*    FROTZ: AN ELECTRONIC ONESHOT  *


  As a young man, I contributed to fanzines produced by friends of
mine, and from time to time I thought of producing a zine of my
own. This never came to pass, since I was never much of an activist in
fannish or other matters. But now at last my time has come! I have the
means of production - electrons willingly doing my bidding - and I
have the occasion - my fiftieth birthday, which clearly has to be
marked by some sort of excess.  So here is the one and only issue of
Frotz. Remember: this is a rare and limited edition which will
become hugely valuable as the centuries pass.

                Millennial mutterings of an old fogey

                 No rocket ever landed on the Moon
                 (although some spiderlike contraption did).
                 It seems we'll talk to Martians no time soon -
                 they may be out there, but they're darned well hid.

                 Our cars still belch the fumes of gasoline
                 instead of swooshing through the crowded air.
                 The roads aren't moving, aliens aren't green,
                 and telepathic colloquies are rare.

                 Yet all these wonders that we hugged so close
                 are now banalities and commonplace.
                 Computer generated, there she blows!
                 the big fat mothership in hyperspace.

                 The future now is ours to live or curse.
                 We pick confetti from our greying hair.
                 In aged brains a sense of wonder stirs:
                 we were prepared, but still caught unaware.


  The heading echoes a title that I used in the old days, "Life among
the Savages". That was long ago, but in a semi-centennial extravaganza
a certain amount of harking back to the days of one's youth must be
expected and tolerated. "Life among the Savages" was taken from a
title of Shirley Jackson's, that fat woman of supreme skill whose
descriptions leave just enough to the imagination, and whose language
is exact.

  Nowadays it's life among the atheists, and almost to a man they are
American atheists.  Only in the US do we find militant atheists,
atheist support groups, atheist liberation movements. Dirac angestun
gesept!  This is because of the peculiar place in American politics
and society of churches and the profession of belief and trust in
God. So I spend some time now and then in alt.atheism, irritating
American atheists.

  Ostensibly, alt.atheism is a group for atheists to get together and
share experiences. In actuality, it is for locking horns with theists,
specifically Christians. The grunting and the rutting of it! If there
is indeed a God, he must smile at the antics of the believers and the
non-believers. The believers and the non-believers rarely smile.  They
are a serious bunch. There is a story by R.A.Lafferty: "My opponent
is an old number nine." That's essentially how it goes in alt.atheism.
There are only so many arguments, and they have all been presented
many times. Indeed, they're presented in the FAQ, but nobody reads the
FAQ. We need to go through these things ourselves, again and again.

  In alt.atheism you will now and then find a representative of the
Objectivist branch of atheism, but they are not prominent in the
group. On the whole, Objectivists prefer to make their stand in
Objectivist newsgroups, where they stand united against the altruists
and other enemies of reason, or even to huddle in special enclaves
for serious students. As one of Dick's characters says, "Let us huddle
together in an effort to mutually understand".

  And so it goes on all through the net. Abortions, origins, gods,
guns, or gays, these exchanges are like Big Macs. One may taste just
like another, but they taste good every time. The topics of abortions,
origins, guns, and gays are not to my taste, but there is usually a
pleasant, crunchy flavor to exchanges about whether divine omniscience
is compatible with free will, or about Einstein's religion, or about
various other topics. Frequently it is necessary to beat a baffled


  There isn't anything to review. I understand science fiction is
still being written, but it goes without saying that it's all inferior
stuff. Well, except for Jack Vance, whose writing remains very good,
even though he is an old man and can barely see. There is
a surprising vigor in his writing still, although his plots have
become more meandering.

  Possibly the fault is with me. I am no longer a great reader. As a
boy I read lots and lots of stuff, much of it by Enid Blyton. It was
wonderful.  Then as a young man I again read lots and lots of stuff,
by the most diverse authors. I read Wodehouse and I read Conrad Aiken,
whose face I can now see on the Internet. I bought books, and still retain the
memory of them. The musty smell of the Ace novel, the new Delany, the
old Kuttner, the Tolkien hardcover.  I rode my bike to school in order
to spend the bus money on books. I read all of Jane Austen's novels
when I was sick, I read all of Thorne Smith when I was well.

  By the time computers came along I no longer read a lot of books, but I
greatly enjoyed the Infocom text adventures. Zork I, II, III, and many
others, like Starcross and Trinity. That game, Trinity, was the main
reason for an excursion to London to visit the Peter Pan statue in
Kensington Gardens.

  Now the days of text adventures are gone and I no longer read any books
at all, but I hugely enjoy the romping action of games like
Unreal, Jedi Knight, Quake II, The Wheel of Time. Sneaking around
corners, jumping off cliffs, firing weapons of various descriptions
I wreak mayhem among the bad guys, who richly deserve it. Computer
games (the only real reason why we need faster computers) have
come a long way.

  We must blame computers and television for the decline of reading
habits among overweight middle-aged men. This is an outrageous
development, and we can only expect things to get worse. These old
farts will no longer be able to spout off about the classics, or even
about the insipid claptrap that passes for writing these days. They
will simply blast you with their zingo-stingo handguns, or whatever
infantile instrument they reach for as you approach. What can be done?


