"If you have any interest at all in satire, SF's New Wave, the Sixties, pop music, comic books, the picaresque tradition in literature, juicy, vigorous, humorous writing, or even such a trivial matter as how the world of 2003 got into the state we daily observe, then you owe it to yourself to read Sacred Locomotive Flies." - Paul Di Filippo
Release date: December 17, 2015
Print pages: 210
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Sacred Locomotive Flies
Richard A. Lupoff
Bensen was enthusiastic about the proposal and issued a contract. I have it beside me now; it’s dated January 20th, 1970. Berkley would pay a modest advance and would publish the book as a paperback original, but there was an unusual clause in the contract. If they were really excited about the book once I completed it, there would be a small bonus for me and Berkley would publish it in hard covers first, then follow with the paperback.
That’s called motivation.
I finished the book in the spring of 1970 and I really felt good about it. So good that I personally hand-delivered the manuscript to Bensen’s office, then went home and waited for his response.
He loved the book. It was the right book for the right moment: angry, funny, sexy, satirical, and serious. He prepared a marketing plan for the hardcover edition, complete with an all-out advertising and promotion plan. Then he presented the plan to his boss.
His boss’s response was succinct: “Nope.”
“‘Nope?’ What do you mean, ‘Nope?’” Bensen demanded.
“I mean we’ll publish this as a paperback original. Let it sink or swim, no support.”
In short, the book was cannon fodder.
Bensen was appalled. “Have you read the manuscript?” he asked.
His boss shook his head. “Haven’t read it. Don’t want to. Don’t need to. Don’t intend to. I’ve read the by-line. This guy isn’t an established hardcover novelist. First hardcover novels are risky. Let somebody else buy his next novel and publish it in hardcover. If it flops, it’s their loss. If it flies, we’ll hire him back for his next book.”
Bensen was outraged.
His boss was adamant.
His boss listened as long as he could, then offered a compromise. “You’re fired,” he said.
Don Bensen was a talented and much sought-after editor. He was promptly hired by Ballantine Books, and in short order had worked out a tripartite deal whereby I bought my book back from Berkley and sold it to Ballantine for the same price. Financially it was a wash.
Unfortunately the project was delayed for a year by these machinations. If ever there was a moment to be seized, this was it, and the Berkley-Ballantine glitch had cost us a year. Instead, some other bozo brought out a book called Another Roadside Attraction that grabbed the audience I had hoped to reach.
More bad news: Ballantine had first gone into business doing hardcover-paperback deals and would eventually return to that policy, but at this point they published only paperbacks.
And still more bad news: Ballantine was having distribution problems at the time and decided to start a new line called Ballantine Beagle Boxer Books (I am not making this up!) which would go out through a new, experimental distribution system.
The new system flopped.
There was one advertisement for Sacred Locomotive Flies. It appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine. The book was ignored by critics (if they ever even saw copies), sales were dismal, and that seemingly was the end of that.
Even so, about a year later I was sitting home one night when the phone rang and a voice asked if I was really Richard Lupoff, which I was, the same Richard Lupoff who had written Sacred Locomotive Flies, and indeed I was.
“Oh, I was just wondering,” the caller explained.
“Well, why did you call me?” I asked.
“A group of us here at the University of California are big fans of Sacred Locomotive Flies, and somebody said you lived in Berkeley, so we looked in the phone book and there you were.”
And indeed, there I was.
I put the experience behind me, as I think one needs to do with such painful events if one is to avoid becoming totally embittered, and went on with my career. And with the rest of my life.
Now, three decades after Sacred Locomotive Flies was first published, Sean Wallace of Cosmos Books is bringing out a new edition. He sent me an electronic file of the text and I cleaned it up a little, mostly correcting typographical errors and other such matters, but making no essential changes to the book.
What I meant as an absurdist, comic satire, reads very differently than it did in 1971. Some of the calculatedly ridiculous projections turn out to be blood-freezingly accurate. Other elements in the book, intended as satire, don’t read that way any more. They come across as pretty nasty stuff. I apologize to anyone whom I unintentionally offended or hurt.
Certainly Sacred Locomotive Flies isn’t the book that I would write today. The world has changed in the decades that have passed since I wrote this book.
And of course I’m no longer the person who wrote this book. I’ve changed since 1970; we achieve at least a degree of enlightenment by living, I hope, and some of the issues addressed and attitudes expressed in this book are not the issues I would address or the attitudes I would express today.
When I look in the mirror today the man who looks back is not the fire-breathing, in-your-face radical of 1970. He’s something of a contented grandpa, more interested in taking his son and his grandson to the ball game (or being taken by them) than in making revolution.
But that doesn’t mean that there is less need for revolution than there was thirty years ago. If anything, there is more need for it. But mine are no longer the hands to make it. I cede that task to younger men and women, and urge them on.
