This is another story of the shaggy dog variety. A light bit of fluff that amused me for an afternoon. If you don’t get the punchline at the end, then you’re missing a bit of lore in regards to the history of science fiction. I figure it’s only a matter of time before it becomes wholly irrelevant.
“A Snowball’s Chance”
by John Teehan
Satan was freezing his tail off.
“You’ve got to be kidding Me,” the Great Adversary said as He looked up from the latest report from Earthside. “They really did it?”
Redtape, one of the minor demons who specialized in excessive paperwork nodded. The snow from his horns fell and piled about his knees. “They sure did, boss. Five of them at last count–Blish, Boucher, Campbell, Gernsback, and Wollheim–with plans for more.”
“I know. But what could we do? Bolstering the science fiction market was part of The Plan, wasn’t it?”
“Free will was part of The Plan, but that was when they were only inconveniencing themselves. Now they’re inconveniencing Us.”
The minor demon looked upward. Hell doesn’t have an exact ceiling, but the implication was clear. “You think He had something to do with it?”
Satan shook His head sending a swirl of steaming snowflakes down to the infernal floor. “Maybe. He’s been a fan for ages, but this is a little extreme–even for Him. No–free will is to blame. They just weren’t satisfied with what they had, so Mankind went and took the rules for a drunken ride.”
“Their hearts were in the right place,” said Redtape, feeling he should say something supportive of what they were doing up Earthside. He’d been a fan for a longtime too.
“Hubris,” said Satan, “pure and simple. Typical of Man. And now they’ve got more books and magazines than anyone knows what to do with. It’s as if quality didn’t mean a thing anymore.”
Redtape shrugged, “A few reprints would have kept me happy. Do you know how hard it is to find anything by van Vogt that doesn’t smell like a musty basement?”
Satan gave Redtape a sour look and considered reassigning him to the Lower Circle of Literary Critics; but administrative demons who could read and write were hard enough to find. “Do We have a contingency plan on file?”
“For this? Not a chance in Hel–” the demon blushed, “Sorry.”
“Whatever. I think Hell is going to need some help with this one.”
“Shall I page Sam Clemens? I believe he’s still a free agent.”
“He makes My horns itch. No, I think We’re going to have to make a call upstairs. Way upstairs.”
The demon paled to pink. “You mean G–”
“Don’t say it,” said Satan, holding up a hand. “I can’t believe I’m actually considering it.”
“Maybe if we leave things be the problem will go away.”
“On Earth? Don’t be an idiot. You’ve seen the media tie-ins. Give those people an inch and they’ll take a furlong. If this goes on, We might have to make a plea for… Divine Intervention.”
Redtape clasped his hands together, “It can’t be that bad! Please, Infernal One, reconsider!”
Satan brushed snow off His shoulders. “Encouraging cloning technology seemed like a good idea at the time. Imagine it–mankind playing God. God getting all outraged at their effrontery and then wholesale damning left and right. Cloning humans was never supposed to work, but mankind couldn’t even mess up properly. They fell into the one loophole we let slip by and created these inhuman artifacts.” Satan frowned and tapped a clawed finger on the arm of His infernal throne, “Where did they find the souls to animate those clones anyway?”
“They are more like vague consciousnesses,” said Redtape. “They function without souls?”
“What do editors need with souls?”Satan had no answer. The idea was an abomination–and He should know. He invented abomination. Now there were five more science fiction editors wandering around Earth and buying up every scrap of writing that crossed their desks. And more such clones were in the making. Why couldn’t mankind have left well enough alone?
The minor demon pushed some snow away from his chest and pulled out a stack of paperbacks. “Here are some of the new titles coming out.”
Satan shuffled through them. The bindings were stiff with ice but the covers still charred wherever the Adversary touched them. Have Space Station, Will Wander, Caves of Polyurethane, I, Anthropomorphic Mechanical Construct? Who’s writing this drek?”
“Don’t forget the magazines, Alarming Tales, Fantasticissimo, Pulse Pounding Space Yarns and Readers Digest.”
“‘Digest’ as in the biological function,” Redtape explained. “It’s a horror magazine.”
Satan shuddered. “Even I don’t read those.”
“Aside from all the frozen precipitation, I’m more concerned about our quota. We usually have writers lining up to sell us their souls to get published, but that was before the market up there started booming. Now we can’t give our contracts away.”
“Start pushing the award contracts then. With more writers out there, competition for Hugos will be more fierce. Come to think of it, push the Nebula and the Campbell Award contracts too.”
“You don’t think that with Gernsback and Campbell back, they won’t cancel the awards?”
“Are you kidding?” asked Satan. “There’ll be more awards than you can shake a shtick at. Competition will remain stiff. While you’re at it, get Legal to rewrite the webzine contracts. Those have been going bust too quickly and it’s scaring off potential customers.”
Redtape immediately began taking notes. Now they were getting somewhere. Leave it to the Great Lucifer to turn a bowl of lemons into cauldron of bubbling acid.
“We still have our little heating problem down here. Want me to subscribe to the slicks? We could burn them for warmth,” the demon suggested. His leathery wings shivered and cracked.Satan shook His great-horned head, “No, that would only encourage them up there. Pull Nero out of the Great Pit and give him a fiddle. We’ll hope for the worst.”
Redtape made a note, then his pen froze and snapped in half. He prayed under his breath, bit into a clawed finger, exposed a slow trickle of ichor, and smeared another note onto his pad. “Oh, we’ve got another problem in the making. It’s not serious yet, but we should keep an eye on it, sir.”
Satan rolled His eyes. They flipped up back into his head and reappeared out from the bottom. “What now? Another science fiction cable channel? More game tie-in books? Lucas go off his medication again?”
“No. Remember that phrase, ‘A snowball’s chance in hell?’”
“Yeah,” said Satan. He shifted uncomfortably on His throne, “Seemed funny at the time.”
Redtape nodded. The snow had reached his shoulders. “Well with the door open, and all this snow coming in, it’s going to be a while before we figure out how to close it.”
“Harlan Ellison announced a publication date for Last Dangerous Visions.”
Satan looked thoughtful. For a moment, Redtape thought he saw a tear in the Devil’s charcoal-black eye, but it turned out to be just melting snowflakes. The Great Adversary sighed. He looked at His stubby associate just as the snow piled over Redtape’s head.
“This job will be the death of me.”