Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Shop talk (1984)

A Short Story from the June 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the town of Inverness a talking checkout machine was recently introduced in a blaze of glory by Your Caring, Sharing Co-op, which should be more accurately described as Their Profit Making Co-op. Computer technology is zooming ahead at such a fantastic pace that it is difficult to keep abreast of all the improvements. Clive Sinclair, the current whiz-kid of the computer market, has predicted that new robots will soon be on the go performing all sorts of mental acrobatics.

After the recent case of the supermarket check-out girl who was fired for intolerably bad temper towards the customers on Monday mornings, the logical desire for any supermarket owner is a machine which replaces workers (and therefore saves wages) while at the same time is constantly pleasant to the punters whom it is relieving of their cash. However, since even the most sophisticated machine is fallible, there is a prospect of one of these devices having a brainstorm: "Good morning madam, and what little delicacies do we have here?  . . . ah, yes, cold meat 75p . . . wholemeal bread 50p, better than that adulterated white stuff . . . smarm . . . nice little table-wine at £1.99 . . . sure to impress your husband's boss when he comes to dinner. (Not to mention the refuse collector when he clocks the fancy label) . . . please pay the girl at the till. Thank you and good day . . . Krrrrrkkkk . . . fizzle.

C'mon grandma, hurry it up, we haven't got all day. Let's get these pathetic morsels tallied so we can get onto the real spenders . . . right, two ounces of spam (Yeeugh!) 20p . . . a solitary carrot 5p . . . 1 lonely onion 5p . . . 1 small loaf 25p . . . my, we're really living high on the hog aren't we? . . . 1 tin of Crappo dog food 35p . . . wait a minute, I'll bet you don't even have a dog, you're eating the bloody stuff yourself right? . . . C'mon own up. Hey, stop that snivelling woman, pay up and get out. No, not through the plate-glass door, open it first. That's right, now step out and . . . Gotcha! Security man, grab that old bag, she's got a tin of sardines that she forgot . . . er . . . didn't pay for. Good! the arm up the back, now the quick frogmarch into the manager's office to wait for the police . . . hee . . . hee . . . heeeeeerrkkkk . . . 

And the next one please. Hmm, what have we here? cornflakes 55p . . . You know, a top nutrition expert called Michael Van Straten is on record as saying that there is almost as much nutrition in the box as there is in the cornflakes. Butter 50p . . . sausage 70p . . . have you ever seen how they make sausage? almost no limit to the fat content . . . wouldn't like to see your arteries . . . Frozen chicken £2.75 . . . wonder how much water's been injected into our ex-feathered friend to boost the weight, (and the price) . . . In fact, have you ever stopped to consider why it's necessary to have prices at all? Here we are living in a world which produces food, clothing, and shelter in such abundance that everyone could have the very best instead of all this third-rate rubbish. And the beauty of it is that the amount of time actually needed to produce this wealth could be reduced to a few hours a day with all the extra available people released from non-productive jobs such as there girls operating the tills, and the manager, rushing over to pull put . . . the plug!? . . . Don't touch the . . . . . . . "


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Jack And The Beanstalk

Another short story from the the Socialist Party of Canada website

A Discussion Between Jack, the Beanstalk Plantation Owner and Henry, His Golden Egg Mint Man.

HENRY: Man you play it cool. You do what you like, and you do it when you like to do it. And all those frails who part their hair just the way you like it. How do you make this scene?

JACK: Easy, man. I got all kinds of giants growing beanstalks for me.

HENRY: Wild! How do you get them to do that?

JACK: Easy, man. I just give them some of those golden eggs you mint for me.

HENRY: Crazy! Why do they want those?

JACK: Simple, man. They need them to buy some of the beans they produce.

HENRY: Way out! How come the giants don't just help themselves to the beans?

JACK: Can't, man. I give a few golden eggs to other giants to guard my beans with rifles and keep the giants in cages if they get caught.

HENRY: Holy masochism! How come they don't see the con game?

JACK: Ain't easy, man. I got other giants running schools to train them that the only thing to do is to try and climb beanstalks. This keeps them seeing the world through my eyes.

HENRY: Holy apprehension! Don't you worry about them getting to your position?

JACK: Not much, man. Most of the giants can't even get past the first low branches. Only a few get high enough that I have to have the beanstalk cut down. About one in a thousand gets up and we just absorb him.

HENRY: What a plot! You must have it real cozy.

JACK: Well, not quite, man. I got problems. The giants produce so many beans that even my groovy living doesn't use them all.

HENRY: What a hangup! What do you do with with the rest?

JACK: Well, I try to get rid of them across the sea for more golden eggs.

HENRY: Way out, man. You've got the solution.

JACK: Well, not exactly. You see there are bad Jacks over there who are trying to do the same things I'm doing.

HENRY: What a paradox, man. What can be done?

