, and the Blackwood team didn’t get involved with it until much later, and never knew about the waitresses anyway). The other issue if you imagine the representatives listening to this speech without the accompanying montage is the pacing. Without the archive footage, Harrison just trails off for five to ten seconds after every sentence to let the clip play out. Even if we grant the basic conceit that Harrison is trying to stress the seriousness of the situation rather than give them actionable intelligence, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on threats like, “They could strategically replace people in key government positions,” or “They could replace your mom and you wouldn’t know until it was too late, unless this is one of those episodes where the aliens can’t act remotely human long enough to avoid blowing their cover.” Or maybe mention that the aliens actually did manage to briefly infiltrate the Blackwood team. Actually, they probably don’t want to advertise that.

The end table with reading lamp is a nice touch.

During dinner, Argochev, for the only time in the episode, decides to be charming and flirts with Suzanne. She mentions that his government-provided dossier didn’t really explain what his job was, just in case we missed the fact that we’re meant to be suspicious of him. Harrison buttonholes Soo Tak, and asks, very bizarrely, if the aliens in China are the same aliens they’ve been fighting stateside (They are). Dr. Tak considers it “most curious” that his people have been unable to open a dialogue with the aliens, suggesting that maybe he nodded off when Harrison explained how the aliens were space-Nazis who didn’t give a crap about humans. Harrison just nods and says that the aliens are “very intractable.” When Harrison asks about their numbers, Tak estimates that there are about 10,000 aliens in China, surprising Harrison leading to James Hong’s one really properly good line, and the best line in the episode to my mind: “We have a big country, sir.”

Back to the Land of the Lost, where one of the Advocates muses on how much he enjoys watching his industrial manufacturing show. I always liked the segments on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood where they showed us the production line at a factory too. Especially that one about how crayons are made. Dylan got to visit the Crayola factory where they made that once. Anyway, nothing new here; “The humans are meeting. Should we do something?” “We should do something!” Their agents have narrowed down the location of the conference to Philadelphia. I don’t believe there are any establishing shots of Toronto which directly contradict this.

War of the Worlds - Philadelphia City Hall

In fact, I’m pretty sure that is a legit shot of Philadelphia city hall from the 200 block of North Broad Street. Which means that they did a location shoot. For their clip show.

We only get one presentation from the other representatives, which is a real shame. Fortunately, it has some meat to it. Morales claims that they’ve seen no evidence of an active alien presence in Peru, but he’s brought some national geographic footage of an unusual clay object found in a recently excavated Andean crypt. He’s brought a black plastic tetrahedron with him, found inside the object. Looks a bit like the big brother of the weird alien sex crystal Harrison found back in “The Second Seal”, which makes it weird that they don’t explicitly reference that episode, nor do they mention the alien control crystal found in a Native American headdress in “Dust to Dust”, another really obvious parallel. The tetrahedron emits a low level of X-rays, as well as a percussive sound outside the range of human hearing, which Morales claims bears similarities to alien transmissions the Blackwood team had forwarded to him ahead of the conference.

The worst is when you go downstairs in the middle of the night for a glass of milk and step on it.

After the technology presentation, Ironhorse comes in with the news that someone left an anonymous note at the front desk accusing Morales of faking his presentation. Everyone is instantly offended and distrustful, and Harrison all but directly accuses Argochev of being behind it. This is interesting in two ways. First, it’s Harrison and not Ironhorse who’s instinctively suspicious of the Russian. In fact, Ironhorse only makes one negative comment about Argochev in the entire episode, and honestly, he doesn’t seem like his heart is really in it. Could this be Ironhorse showing character growth after the events of “Epiphany”? Hard to tell, since this show won’t commit to going all-in on character development. It’s strange that “Epiphany” doesn’t come up at all in this episode. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that having come so close to nuclear armageddon might be something the higher-ups don’t want them discussing with the international committee, especially since the attendees don’t exactly represent the US’s closest international partners. But given the randomness of the assortment of countries involved in the conference, there’s a suggestion that Harrison had a hard time getting buy-in from the international community. All due respect to our international neighbors, but when one is setting up an international coalition against a world-ending threat, inviting China and the USSR seems pretty straightforward, inviting Peru, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and “Unspecified African Nation” less so. Invoking “Epiphany” could have been helpful here to explain that it was the influence of Dr. Rhodan that got Soviet buy-in.

The other odd thing about Harrison’s implicit accusation of Argochev… Is right. Argochev is deliberately undermining the conference for reasons which will become clear right after we cut over to the Advocates and back. “Should we do something? We should do something!” (Oh, also, they confirm that they’ve got an agent at the conference who they’re expecting to report in with important information soon). But it’s still a dumb reason. When they reconvene, Argochev admits to having made the baseless accusation against Morales, and explains that he did it because Soviet intelligence has reason to believe one of the representatives has been replaced by an alien.

What a twist. Is it weird that they’d have reason to believe that without knowing who it is? Maybe. It’s certainly easier to imagine whatever sources they were using could distinguish between New Zealand, Peru, Sri Lanka and “Africa”, but who knows. Maybe they picked up an alien transmission. Or a known alien they were tracking switched hosts at the airport. But like I said, the field was already down to two, and presumably it’s not the guy who just alerted them to the alien threat. I mean, unless that is itself a diversion. I mean, if their primary goal is to break up the conference, this is a good way to do it. No one ever expresses any skepticism at Argochev’s claims. And frankly, what’s the point of Argochev causing so much trouble anyway? The aliens are trying to disrupt the conference, so he… Disrupts the conference for them? It’s not like the alien is liable to blow its cover because Argochev is being a jerk. I guess maybe it might make sense if you assume that Argochev is just trying to slow things down in the hopes of sussing out the alien before the conference gets around to actually making plans for fighting the aliens. That might explain why he comes clean now — since accusing Morales didn’t work, he’s out of time, and wants his cards on the table because Ironhorse’s presentation is next. Remember that Argochev specifically objected early on that he wanted a say in the agenda? Perhaps he legitimately wanted to make sure that the presentations specifically about successes in combating the aliens went last.