Maybe Sacred Locomotive Flies will help them to avoid some of the mistakes that we made thirty years ago, and encourage them to go out and do better than we did.
Now this all happened in the year 1985, which is good news right from the start and we all like good news, don’t we? I mean, after all the things that the late Eric Blore had to say about 1984 and when he said them everybody thought it was satire and warning, but well before the date arrived it turned out that his words were a literal prediction, only he didn’t have it figured quite how bad things would be.
So just making it to 1985, you have to say to yourself, “Well the worst is past; maybe things are lousy” (they are) “but what the hell, they can hardly get any worse so they pretty much have to get better and that’s good news, isn’t it?” And isn’t it?
Now what’s going on in the world of 1985 we can all figure out for ourselves, just about: look around at the characters as they dance their jigs, pay attention to the hard science in the story, and don’t be lazy—read the little unquoted phases that fall between the lines of dialogue like this:
“These economic statistics for the 1983 alfalfa harvest for northwestern Kurdistan are not sufficiently detailed, Miss Heckinschmidt,” mumbled Lemieux fondling her juicy labia absent-mindedly, “so please have Jackson add a breakout by spring and fall acreage, yield, and cultivation techniques.”
There, see, if you were lazy you missed the only interesting part, and didn’t even know that this book is dirty, therefore worthy of your attention.
So if you’re not interested in broad backgrounds and world situations and you decide to read carefully you can go right on to Chapter 1 and you’ll be okay.
Har har har, now that those guys have gone on to Chapter 1 the rest of us can settle back and see the world of 1985, which is really the best part of the book. We’ll catch up with everybody else when we get to the next chapter. Come along!
DATELINE BERLIN: East and West German officials meeting in heavily-guarded quarters for the past eight months emerged today with a national reunification plan designed to restore the territorial integrity of Germany after forty years of division. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) will be combined into the All-German Federated Democracy, with its capitol in this city.
Two major stumbling-blocks had to be overcome in order that the negotiations could succeed, and spokesmen on all sides of every curtain had praise for the two delegations for the integrity with which they worked out differences between the Communist and non-Communist zones of the country. The two great problems were the political arrangements and the economic systems of the two republics.
West Germany’s capitalist system, while highly efficient and profitable for owners and key managers, had resulted in corruption, exploitation, and other major economic abuses in the West. The GDR’s Communist system by contrast, although producing fewer luxuries, was designed to assure employment end security for all workers.
On the political front, West Germany’s parliamentary system provided for a high degree of personal and political freedom, including free speech and freedom to form opposition political organizations. The Communist republic’s one-party totalitarian system of course permitted few individual freedoms, and had rigidly state-controlled media, suppression or worse of political opponents of the regime, etc.
In the treaty announced today, negotiators provide for the new All-German Federated Democracy to adopt the economic system of the West and the political system of the East.
DATELINE VIENTIANE: Government sources today leaked word of an extraordinary meeting between Mr. Tran Doc Xuan, foreign minister of the South East Asia League, and Baron Tsin Tsu-Lai, ambassador of the Imperial People’s Kingdom of China. Mr. Tran is reported to have presented Baron Tsin with a list of eighteen demands which China must fulfill on threat of the League’s giving full support to the Russian Federation in the continuing dispute between the Federation and the Kingdom.
The list is said to have included the following points:
DATELINE LONDON: Buckingham Palace announced plans for the visit of King Charles and Princess Olga to the official Thames River Depollution Project dedication ceremony, to take place next Thursday.
The King and his consort will share a glass of Thames water, symbolic of the purification process to be applied to the river over the next three years. The glass of water which the royal couple will sip was extracted from the river some six months ago, and has been undergoing treatment by the palace apothecary ever since.
Sources close to the government of Prime Minister Cornelius have unofficially expressed concern that the water may not be rendered potable in time for the ceremony, in which case the dedication may be postponed. Rumors that a similar-looking substance such as gin may be substituted for the ceremonial quaff have been dismissed as politically inspired.
DATELINE QUEBEC CITY: Crowds rioted today demanding the secession of Eastern Quebec from the rest of the nation. Placards and banners in French, carried by mobs numbering in the thousands as they marched on government buildings, accused the national government of being Montreal-dominated and of “selling out” to British sympathizers.
Quebec’s President Georges de Gaulle denied all accusations, proclaiming himself “more French than France,” but rebel leaders remained adamant. Jacques Sortilege, a separatist spokesman, said that the de Gaulle government was guilty of accepting “contaminated francs” from the Canadian government in Ottawa, and that “the damned limey Montrealers” should get out of Quebec and go back to Canada where they belong.
