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August 2003
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Write What You Sell

"Bellevue may be the only municipal hospital in the country to have a literary review…. The review was founded two years ago by Dr. Ofri and Dr. Martin Blaser… '[to] touch upon relationships to the human body, illness, health and healing….'"
—"A Literary Review at Bellevue? Believe It!," Dinitia Smith, The New York Times, October 2, 2002
I HAD worked at Hammock Industries for twenty-seven years now, and enjoyed mostly every minute of my tenure there. From my earliest days in the stockroom, filling orders for our loyal customers, to my ascent through the ranks of management to my present position, Assistant Vice-President for Purchasing, my hours of employment had been filled mainly with excitement and satisfaction. Oh, I suspect most people would have found the engineering and selling of sump pumps to be a boring job. But not me! I knew that Hammock Industries created a solid, reliable product which people—often quite desperate people—really needed. If you can envision the frantic alarm of a home-owner or businessman who finds his basement or warehouse flooded, and his immediate relief when he hears the powerful sucking sound of a Hammock Flowmaster 8000 surging into action, then you can picture some of the daily spiritual rewards I received.

And the business was always changing. Hammock Industries hardly stood still; we simply couldn't afford to, in the face of competition from such deadly rivals as Pettygrove Products and Liquid Removal Systems. We made a point of introducing new technologies on a regular basis. I can readily recall such thrilling highlights as the substitution of silicone gaskets in place of rubber ones across all lines, and the creation of the digital control panel on the MegaSiphon XPR.

I had no complaints about my salary or benefits. (After my first decade with Hammock Industries, I made enough so that Janey had been able to stay home with the youngest two kids.) My co-workers were a bright and funny group of people, especially Jim Blick down in Accounting (you should have seen the crazy getup he wore to the summer company cookout). And the reserved parking space just steps away from the front door was a really sweet perk (although I had been contemplating parking a little farther away, just to burn off a few extra calories and hopefully reduce the ol' spare tire inflated by the tasty fare at the H.I. cafeteria).

So why wasn't I the happiest man in Squaw Blanket, Idaho?

One reason only. This latest crazy plan dropped on my shoulders by the company's owner, Roger Hammock III.

And today was the day I had to report some results to my boss.

Results which I just didn't have a lot of faith in.

Very nervously, carrying a portfolio, I entered the office of "RH3." (That's what we joshingly called him behind his back.) There he sat, a ginger-haired, ruddy-faced fellow a decade or so younger than me. His blue suit came not from Wal-Mart, like those of myself and the other managers, but from some fancy store all the way over in Lincoln, Nebraska. RH3 had been educated out East, and he had picked up and retained some wild and weird ways that frequently disconcerted the average resident of Squaw Blanket. Legend had it that he had contemplated becoming some kind of artist or writer during his undergraduate years. But that plan had been scotched when he had to rush home to take over the business after the tragedy involving his father, when the older man had been buried under tons of mud while inspecting the workings of a balky SqueezeGenie Plus at the bottom of a faultily shored ditch.

This new brainstorm was typical of the son's outlandish notions.

On the wall behind my boss hung portraits of his father and grandfather. I had started when RH2 had been at the helm, and RH1 had even still been alive, stopping in at the office once a month, just to shake his cane at whatever new-model pump baffled him. "What! No horsehair bushings! How does the blamed thing function!?!" We had all had a big chuckle at the old man's stodgy mannerisms, but now I was beginning to sympathize with RH1's frustration with the unstoppable march of progress.

RH3 ceased looking at some correspondence and spoke heartily but commandingly to me. "Mewborn, take a seat!"

I sat down tentatively.

"I'm sure you've finally got a full mockup of the new project there with you. Spread it out! Let's have a look!"

Reluctantly, I opened my portfolio and took out a substantial mass of printout, spiral-bound. I set the mockup down on the desk.

RH3's eyes gleamed. "Mewborn, this is the moment I've been waiting for. At last, Hammock Industries is going to publish its own literary review!"

"Sir, you might wish to temper your enthusiasm until you scan the tentative table of contents and some of the, erm, texts. As you requested, I've tried to gather together some, ah, 'scintillating Joan-Didion-style essays and transgressive Kathy-Ackerish fiction,' not to mention some examples of 'New Wave Fabulism.' But I fear that the appropriate resources for this project just aren't available here at H.I. You've required me to produce something for which we have no pool of ready talent."

RH3 sat back disgustedly in his big chair. "Nonsense! There's got to be enough talent here to launch a simple literary review! My God, if they can do it at Bellevue with a bunch of screwballs, surely we can do it here, with our superior employees!"

Bellevue. How I hated that name! Ever since Mrs. RH3 had spent a few hush-hush months there on the advice of her local doctor and RH3 himself had learned of that hospital's foray into magazine publishing, my life had been fraught with queer new responsibilites and alien concepts.

