Authors: John Sladek
Tags: #Science fiction
Enter the SF Gateway …
In the last years of the twentieth century (as Wells might have put it), Gollancz, Britain’s oldest and most distinguished science fiction imprint, created the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series. Dedicated to re-publishing the English language’s finest works of SF and Fantasy, most of which were languishing out of print at the time, they were – and remain – landmark lists, consummately fulfilling the original mission statement:
‘SF MASTERWORKS is a library of the greatest SF ever written, chosen with the help of today’s leading SF writers and editors. These books show that genuinely innovative SF is as exciting today as when it was first written.’
Now, as we move inexorably into the twenty-first century, we are delighted to be widening our remit even more. The realities of commercial publishing are such that vast troves of classic SF & Fantasy are almost certainly destined never again to see print. Until very recently, this meant that anyone interested in reading any of these books would have been confined to scouring second-hand bookshops. The advent of digital publishing has changed that paradigm for ever.
The technology now exists to enable us to make available, for the first time, the entire backlists of an incredibly wide range of classic and modern SF and fantasy authors. Our plan is, at its simplest, to use this technology to build on the success of the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series and to go even further.
Welcome to the new home of Science Fiction & Fantasy. Welcome to the most comprehensive electronic library of classic SFF titles ever assembled.
Welcome to the SF Gateway.
The aliens here are human. This book contains no giant flying snails or telepathic octopods, no Ganymedean cat-women dressed in silver, no aggressive dugong chiefs roaming the galaxy in their pulsar-powered yoyo ships. The aliens here are human aliens. Most of them work in ordinary offices, and they do not commute to work from Proxima Centauri, either. Yet these here humans are aliens.
Office life attracts them, perhaps because of its futility. At least they’ve inhabited offices in fiction since Dickens’s day. Since the Circumlocution Office we’ve had the petty officials of Kafka, the double-thinkers of Orwell, the pathetic cogs of Elmer Rice’s
The Adding Machine
, and that super-clerk of Herman Melville’s,
Bartleby the Scrivener
The Grey Ones
, J. B. Priestley outlined an entire alien conspiracy: Having no souls, They cannot possibly be bored. Thus they must always rise to the top in business and governments, where they can set about killing the souls of others.
Notice that none of these authors can separate the monsters from the victims in office life, for aliens are both. The sociologists who speak of ‘alienation’ manage to alienate themselves through official jargon like this:
… a set of arrangements for producing and rearing children the viability of which is not predicated on the consistent presence in the household of an adult male acting in the role of husband or father …
(meaning ‘families where Dad isn’t home much’). A person who thinks like this may not exactly breathe methane, but there is a giant flying snailiness here.
Here are the human aliens.
‘Whoever is in charge of operations should be designated with real authority to be used in case of an emergency.’
My Life with General Motors
PART ONE: CLERKS ALL!
Section I: The Lutte Agency
Division A: Mr. Gelford
Henry found that, when he had filled out the orange card listing his education, work experience and hobbies, he was permitted to pass beyond the railing next to the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist was a fat, pretty girl whose bare feet would be soft and pink. Being bored in the evenings, especially Sunday evenings, she would draw on black silk stockings and fuck someone in front of a movie camera. Once a famous American executive, watching her in a movie, had had an unusual experience.
Henry moved down the light green hail to a barn-like room where each stall was equipped with a desk and a living soul. The black wooden floor was wavy. Little incandescent bulbs, strung on wires, pumped light into the room, but dark corners drained it away too fast. Henry sat down in the second rank of folding chairs, along with a blind man and a Negro who would someday be a well-known boxer. The blind man’s dog looked at Henry, seeing him.
Henry remembered visiting the dentist with just such an orange card in his hand. He was thinking of some way of explaining this to the blind man or the Negro, when far down the barn a tall man stood up and beckoned.
‘Henry,’ he called. Henry and the blind man stood up together.
‘Did he say Amory?’ asked the blind man.