  I have sometimes received unsolicited emails other than spams, from
people who have read something of mine on the net. There was for
example a Kelleyite Objectivist who sought to induce me to join his
moderated mailing list. When I declined, he became extraordinarily
abusive, giving me an interesting insight into this branch of
Objectivism.  Others have asked questions, which I have tried to
answer. Any sustained exchanges that may result from such emails
usually soon peter out. There have been two notable exceptions. There
is my correspondent on the other side of the Atlantic, who thinks
himself a big fat failure. He has no source of income other than the
beneficence of the government, and doctors are baffled by his mental
makeup. He is highly intelligent and his reading is compulsive and
voracious. He has been in the academic business, he knows the ropes,
his arguments are more cogent than those of people who are rich and
successful.  Pondering this, he claims to conclude that he is an
idiot. Of course he knows that he isn't. He doesn't have the magic
ingredient, the pink and green power pellets that bring riches or
success, for all his intelligence, his reading, his cogency. His
mother was a little old lady who married rich in her second marriage
and sometimes sent him money. She died, and her son, sick and
complaining and ill at ease, grumbles on in his tiny apartment, in a
big town with a big university library. We have been exchanging
occasional notes for these past ten years.

  The second notable exception is the woman who has been my wife for
five years now, twenty-three years younger than me. Marcia was born
and grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. I've been there, and I cannot
really recommend the place to the casual tourist. Our exchange did not
peter out but led to various odd occurrences and happenings.  In
Stockholm, when Marcia had a needle stuck into her arm to provide
proof that she was not syphilitic. In New York, where she had to talk
through bullet-proof glass to provide convincing evidence that we
intended to live together. In Meadville, where there was a Labrador
that we fed snausages. In Tyresta national park, where we were
married, the future a blur. When I presented Marcia to an old
acquaintance of mine in Stockholm as my fiancee, he cautiously asked
if I was perhaps using the term as some sort of metaphor.  I said no,
we were going to be married, and he blurted out: "Then there's hope
for us all!".

  WAHF: A tiny bug whose message was too strange for me to fathom.
  Two neighborhood dogs, delightful bitches both. The ghost of
  L. Ron Hubbard, strangely persuasive in his present state,
  so unlike his facile followers. A bunch of students, wondering
  about things or complaining about grades.


  Humanity moves through the millennia like a swarm of gnats,
individually flickering in and out of existence while collectively
peering into the ears of cows and otherwise exploring the riddles of
existence.  A giant being from outer space leaning close would hear
our high-pitched buzzing on a multitude of topics, as intricate as the
dance of electrons. In the time of innocence, humans were like other
animals, facing life and death like the frog or the cow or the dog,
knowing comfort and discomfort, ease and pain, delight and
despair. There are various theories about the cause of our transition
into the human state. This is how it happened: a giant finger from the
sky reached down and touched us and gave us language. We remarked
that we were naked, and hurriedly concocted a set of obfuscatory phrases
to conceal our nakedness. Then we set about to give expression to
our comfort and discomfort, our ease and pain, our delight and
despair, tying our brains into knots in the process. We passed the
miracle of language on to our children, and the time of innocence
was no more.

  We use this miracle of language in little things and big things. We
talk to ourselves if we have nobody else to talk to. Some of us
scribble signs that for a little while will convey to others our own
unique contribution to the great buzzing. Even when we look on
scribblings that no longer mean anything to anybody, we know their
meaning in the larger sense: this was put down on paper or papyrus or
rock by another gnat in the great chorus, one like me, whose brain was
touched by that cosmic busybody who gave us language. 

               Song in my fiftieth year

           Science fiction! The death rays,
           the hyperspace engines brought me,
           not to the far stars,
           but to realities close to the flesh:
           the touch of girls, the smell of ink,
           the queasiness of stomach.
           How strangely entwined,
           the sense of wonder
           and the wonder of the senses.

           "War and famine stalk the world
           like two giant stalking things."
           This from Blackadder, whose mot juste
           applies as much today.
           But things are getting better,
           even in the brief years I've counted up.
           Tom Lehrer also observed events,
           and found that reality outstripped satire.
           Will ever some clown set foot on Mars?

           Silent footage from this century's beginning,
           bounced off a satellite into my home,
           shows me myself most clearly:
           a young boy laughing into the camera
           at a thing so new and exciting;
           an old man hobbling past,
           his mind on things the way they were.
           Somebody points with his cane.
           Somebody lifts a glass to his lips.

           We aging desperadoes stubbornly set foot
           on this planet of our own imagination,
           the planet Earth, whose strange inhabitants
           have faces that tell tales of joys and woes.
           We tilt our necks to look at the stars
           and the stars look back on us.
           There is a stillness in the very air
           and the feather weight of the universe
           falls on our upturned faces.


   Printed using heavy yellow electrons
   The typeface is Onslow 5
   This is no: 37/80