Thumbing the first sheet of printout, done on heavier stock, RH3 studied it for a moment before speaking. "I can't say I'm wild about this cover. It looks just like one of our brochures!"

I had to admit that the cover illustration was rather drab. The colophon (a term I had recently learned) consisted of hundred-year-old engravings of our very first pump, the Mechanical Mule Bellows, flanking the title: The Hammock Industries Inspirer. The image I had chosen to grace the rest of the cover was a photograph supplied by Connie Riedesel down in Packing: a shot of her young son Wesley riding a state-of-the-art Bilgebuster AAA as if it were a hobbyhorse.

"Well, I honestly thought, sir, that getting an image of our product up front was important. After all, this, ah, magazine is intended to publicize our business, isn't it?"

"Of course it is, damn it! But it's also meant to be an exploration of creativity and the human spirit! We're striving for a high-class, artistic outlet that showcases the passion and dreams of our workers. Not tradeshow propaganda!"

"Well, perhaps the cover could use a redesign. But I'm sure the actual contents will come closer to your vision, sir."

"So long as you took your guidance from those copies of The Bellevue Review I gave you, I'm sure it will. You also studied those issues of Conjunctions, Glimmer Train, McSweeney's, Crank!, and the Mississippi Review, didn't you?"

"Of course, sir."

"Very good. Now, let's have a look inside." RH3 jumped past the table of contents and began to read the first entry. His rapidly furrowing brow signaled no good reaction, and I sought to forestall any chastisement.

"'The World Sucks Like a Sump Pump, and Then You Die.' Contributed by Ed Trippet's daughter, Joan, sir. She was recently suspended from Westlake High for smoking in the girls' lavatory, so I thought she'd do nicely for our 'transgressive' author."

"This, this—this is mere whining and annoying teenager slang, Mewborn! I can't imagine an audience used to William Vollmann's dashing escapades getting excited over this! What else do you have here?"

"Turn to page thirty-one, sir. I think you'll be impressed."

RH3 read only a few paragraphs before thwacking the mockup with the back of his hand. "What do you call this farrago, Mewborn? I'm referring to 'It Never Ends,' by one Shirley Vester."

"Ah, the aforementioned 'new wave fabulism,' sir?"

"New wave fabulism, my ass! This is nothing but a group of recognizable characters from a popular sitcom plunked down in Disney World discussing the reputed inefficiencies of our Quality Control department!"

I grabbed frantically for some buzz words I had picked up in my studies. "I thought Shirley conveyed the, um, 'plastic hyper-reality' of Disney World very boldly."

Now RH3 scanned the table of contents, rattling off titles dismissively. "'Hoses and Roses.' 'The Donkey Engines of my Heart.' 'Born to Clean Filters.' 'Pimps of the Plains and their Ida-ho's.' 'Elk Lodge Hell.' This is all amateur trash, unfitting of any real literary review! Why, I doubt that even the editors of a genre magazine would publish such drivel!"

I hung my head and murmured, "I did my best, sir, with the talent available."

RH3 leaned forward and fixed me with a hard glare. "Not a sufficient excuse, Mewborn. A real editor is expected to motivate his contributors to exceed their perceived limitations. Do you even have any conception of what a story is? What constitutes authentic Wolfean-Thompsonian New Journalism? Your selections here are half-baked water-cooler ramblings, unacceptable in any literary review worthy of the name! As for approaching the greatness of true literature—literature that would reflect the entire range of human emotions and aspirations as contained within the walls of Hammock Industries, both Plants One and Two—they are an absolute farce!"

I was silent for a whole minute. "Well, Jim Blick has some really funny stories from his weekends in the National Guard—"

RH3 actually growled then. He tossed the mockup I had worked so hard on into his trash can.

"Mewborn! I'm sending you to school!"

"To—to school, sir?"

"You heard me! You're heading out East, to Wesleyan or Sarah Lawrence or Bennington or Swarthmore, whichever one of those editor-producing institutions will have you. You'll take an intensive one-year course, learning all there is to know about fiction and essays and magazines. Or at least enough for our purposes. And when you get back here, you're going to produce a publication that will make the Paris Review look like Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet!"

My head was spinning, and I had no idea of who all those colleges and magazines were, or what the next year of my life was going to be like, or what Janey would have to say about all this. In my desperation, I ought to cling to the one bastion of my life.

"Ah, sir, perhaps you could pick a university located in some swampland, at least? Then in my spare time perhaps I could convince the locals to test the efficiency of our newest models, such as the Black Hole Cyberpump…."

RH3 looked irritated for a moment, then brightened. "Capital idea, Mewborn! Let's see, now. I believe the Charles River in Cambridge has been known to flood its banks from time to time—"

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