Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Barington Encounter: Part Four

In Part Four of The Barington Encounter we're almost to the part of the novel with, you know, the dialogue! Up until now the author - who for some reason has a reputation for writing spot-on dialogue - hasn't seen fit to let the characters speak for themselves, preferring instead to drone on with what seems like an awful lot of exposition, doesn't it? Anyway, after this bit of jabber he's seen fit to write an actual scene in which humans interact with aliens, which is more or less the whole point of sci-fi. Duh! ~ MSM


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Indeed, the contest caused more excitement than had ever been caused on Andromeda, which wouldn't have been hard to do, yet somehow never had been tried nor had ever even been contemplated, sad to say... It caused so much excitement, in fact, that even the deadliest dullest documentarian – an astonishingly earnest creature called Naynin - couldn’t help but make an interesting programme of it; plagued by the guilt that he’d actually been entertaining - even accidentally - Naynin later committed suicide by watching an entire episode of a Mexican sitcom live via satellite onstage at Emperor Stadium in Andromeda City. According to the hundreds of thousands who’d witnessed it in person it was not only the most brutal thing they’d ever seen, it would have made for a really brilliant documentary. Out of respect for his memory, though, all those in attendance agreed to leave said documentary unmade, lest it prove entertaining and thus perpetuate the vicious cycle until all 300 billion of them had died similarly, albeit in increasingly smaller venues and before increasingly smaller live studio audiences.

That every single living Andromedan - including all three of the judges of Andromedan Idol and even the Emperor himself - had entered such a contest might surprise you; it certainly surprised them, which in addition to the all the excitement at having finally discovered the formula for making celebrities after nearly two decades of trying, made for quite a day. Unaccustomed to being surprised (let alone excited, especially all on the same day), this turn of events naturally took them by an entirely different sort of surprise. Not merely doubling their initial surprise but multiplying it – by a factor later determined as 85,152 - opened a wormhole in the space-time continuum, connecting Andromeda to Earth by means of a short, tastefully decorated corridor, thus rendering obsolete their entire space program, collapsing their economy, and making them the butt of jokes in the chat show monologues of a thousand different species.

On the plus side, the black hole created to get their orbit going again soon collapsed the wormhole - which meant that the five chosen for the mission would be able to use their pretty new spaceship after all, or would have, if it hadn't already been scrapped by a petulant Andromedan rocket scientist overtaken by a fit of pique owing to the extraordinary events of Discovery Day. Only the fact that all this surprise and excitement had resulted in an entirely new field of mathematics – shockulus – was able to return Andromeda to its original boring normalcy.

That every single Andromedan had applied to be removed from their planet forever wouldn’t, however, surprise you if you’d ever been to Andromeda; charitably put, it’s the most ordinary place in the universe. There, all the birds are wrens, and all the wrens sing the same single note without so much as a hint of the avian jazz for which our feathered friends on Earth are rightfully renowned; the planet grew just the one species of tree, and it was grey even on the first day of spring, when it ought to have fairly glowed with that juicy green colour of new foliage which is (or ought to be, anyway) the reward for surviving a long winter. The weather - owing to a series of powerful satellites, as has previously been mentioned - was 21 Celcius and partly cloudy wherever one went on the planet, from the West Pole to the equator to the East Pole. Despite a tourism industry responsible for routinely generating revenues in the quadrillions - mainly from vast relaxation spas - there was no place an Andromedan liked less than home boring home.

The only reason the Andromedans were known as the most peaceful race in the universe is that they all had one thing in common: a desire to get off such a quotidian lump as Andromeda. Leaving was their only religion, their only sport, and their only political issue. It was also the only theme in their pop music, which made Andromedan pop music so boring that it almost couldn’t help but be hugely popular yet somehow just wasn’t; this probably accounted for the reason why the Andromedan word for ‘good luck’ sounds, to human ears, exactly like a snicker.

Yet it was for precisely this reason that Andromedans were forbidden from leaving Andromeda; whereas ‘brain drain’ was a major problem everywhere there were carbon-based humanoids (except in the Centauri system, where it was a cocktail) the Andromedans had come up with what was, to them, an elegant solution. The punishment Andromedans suffered for getting caught trying to leave or leaving Andromeda was the life penalty; for most, the thought of being made to survive on respirators long after they’d earned their death was enough to bully them into compliance; so they stayed put, and without much toil built a society that was the envy of non-egotistical races everywhere.

Even though a scant few Andromedans had ever thought they’d live to see actual salvation, they still all believed it might be coming anyway; in fact, a faint glimmer of hope was in effect the state religion. Whenever they worshipped (essentially just at holidays and when things weren't going well for them) they did so in a low-key way, in unadorned chapels, so as not to appear to get their hopes up - which anyway was a capital offense on Andromeda. The rest of the time they greeted each other with rolling eyes and heavy sad sighs, which is the Andromedan word for either ‘peace’ or ‘escape’.

When in a single day celebrity technology was perfected, every single member of an entire race applied to be exiled from the only planet any of them had ever known, and a resultant wormhole was opened, many millions of Andromedans actually died. The official cause of death was ‘dreams came true’, and the myriad events of Discovery Day itself were soon the subject of many tens of thousands of hours of mind-numbing documentary programming, not to mention an equivalent number of fervently worked-out shockulus calculations, although the less said regarding the deadly dull documentaries about the fervent shockulus calculations (not to mention those who made them in either case) the better.

And so, for an entire week, as the sun seemed to hang in the same part of the sky, greater numbers of Andromedans agglomerated outside the stadium where the auditions were being held, shuffling in their queue past the Selection Committee to have their auras photographed (their auras being as distinct as their faces were identical) before depositing their resumes (which were more distinctive than their appearances but not as distinctive as their auragraphs).

So dire was the potential crisis there was even the fear that the orbit would stop again; ennuiwobble or not, a normal week on Andromeda lasts 10 Earth months, so you can imagine how endless a thing the process had actually been to spend one sifting through 300 billion resumes (not to mention 300 billion auragraphs) to find the five most ordinary of them to send.

But find them they did...

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