Harrison claims that they can’t detect aliens by visual inspection, forgetting that they’ve been here for three days now and alien host bodies rot and are radioactive. He proposes letting Suzanne do a blood test, but all the delegates balk for unspecified reasons, and Dr. Menathong asks to contact her embassy first, breaking the communications blackout. Everyone else hops on the “Let’s call home first” train, and Ironhorse is forced to go off and figure out a way to make it happen. Now, Menathong wanting to call home first makes perfect sense, in light of her being the one who’s secretly an alien, as hinted at by the fact that she’s the only one who hasn’t said anything since her introduction. The others making the same demand seems on first blush to serve no real purpose, but if you think about it for a few minutes, you can sort of put together the idea that they’re all worried that they’ll be set up and falsely accused, and want their governments to be ready for it if they don’t come home.

While that’s going on, alien agents in Philadelphia have somehow narrowed down the location of the conference to Cheltenham (a real-world Philadelphia suburb), but the Advocacy already has the address, having been called by their agent on the inside. They make preparations to storm the place.

Despite pushback against the blood test, Harrison makes the case for carrying on anyway, insisting that they’ll figure out who the alien is before the end of the conference, and it might even be useful for an alien to learn about how hard humans are willing to fight. Ironhorse has to bow out of his presentation, so Harrison presents the final montage in his stead. This one’s about the team’s successes in fighting aliens. This presentation is the weakest as part of the narrative framing story, but at the same time, it’s probably the most successful as a visual montage: it’s all about the team, mostly Ironhorse, shooting aliens and watching them melt. So it’s full of cool shots of aliens getting shot — though disappointingly, not the one of Harv getting blown up in “Eye for an Eye”, or the really good slow-mo dissolving alien scene from “A Multitude of Idols”. But the content is basically, “Good news: the aliens’ one weakness is bullets.” Harrison calls particular attention to their success in the pilot at blowing up the alien war machines. He ends on a sombre note, though, revealing that they’ve already lost a member of their team. I assume they’re talking about Kensington, though calling him a “member of the team” feels like a cheat, since he’d only appeared in two or three scenes before they killed him off. Makes me wish they’d kept Reynolds around to have him die a few episodes in. He felt more like a full character in his handful of scenes in the pilot than Kensington did. Harrison also gives a nod to the “many soldiers” they’d lost in combat (though really not all that many after the pilot), and the innocent civilians.

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Tales From /lost+found 105: Endgame

7×20 April 25, 2003
ENDGAME (Serial 113)

Setting: The Toybox
Regular Cast: Rowan Atkinson (The Doctor), Scarlett Johansson (Alice)
Guest Starring: Julian Richings (The Toymaker), Anthony Stewart Head (The War Chief)

Plot: The TARDIS begins to tear itself apart as the Doctor refuses to close the Eye of Harmony. Insisting that he intends to “destroy the universe”, he releases the massive powers inside the ship, and it explodes, revealing that the Doctor and Alice are, in fact, still inside the Toybox, and never escaped at the end of “Game of War”. He had recognized elements of their encounter with SG-1 and the Goa’uld as contrived and contrary to his knowledge of space and time, concluding that it was a simulacrum created by the Toymaker. The Toymaker appears and admits that he has been manipulating the Doctor as far back as “One Hundred”. The Toymaker has become tired of this universe and wishes to move on to the next one. But before he can do so, he must finally defeat the Doctor, the only opponent to have bested him on so many occasions. The Doctor at first refuses to submit to any more games: he would rather simply spend the rest of eternity in the Toybox, preventing the Toymaker from claiming ultimate victory. But the Toymaker offers to reward the Doctor if he wins by revealing the identity of the true enemy of the Time Lords during the Time War. The Doctor cannot resist, and accepts the wager. Only then does he learn the twist: the Toymaker doesn’t have the power to simply leave one universe for another; he can reach the next universe only by destroying this one. He has turned the Toybox into an inter-dimensional bomb which will unravel the universe unless the Doctor defuses it. The Doctor and Alice race through the Toybox, solving logic puzzles which take them deeper into the Toybox. The Doctor eventually uses advanced Time Lord science to interact with the Toybox in higher dimensions. This causes him to realize that the “bomb” is the nature of the Toybox itself. Its higher-order structure is disrupting the fundamental geometry of the universe, and the damage cannot be reversed so long as the Toybox exists. The Toymaker appears to gloat over his victory, but Alice accuses him of cheating: if the game cannot be won, it isn’t legitimate. The Toymaker concedes the point and reminds the Doctor of their first meeting. The Doctor realizes that the Toybox only exists so long as the Toymaker wills it. The Toymaker offers to will the Toybox out of existence if the Doctor asks him to. However, as they are inside the Toybox, the Doctor and Alice would cease to exist along with it. The Doctor has a better plan, and calls out, “Execute system restore protocol!” The pieces of the TARDIS, ejected when it exploded, reform around the Toybox, causing the TARDIS console to appear beside the Doctor. The Toymaker is surprised by the Doctor’s ingenuity, but thinks this will make no difference, as even the TARDIS can not contain the Toybox. But the Doctor knows something that can. Because the Toybox is a higher-dimensional space, while it is inside the TARDIS, it can move not just in space and time, but in mind. Specifically, the Toymaker’s mind. The Doctor materializes the TARDIS inside the Toymaker’s own consciousness. The Toybox is cut off from the universe. The Doctor and Alice may be trapped forever, but so is the Toymaker: since he only exists in his own imagination, he would cease to exist if he stopped imagining himself there. The Toymaker confesses that when he said he was tired of the universe, he meant that he wished to die, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. Thanks to the Doctor, the Toymaker can now win the game by willing himself to die. In gratitude, he even allows the Doctor and Alice to leave, ejecting the TARDIS from his dying mind. The TARDIS materializes on an alien space ship. Emerging, the Doctor discovers that the Toymaker has upheld their original deal, as he now stands before the race which started the Time War: The War Lords.

Thesis: The Last Supper (1×18, Part 1)

We should surrender to the aliens. We have no other choice.

I’ve summoned you all to the accusing parlor, so you can watch while I gradually solve the crime.

It is March 6, 1989. Since the last episode of War of the Worlds aired, nine people aboard US Airlines flight 811 out of Honolulu were lost when a cargo door failed, causing the aircraft to experience explosive decompression. Icelandic Prohibition ended after almost 80 years (though only strong beer was still banned by this point). Time and Warner have announced their impending merger. The Berne Convention was ratified by the US, making international copyright law a settled issue that totally won’t ever come up again. The Satanic Verses controversy comes to a head with Iran placing a three million dollar bounty on Salman Rushdie. Tomorrow, they will sever diplomatic ties with the UK over the affair. Venezuela is hit by a series of riots and protests over rising gas and transportation costs known as the Caracazo. Future strongman Hugo Chavez was unable to participate, being sick that day, but would later describe the event as a turning point that made the 1992 coup attempt inevitable. In cold war news, Estonia, which had been quietly resisting Soviet rule for almost two years by now, flew their own flag at Toompea Castle, next to the Estonian Parliament building, for the first time since Soviet annexation.

Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” made its debut in a Pepsi commercial during last Thursday’s The Cosby Show, another big part of my childhood which seems like a parallel universe now because a lot of people were up in arms about how inappropriate it was to expose innocent children to Madonna, especially a song that was sexy and possibly a little blasphemous, and worse, to do it in the middle of something totally family-friendly and not-at-all-scandalous-especially-in-any-kind-of-sex-related-way like Bill Cosby. Reality doesn’t make a lot of sense any more. Not a lot of changes to the Billboard charts. New in the top ten this week is Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True”. The album will hit the stores tomorrow.

ABC debuted Coach last week. CBS presented us with Hard Time on Planet Earth, one of those high-concept sitcoms I’m always going on about, this time about an alien warrior whose rehabilitation after being convicted of war crimes is to go be an ’80s Walking the Earth action-adventure hero, only as a sitcom rather than an ’80s action-adventure series. I do not recall this series; it is by all accounts terrible. The Disney Afternoon evolved into its imperial phase with the debut of Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. Tomorrow, ABC will premiere Anything But Love, which is surprisingly close to running out of 1980s for a show I remember almost exclusively for being “a very ’80s thing I didn’t pay much attention to.”

TV is a mix of old and new this week. ABC’s TGIF Friday lineup is repeats, though their Tuesday lineup is new. Yesterday, they aired a Debbie Allen special and followed it up with a thriller starring Robin Givens, Robert Guillaume, and, strangely, David Hewlitt, who must have been awfully young. NBC counters by airing the 1986 William Petersen film Manhunter, the oft-overlooked first film adaptation of the Hannibal Lecter novel Red Dragon. CBS also did a movie, this one a docudrama about the invention of the atomic bomb, featuring Hal Holbrook. MacGyver is a repeat this week, but last week they aired “The Challenge”, one of those charmingly ’80s “White Action Adventure Hero Meets and Uplifts Underprivileged Black Youths and Saves Their Community Center” episodes. The basic problem of the premise is the worst thing about it; it’s otherwise pretty much okay and holds up better than any of the twice-a-season “Sam solves racism” episodes of Quantum Leap.

I bring up Quantum Leap because it is due to premiere in a couple of weeks and I have a note in my big spreadsheet of when things happened relative to each other to mention Quantum Leap here, and I have very little to say other than, “Wow, these ‘Sam solves racism’ episodes have not aged well.” Not that the show isn’t great or that Bakula isn’t a national treasure and we were lucky to have him in a recurring role as the villain for one season of Doctor Who how the hell did he manage to kill Star Trek? I just don’t have anything interesting to say about it. Oh, except that have you ever noticed how similar the theme song to Quantum Leap is to the theme song to MacGyver?

Now, if War of the Worlds had done a musical episode, maybe they’d have gotten renewed.

No new Friday the 13th this week, and no new Star Trek either, but there will be something weird instead: Michael Dorn will guest star on the series finale of the sitcom Webster, in character as Lt. Worf. I have no memory of this happening, it’s not out on DVD, and I can’t find a copy on-line to verify any of this. I did watch Webster, though, at least the first few seasons. I probably lost track when it fell off ABC and moved to first-run syndication. Let’s hop over to a sidebar…

Webster is one of those shows that dropped off of a lot of people’s radar because of the extent to which it sounds like a complete rip-off. On paper, it’s essentially a clone of Diff’rent Strokes: a show about a short black child being raised by a wealthy white family. The biggest difference is that unlike Gary Coleman’s Arnold Drummond, Emmanuel Lewis’s Webster Long is super-adorable rather than mouthy. It’s not exactly the show they were aiming to make when they pitched it. Susan Clark and Alex Karras had been developing a romantic comedy series under the name Another Ballgame for ABC at the time. Clark was a more accomplished actor than Karras (Probably best known for Mongo in Blazing Saddles), but their real-life romantic chemistry translated incredibly well to the screen. But ABC was desperate to get Emmanuel Lewis on the screen as soon as possible in case he stopped being marketably adorable as he aged, so they pushed him on Karras and Clark and the rest… Is more complicated than any of you care about in this article about alien invasions. But it’ll be relevant, I promise! Anyway, after five seasons on ABC, the ratings slumped so they canned it, and Paramount exercised an option to keep making the show for syndication. I’m guessing I didn’t see it past this point, because nothing in the capsule summaries rings a bell. I’ve got plenty of memories of the show, but only three are especially specific. I remember needing some parental guidance to help cope after being especially terrified when Webster burns down the family’s apartment while playing with a chemistry set in the second-season episode “Burn Out”. I think this is one of those times my parents tried to teach a life lesson in a way that involved some knife-twisting by implying that I myself might similarly destroy our family home if I didn’t learn to straighten up and fly right and not play with chemistry sets without parental supervision. The second one I recall specifically is the third season episode “Chained”, in which bad luck haunts the family after failing to forward a chain letter. I remember this just well enough to identify it as one of those episodes that’s at odds with itself, because of course the moral is going to be that you shouldn’t forward chain mail and postal fraud does not have magical powers to manipulate fate… Except that TV is always disposed to pander to those who want to believe we live in a magical, daemon-haunted world, so 90% of the episode, up to and including the final freeze-frame gag at the end will be based on assuming or at least leaving open the possibility that, yes, the chain letter really does have magical powers. The third one I remember is one where Webster discovers a hidden room behind a secret passage in the cool Victorian house they inhabit for the bulk of the series and gets trapped in there. Typically, the premise of being trapped in a confined space is used as an excuse for a season-finale clip show. Webster did have one season finale cliffhanger, unusual for a sitcom, but the majority of its seasons ended with the much more traditional sitcom season finale clip show…

The reason that the series finale for Webster guest stars everyone’s favorite Klingon — I mean, other than as a treat for Emmanuel Lewis — is that young Webster dreams himself onto the Enterprise via the popular sitcom conceit of nodding off while playing video games. The Enterprise’s security chief apparently wants to learn how to be more human, because the writers couldn’t figure out a new plot when someone explained to them which one was Michael Dorn. So Webster, George and Ma’am teach Worf a very important lesson about the concept of feelings and familial emotion via a clip show, because God knows you can’t end a long-running sitcom without a clip show.

