Humor: Open Letter to the Daleks re: Repeated Attempts to Destroy Earth

For grins to mark the return of new Dr. Who episodes, here dusted off is my humor piece ‘An Open Letter to the Daleks re: Repeated Efforts to Destroy Earth’

Dear Supreme Whoever Dalek Is In Charge, We Don’t Know Any More:

Why us? Seriously?

Earth science estimates 300 sextillion (1021) galaxies in the known universe, each galaxy containing a stunning multitude of stars, our own Milky Way some two hundred billion (2×1011), many upon many containing habitable planets. By the time the light wave  beaming this letter reaches your planet or wherever you’re out exterminating, we will have greatly increased those counts–galaxies, stars, habitable planets–as our astronomical capabilities improve.  But already we know this: there are so many stars that humanity has invented denominations like which serve no purpose other than counting stars. Seriously, a guy in an astronomy lab called a buddy at the math department and said, “Hey, it’s me. We found more stars. A lot more.” And the buddy said, “How many more?” And the astronomer said, “That’s why I’m calling. We’re out of numbers.”

Of course, those estimates are just in our universe. Dalek technology, as we understand it, adds near-infinite realities in the space-time continuum. Even filtering out dying or uninhabitable universes, the sheer exponential plentitude of Dalek targets make the odds of finding Earth, let alone attacking us once, let alone renewing the attack every few years, infinitesimal. Miniscule. Rather near zero.

And yet you keep returning.

We understand our cultures may be very different. To the Dalek mind, it may be perfectly acceptable to devastate other planets or exterminate indigenous species. We consider it bad form. This is not to say it does not occur here–say wars, deforestation, pollution, that sort of thing–but the behavior is still, on balance, considered uncool.

Is it us? Are we a threat to you? It seems unlikely. Right now our best minds in space flight are focused on tourism, questions such as the artificial gravity and cabin pressure required to keep the tycoon’s champagne bubbling. Our best defense against an inbound asteroid is our NASA positing, “we might could nudge that puppy a few degrees, I don’t know.” Yes, we sent a lander to Mars, our probes have left the solar system, and our telescopes are mapping the depths of space. Know what we’ve found? Ever more perfectly habitable star systems your empire can just have, no invasion or fleet maintenance, no Doctor Who run-ins, no problem.

Daleks, we are no interstellar threat. Do not mistake Star Trek or similar programs on our airwaves for newsreel footage. It’s just quality entertainment. Certainly someday our popular music and talk radio beaming off the planet will be a universe-wide nuisance. For that, we apologize. But we should also point out that, one, it is a mere nuisance easily jammed and, two, had you minded your own affairs and not attacked our planet, our broadcasting waves would still be eons upon eons from reaching your distant empire.

So you feel compelled to exterminate. Have you sought counseling? Our anger management therapies are quite advanced, perhaps superior to your own. We would be delighted to make our therapists available to you pro bono or at very reasonable rates per hour, a bargain for both races given the alternative of another invasion attempt.

If you are not yet ready for co-existence or therapy, then consider the benefits of inaction. As already mentioned, look how we treat our planet. You don’t want it. Trust us. We are the dominant species and are doing our damndest to exterminate ourselves. You could simply stop attacking, wait us out, and take over after Earth has cleansed itself of our leftover contaminants. Why not let us handle things from here? As a token of good faith, we would be willing to send you environmental progress reports. Another important benefit of inaction, of which no Dalek needs reminding, should you stop attacking us, the Doctor will stop destroying you by the shipload. This will spare valuable Daleks to fight the Cybermen or impure Daleks or whoever else you’re out to exterminate at the moment.

Daleks, it comes down to this: you have far more to gain by not attacking Earth than ever you could achieve by a successful attack. If you refuse to accept the logic of a supposedly-lesser species, consider the cold logic of repeated failure. For so many attempts, all your treasure and shock troops sent here have ended up as so much scrap metal and space junk. And yet, it is not hard for us to picture you yet again working yourself into a tizzy over another invasion, knowing even as you bleat ‘Exterminate!’ that the Doctor will–inevitably and decisively–intervene.

There’s another possible explanation why you keep returning,  one you might not yet be ready to hear. You seek not to exterminate us, but to impress us. Why else the continued but doomed attacks? You crave our attention, perhaps even our approval, and being emotionally stunted you act out: fire death rays, tear up London, ruin our Christmases. Daleks, there is a pattern in psychology known as ‘leaky behavior,’ where no matter the front someone puts up, their true and honest feelings leak out in actions large and small. And here you are in your latest incarnation, decked out like our iPods in their fashion colors, and svelte too, trimmed down and sleek by Dalek standards. Or is there another species out in the vastness of space and time that you know to perk up at Daleks clad in  designs ripped from an Apple store? One wonders, Daleks, if you want to exterminate us or make us a playlist.

Daleks, please, stop trying to wipe us from reality and just talk to us. There’s a saying from a little blue planet to which somehow you always find your way back–you only hurt the one you love.

Behind the Short Story: “The Transcendence of Pi”

This March I had the thrill beyond thrill (thrilled2?) of my short story “The Transcendence of Pi” taking first place in On The Premises’ writing contest #19.  I tried to write a good story well — lots of literary inner workings, if you will — and it was a humbling and an honor that the editors thought “Pi” pulled off the trick.

