What the Dickens?

"Bah! Humbug!" Ebenezer Scrooge was in an evil mood this Christmas Eve. Even the vision of an enormous, animated pair of knockers on his front door hadn't cheered him up. Last Xmas he'd been haunted by three ghostly visitors and bullied into being nice. It had taken him days to pull himself together, fire Bob Cratchit and despatch Tiny Tim to the workhouse ...

Sure enough, a bony, spectral hand plucked at his bed-curtains, and a cowled figure intoned: "I am the Ghost of SFXmas Yet To Come, sent from 1999 to punish you for your evil ways."

"What happened to the other two?" snarled Scrooge.

"It's called downsizing. You, Ebenezer Scrooge, must suffer the torture of a thousand terrible sf/fantasy quotations!" And the ghastly Spirit began to read from an endless scroll.

"Here's the sf way to do spring-cleaning, from Poul Anderson's 'Among Thieves': 'He swept the antechamber with the eyes of a trapped animal.' Now, futuristic swearing – Tully Zetford's Whirlpool of Stars: 'I've said you're a chancroid, Hook, and a burst ulcer, and a candidate for advanced pustular syphiloderma, and I'll go on telling you you're a Pasteurella pestis ...' Strange anatomy in Asimov's Prelude to Foundation: 'His mouth, for a moment, ran liquid and then it slid, almost of its own accord, down his throat.' And advanced linguistics from Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle's The Incandescent Ones – '"Hello, stranger on the road," a voice called in a language not known to me, Turkish presumably.'"

Scrooge whimpered.

"Some interesting geography from Brian Aldiss's Remembrance Day: 'She wore large bronze earrings made in an obscure country which rattled when she laughed.' A grisly stomach problem in John Saul's horror novel Suffer the Children: 'He sighed to himself and cursed the necessity of having a social worker in his midst.' An exotic metaphor from David Gerrold's 'Chess with a Dragon': 'The argument was a peripatetic orang-utan, bouncing off the walls of their separate frustrations like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel.' And a carefully researched sound effect from N.Lee Wood's Faraday's Orphans ... 'The shadow froze and a noise like a disembowelled sparrow chirped above him.'"

The old curmudgeon tried hard to shove his nightcap into his ears, but was gripped by a deadly paralysis.

"Time for some lovely purple prose," the Ghost cackled. "Here's Dean R.Koontz being ... tasty, in Phantoms: 'Somewhere in Snowfield, were there living human beings who had been reduced to the awful equivalent of foil-wrapped Pop Tarts, waiting only to provide nourishment for some brutal, unimaginably evil, darkly intelligent, other-dimensional horror?' And Felicity Savage quietly dropping off in Humility Garden: 'When they finished eating, they would lie silently under the blankets until sleep shuffled over the roofs to the leaded skylight and threw itself down on them, sprawling like a wanton over their faces.'" Now try to visualize this, from Jeffrey M. Wallmann's Death Trek – 'With lightning whisper, the group blenched from a gnomish elder who hunched ashen on one wizened leg.'"

"Aaaargh," Scrooge commented.

"Our star book this Christmas," gloated the Spirit, "is a true classic of differently good sf – Nal Rafcam's The Troglodytes, every page a stinker! 'The echoing of the lesser explosion left the commandos effete.' 'You can probably see that they have to wear camouflage against the strong daylight ...' 'And now not a soul in the world would be any of the wiser as to what secret of the speechless minnows he held and had not divulged. And all because of the insalubriousness of a rock cavity.' 'If we are underground at any depth the rock up there must be as hard as carbon.' 'The period of restoration and universal privation was malingering.' 'So instantaneous and final were those lethal rays that the destructive act was over in but a few minutes.' 'Kurt Semen had repeatedly been jailed for disturbing the peace and inciting unnecessary pathos ...'"

"If that's not a crime," Scrooge muttered agonizedly, "it certainly ought to be."

The torment went on and on, and the aged miser could only take comfort from the chronological wisdom of A.A.Attanasio's The Dark Shore: 'Less than a day remained before dawn ...' Daybreak came at last, and the Ghost evaporated. Scrooge realized that he now loathed sf and fantasy. Every last vestige of enjoyment had been burnt out of him by his sufferings.

"Bah! Humbug!" He vowed to take a terrible revenge on the genre. He would become the literary editor of a national newspaper.

David Langford says: Happy New Century!