I hate clip shows.

We’ve talked about my hate of clip shows before. And I know you can make a solid argument for them, especially back in an era when television was deliberately ephemeral, without home recordings and only limited reruns, and I don’t care. They suck. There is something kinda interesting, though, in having Star Trek collide with an obscure ’80s sitcom a few months ahead of their one and only clip show, the upcoming season 2 finale “Shades of Gray”, which will see Dr. Pulaski inducing a clip show as an experimental medical treatment for Commander Riker after he gets stabbed by a poisonous thorn.

So after that very long diversion, do you want to guess what this week’s episode of War of the Worlds is?

Okay, it’s not as bad as all that. The “clip show” is limited to a handful of montages interspersed in an episode that still has a full plot. But yeah, this is our recap episode. I realize it’s been a long time due to my decision to meander off on a very long tangent, but do you remember a few episodes back when John Colicos paid us a visit? Harrison’s adventure with the original Baltar was framed by preparations for an important presentation by the Blackwood team to the UN. Well, imagine you took the last scene there of them actually presenting their work to the international community, and you stretched that out to a full episode. That’s what “The Last Supper” is. Under conditions of the utmost security, Ironhorse and the Omega squad have locked down a private school that is trying its darnedest to look like it is not in Toronto, and is hosting an international conference on the alien invasion.

Why are they holding this high-security international conference in a high school and not one of the US Government’s many high-security installations? Because shut up. Okay, there’s some gestures here toward the notion that the risk of discovery and infiltration by the aliens is so high that they can’t protect the conference if they involve anyone outside of Ironhorse’s direct chain of command, including their own government, because of the risk that anyone at any level might have been replaced by a soulless monster with no capacity for empathy toward humanity and wouldn’t bat an eyelash at condemning millions of innocent lives to suffering and death in the name of achieving their own selfish goals and GOD DAMN IT these articles were a lot easier to write before Trump got elected. Here I was about to explain how it’s basically nonsense to suggest that the federal government is so malicious and/or incompetent that they can’t be trusted not to sell out the human race for extermination and yet the Blackwood team is still somehow able to operate at all, let alone host a security conference to establish an international military coalition involving two communist countries and one that’s in the middle of a civil war. But then I realize that I live in a world where the single best chance we have at preventing the total collapse of our civilization lies in the actions of rogue park rangers and renegade NOAA employees. So I can’t make a joke about the setup for this being completely ridiculous because it turns out that the fate of the world resting in five visiting scientists put up in a school gymnasium while Ironhorse complains about how he only has half as many men as he needs may actually not be ridiculous enough to be realistic. I liked writing about the ’80s better when they were safely in the past.

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Tales from /lost+found 104: The Twin Planet

1×09 December 20, 1996
THE TWIN PLANET (Serial 7, Episode 1)

Setting: Kennedy Space Center, Florida, 2003
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Ed Begley, Jr. (Director Slate), Don S. Davis (General Cutler), Peter Cullen (voice of the Cyb Leader)

Plot: The Doctor brings Lizzie to the Kennedy Space Center, several years in the future, to watch the first VentureStar launch. He gets the date and place slightly wrong, and materializes a day late and in the middle of the launch pad. They are apprehended by security and brought to the director, but their interrogation is interrupted when the orbiting spaceplane reports detecting a large body approaching Earth. The space center detects nothing, but when the Doctor points out a glitch in their video feed, Lizzie is able to reprogram their computers to reveal that a new planet has appeared in orbit near Earth. The Doctor points out that the planet’s arrival must have been intelligently controlled since it exploited advanced knowledge of Earth’s technology to hide in the “blind spots” of NASA’s space telescopes. Director Slate admits that conspiracy theorists have been making wild claims about sighting a phantom planet for months, but he believes it to be some kind of technological hoax, especially when space telescopes show the planet’s continents as a mirror-image of Earth’s. The spaceplane Constitution is pulled out of orbit by the gravitational effect and NASA loses contact due to a global telecommunications blackout. While they scramble to prepare the second spaceplane for a rescue mission, the Constitution reappears without explanation and lands on its own. Ignoring the Doctor’s warnings, NASA officials approach the craft and are killed by armored cyborgs which emerge. They identify themselves as Cybs, short for “Cybermen”, and quickly take over mission control. Their planet, Mondas, had once been like Earth, but had been pushed out of orbit during the Time War, forcing the once-human inhabitants to adapt using their technology. The military attempts to liberate the space center, but their technology fails. The Cybs explain that, to save their dying planet, they are siphoning off Earth’s electromagnetic and geothermal energy and Earth will soon become a dead planet. The Cybs round up NASA experts, including Director Slate, to be taken to Mondas and converted into Cybs themselves. The Doctor demonstrates his advanced intelligence and is also selected, but he prompts Lizzie to pretend to be a secretary so that the Cybs ignore her, claiming that she “Doesn’t even appreciate the gravity of the situation.” More Cybs arrive across the world via Verne gun and begin transporting more selected humans to Florida. The Doctor and Slate are forced aboard the spaceplane Constellation and taken to Mondas.

Deep Ice: Definitely a nutcase (War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, Part 13: Emily Dickinson)

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Kudos to anyone who actually understands this reference.

Well, despite it having been kinda the thing I said I was looking for, I think I need a little bit of a pick-me-up after that last one. Now, this anthology has had a few memoirs, and a few epistolary stories, and a few traditional narratives. It’s had stories that are grim, and stories that are hopeful, and a couple that have turned on a punchline. But what it hasn’t had, yet, is a story that just goes full-on balls-to-the-wall outright bonkers. So here, right at the end, let’s go mad.

Enter Connie Willis. She’s one of the most decorated authors in this anthology, with seven Nebulas, four Locuses (Loci?), the impressively-titled Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement, and eleven Hugo awards, including the 1997 award for best short story, for this piece, the also impressively-titled The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective. And it is full-on balls-to-the-wall outright bonkers. Whee.

The first thing about this story that sets it apart from the others is that— no, wait. The other first thing about this story that sets it apart— Okay, the three first things about this story which… I’ll come in again.