‘Henry!’ called the tall man again, beckoning over the waves. Henry walked towards him, past the desks of Mr. Blair and Mr. Clemens and Mrs. Dudevant and Mr. Beyle and Miss Knye.
Division B: Mr. Nind
Mr. Gelford asked Henry to call him Al. With a special pen, Al initialled the orange card in several places, maintaining the attitude of a dentist
marking caries. His eyes, small and dark – like human nipples, they were surrounded with tiny white bumps – looked searchingly at Henry’s hair or teeth.
‘Henry C. Henry, eh? What does the C. stand for?’ Henry looked at him in silence until Al turned his nipples to a mimeographed list. ‘Nothing here, I’m afraid, for someone with almost no experience. I’ll turn you over to Mr. Nind.’
Don kept a telephone receiver well in front of his mouth as he spoke, because the inside of his lip had developed a terrible cold sore he wished to hide. It was, as he already suspected, syphilis.
‘I have a really challenging job in a small, friendly engineering company,’ he said. ‘No experience necessary, and there is no limit to how far you can work your way up. What do you say, fella?’
Henry leaned forward and laid a hand on Nind’s desk calendar. ‘Fine, Don,’ he said softly.
Section II: An Interview
In an almost bare room evenly coated with dust, Mr. Masterson toyed with a slide rule, a clipboard, a retractable ballpoint pen and a thin book,
, by Keynes and Keyes. Henry sat motionless before him. Out of the window he could see a soup line, and in the distance a building was being demolished. A man in uniform walked up the soup line, pulled a man out of it and began hitting him in the face. Perhaps later the victim would go to a movie theatre, buy a ticket, enter the Gents and comb his hair.
‘Are you a good, steady worker?’ asked Masterson.
Fingers like white slugs curled around the slide rule. Undoubtedly Masterson was puffy and white all over, like a drowned corpse. His unpleasant glasses were hinged in the centre like motorcycle goggles, and folded hard against the colourless bubbles of his eyes. Mr. Masterson contained a great quantity of liquid.
‘Do you work good?’ he asked.
‘If you work good, we’ll do good by you.’ Henry was never to forget this sentence, for he wrote it on a sheet of paper and taped it in the drawer of his desk, where it became a kind of motto.
‘You start at fifty.’ The corner of Mr. Masterson’s mouth lifted in a kind of smile, revealing a rotten tooth.
Section III: The Arrangement
The Masterson Engineering Company occupied the third and fourth floors of the building. Henry was to work on the third floor. An old man, whose tie was fastened with a paper clip, whose sleeves were rolled high above his parched elbows, led Henry downstairs into a room full of clerks at oak
desks. There were in the room perhaps a dozen, perhaps a hundred men of various sizes and ages.
Gesticulating wildly with his skinny arms, the old man began in a high, clear voice to explain Henry’s duties:
See this here form
This here is the system sheet.
You’ve got to mark it down every time
An assignment bill comes in
You’ve got to mark it down every time
An assignment bill goes out
And put the tally number here off the spec
Or else the item identification.
See this here list
This here is the transfer list,
Where you put the part number here
From the compiled list of numerical transfers
Where you put the description number here
From the B column of the changeover schedule
And mark it down.
We have always initialled our work
We always will.
Be sure you initial the backlist
When you add a serial number
Be sure you initial the adjustment form
When you check this here.
Fill out the job number;
Fill out the item identification index
(Blue and yellow copies),
Make a note on the margin of the drawing
Or on the margin of the transfer book
If the alphabetical register is stamped
And initialled by the proper authority.
‘You’ll catch on …’ Winking, the old man gave his sketches of arms a final flourish and went away. Henry fingered various piles of clean forms tentatively, murmuring fragments of the old clerk’s song; he picked up a coloured pencil and laid it down again. It seems that being a clerk is not all fun!
Henry consulted with himself and decided to learn by observing and imitating the other clerks around him. There were eight clerks around him in the following arrangement: