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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.






















The Mentor

Grimesish Grumberlings, All Aboard For Armageddon

The organisers of LACON II are already trying to find approximately square holes for the square pegs who will be attending the convention. I have been asked to sit on the World War III panel. I replied to say that I am well qualified to do so, having been under fire in both the First and the Second World Wars - and also, come to that, the Sino-Japanese War. Now I have a further qualification. Not long ago, as I write this, I was treated to an extremely detailed scenario of the Third World War.

During the course of a long and misspent life one acquires both friends and acquaintances. The friends one does one’s best to keep. Many or the acquaintances one would happily jettison . but it is those very persona who stick to one like the proverbial shit to a blanket.

For quite some years prior to, during and after World War II I was in the employ of the Shaw Savill Line, an English shipping company that maintained regular freight and passenger services between the U.K. and Australia and New Zealand. I was a frequent visitor to the port of Auckland. In Auckland there was a sort of unofficial SF fan club. None of the Auckland fans was, in those days, an intellectual giant. One or two of them could be classed as intellectual pygmies, the sort of people who combine with their addiction to SF of the most primitive kind a pitiful credulity insofar as the various nut cults are concerned.

One of them sort of cottoned on to me, despite my attempts to shake him off.

Time passed and I resigned from the employ of the Shaw Savill line and entered that of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand. For a few years I never went near New Zealand I was serving in Australian registered vessels trading around the Australian Coast. Finally, however, having attained the dizzy heights of command, I started to run trans-Tasman. Frequently, when I was in New Zealand ports, the local media would interview me - after all, literary shipmasters aren’t all that common. Should I be in Auckland my faithful fan would inflict himself upon me. My last time in Auckland, as a shipmaster, he insisted that I take a precious book of his - the sort of hook that I should never dream of buying or even borrowing. He thought that I, as a professional navigator, might be able to understand the peculiar mathematics with which this magnum opus was crammed. It was - in my opinion, although I did not tell him so - typical UFO rubbish, an attempt to prove that the Earth is enmeshed in lines of force woven by the Saucerians and with New Zealand as a sort of nexus. It seems possible that the author of this hogwash was the “very clever astronomer” responsible for the World War III scenario.

Early in 1975 I retired from the sea, thinking that I should never visit New Zealand again. But I was to do so as GoH at the NorCon, in Auckland. This received some media coverage. So, once again, that unwanted acquaintance got in my hair, But when the Convention was over I thought that I had seen the last of him.

And then he started making the occasional visit to Sydney on some business or other and, if I happened to be having an unlucky day, he would find me in. The last time - and I hope that it is the last time - was a few weeks ego. He announced, in a sepulchral voice,“I’ve come to talk about the breakdown of civilisation...”

This started me off. I earbashed him at some length on the subjects of crime in the streets, juvenile delinquency, drugs, corruption in high places and low places and all the rest of it. I told him what I would do about it in the extremely unlikely event of my ever becoming dictator. Then I ran short of breath.

He said, “I didn’t mean that. I mean a complete breakdown, with only 10% of the human race surviving.”

I asked, “A nuclear war?”

“No,” he assured me, “there won’t be a nuclear war. All these deep shelters that are being made are for Something Else...”

He has, it seems, this “very clever friend, an astronomer”, who has told him that the world’s governments are Keeping Something from their people. There is something invisible coming in from outer space, a large body, but it can’t be seen...

“A Black Hole?” I asked.

No, it wasn’t a Black Hole but it is invisible.

“Then how the hell,” I demanded, “does this very clever friend of yours and his very clever clobbers know it’s there?”

X-rays, he supposed. And computers.

And so he went on and on it got worse and worse. I listened with a sort of fascinated horror as the scenario developed, turning into something that no competent science fiction author would be capable of writing even in an off moment. I realised that he actually believed, really and truly believed, all this garbage.

The Thing from Outer Space is going to pass through the Solar System without hitting anything of any importance but it will hit the sun. The force and angle of the impact will be such that a huge jot or molten matter will be ejected from the sun, aimed directly at us.

“But the world’s governments are ready. The huge laser cannon have been set up...”