The first thing about this story which sets it apart from the others is its style. Namely, it’s not presented as a traditional narrative, or indeed a narrative of any sort. There’s no per se story here. Rather, it’s written in the form of a journal article by a young academic, presenting a controversial new theory about the provenance of two recently discovered Emily Dickinson poems, despite the fact that the poems are heavily implied to be counterfeit by a reference to a fictitious Desperation and Discovery: The Unusual Number of Lost Manuscripts Located by Doctoral Candidates in a footnote.
The first thing about this story which sets it apart from the others is its subject, which is Emily Dickinson. If you’re not overly familiar with the biographies of influential female poets of the nineteenth century, the reason this is an unusual choice for this anthology is that, like most of the writers in the anthology, Willis dates the Martian invasion to 1900 (A footnote refers to Wells’s 1898 novel as the definitive account of the matter, giving you some idea what we’re in for). And that’s all well and good, except that Emily Dickinson died in 1886. So the protagonist of this story, if this were a story and had a protagonist, is not merely Emily Dickinson, but zombie Emily Dickinson.
The first thing about this story which sets it apart from the others, the thing you notice by just looking at the first page of it without even getting as far as reading the words, is the unusual number of footnotes. I mentioned that A Letter From St. Louis contained about a third of the book’s footnotes. Almost all of the rest are in this one, as befits its style as an academic paper. These footnotes often include citations to other fictional research works, such as a reference to Emily Dickinson’s Effect on the Palmer Method on the matter of Dickinson’s famously bad penmanship, Emily Dickinson: The Billabong Connection, which suggests that Dickinson had a crush on Mel Gibson, or Halfwits and Imbeciles: Poetic Evidence of Emily Dickinson’s Opinion of Her Neighbors. *

*Others are simply comic asides, including a footnote referencing the inability of the public to tell the difference between HG Wells and Orson Welles, and how this confirmed Dickinson’s opinion of her neighbors, or, slightly later, a reference to readers missing parts of Wells’s book because they’d turned off their radios and fled into the streets screaming “The Martians are coming!”. Or a note when something is described as “cigar-shaped” reading only, “See Freud”.

The setup for the article is the premise that two previously unknown Emily Dickinson poems were discovered under a hedge in Amherst by a desperate doctoral candidate a few years earlier. And though the poems are obvious forgeries, apparently written with a felt-tipped pen on 1990s paper stock and artificially aged by dipping them in tea and sticking them in the oven the way we did to make imitation parchment paper for a class project when I was in grade school, the author, who was herself also a desperate doctoral student at the time, takes them at face value, but reinterprets their historical context.

She recognizes the word-fragment “ulla” on a damaged part of the page, and immediately recognizes it as the death-cries of Wells’s Martians (She notes other landings, in Texas, Paris (Where Jules Verne, coincidentally, “had been working on his dissertation” at the time) and Missouri), and concludes that Dickinson had herself met the Martians. She admits that this is an “improbable scenario”, due to Dickinson’s infamous reclusiveness (Due possibly, say scholars, to an unhappy love affair, eye problems, bad skin, or the fact that her neighbors were morons) and also that she had been dead for a decade and a half by then.

Further, the author admits that history holds no record of the aliens visiting Amherst, though are references to “unusually loud thunderstorms” in diaries of the time, including this snippet from Louisa May Alcott, in nearby Concord:

Wakened suddenly last night by a loud noise to the west. Couldn’t get back to sleep for worrying. Should have had Jo marry Laurie. To Do: Write sequel in which Amy dies. Serve her right for burning manuscript.

The author further justifies her assertion of an alien landing in Amherst by suggesting that Orson Welles’s 1938 radio play had been set in New Jersey due to the common conflation of Amherst with Lakehurst. The “newly discovered” poem describes the event thus: “I scarce was settled in the grave— When came—unwelcome guests— Who pounded on my coffin lid— Intruders—in the dust—” (The excessive use of dashes is taken by the author as evidence of the poem’s authenticity).

While Wells assumed the Martians, having evolved away their base desires and feelings along with most of their bodies, “Would become ‘selfish and cruel’ and take up mathematics,” the author believes that their enlarged neocortexes would instead lead them to take up poetry.

Like the notion of the Martians having literally woke the dead, she recognizes that there might be some objections to this theory, such as the fact that trying to wipe out humanity with heat rays and black smoke doesn’t sound like a very poety thing to do. But on the other hand, some poets are assholes:

Take Shelley, for instance, who went off and left his first wife to drown herself in the Serpentine so he could marry a woman who wrote monster movies. Or Byron. The only people who had a kind word to say about him were his dogs. Take Robert Frost*.

*(Yes, I know that isn’t what Mending Wall is about, and that “Good fences make good neighbors,” is actually the opposite of the sentiment he was trying to express. And I’m guessing Willis knows this too, just as she probably knows that Mary Shelley didn’t write monster movies and that Byron’s Don Juan is not actually a paean to his dog.)

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Tales From /lost+found 103: Ghost in the Machine

1×02 November 1, 1996
Ghost in the Machine (Serial 2, Episode 2)

Setting: Seattle, WA, Present
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Allan Royal (Professor Talman), Eric Balfour (Bryce), Jeffrey Combs (Vardan Commander)

