Saturday, September 2, 2023

A Labor Day Memory • by Bruce Bethke

Welcome to Labor Day Weekend, the last full cup of summer. We here at Rampant Loon Press have been really busting chops for the last few weeks getting STUPEFYING STORIES 25 finished and released, THE PRINCESS SCOUT launched on Kindle Vella, and the FSPRC* back up and running again, but with all that work done and SS#25 now out and selling both on Kindle and in paperback and THE PRINCESS SCOUT already a Top Faved title on Vella, we’re going to kick back and take a well-deserved weekend off. SHOWCASE returns to its normal daily publishing schedule on Tuesday. Until then, I want to leave you with this little memory of what Labor Day means to me, personally. 

See you Tuesday,
Bruce Bethke
Stupefying Stories | Rampant Loon Press

* The FSPRC is the Fearless Slush Pile Reader Corps. Now that we are open to submissions again, we are also looking for a few new sacrificial victims eager recruits to help us pan for gold nuggets in the flowing slush stream. It’s not a job for everyone, but if you think you’d like to give it a try, let’s talk about it... next week, not now. I’m taking the weekend off.


Way back before the dawn of recorded time, my home town had a jobs program for disadvantaged youth that provided minimum-wage entry-level summer jobs in the city’s parks department. Despite our city's rather alarming poverty stats they could never find enough disadvantaged youths willing to fill all the budgeted positions, though, and so every June a second frantic call went out, for any high-school-aged kids willing to work in their local neighborhood park. This is how I wound up in the program.

It was, I will admit, a pleasantly stupid way to earn a few bucks over the summer. This was way back in time, before the advent of the ubiquitous “Would you like fries with that?” job, as well as (thankfully) before the invention of gas-powered weed-whackers or leaf blowers. So my crew worked outdoors most days, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., schlepping hoses, watering lawns, picking up litter, moving picnic tables around, and otherwise performing similarly arduous and intellectually demanding tasks.

One morning when we clocked in, though, our foreman told us we had a new challenge. The park had a bandshell, and our job was to assemble the temporary stage risers needed for the concert that night. He drove over to the bandshell—and I do mean drove, while we trotted along behind; I don't think I ever saw him get his fat carcass out of that golf cart or without a cigarette in his mouth all summer long—pointed to the backstage door, and told us the riser parts were inside and being a bunch of smart kids, we should be able to figure out how to put it together. Someone asked how long the job would take.

He said, “The union work rules say it takes a full crew four hours to assemble those risers.” Then he putt-putted off.

Four hours? Of course we took that as a challenge! We dove into it, found the rudimentary instructions, figured out how to assemble the thing—it was no mystery to anyone who’d ever played with Tinkertoys or an Erector Set—whipped it together in under an hour, and were just smug as could be when our foreman came back to check on our progress.

He took one look at it and said, “You did it wrong. Tear it down and do it over.” Somebody protested that there was no possible way we could have put it together wrong, but he repeated, “The union work rules say it takes a full crew four hours to assemble those risers. You obviously did it wrong. Now tear it down and do it over.” Then he putted off again.

Okay, maybe, just maybe, we might have missed something. So we disassembled the risers, and then, working carefully and double-checking our work every step of the way, we reassembled them again in about two hours.

When our foreman came back at lunch time to check up on us, he was furious. “You dumb @#&$^#s! Didn’t you @#($*&ing LISTEN? You did it wrong AGAIN!” Somebody tried to explain to him that we were sure we’d done it right this ti— 

“Listen to me! The union work rules say it takes a full crew FOUR hours to assemble those risers! Now you will @*&^ing well TAKE four @#*&ing hours to put those @#*&ing things together or I will @#@(#$*&ing @#(*& your @#^&*$ @#(*&es!"

Oh. Well, when you explain it that way…

We ate our lunches. Someone had a Frisbee. We threw that around for a while. Those that smoked, did. Me, I found a trashy pulp novel* someone had left on top of an electrical box backstage and read most of it. Along about 2:30 or so, some overachiever decided it was time to get going on the risers again, and we did—very slowly—such that we were just finishing it up when our foreman came back to check on us at about five minutes before quitting time.

This time when he looked at it, he was smiling. “Good job. I hope you boys learned something today.”

As a matter of fact, I believe I did.

—Bruce Bethke


I think the book was Ten Years to Doomsday, by Chester Anderson and Michael Kurland. The cover art seems very familiar. A bunch of Medieval warriors in helmets and chain mail, armed with pikes and swords, are squaring off to fight against the who- or whatever is about to emerge from that huge silver Hugo Award-like spaceship that’s obviously just landed—

Except for one guy who is in the foreground to us but behind all the rest of the Medieval warriors, so they don’t see him. He has sheathed his sword, whipped out his BFG 9000, and is drawing a bead on the alien spaceship.

The story seems really familiar. I know it wasn’t The High Crusade, because I would have remembered that one. But the plot was the basic “people from Earth infiltrate Medieval-style society to jump-start their technological evolution so that they can fight the oncoming alien horde that is threatening the entire galaxy.”

If you can find a copy, you may find Ten Years to Doomsday to be worth a look. There’s no characterization to speak of, it’s just plot, plot, plot, plot racing along at breakneck speed, but the idea is pretty clever. An alien horde is coming. If they’re not stopped or slowed they’ll reach Earth in about ten years. The Terran Federation figures they need about 15 years to be ready, so they send a covert team to this planet that’s between Earth and the horde to get the primitive natives ready to fight a space war. The natives aren’t expected to win, or even to survive, they’re just expected to slow the alien horde down long enough to buy the Terran Federation the extra time it needs to be ready for the oncoming war.

Unfortunately, the primitive natives prove to be a little too intelligent and adaptable, and the covert team does its job a little too well. In the end, Earth’s meddling produces a space-faring war-ready culture that not only defeats the alien horde, it’s now ready to launch a full-on Crusade to bring their one true religion to the ignorant heathens in the Terran Federation.

Kinda makes me wonder if the authors of this book ever worked for the US State Department, or maybe the CIA.


Made in DNA said...

Enjoy your weekend off. As I'm heading back that way on the 7th, I also took the weekend off to just read, read, watch TV with my daughter, read, read, prep for trip, take daughter to cheerleading class, and read. SS25 in the lineup, of course.

HA! Sounds like a great book. In fact, I found it on Amazon.

Karin Terebessy said...

“What we have here is failure to communicate”

Made in DNA said...