JACK: Well, I give a few more eggs to other giants to fly bombers to blow up the bad Jacks' beanstalk plantations before the bad Jacks get their giants to blow up my beanstalk plantations. These military giants also guard my source of beanstalk fertilizer and try to get new sources away from the bad Jacks.

HENRY: What a smooth solution, man. You should feel cool.

JACK: Well, almost, but I have a bit of a paranoia about mushroom clouds.

HENRY: Holy dilemma, man! I wonder why all the giants don't educate themselves outside the Jack schools so they could take all the beanstalk plantations away from all the Jacks and make them serve everyone.

JACK: Go wash out your mouth with acid, and if I ever hear such utopia again I'll send you down to work on the beanstalks. You dig, man?

HENRY: I dig, and I am not yet ready to trade my white collar in for a blue one. I start minting new golden eggs for you right away.



Sunday, June 30, 2013

Until Tomorrow

A 1961 sci-fi short story from the archives of the Socialist Party of Canada 

"The destruction was so near complete that plant and animal life crept back over the earth slowly. The soil itself was to a great extent polluted by the fall-out. But that portion of humanity which escaped was truly fit, and brought with it memories, and a resolve never to repeat the fatal mistake of society divided against itself."

The speaker was Hubert Brodkin, venerable sage and keeper of the archives; the time, the year 1000 A.H. (after the holocaust); the place, Entrada Island, large western neighbor of a country once called Kanata. Professor Brodkin's listeners, several thousand in number, were gathered on the sea-shore and along the sandy estuaries of two great rivers; yet so near perfect was his voice transmitter that all could have heard had he spoken in a whisper. Behind them lay a lush land and all shared in common those things commonly used. There was plenty for all, with no rich, no poor, a fulfillment of the dreams of ancient dreamers called "Utopians," whose very names were forgotten.

"Warnings of the impending catastrophe," continued the professor, "were given about the year 1950, in what was then referred to as the 'Christian Era.' But the great mass of people were indifferent, and left all vital matters to those few who held them in complete subjection and who were spoken of as "experts." The particular economic and social period was described variously as 'Rugged Individualism,' 'Democracy,' and 'A Way of Life.' Five per cent of the population came into control of ninety-five per cent of the world's wealth, and so well did they command communication and silence opposition that the major portion of mankind was thought-controlled. It was a time of hand-clapping, of slogans, catch-words and phrases. Imitation came to be regarded as talent. Mouth-gurgling passed for music. From talking and thinking alike people began to look alike, to resemble in certain measure a famous dummy of the time called 'Mortimer Snerd.' And so tractable had they become that the dominant few, drunk with power and greediness could play with them as an angler plays with a hooked fish. This mass inertia tempted the world's dictators to lead it on into events so terrible that today's descriptions are dumb. People and records went down to destruction together, and what little I can tell you was passed on mainly by word of mouth from those few who survived to their descendants."

Here, onward, Professor Brodkin's style of speech became broken now and then by a slangy idiom echoing, so to speak, out of some forgotten time with which he alone seemed in tune:

"The circus began in this section of the earth after a number of sailing ships unloaded their razzle-dazzle biped freight. They struck a wild land inhabited by Primitives. Each ship's company consisted of a small number of Grabbers and a large quota of Goofs. The Grabbers were OK, they were wise cookies. The Goofs were everything else. Unlike Mother Hubbard, they were at once both poor and lacking in ambition. So long as they could eat, sleep, and breathe air in and out they were satisfied. The Grabbers sicked the Goofs onto the Primitives. The Goofs advanced in three columns. Some members of the first unit rode horses. Others bore guns, powder, and lead. Such gentry were described in a future time as 'Liberators.' Their combined attack appalled the Primitives who fought back as best they could with stone hatchets, bows and arrows. The front section of the second column carried a huge white cross on which the skeleton of a man was spread — this terrorized the Primitives. Now followed closely a group clad in long black coats, and carrying large books in their hands — these hypnotized the Primitives and softened 'em up for the third company. These sweet-scented gentlemen lugged kegs and jugs filled with a fiery fluid which sent the blood racing through the natives' veins, causing them to dance and whoop 'er up in wild fashion.

"Ground had now been broken for the Grabbers, who arrived plentifully supplied with mouse-traps, miscellaneous trinkets, and muskets made of cast-iron that later were to burst in the natives' faces. The Grabbers had an eye on four-footed animal skins in the possession of the Primitives. Spaniards called the procedure 'Negocio,' Englishmen dubbed it 'Business Incentive,' which term in after years was to ripen into 'Free Enterprise.'

