OBIR: Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.
Why I Hunt Flying Saucers & Other Fantasticals
Published in 2016 by Brain Lag Publishing, Milton, Ontario, Canada.
Editor: Not credited. The author?
Cover art: Not credited.
Note – All stories by Hugh A.D. Spencer
Why the Flying Saucers are Hunting Me
By way of an introduction the author makes it clear that his definition of “flying saucer” is “a sort of imaginative short-hand to represent things that are unexplained, uncomfortable, usually inappropriate and generally weird.”
Even though I know many perfectly sane and intelligent people who “believe” in flying saucers, I don’t. Consequently, my approach to flying saucers or alien visitations in fiction is that of a critic viewing fiction. Still, I would normally avoid any book devoted to flying saucers as much as I would a book titled The Hidden Humour of Calculus, but I am quite comfortable with Spencer’s definition because I happen to agree with it. As a result, I am perfectly willing to review the stories in this retrospective collection.
And also because Spencer is an ongoing member of the Cecil Street Writers Group founded “by Futurian writer, editor and critic Judith Merril.” (He doesn’t mean “Futurist.” Merril had been an actual member of “The Futurians,” a legendary New York City fan group of the 1930s.)
Why I Hunt Flying Saucers
The protagonist suffers from frequent alien abductions of the “We mean you no harm let us insert an anal probe” variety and the near constant presence of invisible aliens who, presumably in search of data, perform experiments like cooking his canned food over a camp fire in his bathtub while he’s asleep. All his acquaintances and co-workers believe he is doing these weird things himself. He has no friends. No one talks to him. He is desperate for a solution.
Given my personal bias against testimonials about alien visitors, no matter how heartfelt and sincere, I find Spencer’s summation of the illogic behind such tales quite amusing. Even better, assuming these accounts of Greys and anal probes reflect genuine events (which they don’t), he has come up with the best explanation for the aliens’ intent, purpose, and motivation I have ever read. I am quite impressed. Makes sense to me.
It also explains the Fermi Paradox (or so I believe—implied but not stated in the story). The aliens have been watching all the TV shows dedicated to revealing the “truth” about them, and no doubt have been reading all the literature as well. (That they can do this is proven by the fact they have left zero credible trace of their presence. Hah! I employ the logic of the true believers.) Point is, the mythology we have created about them is absolute proof we would not behave in a rational and sane manner were they to actually reveal themselves, so they choose not to. And never will. Fine with me. (I have enough trouble figuring out my next-door neighbours.) It’s a fun, entertaining story with a satisfying ending.
Icarus Down/Bear Rising
A formidable American military satellite somehow disappears for a while. Then Norad detects it crashing to Earth near Bear Spirit, a Canadian Cree village in the far north renowned for its high suicide rate and general cultural breakdown. Fearing Soviet intrusion, the Americans send in a helicopter full of Marines and one anthropologist to investigate.
This story is an indictment of the ongoing failure of the Canadian Government to “solve” the problems of isolated First Nations communities. The American military presence, here portrayed as highly aggressive and uncaring in nature, does not, in my opinion, represent the U.S. armed forces so much as function as a stand-in for modern civilization in general. No matter the activities of activists and rights-minded people, indigenous communities are no more immune to the overwhelming influence and effect of the juggernaut we call civilization than we are. In that sense everyone is a victim. We, at least, conform and imagine we are beneficiaries, which is true to some extent. Isolated indigenous people grown dependent on resources outside themselves and their community, not so much. What is the solution?
The military satellite Icarus has somehow been transformed into a 3rd party influencer in the clash between cultures. A solution is offered. Quite a striking one. How acceptable to all concerned is another matter, even supposing it were feasible in a practical sense. But maybe, just maybe …
The Triage Conference
An important scientific conference is underway involving numerous specialists in all manner of fields such as economics, modern cultural anthropology, psychiatry, or, to put it another way, just about anything to do with the study of human behaviour. All agree the conference is a splendid success. But it’s a question of purpose.