DATELINE HOLLYWOOD: General Entertainment Industries, world’s largest manufacturer of home entertainment equipment, announced that their laboratories had developed a new Personal Entertainment Center to be marketed in time for the Christmas season starting next February. The Personal Entertainment Center, a device about the size and shape of a football helmet, includes loudspeakers for both ears, a special 3-D full-vision color video screen, nasal stimulation devices for odor accompaniment and microfilament taste bud stimulators.
The Personal Entertainment Center can be worn at all times, and has nourishment provided intravenously to the wearer. The standard model is designed to plug into a bedside socket in the home. A portable model is to follow, which can be plugged in to an automobile cigarette lighter.
DATELINE HATTAHATCHIE: Local officials in this Mississippi community denied today that civic priorities were unbalanced. The statement, read on the steps of the village’s combined city hail and tavern, was issued in response to criticisms that $4,000,000 in federal funds should be used to feed starving children rather than to build a new clubhouse for the town’s white-only private golf course.
Mayor Claude Jackson reading the statement said, “There is no hunger in Hattahatchie. This is a progressive community and we would never permit such a thing. All we ask of our citizens, white or colored, is that they get out and work for a living.”
Asked by reporters if the $4,000,000 might not be better applied to increase the local welfare payments of $1.85 per month per person, Mayor Jackson replied, “Why, they’d just spend the money on food and eat it all up if we did that. Use it to build a clubhouse and you’ve got something to show for your investment!”
DATELINE CAPE KENNEDY: Plans went forward for the United States’ first attempted manned Mars shot, despite warnings from the Hollow Earth Society of disaster should the launching take place. Rev. David Perry, president of the Society, declared that the blast of the Mars rocket would, “punch a hole clear through the earth’s crust like a fat kid jumping up and down in a rotten tree-house.”
Despite assurances from NASA and other officials, Mr. Perry, who claims the title of High Bishop of the Universal Holiness Church of Salvation, warned that once the Mars rocket had broken through the earth’s crust at Merritt Island, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean would pour through to the hollow interior of the planet with untold consequences.
“We have documentation as far back as 1759 proving that the earth is hollow, inhabited, and provided with a miniature sun inside. There are natural openings between the outer and inner worlds, and they are in delicate balance. If we create a new opening, the ocean is just likely to pour right through and flood the inner world like a second deluge, and leave us here high and dry on the outside,” he said.
The Universal Holiness Church of Salvation, according to Mr. Perry, is several hundred years old and has, “thousands of members, maybe millions,” worldwide. Mr. Perry, however declined to give details as to the location of any Universal Holiness Church of Salvation congregations.
DATELINE WEYAUWEGA: Owners of National Football League franchises meeting here announced plans to enlarge the League from its present 850 member teams to 900. A full list of new teams was not released, but informants say that among the cities in the running for new NFL franchises are Hodmesovasarley, Hungary; San Fernando de Atabapo, Venezuela; Qodnadatta, South Australia; and Teaneck, New Jersey.
Well that’s the way it goes in the world of 1985. Not too different from any earlier era. As for any later one, there’s no telling for sure. Things have to get better, or do they?
There’s no warranty, stated or implied, that any or all of those factors will reappear in the book. Will we ever encounter Miss Heckinschmidt or the Reverend Mr. David Perry again? How about Mayor Claude Jackson of Hattahatchie, Mississippi? Could he be the same Jackson that Lemleux has working on the Kurdistan alfalfa statistics?
Not only do you not know; you do not even know whether you are going to find out. Oh lord, why don’t they write nice easy straightforward novels the way they used to? That might provide subject matter for one hell of an essay; let me know if you come across it because I’d kind of like to know about that myself.
But this is 1985, and the way they write books now is not something that would please fans of Upchuck the Barbarian. However, the PDQ Network has announced an innovation in HEC programming: a continuing adventure available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week on your Home Entertainment Center. Just think of that, nothing but bashing skulls from now on. (With an occasional commercial, of course.) Think about it.
Freddie Fong Fine, thirty-year-old pseudo-adolescent man-boy, gun-toting drug fiend music lover, curly red-haired yellow-skinned mod-dressed symbol of tomorrow’s today, Freddie Fong Fine, hero of a hundred adventures on a dozen continents, Freddie Fong Fine snuggled the warm, flesh-soft plastic pseudo-leather briefcase on his lap, sliding its surface electrically over the thin imitation silk of his red-and-white striped bellbottoms as he waited impatiently for the thousand-passenger Boeing 3707 to be towed into position on the Pacific shuttle launch ramp. He glanced out the hundred-millimeter-thick quartzite viewport beside his first-class lounger, taking a farewell Look at the BART landfill launchport that stood in the middle of what had once been San Francisco Bay.
Out the viewport and to. . .
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