Plot: To the surprise of Professor Talman, the Doctor manages to reassert control of himself after infecting Lizzie. His Time Lord mind can contain the Vardans temporarily. Assuming Lizzie will soon be under Vardan control, Talman retreats from the server room. The Doctor determines that the Vardans have spread far enough that Lizzie’s virus would need to destroy Earth’s entire technological base to eradicate them, and even this would not stop the Vardans who have transferred into human minds. Already, the number of infected humans is growing across campus. Lizzie offers to remain behind because of the Vardan in her mind. Remembering how the Vardan-controlled robot had reacted to the ultrasonic test chamber, the Doctor reasons that Vardans can be rendered dormant with certain frequencies, and programs his sonic screwdriver to act as a Vardan-repellant to buy Lizzie time. The Doctor and Lizzie avoid the infected and make their way back to the lab, hoping to refine the virus so that it can destroy Vardans but leave the internet intact. They find Talman already there, in the process of connecting the Chair to the internet so that the rest of the Vardans can transfer into human bodies. Lizzie pushes him into the chair and the Doctor uses the virus disk on it, causing the virus to be uploaded to Talman’s mind, which frees him of the Vardans but also erases his memory, leaving him in a child-like state. Lizzie hacks into the campus PA-system allowing the Doctor to broadcast an ultrasonic pulse that puts all the Vardans on campus into hibernation. They are found by Bryce, who has also been taken over by a Vardan. His cochlear implants protected him from the hibernation signal. Threatening to reactivate Lizzie’s Vardan, he forces the Doctor back to the lab and into the Chair.  Bryce and Lizzie watch on the screen while the Doctor, in his own mindscape, faces off against the Vardan Commander in his true form. The Doctor brags that his mind is too powerful for a single Vardan to control. The commander responds by using the Chair’s internet link to summon all the Vardans from the internet to colonize the Doctor’s mind and steal his Time Lord knowledge. The Doctor uses his mental defenses to confine the Vardans to the parts of his mind containing his encyclopedic knowledge of the universe, leaving his personality and free will unoccupied. While arguing with the commander, he makes a strange reference to his coat pocket, which Lizzie understands as a message to her. In the Doctor’s coat pocket, she finds a note explaining that she is not really infected; the Doctor tricked the Vardans by infecting the mental copy of herself created when they had used the Chair together earlier. Since Bryce now holds no power over her, she punches him. The Doctor had manipulated the Vardans into concentrating their entire invasion force into several specific areas of his brain, and on his signal, Lizzie uses the virus on the Chair to erase those regions, wiping out the Vardans. The commander promises to start again with the remaining Vardans in the Mindscape, but the Doctor explains that the mindscape itself is part of the Chair, rather than part of his mind. Lizzie pulls the memory circuits out of the chair, trapping the remaining Vardans in inert silicon. The Doctor modifies Bryce’s implant to make it vulnerable to the hibernation pulse, and declares that, without any conscious Vardans to send the reactivation signal, the infected humans can live out their lives as harmless carriers of the inert Vardans. The Doctor has sacrificed most of his knowledge of the universe to defeat the Vardans, but he doesn’t mind, as he’d gotten bored with knowing everything already and looks forward to learning it anew. Lizzie finds that she intuitively knows where his TARDIS is and what it is, because of her experiences in the Doctor’s mindscape, so he offers to take her with him. Lizzie asks the Doctor his name, and he evades the question, but his reaction hints that he may have forgotten it himself.

Deep Ice: Common bacteria stopped the aliens, but it didn’t kill them (War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, Part 12: Jack London)

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Okay. Home stretch here. I didn’t really expect it to take this long when I started in on Global Dispatches.

I think I like Jack London. I’m not sure. Every time I try to summon up a memory of having read anything by him, it turns out I’m actually remembering My Side of the Mountain by Jean George. So, my dodgy memory notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure that Dave Wolverton manages to do a fair job of evoking London’s style with After a Lean Winter, a story which was nominated for the 1997 Nebula Award for best Novelette.

This is one of the few stories in this anthology where I really genuinely enjoyed the storytelling itself, not just the story or the premise or the twist or the historical insight. The story finds London anachronistically in the Yukon on January 13, 1900. The real-world London had left Alaska in 1898. The fictional version, along with his girlfriend Elizabeth “Bessie” Maddern (the two would marry in April in the real world, but divorce four years later), had returned months earlier, hoping to escape the Martian invasion. Most of the stories we’ve read so far date the invasion to 1900, which is kind of weird, since Wells dates the invasion to “Early in the twentieth century,” and technically, 1900 isn’t in the twentieth century. (And yes, that’s hugely popular layman mistake, but these are science fiction writers we’re talking about, a group known for loving that sort of pedantry). Wolverton sets the invasion a bit earlier, but, unusually, sets the story later.

Fleeing northward turns out to have been a bad move for London. He may have anticipated that the sparsely populated and inhospitable north might escaped attack, but the Martians were creatures native to an icy world. In a major departure from every other story, Martians in the arctic do not expire quickly from Earth disease: they survive and thrive many months later, more comfortable in weather which is outright balmy by Martian standards, and where the thinner atmosphere and greater UV radiation reduced the amount of airborne bacteria. Even the sluggish clumsiness of the Martians’ bodies, recounted by many of the authors (other than Mike Resnick), turns out to be more a matter of them being oppressed by the weather rather than the gravity, as those in the arctic have acclimatized, and some fear that the colony in Alaska will in time acclimatize themselves to Earth bacteria as well, allowing their invasion to be renewed.

Colony, yes. The cylinders which attacked the rest of the world were only an advanced force. A far larger ship landed near Juneau months after the initial invasion, cultivated a “jungle” of native Martian plants that rendered travel southward impossible.

Another oddity: this story is the only one I’ve ever read to mention and expand upon the humanoid creatures the Martians used as livestock on their homeworld. The creatures are mentioned only in a single sentence of the novel, none of them having survived the impacts of the cylinder-ships. The creatures were able to survive the much gentler landing of the colony ship, though, and serve as slaves for the Martians, hunting any humans who try to cross the “Great Northern Martian Jungle”.

Only the cover of a coming snowstorm allows London and the others in the area to meet up at a lodge by Tichen Creek on that January night. None of them are in a good way, but while the gold miners have been able to simply hole up in their mines and work through the invasion in relative safety, the trappers have been hit hardest, unable to ply their trade under the threat of attack. One such trapper is Pierre Jelenc, a man of “almost legendary repute,” now sorely embittered to have lost a year’s earnings, and down to only two dogs after losing five of them in an ill-advised prize fight. He arrives at Hidden Lodge with a large and foreshadowy bundle lashed to his sled, and brings news that the Martians have wiped out Anchorage.

He also brings news that the Martians are building a great walking city:

 “Twelve days now,” Pierre said. “Dere is a jungle growing around Anchorawge now—very thick—and de Marshawns live dere, smelting de ore day and night to build dere machine ceety. Dere ceety—how shall I say?—is magnificent, by gar! Eet stands five hundred feet tall, and can walk about on eets three legs like a walking stool. But is not a small stool—is huge, by gar, a mile across!
“On de top of de table is huge glass bowl, alive with shimmering work-lights, more varied and magnificent dan de lights of Paris! And under dis dome, de Marshawns building dere home.”

Once the storm is fully upon them, bringing cover from patrols of Martian flying machines (Another minor element of the book rarely retained in adaptation), Pierre reveals what’s brought him to the conclave for the first time in months: “By gar, your dogs weel fait mah beast tonait!”

He repeats it a few times, even as the others remind him that he’s down to his last two dogs, before he tires of toying with them and elaborates: the best trapper in the Yukon has captured a live Martian, and will let the assemblage pit their dogs against it. The crowd is immediately consumed by such bloodlust that the local doctor is cold-cocked when he dares suggest they let him study it instead of killing it. Even London himself, noted in the real-world for his animal activism, is drawn in:

 I found myself screaming to be heard, “How much? How much?” And though I have never been one to engage in the savage sport of dogfighting, I thought of my own sled dogs out in front of the lodge, and I considered how much I’d be willing to pay to watch them tear apart a Martian. The answer was simple:
I’d pay everything I owned.