This is an incredibly topical and relevant concept for a conference, given current trends. One might mistake it for a “true” account of contemporary political conventions. Among the list of lectures detailed: “The Slave State: Regrettable Necessity or Future Opportunity?,” and “Third Reich Race Policies as a Model for Medicare Reform.” Recent political statements lead me to believe the politicians and pundits uttering them would nod sagely on reading this story, along the lines of “Wow! We need to get on this right away. What splendid ideas!” I don’t think they would like the ending though. But I did. A very clever and amusing parody, but chillingly close to reality. Whereas my Canadian liberal beliefs seem more and more like parody as time goes by. Sigh.
The Robot Reality Check
Global Robotics Corporation sells its numerous robots to both public and government on the basis of Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. It’s a clever marketing scheme. Unfortunately, more and more robots are malfunctioning beyond these laws.
Spencer offers three more-accurate laws that seem far more certain and plausible than what Asimov (actually John W. Campbell) originally came up with. But, amusing and entertaining though the individual incidents described be, the importance of this story lies in its depiction of a corporation ruled by marketing schemes rather than actual function and purpose of the company, a scenario currently being played out in numerous American hospitals where management is forbidding Doctors and Nurses from communicating their concerns to the public, or, for that matter, the recent disciplinary action taken by the U.S. Navy against the Captain of an aircraft carrier who complained publicly about inadequate Navy policy threatening the lives of his crew.
Long story short, bean counters and PR-minded guys in the administrations of corporations and organizations always and inevitably deliberately sabotage the truth for the sake of public appearance and reputation. This is why whistleblowers are doomed. They are at best an inconvenient nuisance to those in charge, but at worst, which is to say usually, perceived as traitors to “the cause” and thus deserving of punishment designed to intimidate anyone who might emulate them.
Given what is currently going on in the pandemic, what might have been construed as a needlessly cynical and bitter bit of fiction turns out to be both prescient and prophetic.
Strategic Dog Patterning
In a post-apocalyptic world—society still functions, even union contracts, but there are a lot of ruins—being a dog catcher is a lot more exciting and dangerous than it used to be.
In a certain sense this is a wonderfully old-fashioned story, in that nature is mutating at a fantastic rate, especially dogs, alpha males in particular. Morrow prides himself on his ability to outwit the Alphas and kill them before they can kill him, as he earns quite a few bonuses for bringing their intact brains to the research lab. Lately his personal pet peeve is with management and their practice of restricting his hours to cut down on the amount of money they have to pay him. He’s not paying attention to the larger picture and how it might affect him. He should beware. You can’t treat an old dog new tricks, but what about the new dogs?
The Z-Burger Simulations
The protagonist works in a burger joint. He follows all the rules and still manages to meet his quotas. Despite excellent scores that meet with higher management approval, the manager commits suicide. For some reason trauma care includes re-training for all the joint’s employees. This is unusual.
I am reminded of Pohl and Kornbluth’s classic novel Space Merchants, only here, instead of Madison Avenue (i.e. advertising companies) being in charge, it’s The Church of Business.
I know, I know, some people would argue this religion already exists. To which I reply, yeah, but this is an extreme version. And some would counter with the apparent fact that such a Church (or, at least, Ayn Rand-style “Noble selfishness” philosophy incorporated into religion) is already the dominant, most pervasive influencer in existence. Yeah, but … this really is a tad beyond current trends, or so I like and prefer to think.
Basically the underlying theme of this story is the dehumanization of the worker as ordained by God (according to the Church of Business), reinforced by the concept that anyone who complains about being a cog in the machine is a sinner and must be converted or discarded according to the correct religious dogma to do with profit margin and employee subjugation.
Lest this seem far-fetched, I am reminded of the time about 30 years ago at my place of employment when I overheard one salesman saying to another as they came out of the weekly pep-talk by management, “Wow! That was amazing! I never knew that our warehouse workers don’t actually want to get wage increases, that all they want is to do their job perfectly and get a pat on the back. We should be like them! Concentrate on sales!” Brain-washed much? As one of the warehouse workers in question I was a trifle annoyed and tempted to explain reality, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good so I kept my mouth shut.
Since then many corporations switched to gig-economy employees and touted it as the maximum freedom mode for true individuals. Thing is, the self-employed don’t have much of a safety net to fall back on in difficult times, as many are learning to their cost today.
