Saturday, October 3, 2009

No Known End to the World - Science Fiction

(I thought about this for several years before finally writing it down in early 2006. I submitted it to a story contest on 3/17/2006.--MUW2)

No Known End to the World

Explorers from a far distant planet arrived on Earth in what would have been the earth year of 3200, if there had still been people on earth to measure years, but there weren't.

The visitors found some ancient books and calendars and they were very puzzled. They could calculate when the last houses were occupied, the last pieces of clothing made, the last humans died. "Human civilization ended around 2400 in the earth dating scheme," they wrote in the Final Report on the Visit to Earth. But almost no physical objects with dates later than about 2010 could be found: no papers, no paintings, no books. There were plenty of machines the investigators could not turn on, and some things made of plastic that seemed to fit into the machines. A few machines seem to have numbers stamped on them, and some of those numbers might be dates after 2010, but none was later than about 2027.

A spokesperson for the explorers explained,
"Before 2010, the creatures that dominated the earth were enormously creative. We found paintings, sculpture, works on paper. Much was well preserved, although mostly in buildings that apparently had fallen into disuse by the second decade of the 2000s. We've also found some beautiful objects, human-sized and smaller, that we believe were used for making music: some wood, some metal, some with ivory, but our dating shows that these, too, are all from before 2010.

"Something happened to human civilization around that time, and because of it people stopped creating physical objects that would document their existence, their ideas, their souls. We hope for their sakes that they were able to express themselves some other way, maybe by using all those machines.

"We did find vast numbers of shiny circles in what look like huge trash heaps. But even those shiny circles were a short-lived phenomenon: manufacturing seems to have ceased by around 2015. There are also little plastic sticks with plastic covers over a metal end, often attached to ribbon, apparently to be worn around the neck. We don't, however, think those are jewelry. They may have been an alternative to the shiny disks. They, too, ceased to be manufactured well before the middle of the 21st century.

"How the civilization managed to survive another 400 years we may never know. They did keep building, but nothing built in those last centuries is beautiful: it is functional without joy, useful without delight.

"We have brought back to our planet specimens of many machines, and we hope to be able to make them work soon. Was it a factor in the death of this planet that its inhabitants lost the ability to create permanent records of their aspirations and achievements? Our committee agreed that we could only speculate about this. But in any case we grieve for the death of this planet. Had there been any descendants of the people who created the art and literature of the previous ten thousand years on earth, the universe would have been richer."                                                 //

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Merit Needs a Publicist (Very Short Essays 01)

Merit Needs a Publicist
Merit needs a publicist.
It needs to be recognized
By the recognized.

You can heave off your bushel,
paint arrows on the sidewalk,
offer prizes, hand out samples,
but unless you get the attention
of those who command attention,
the bushel boomerangs,
obscuring your light
to extinction.

(It's the same - the opposite -
with evil, greed, cruelty.
Until someone of stature
points a finger and says
"For shame,"
people -
because people are sheep -
will ignore,
or worse, praise,
or worst, follow,
the perpetrators of hate.)

Merit needs a publicist:
Someone to say
"Well done"
in a voice people believe.
Merit won't out,
without it.
(I wrote the first version of this in March 2006. I'd thought it, the title, anyway, for a long time before that.)
RJM 9/26/2009
Series title added - 7/20/2013

The Need for a Neuter Pronoun: A Solution

A couple of months ago, a New York Times Magazine's On Language column, that week written by Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman and entitled "All Purpose Pronoun", discussed the problem Twitter writers have because English lacks a neuter singular pronoun. People wondered whether "everyone" could be followed by the plural "they." Or was it necessary to use "he or she" and use up 9 of a Tweet's 140 character limit? I had an answer:

Dear Editor:
Concerning the he/she problem, I recommend that we use a group of new singular pronouns starting with the letter N. I choose N for neuter, and also because it's an underused initial letter in English. (I long ago noticed how few fiction writers have last names that start with N, and maybe that goes for the population as a whole?) NE, rhyming with she and he, will be the subject pronoun. We can go 50-50 on the sex-based endings for object and possessive pronouns, taking the ER from HER rather than the im from him, and the IS from HIS rather than the er/ers from her/hers: thus ne, ner, nis.

Let's try some examples.
Subject Pronoun: Ne. If anyone objects, ne should speak up now.
Object Pronoun: Ner. Go immediately to the person in charge and report the incident to ner.
Possessive Pronoun: Nis. Everybody must use nis own book.

It might take some getting used to, but if a few important people would use ne/ner/nis for neuter subject/object/possessive, soon everyone would. I can't make it happen myself but Barack Obama could. Or maybe Jay Lenno or Oprah. Which reminds me of one of my very short essays. Next: Merit Needs a Publicist.