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Tales From /lost+found 102: A Time to Reap

Of course, I missed this one when it aired originally. I was otherwise occupied that night…

4×11 December 3, 1999
A TIME TO REAP (Serial 48)

Setting: Seattle, WA, UNIT-time
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Denis Forest (Malcolm), Jonathan Frakes (Agent Blackwood), Paula Devicq (Agent Sarah Hatcher), Peter Mark Richman (Craig Toynbee)

Plot: While leaving his office for the night, a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is cornered by a Morthrai agent and interrogated about a recent article on the reclusive scientist Craig Toynbee. The reporter is turned by the Morthrai when he won’t reveal the location of the professor’s lab. At UNIT, Agent Blackwood thinks recent thefts of high-tech equipment might be related to the Morthrai, but the Doctor isn’t interested. The Doctor reads the article about Toynbee and becomes concerned when he learns that a human scientist is experimenting in time travel. Agent Blackwood suggests that the Doctor could help him complete his experiments safely and agrees to set up a meeting, hopeful that the Doctor will finally share Time Lord technology. Toynbee is initially suspicious of the Doctor, but opens up with the Doctor displays his profound knowledge of time. Studying the professor’s work, he confides to Lizzie that while Toynbee is advanced for his time, he is not close to making any key breakthrough. Losing interest, he returns to UNIT, thus failing to discover that Toynbee has been approached by the Morthrai, who have presented themselves as friendly aliens hoping to guide humanity toward “enlightenment”. Blackwood thinks that the Doctor’s interest in Toynbee was just about hoping to find a way off Earth, and tries to convince the Doctor to reveal some of his Time Lord secrets. As soon as Blackwood leaves, a time distortion occurs causing the argument to repeat. Only the Doctor, Lizzie, and Agent Hatcher are aware of the distortion because they have traveled in time. To Blackwood’s befuddlement, the Doctor quickly agrees to investigate Toynbee further. To his horror, Toynbee has solved one of the key equations necessary to manipulate time. Because Toynbee did not perceive the time distortion himself, he does not believe the Doctor’s warnings about the dangers of his work. Agent Hatcher is convinced by the Doctor’s concerns, but UNIT has no authority to intervene. On her own initiative, Lizzie sneaks back into Toynbee’s lab and sees him meeting with Malcolm. She is captured, but escapes thanks to another time distortion. Back at UNIT, the Doctor appeals to Blackwood, who is more interested in the continuing high-tech thefts. When the Doctor hears that the thefts have included a large number of beryllium clocks and ultra-high-precision mirrors, he deduces that the thieves are doing time manipulation experiments, which is enough to convince Agent Blackwood that the Morthrai are involved in Toynbee’s work. This is confirmed by Lizzie when she makes it back to UNIT. Agent Blackwood authorizes a team to secure Toynbee and his work. They fight their way to the laboratory to find Toynbee has completed his time machine under duress, having realized the Mothrai deception when Lizzie seemed to vanish earlier. Agent Hatcher is killed, but the Doctor uses the Toynbee Engine to create another distortion to undo her death, but Toynbee reveals that he rigged the engine to explode. But this turns out to be exactly what the Morthrai planned: they mean to send the engine back one hundred years, where the explosion will decimate the west coast, slowing human technological progress. The Doctor tries to deactivate the engine, causing more distortions, which leaves everyone but the Doctor, Lizzie, and Agent Hatcher frozen in time. The Doctor can prevent the explosion by redirecting the energy, but resolving the time distortions will restore time to the point where Hatcher died. She starts the redirection herself, sacrificing her life. The engine sends out a wave of time energy, and when it fades, the Doctor and Lizzie find themselves in the wilderness. The Doctor explains to a horrified Lizzie that redirecting the overload has sent them back in time two thousand years.

Deep Ice: Imagine being here with poor gloomy tormented Conrad (War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, Part 11: Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad)

Mark TwainOkay, we’ve got Verne out of the way, we’ve got Lovecraft out of the way, and we’ve got Burroughs out of the way. Who else would you like to see take on the Martians? We’re closing on on the last few stories here, and I think one might feel a little cheated when one got to the end of an anthology like this if Daniel Keys Morgan and his sister Jodi hadn’t gifted us with a piece from the point of view of Mark Twain.

Roughing It During The Martian Invasion finds Samuel Clemens and his family on the steamship Minnehaha, bound for New York out of London when the Martians arrive. Twain himself misses their first appearance, but they’re spotted by his wife, and also by fellow traveler Francois Maitroit, a Cajun dwarf cardsharp who’d been passing himself off as French to better con the British. I had, through much of the long ocean journey, suspected that the small man was some kind of con man—but by God, what was wrong with being an American con man?
“It’s the British.” The dwarf shrugged. ‘One makes far more money, dealing with the British, presenting oneself as a gentleman of noble French extraction, than one makes as a banjo-playing Louisianian dwarf—I’ve tried both routes.”

The Minnehaha arrives at New York just in time to witness the rout of the US Navy by Martian “Walkers”, and is able to retreat back to safe water. Captain Davis ironically laments that they ought to have remained in the safety of England. At this stage, of course, they don’t know the nature of their attackers: Captain Davis imagines they might be Spanish, the Spanish-American war still being a recent memory at this point (Twain’s age and the weather suggest this story is set in the summer of 1900), while Francois suspects, like many others before him at this point, the Germans. Twain accuses the French, though I’m not sure whether he really means it, or if it’s just the Morgans’ interesting choice to keep playing up Twain’s curmudgeonly hate-boner for the French in general (He noticeably warms to Francois when he learns he’s actually Cajun, though continues to rib him for his French descent). On seeing a Walker up-close, though, he later concedes that Francois has the better theory, “Not that the French would be above this; this is precisely the sort of crime those malignant little soldiers delight in; but the science behind this — the skill — it reeks of German engineering.”

The Minnehaha makes its way down the coast, looking for a safe place to put to port, but keep getting chased back to sea until they reach New Orleans. “The French Quarter stank. It always stinks, to give it its due justice, but this was a new stink, a different stink and highly improved; of decay and death, rather than the stench of perfume and rotting food.” The city has been partially demolished, abandoned, and is choked by red weed, but isn’t under active siege by the Martians at the moment, so, with the ship low on food and fuel, they decide to risk it. The first mate goes ashore, along with Twain, who’d flouted his celebrity to be allowed to basically do whatever he liked, and Francois, who conned his way in.