So, yeah, a depressing story, but prescient, frighteningly prescient. Powerful. Yeah, its about the employees of a burger joint. Still powerful, maybe precisely because it’s about ordinary people. Speaks to the pervasive nature of conformity demands and societal pressure.
Actually, not totally depressing. Parts of it are quite amusing, as Spencer takes his personal experience as a burger-flipper to exaggerate the negative aspects of customers in the androids representing such in the training exercises. Confirms my life-long desire to avoid working with the public. (Didn’t always work. My first job, arranged by a Federal works program, was in a porno book store, but that’s another story.)
Mormonism and the Saskatoon Space Program
Like his father, a young teenager has difficulty adhering to the dogma of the Mormon church and leaves. Fortunately, his equally non-practicing uncle is running a private space program. This is far more interesting, though not without its own baggage. Amazing what combining Uranium with Potash can accomplish.
I was anticipating a humorous story, but this one is autobiographical, hence rather serious in tone. Mormonism is a minor religion in Saskatchewan, though it dominates certain small farming communities. No surprise that the author grew up feeling rather alienated, both inside and outside the Mormon Church. There were family difficulties, also involving the Mormon church.
Not bitter, but observational; this is a coming of age story that manages to evoke a sense of wonder, in this reader at least. But the most remarkable thing is that the story weaves together Mormonism and space travel in a manner that affirms both concepts, or at least, can be interpreted that way. So, not a negation of either, nor a “coming together” plea, but simply an element of fantasy used to explain the attraction of both. Me, I’m an atheist who regards religious sects as a cultural phenomenon, but even I found the resolution rather charming and poetic. It’s a good story, heart-felt and personal.
Oh, and as an aviation buff and a Canadian patriot I should mention I found the concept of an Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck “The Clunk” 1950s jet fighter converted into a spacecraft to be absolutely delightful. Sent my sense of wonder soaring.
Morrow’s job is “fixing” mal-functioning virtual realities where the participants are experiencing sex rather than the type of adventures they were seeking. In reality he is pirating the “incidents” and selling them to Pornzilla, the world’s most popular virtual reality porn channel.
As the co-author and co-performer of the Godzilla Sex-life Skit (along with Stan G. Hyde) which we presented at a dozen or more SF conventions years ago, I approached this story with great anticipation. Alas, it is not about a Godzilloid revealing its private life; Pornzilla refers to a virtual reality channel and not an actual Kaiju. Not a character as such. Pity.
Again, an exploration of a hugely significant social phenomenon. Pornography is a gigantic industry, earning billions of dollars annually. For the most part, people ignore it in polite conversation, just like they do discussion of tampons or hemorrhoid ointments. Not because they’re considered taboo topics, but because they’re too mundane and ordinary and too private to be worth talking about. An exception would be a chap I met once who would talk about nothing but. Fortunately, a rare sort.
But what if pornography is pervasive for a reason far beyond simple masturbatory fantasy? Some argue (probably the ones earning a fantastic income from it) that 99% of pornography is a harmless erotic outlet for instincts best not restricted. Others argue it encourages insensitivity, misogyny, and the demeaning of women. But suppose the influence of this vast underground “cult” or “obsession” has an evolutionary sway on societal behaviour far more devastating than even its sternest critics believe? And if it does, what can be done about it?
As usual, the less-than-optimistic theme is leavened with humour, in this case spoofery of Kaiju and superhero tropes. Doesn’t entirely dissipate the disturbing aspects though. The story suggests humanity is not quite sane in what passes for normality. Could well be true.
Note: Another 5 stories to go, but for mundane reasons I’ve been late turning my attention to this review and it’s now 2:56 AM the very day this is supposed to be posted. Am so tired I’ve got to call it quits. Apologies to Hugh A.D. Spencer and Brain Lag Publishing. And to the readers of this column. I am certain the remaining 5 stories are as good as the 8 that I managed to review.
Told in a straightforward manner that avoids the distraction of stylistic technique and immerses the reader deep into every story. All are unusually rich in concepts and subtle implications to the point of rendering each a rewarding experience. Highly intelligent stuff. Brilliantly original. Disturbing and funny. Thought-provoking and entertaining. Frankly, the best kind of science fiction. What science fiction is meant to be. First class. That be my opinion.
Check it out at: < Why I Hunt Flying Saucers >