"When the process of skinning the Primitives who had skinned the quadrupeds was well advanced and both were all but exterminated, the Grabbers divided the country amongst themselves, drove stakes and built fences around their allotments, then posted signs proclaiming this land is the private property of Grabber So-and-So and trespassers will be severely dealt with by virtue of 'Constituted Authority.' This latter sounded awesome to the Goofs, and since it was printed in large capitals they had not the temerity to question matters; especially when a number of the bigger Goofs were dressed in uniforms, armed, and sworn to obey the rules laid down by Constituted Authority.

"A 'Culture' period now followed in which the Goofs were taught to sing patriotic songs, and told how lucky they were to be living in Kanata. It was driven home to them how badly the Grabbers of other lands treated their Goofs.

"Then, when the landless, propertyless Goofs had no alternative, they made a deal with their overlords by which they (the Goofs) could live on the lands and do all the work, cut the timber, build the houses, grow the crops, raise cattle, build dams, factories, power plants; in brief, do everything necessary to keep the Grabbers in clover.

"The society developing out of this lopsided partnership became finally an insane mechanism in which the parts operated against the whole. Each family of Goofs desired the elimination of its neighbor. Each group hoped for the misfortune of other groups. Everywhere, individual interest took precedence over public good. The lawyer wanted litigations, particularly among the rich. The physician wanted sickness — he would be ruined if everybody died without disease. The military man wanted wars that would carry off half his comrades and secure him promotion; the undertaker wanted burials; farmers wanted famine to double, or treble the price of grain; the architect, carpenter and mason wanted conflagrations. It was truly each against all. The era was described by a noted philosopher, Bertram Dresser, as 'Graboofia.' Indeed it is to Dr. Dresser that we are indebted for much of the information handed down. And it all added up to a survival of the slickest.

"This charming result was affected by the Goofs surrendering to the Grabbers at the point of production their entire product, and receiving wages sufficient merely to restore the energy to work. Surplus values retained by the Grabbers had to be sold in order to provide them with profit, ease and luxury. Fully half the Goofs were now put to advertising and unloading the loot. But due to a world wide expansion of technology the Grabber gangs of most lands had surpluses to sell. Markets shrunk and rivalry between the great robber groups grew bitter. In the frantic search for trade they ferreted out all potential customers. It was at this point that propaganda ran rife and military build up sky-rocketed. It was a carnival of name-calling; when interests clashed the other fellow became a 'Red,' a 'Black,' a 'Blue,' or a 'Communist.' Each Grabber group would trot out some new weapon, expecting all opposition to collapse in fear; but instead, some one of them would come up with an even newer and better instrument of destruction. More than half the Goofs' labours were devoted to this end.

"From early youth Kanatan Goofs had been taught that one of their number could whip any six foreigners. Was not this well proven by that affair with the Primitives? True, the Goofs had stuck knives on the ends of their guns to avoid getting too close to the enemy with his short knife; but all's fair when glory is to be won!

"As to the Grabbers, they never intended to do any fighting, and had hideouts for themselves prepared in advance. And they planned all along to instruct their principal servants to prepare, in the name of Constituted Authority, documents ordering the Goofs to advance against their foreign counterparts whose own Grabbers had been designated as enemies. So powerful and so few in numbers had the world's Grabbers become, they could start and stop isolated wars at any time without those who fought knowing who was responsible. Surviving Goofs, returning victorious were rewarded with medals and cement monuments. and 'Remembrance' days. And they were a long time complacent. They believed the few in control of the earth were fearful of launching an all out chemical and germ war lest they themselves perish in the process.

"Step by step, many Goofs began to realize the sheer lunacy of Graboofia. They visualized a tomorrow, with a way of life where each against all had given way to a world of one for all and all for one. They realized they outnumbered the Grabbers 1000 to 1 and had the power to change the world, if they had the determination.

"But an effective job of head-fixing had been accomplished by the authorities through their control of the powerful means of spreading ideas; the schools, the church, the newspapers, the movies, the television. Those Goofs striving to change the world were pictured as enemies of individualism, free enterprise, liberty and democracy. Yet there were signs of rumbling and a growing awareness of a better tomorrow. Then somewhere, some one committed a 'hostile' act, and the terrible, indiscriminate destruction broke out. Unbelievable secret devices of death came out of concealment. Millions of men, women, and children were killed or maimed, blinded and rendered insane. A creeping death enveloped the entire earth. Almost everything wilted before it. Some of the people found refuge in caverns, others in sheltered nooks near sea-level. Communication, except the more primitive kinds and the printed word were lost as survivors slipped backward toward savagery. But the story of mankind before the holocaust (thanks to story-tellers like Dr. Dresser) was not lost completely, nor was the belief that some tomorrow would bring forth a fuller life."

As the professor's voice died away the Islanders rose slowly from the sands and headed homeward. The disappearing sun, seeming also content had painted the horizon a rosy red and bridged the sea-water with a streak of light which now retreated swiftly with the seconds, like the flashing smile of some departing guest — departed until tomorrow.