They soon encounter a Walker, which bisects the first officer, while Twain and Francois are pulled into a cellar by a small, motley group of adorably diverse survivors. Twain reflects on how lucky he is that his wife didn’t come with them, since she’d have surely taken a liking to them. It’s from this survivor group that Twain learns the nature of the attackers. A Gypsy girl also relates that the invasion had been predicted by a “psychic pinhead” five years earlier, though, “Metallic monsters won’t really take over for another few decades. And they’ll come from Detroit, not Mars.”

The cellar turns out to be a “hotbed of resistance,” as explained by an Irish man with a “fierce mustache”, between complaints about how much he hates the English. They’ve managed to bring down three Walkers, using pit traps and buried explosives.

While they wait for night to fall before returning to the ship, Francois and Twain discus the nature of the invaders. Francois reckons, after “adjusting” for the presumed exaggerations of their hosts, that the creatures inside the tripods are, “more frightening than a Christian Scientist,” and, “Uglier than a Capitalist.” The first of these, Twain dismisses as plainly impossible, while the second seems just at the very edge of plausibility. Francois proposes that they catch a breeding pair to exploit for profit, and Twain is instantly sold on the idea.

I couldn’t help thinking that it sounded like the setup for a joke, probably a poor one—what do you get when a Negro, two Irish, a Gypsy, a dwarf, and a world-famous writer go out for a nighttime stroll?

Twain, Francois, and the gang of survivors return to the Minnehaha to find the captain drunk and the crew fled for Alabama in the lifeboats. Twain correctly concludes that they will eventually discover that being in Alabama is not preferable to death at the hands of the Martians. They return the next day.

As it becomes increasingly apparent that the Martians are getting sick — the Walkers have started stumbling about erratically — everyone is easily persuaded to sign on to Francois’s plan to capture some for revenge and profit.

While they’re unable to settle on a plan — Twain favors digging a pit trap, while everyone else prefers the idea of snaring a Walker with an anchor-chain, Battle of Hoth-style — it turns out not to be a big deal as the Martians are by now too sick to keep their Walkers upright, and the Minnehaha crew is able to capture eight surviving Martians from fallen tripods around the French Quarter.

It was my first sight of the Martians themselves—a thing no human who saw them, while they were still alive, is likely to forget. They were as ugly as their reputations—ugly as a Capitalist, and a sight uglier than Jo-Jo the Horse-Faced Boy had ever been. They have been described frequently enough since then, by a variety of word scribblers; I shall not waste time on it here, except in brief; grayish-green, with two sets of tentacles beneath the mouth; each of them was somewhat larger than a man.
I will mention their eyes at somewhat greater length. They were large and expressive; they seemed somehow both mournful and calculating, as though figuring the statistics on their situation. They were not human eyes, but there was no doubt in me that they were the eyes of sapient creatures, of creatures as intelligent as any man, including perhaps myself. When I met the eyes of the first of our captured Martians, I had the sense that I was meeting the gaze of a being wiser, and older, and colder, than any bishop who had ever lived.

The captured Martians die over the course of the next couple of days, but one party of sailors brings news that some apparently healthy Martians have escaped up the Mississippi in some sort of alien watercraft, possibly a submarine. Watching the aliens succumb to disease, Twain and Francois realize that their plan to breed Martians in captivity isn’t going to pan out, not least of all because they don’t actually know whether any combination of their captives constitutes a Martian breeding pair.

“Man is the Reasoning Animal,” I said. “Such is the claim—I find it open to dispute, though. Any cursory reading of history will show that he is the Unreasoning Animal. It seems plain to me that whatever Man is he is not a reasoning animal. His record is the fantastic record of a maniac. These poor monsters had no chance—if the gravity and heat and disease had not killed them, we would have done it ourselves, I think.”

Francois has heard reports of an abandoned riverboat a few miles upriver with only minor battle damage. He wants to arm the boat with the guns from the Minnehaha and follow the Martians upriver. Twain, still nostalgic after all these years for the life of a riverboat pilot, agrees to join him.

It isn’t, I hope you understand by now, the ambition of all the writers in this anthology to try to recreate the literary style of their various viewpoint characters. But some of them, quite obviously, are, and this story in particular does just about the best job of it I can think of. What’s really surprising, as a Mark Twain pastiche, is how subdued it is. Most of the time, when a modern writer decides to include Twain as a character, they go way over the top. They try to compress a whole lifetime of wit into their running length, sometimes making him speak almost entirely by quoting himself, the way Christian writers sometimes make biblical characters speak only in bible quotes to avoid accidentally committing blasphemy. I’ve often felt this treatment made Twain seem like a bit of a boor. Well, a bit more of one, anyway, repeating the same once-clever quotes over and over to show off his wit. There’s none of that here. Not even that “Rumors of my death” line which I think is actually Hal Holbrook. It takes a lot of dedication to not find an excuse to have Samuel Clemens tell someone that the rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated in a story where he has to literally flee from his life from aliens with heat rays. Way to not go for the low-hanging fruit, Morgans.

There is still a lot of humor in the dialogue, but it’s decidedly low-key, and much more in keeping with the humor-density of Twain’s actual writing than the condensed Greatest Hits-versions we usually see when Twain is borrowed as a character. There’s a digression during the first conference on the boat about the Martian threat where Twain and Francois argue about the cheapness of the captain’s cigars, for example.

The story doesn’t really go anywhere in particular. It seems for a time like there’s going to be a daring attack on the Walkers, like the collaboration between British and native forces in India back in Hambly’s story, but instead the aliens all keel over while the crew of the Minnehaha is still arguing over a plan. Clemens and Francois muse over breeding Martians for profit, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and the end of the story, with them setting out to salvage a riverboat to chase the Martians up the Mississippi doesn’t feel like it’s going to come to much either: Twain certainly seems to be on board less out of faith they’ll accomplish their goals and more because, having just watched civilization collapse, he likes the idea of being a riverboat pilot and wants to do something fun. But not going anywhere in particular is classically Twain in its own way. And if it’s a little troubling that Twain’s wife and daughters go below deck once they leave New York and the story never bothers to mention them again, well, persons attempting to find continuity will be heat-rayed. Continue reading