And the laser cannon will open fire - but with only partial success. The head of the column will break off and continue on its trajectory and will plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

And the devastation will be dreadful. Tidal waves a hundred miles high... But before it hits the Third World War will start. The Chinese, knowing that their low-lying country will be wiped out, will march west, into Russia. They will over-run Russia...”

I asked, “And just when is all this going to happen?”

He said, “June.”

I asked, “This coming June?”

He said, “Yes.”

Trying to make a joke of it, I said, “This is rather awkward. My wife and I are supposed to be flying to Japan at the end of July and we always like to make our bookings well in advance...”

He told me, “Nothing will be flying.”

I said (I was beginning to lose my temper), “And, if you’re right there won’t be any fucking Japan to fly to either.”

He ignored this. “And then the Chinese will march into France. And then the French and the Chinese will invade England. But the young king and his queen will take refuge in a deep shelter in the Welch mountains...”

But at last there was a ray of sunshine. After all the wars, earthquakes, tsunamis and whatever the Earth’s climate will have changed and Samaria will have become a land flowing with milk and honey. There the surviving 10% of humanity will go (standing room only?) to live happily over afterwards under the benign rule of Charlie-boy and Di.

Unwisely, perhaps, I tried to argue. I pointed out all the absurdities and unnecessary complications of the scenario. I asked just how this “very clever astronomer” knew what was going to happen? Did he own a Time Machine? Did ha have precognitive dreams? Or what?

I got a reply, of sorts. Nostrodamus came into it, and the Book of Revelations — both red rags to a bull as far an I’m concerned. I still tried to argue but finally my patience was exhausted. I told my unwelcome visitor that I Had work to do, and showed him the door.

I did not shake hands.

AFTERWORD.

Having finished the foregoing, but before posting it, I came across two more examples of End of The World prophecy. The first was the news item about the astronomers in California who have calculated that a stellar object, with a family of planets, planetoids and comets, makes a close approach to our sun at intervals of several million years. The last such approach resulted in a collision of an asteroid with the Earth, as a result of which the dinosaurs become extinct. The next such approach is still a few million years in the future.

So, I thought, my nutty acquaintance’s “very clever” friend mislaid a few noughts when he did his sums.

And then I was browsing through a pile of old magazines in the clubhouse. Among them was a trashy publication - I have very valid personal reasons for referring to it as such - which, among its many other sins, keeps a tame astrologer on the payroll.. Each week he makes short term predictions abut people currently in the news and plays around with long term once... about the world in general.

Anyhow, he said that the years from 1983 to 1988 would be a disaster period. He said, too, that some NASA scientist, with time hanging heavy on his hands, bad fed the prophecies of Nostradamus into the main NASA computer. In my opinion a classic case of GIGO - Garbage in and Garbage out. The scenario that he came up with was almost as bad as the one to which I was treated. An asteroid - not a hunk of sun-stuff - is going to fall into the Indian - not the Pacific - Ocean. After the resulting geophysical upheavals the Arabs, with Russian help, are qoing to invade and occupy all of Europe. There was no word of Charlie-boy and Di.

But the staff astrologer did not accept this forecast.

He says that the wandering asteroid is going to fall into the Pacific Ocean.

And now I’ll throw in my own two bit’s worth, irrefutable proof that not only are the world’s governments Keeping Something from their people but that even the City of Sydney Council is doing the same. Around the Potts Point area there has been a proliferation of metal posts along the footpaths. It is generally supposed that these are to prevent motorists from parking on the sidewalk, although some say that when the oil wells run dry these are to be hitching posts for horses.

But I know the real reason.

After that asteroid falls into the ocean the mean sea level will rise considerably. Those metal posts are to be mooring bollards for the gondolas that will replace automobiles on our city streets.

And I didn’t have to cast a horoscope, consult Nostrodamus or the Book of Revelations, or feed garbage into a computer to come up with that prophecy. I have no doubt, however, that if I had the time and patience to plough through the seer’s doggerel I should rind some quatrain which could be construed to forecast the flooding of Sydney.

But meanwhile I have no intention of trying to get a gondolas-handling endorsement to my Master Mariner’s Certificate of Competency.

Originally Published in The Mentor No: 49 - Apr 1984