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May/June 2012
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

What Immortal Hand or Eye Could Frame Thy Dreadful Copyright?

TODAY was my father's five-hundredth birthday, and also the day that I had determined to murder him.

But before you think too poorly of me, let me inform you that my father was Arden Pence.

Yes, that Arden Pence! Creator and sole owner of what had once been one of the most beloved entertainment franchises in the inhabited Solar System: Rajah Robot and Poxy Toff, Oort Cloud Explorers. A multi-platform, full-sensory, optionally immersive fictional construct that had generated trillions in profits, but which, for the past two centuries, had not manifested a single new idea, instead gradually frittering away all its goodwill and prestige in an endless series of self-imitation and recycling, until now the series was practically a byword for staleness and decrepitude.

I was Arden Pence's sole heir, his son, Kilmer. Although a youthful two-hundred-and-sixty-five years old, I was not getting any younger, and my well of patience had steadily evaporated to undetectable amounts. For two hundred years I had been biding my time, watching in frustration as my father's intellectual property, the delight of my own childhood, dwindled and became a source of predictable mild amusement for the public, all the while waiting for some mortal accident—a quench in the nearest zero-point capacitor, a hail of rogue strangelets from an exploding spaceship—to strike my progenitor and legally deliver the franchise into my hands.

By all rights, Rajah Robot and Poxy Toff belonged to me, as Arden Pence's only relative! But the immutable laws of ownership and copyright—unchanged since the distant twenty-first century, thanks to the Disney corporation and pals: life plus seventy years!—insured that Rajah and Poxy would remain in my father's negligent and uncaring hands. How very unfair!

My father had certainly derived enough income from them already, enough to sustain him for the rest of his immortal years, and plainly he had no more interest in crafting exciting new adventures for his widely beloved characters. I, however, had great ideas about how to revive the franchise, and place it once again at the top of the entertainment pyramid. A complete reboot, employing the writerly skills I had inherited from Dad, but had never been able to utilize. Rajah Robot would no longer have access to multiple bodies, you see, while little Poxy Toff would have to grow up at last into attractive womanhood. As for Flora Aurora and Badfinger Bill—

But it pained me even to contemplate these thrilling changes. I would never get to initiate them, so long as the stubborn and passive old man lived. He was an insurmountable roadblock to my own happy future, and to the potential new enjoyment of billions of eager percipients.

And so I saw no other recourse than to commit a despicable patricide.

I had come up with what I conceived to be a foolproof scheme, ensuring that no guilt would ever fall on me. But I believed with good reason that even if I were caught and sentenced to prison, I could still continue to manage the franchise from either my quasicrystal cell in the Menger Penal Sponge or the surface of the prison moon, Mimas. I had researched the relevant laws, and so long as I derived no monetary profit from my crime, I could retain my hereditary position as Chief Executive Officer of Arden Pence, Ltd. That I would be willing to undergo incarceration for the minimum term of one-hundred-and-fifty years just to rescue Rajah and Poxy had, I thought, to resonate with any judge and jury concerned about the purity of my motives, and I was counting on a quick parole.

And so, early in the morning of my father's five-hundredth birthday, long before any of the guests or catering androids were due to arrive, cloaked in stealth gear, I snuck into his house (a quiet little twenty-room cottage on the shores of the Mare Tyrrhenum; no one could ever accuse Arden Pence of being showy or extravagant in his personal life). Slipping past all the domestic robots, I soon arrived at his bedroom door. I slid in when a robot carrying an empty breakfast tray was stepping out, and locked the door behind me. Casting off my invisibility cloak, I boldly confronted the old man—who of course looked no more aged than I did. That was the whole problem! At the rate medical science was extending our lifetimes, Rajah and Poxy would never be free!

"Arden Pence, prepare to die so that your brainchildren may flourish!"

It was a line worthy of Rajah Robot himself, I thought. But it had minimal effect.

Already sitting up in bed, my father turned to face me with an impassive expression, seemingly undisturbed by the sight of my brane pistol that would, with the slightest flick of my finger, distribute his atoms across an infinity of parallel universes.

He yawned. "Oh, my, the impetuousness and turbulent emotions of youth! How fondly, but without longing, do I recall my own third century."

"Don't try to engage me in high-handed geriatric philosophizing," I said. "Your time has come!"

"Would you mind at least explaining to me the reason for this assault?"

With no little feeling I recounted the whole invidious tale of how he had dishonored his own legacy and my inheritance, and squandered the emotional capital invested in Rajah and Poxy by billions of fans.

When I was finished, my father simply smiled and said, "Oh, is that all? Can't you distinguish ineptitude from cunning?"

"What—what do you mean?"

"Only this. You can't possibly have a revival without a prior decline, can you? And revivals are so much more exciting and profitable and newsworthy than mere steady-state churning-out of product. In this era of endless lifespans, no one can possibly maintain their excitement for a fictional creation indefinitely. Franchises have to go through long cycles of low and high popularity, to generate nostalgia and renewed interest. It just so happens that much of your maturity has coincided with the downtime for Rajah and Poxy. But now, Kilmer, now—! Ah, you will be very surprised by the immense changes I have in store for our heroes!"

I dropped my pistol to the carpet and rushed to my father's side. "Oh, Dad, this is so exciting! I've got some ideas of my own, you know."

"Always glad to start grooming a protégé. Although I wouldn't count on totally replacing me anytime soon. The latest headlines from the Antiagathic Insititute are promising new millennia ahead for us all, with intellectual property rights in perpetuity! Now, if you'll just allow me to have my morning swim in the soma pool and get dressed, we'll discuss what I have in mind."

On the verge of leaving the room, Dad stopped and said, "Kilmer, only out of curiosity—did you ever think of creating your own fresh stories, your own intellectual properties, instead of just waiting for me to die?"

It took me a few seconds to parse the question. "Why, no, I never did. Is such a thing still possible?"

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