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Aural Delights Nov 2008

The A Bertram Chandler Story UFO is now available as an audio podcast from Starship Sofa Aural Delights No 48






















The Mentor

Ted White's Time Machine

Among my many allergies are the so-called classics exhumed for publication in the pages of AMAZING and FANTASTIC. I never read them - well, almost never. In the August 1971 FANTASTIC, however, there is a story, THE ELECTRICAL BUTTERFLIES, by Ross Rocklynne, which I did read. Remembering his excellent TIME WANTS A SKELETON in ASTOUNDING years and years ago (I still recall every ingenious twist of the plot) I decided to give it a go.

After the first paragraph I almost decided to give it away. The writing was barely competent, the plot childish and all the characters typical of the Bad old Days of science fiction, including a slightly nutty professor and his beautiful daughter, Susan, But I kept on reading. This story out of the murky past was, unintentionally, a scathing commentary on our own troubled times.

I’ll summarise the plot. Some Things - the “electrical butterflies” of the title - enter Earth’s atmosphere from Outer Space. They are both intelligent and malicious. They take control of human minds and bodies, whereupon the entire world starts going to hell in a handbasket. But all is not lost. The slightly nutty, butterfly-chasing physicist, Susan’s father, the only member of the entire human race to realise what has happened and is happening, makes a sort of magic wand powered with torch batteries to extract the electronic entities from the brains of their hosts, and to destroy them.

All good clean - very clean by today’s standards - fun....

What I found fascinating was the evidence presented for the breakdown of civilisation due to the machinations of the evil extra—terrestrials. Mass murders... One - and one only - student riot... Revolutions in South America - but nowhere else.... Strained international relations... Top politicians opening their big mouths and putting their feet into them...

Fiction then, perhaps - but all too factual now.

The thing that really amused me, though, was the “love interest”. The narrator is engaged to the fair Susan. Susan, having acquired an “electrical butterfly” all of her very own, snarls at him and he, not knowing why, is very hurt. Nonetheless, he takes her out to dinner. While they are waiting for the first course he buys a newspaper, throws her the comics and immerses himself in the news pages. Eventually, tearing himself away from the horrid headlines and peering around his screen of newsprint, be realises to his pained surprise that site has up and left him.

I can just imagine what would happen if I took my Susan out to dinner and attempted the same technique of entertainment. In the extremely unlikely event of her accepting a newspaper as a substitute for conversation, I should get the comics (and the crossword) and she would monopolise the news. But almost certainly she would do the same as the fictitious Susan - and without any alien entity to prompt her.

Still, these so-called classics do serve a useful purpose. They show us how much times have changed and not altogether for the worse.
Originally Published in The Mentor No: 22 - Apr 1972