When father took care of us he would ask me to tell him a science fiction story every morning before he gave me my bowl of Maypo. Mornings were cold in Brooklyn and it took a while for the joints in the fingers to feel like they were working, and a long crowded journey on the snow-melt soggy QB train awaited me. So the Maypo bowl burned brightly in my sensorial imagination as what I would be hard put to be call anything other than an eidolon of earthly happiness.
“Well, Dad I was thinking about a future war that is carried out by demoralizing a civilization’s culture. And the soldiers wear a special kind of suit that when they know how to wear it gives them the ability to do war on a civilization’s culture. So in my story we follow the career of one particular warrior as he learns to use his suit. And we see him training various aspects of it in incredibly detailed, precise ways but ways that are dependent upon aesthetics. Like for example there’s a gun that to be able to operate it you need to be able to tell the difference between genuine self-pity and self-pity designed to get others to respect you as one who has the emotional sensitivity and discernment to pity himself.”
“Mmm-hmm” said Dad and gave the pot’s brown aromatic contents a half a stir with the wooden spoon. Spatters of sticky Maypo stuck to it.
“And then we cut to the big day, this soldier is actually going to land on the alien planet in his culture war suit. And he lands we discover something that we hid from the reader about the suit. It causes him to split into multiple bodies — like a hive-mind — all under control of the central programming of the suit. But his consciousness is split. And like one part of him is off in some alien philosophy academy putting forward a view of personal identity that is helpful to the soldier’s cause, another one is in a technologically undeveloped society introducing a new sort of rhythm that will in some way degrade their ability to co-ordinate with each other, a third is writing a poem about non-violence. He scatters like a firework.”
“And what we don’t realize also is that there is another alien race trying to fight him and this causes the various pieces that he splattered into to be at cross purposes with each other. His identity is fractured and the impact he has on the alien culture is fractured and fragmented and it both etiolates and ramifies over the generations as this alien war between the suit-wearers and the fragmenters plays out in the development of this alien world’s culture, philosophy, poetry and consciousness.”
Dad put the Maypo in the bowl. He took milk out of the refrigerator.
“If in the last sentence of this story you reveal that the planet is Earth you can have a spoon brown sugar.” my Father said and looked at me. “Could be a neat twist. Could add some emotional resonance. Not just a conceptual game, but could speak to why we have such problems.”
I smelled the hot brown sugar and imagined it melting on the maypo and caressing my soft palate.
Hot tears of humiliation sprung from my eyes.
“I won’t! I won’t!”
-translated from the Esperanto by Eric Linus Kaplan