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February 2005
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

The Marching Models

"Bookworms and buxom models—perfect together.
"The Penguin Publishing company is sending out sexy fashion models onto the sidewalks of London to grab men they see carrying Penguin books and reward them with cash prizes of up to $1800.
" 'It's to sex up the book industry, which probably needs it,' said Neil Griffiths, author of Penguin-published Betrayal in Naples."
The New York Post, June 8, 2004.

ALL OF MY friends were suddenly getting married. This was most disconcerting to me. Every one of my old, reliable routines and assumptions was being overthrown. I hardly knew what to make of the current fad among my stodgy crowd for getting hitched.

I and my many peers now spontaneously forming marital unions were hardly youngsters. We were all middle-aged males long habituated to solitary lifestyles devoted to books. Literature, scholarly research, the passions of the mind. These were the lonely yet proud intellectual concerns that had filled our lives till now. As for social intercourse, we generally limited that to an occasional night at such bookish pubs as the Slippered Don or the Exegete or the Elephant Folio, nights spent discussing the wild-eyed opinions found in the latest issue of the London Times Literary Supplement. Or perhaps if we were feeling particularly bold, we might all pitch in and charter a bus for an excursion to Hay-on-Wye. Not exactly the kinds of activities or venues where one was likely to meet beautiful future mates.

And beautiful these women undeniably were. The four or five weddings I had attended so far had all featured brides of surpassing attractiveness. These tall, tanned, willowy, well-endowed women seemed a race apart from the grooms, all unprepossessing fellows such as myself, stoop-shouldered from hours of deskwork, pasty-complexioned from dwelling in library stacks. The betrothal of an Eloi to a Morlock could not have been more disconcerting.

And now, today, I had yet another such function to attend. Old Charlie Purslane was taking the plunge. How the demands of married life would possibly allow Charlie to complete his annotated bibliography of every Temperance pamphlet ever printed, I could not fathom. What a waste of such a fine mind and decades of scholarship.

At the church, I found myself seated perforce next to a modishly dressed young stranger on the bride's side of the aisle. Charlie's allotted pews were filled with his numerous relatives, all of whom seemed stunned to be witnessing Charlie's unlikely transition at this late age to married bliss.

Before the ceremony began, I found myself talking to the stranger next to me, out of simple courtesy.

"I presume you're related to the bride."

"Not really. We work together."

"Oh. In what capacity?"

"Sheila's a professional model. I run the agency that employs her."

"Very interesting. Perhaps you know the story of how she and Charlie met…?"

"Sure I do. It's this crazy Penguin advertising campaign. They're sending gorgeous models out onto the streets all across the country to reward anyone they spot carrying a Penguin title. And this gimmick is losing me my girls as fast as I can provide them."

"What do you mean?"

"It's you damn boffins! Excuse my harshness, nothing personal, you understand. Just that you and your kind are making my job hell."

"What can you possibly mean?"

"My models are falling heads over heels for you eggheads. Once they get talking with you big-brain types in the street, they're hooked. These women generally don't interact with your type of chap, the bookworms. It's only this foolish publicity stunt that's breaking down the natural barriers between models and anoraks. And my employees have never been exposed to conversation about intellectual matters before. No one's ever talked to these girls politely and intelligently and sincerely before. It's damnably seductive! They have no natural resistance to your line of patter. The next thing I know, they're resigning from my agency to get married and take up a life of literary soirees in Hampstead or Islington or Highgate. And the first thing they generally do is get preggers. After that, there's no chance of me getting them back into the modeling game."

"Ah, that explains everything. I had wondered where these stunning women were coming from. I knew my friends wouldn't be capable of meeting them on their own. I assume you and Penguin will be forced to discontinue your publicity efforts then, given the mortality rate of the spokesmodels."

"Far from it! Penguin doesn't know anything yet about these developments. You think I want to lose them as a client? So far as they believe, everything's going smashingly. In fact, they plan to expand their campaign. And that's fine with me. I take this temporary setback as a personal affront. I'm going to keep a steady stream of beautiful women catwalking onto the streets until every one of you bookworms is married off. Then the promotional business can get back to normal. Once I run out of local girls, I start outsourcing. There's a huge pool of Russians and Eastern Europeans. Then I go to Asia. There's no way you and your kind can beat me."

"How very curious. This all reminds me of that story concerning Shaw and the beautiful young actress. She suggested that, given his brains and her looks, they should have a child together. But Shaw worried it might get her brains and his looks."

"Don't trouble yourself about that outcome. These women may be uncultured, but they're no dummies. They've got excellent genes and a certain canny ambition. These unlikely new couples are going to produce some exceptional children."

We had to end our conversation then, for the music had begun. Down the aisle came Charlie and his best man, followed shortly thereafter by the glamorous, radiant Sheila and her bridesmaids.

Leaving the church, I wondered about the ultimate outcome of all this outbreeding. Where could such an intermingling of formerly separate castes—the brainy and the beautiful—lead? I couldn't say, but I knew one thing for sure.

I was going to make a point of strolling through London more often, and I was going to be sure to carry a Penguin or three.

An excerpt from The Rise and Triumph of the Glamensas, by Charles Purslane V, virally distributed by HarperGoogle, 2125.

… obvious in retrospect. The hundreds of children born to the "Penguin Parents"—as the couples who had met as a result of the famous promotional stunt engineered by Penguin Publishing came to be called—were models of hybrid vigor. Unlike earlier half-hearted attempts to engineer a glamorous multigenerational elite—consult the index to this book under "Tyler, Liv"; "Hudson, Kate"; "Matlin & Carville"; and "Auster & Hustvedt"—the Penguin Parents progeny proved that discourse longer than a soundbite was still feasible fodder for the mediasphere.

Possessing in almost all cases the superb intellects of their fathers and the mesmerizing good looks of their mothers, they rapidly succeeded at anything they turned their hands to. (The so-called "Shavian" offspring, a small unfortunate mirror-image minority, generally died early and left no descendents. One memorable exception to this rule was the ugly and brutish Montana Coogan, who grew up to become the late-twenty-first century's most rapacious literary agent.) Their passage through society was greased by both intelligence and beauty. As a Glamensa myself, I can testify to the overwhelming effect that a combination of wit and attractiveness exerts on the average mundane.

The first generation of Glamensas deliberately did not favor exogamy, but bred only with their own kind, Darwinically ramping up their genes to even greater potency. By the third generation, the mediagenic Glamensas, almost a separate species, had occupied most of the truly important positions in government, industry, and culture in Britain. By the time I was born, my kind was effectively rulers not only of our country, but of a large portion of the globe, thanks to interlocking directorates, treaties and the like. The populace of mundanes, relieved and grateful for the beneficent rule of beautiful geniuses, heartily support the Glamensa regime.

Where will our elite go from here? Wherever killer cheekbones and gray matter can take us.…

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