As background, “Pi” wasn’t my first try in their contests. An entry in 2012 bombed out somewhere outside their top 10. I paid the critique fee, advice always worth a few bucks. For me, independent feedback about weaknesses isn’t the time to cheap out. I strive to leverage such stuff across everything I write, not just the piece at hand. Oh, and that flameout story later became “The Carcassonne Dream.”

Maybe the thing that humbles me most about “Pi” is it almost didn’t happen.

PI IN THE FACE

For some time I’d had an idea–okay, a premise, the idea’s ne’er-do-well sibling–about a family having May Day – in the Communist sense – and the accompanying dictatorial ideology thrust upon them. I plowed into the idea but found the ground all stone and clay. I never could grab an ending, or even a climax, a narrative voice or a theme. It never rose above being a “bit” to become a story.

Hemingway said we writers should bleed on the page; me, I had circulation problems. Eventually some deep reservoir of maturity emerged, I saved the file and moved on. As far as readying a worthy contest entry went, it was early January and I faced a yawning creative bubkus.

The good news: the creative energy had stacked up. I needed only to step back and brainstorm deeper (i.e. not preconceived) story ideas. After a few minutes listing out quirky holidays from various lists, one day in particular stuck out: International Pi Day, March 14 every year (3.14, get it? Also, it’s Einstein’s birthday.).

Pi was in the oven. No, I am not above puns.

A RECIPE FOR PI

One word triggered the whole thing: “transcendent,” as in Pi the first transcendental number (that which can’t be broken down into algebraic roots). I had wanted an obstacle, and there it was: a battle for transcendence, or in real life, primacy. I crammed on research and still probably got some of the science wrong. I hope the reader will forgive any such lapses for the greater good of humor.

Pi is of course famously the math inherent to circles, and a circle to me implied relationship, rotation, completion, enclosure. As perfect a circle is, inside it is a prison. So. I had something like Darth Vader and Obi-Wan where the student outshines the master. But student/teacher needs more to make it fresh. Make it an improper romance, layer on his priggish personality, sprinkle in an unspoken power dynamic, and now there’s dramatic potential. Add in Pi Day, a celebration Jon co-opts to stroke his ego which in the story becomes his public drop to second best. A circle makes a nice, fat target to hit.

Next I needed ambience. In this case, math nerds ready to party. Jon and sidekick Roger having something to hide (and Roger there to catch Jon). A big tent and flashy software execs.

I consider “Pi” satire at its core. Successful and roguish Jon is in need of a takedown before he can be redeemed. The axis that topples him is his student/lover Izaka–besting him by rooting out connections among his math that he overlooked. Jon is so preoccupied with himself he can’t see the budding equal/superior mind she is. For the transcendency thread, I needed him as unable to decipher her as he can readily decode Pi. So I tried to make her a mystery: blasé, foreign, flirtatious but unwilling to commit, and a shiny object to keep everyone’s attention.

The fact she might be more into Jon if he were truly into her a mystery he never quite solves. But the story leaves him as shifted as he can in an afternoon, and when things end on the page, his real story begins. Losing Izaka in its way shows him the looping path back to us here on the human plane.

OPTIONAL READING: STRUCTURE AND PROSE

The story is circles within circles, with a parade of pi references either for irony/scene or symbolic effect. I present this outline here as a guide that maybe helps other writers execute similar ideas.

  1. IT BEGINS: We start with Jon at the height of his arrogance: wanting fanfare,  thinking himself above the mountains, standing (trapped) inside his gold circle.
  2. INTRODUCE STORY PROBLEM: Izaka is spoiling his Pi Day groove and threatening to his need for validation and his complete underestimation (& near objectification) of her.
  3. THICKEN/TWIST PLOT: Bring in sidekick Roger to drop the real story problem.  Jon is too self-absorbed to find it on his own, and having Izaka do it spoils her mystery. On with Roger to present the real story problem: she’s a threat to Jon’s place atop the mathematics perch.
  4. AWKWARD SITUATION TO IGNITE THE PROBLEM: Jon heads off to the party, unable to revel in his success because Izaka, the apparent traitor, is in conversation with a serious potential rival (whether Jon would admit it aloud or not).
  5. LET HIM STEW: His misaimed anger grows until he can’t stand it. He tries to upstage her, and when the spotlight dashes back twice to her, he does the worst possible thing – call her out for his own misunderstanding.
  6. CLIMAX & BIG CONFRONTATION:  They fight. Jon loses, stripped of his misconception and the outer layer of his pride.
  7. ROCK BOTTOM: He sees his foolishness and has to watch her walk away, and become the star of Pi Day.
  8. THE CIRCLE CLOSES: Izaka steps forward and Jon backward. But it’s a liberating step back to reality if he takes the lesson to heart.
  9. WE END AS WE BEGAN: Jon has come full circle, from the master to the transcended. He reflects on Pi and his place in the math world in a very changed way, understanding the crowd is ready for him to make it quick and bring on the party.

There you go. Jerk to humbled jerk in 9 steps.