The Things (2010)

In this short story, Peter Watts re-envisions the 1982 SF movie The Thing, from the point of view of the alien entity. As in his novel Blindsight, Mr. Watts shows an interest in neuroscience and the nature of consciousness. Maybe this subgenre could be called NSF – Neuroscience Fiction.

As an aside, there was a 1951 movie entitled The Thing from Another World, with a similar plot (alien creature discovered) and polar setting (but Arctic rather than Antarctic); the 1982 move was a re-make of this earlier movie. And yet another movie version, apparently a prequel, is due for release in mid-October this year.

As another aside, 1982 was the same year that the great SF movie Blade Runner, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, was released.

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Ubbo-Sathla, Gray Goo, and The Devouring Mother

Earlier, I had mentioned the fictional Outer God Ubbo-Sathla, a creation of writer Clark Ashton Smith and set in the same Lovecraftian universe as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. I find Ubbo-Sathla interesting because of a creepy similarity to certain vegetative goddesses of ancient mythology.

Ubbo-Sathla has been described as a great pool of gray protoplasm, seething and bubbling in a subterranean cave. He has very low sentience, if any at all. To touch him is instant death. He continuously sloughs off a flood of amoeba-like “proto-life,” creatures that wriggle away and over millenia perhaps evolve into other creatures such as insects, cats, and humans.

The creepy thing is, Ubbo-Sathla also re-absorbs living creatures. Sometimes he re-absorbs the “proto-life” creatures immediately after they are generated. Sometimes he re-absorbs more highly evolved creatures, like humans, perhaps learning whatever information these creatures might have gained during their lifetime (perhaps this is how he will regain the sentience he once had?). It is said that someday Ubbo-Sathla will re-absorb all life on Earth. The surface of the planet will then be one vast ocean of gray protoplasm.


The idea of an ocean of gray protoplasm taking over the earth brings to mind the hypothetical danger of nanotechnology leading to a Gray Goo scenario.

Maybe Ubbo-Sathla is the result of out-of-control nanotechnology? Eons ago, an alien civilization sent out nanotech spores to seed the universe with life, and Ubbo-Sathla and all earthly life is the result?


Gray Ooze (classic Dungeons and Dragons)


The Gray Ooze That Ate the Indonesian Villages
— Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2006

Ubbo-Sathla already starting to re-absorb all earthly life!


For Ubbo-Sathla is the source and the end. Before the coming of Zhothaqquah or Yok-Zothoth or Kthulhut from the stars, Ubbo-Sathla dwelt in the steaming fens of the newmade Earth: a mass without head or members, spawning the grey, formless efts of the prime and the grisly prototypes of terrene life . . . And all earthly life, it is told, shall go back at last through the great circle of time to Ubbo-Sathla.

— The Book of Eibon (quoted from the beginning of Clark Ashton Smith’s original story)


Ubbo-Sathla reminds me of a 1958 movie called The Blob and its 1988 remake. (Looks like there’s another remake in the works — I must see it.)

But Ubbo-Sathla reminds me especially of a 1985 movie called The Stuff. In this movie, a sinister white goo is found in an underground chamber. It tastes amazingly good, and once you eat it you want to keep eating it — and then it takes over your mind. See the underground scene starting at 4:55 in this YouTube clip. This huge underground pool of white bubbling goo is the spitting image of Ubbo-Sathla!


For an interesting short story involving Ubbo-Sathla, see Omega, by Gary Myers, in his book Dark Wisdom. This book is a collection of Lovecraftian short stories. Other memorable short stories in this collection are What Rough Beast and From Inner Egypt.


I am a big fan of The Teaching Company, which produces college-level courses on CD-ROM and DVD. One of my most favorite Teaching Company courses is Myth in Human History, by Professor Grant L. Voth. The lectures discuss (among other topics) myths about vegetative goddesses who not only create but also consume life; in some of these myths, the goddess is said to actually eat her own children. One example Dr. Voth gives is an Irish goddess named Danu, from whom all life came, and to whom all life must return. Underground temples like the ancient complex Newgrange (which is possibly a temple to Danu, and which is even older than the Egyptian pyramids) are thought to simultaneously represent wombs and tombs (“cradle to grave”). For more on ancient Irish goddesses and Newgrange, see A Womb Not a Tomb, an article by Geraldine Moane.

In his Jung-infused book The Living Labyrinth, Jeremy Taylor mentions the archetype of a mother goddess who gives birth to all life, but in time devours all. As an example, he gives the example of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, who is described as having snapping mouths in all her joints. You can see a rather creepy drawing depicting Tonantzin, Mother and Devourer of All, the One to Whom All Paths Lead, here. Mr. Taylor references another book entitled The Hungry Woman, by John Bierhorst. (The Devouring Mother is a well-known Jungian archetype.)

Another Aztec goddess, similar to Tonantzin, is Coatlicue. Wikipedia says “She represents the devouring mother, in whom both the womb and the grave exist.” I am wondering whether Tonantzin and Coatlicue are two different names for the same goddess.

Online article exploring the origins of the womb-tomb/cradle-to-grave idea: Mother Earth-Mother Death: The Womb and the Tomb

The temples of vegetative Earth goddesses tend to be underground, like Newgrange. Descending into the underworld is simultaneously symbolic of a return to a womb, and of entering a tomb. The underground location is like Ubbo-Sathla’s subterranean location. Ubbo-Sathla thus has a lot more in common with the vegetative Earth goddesses and chthonic deities than, say, with sky gods like Zeus or Thor.

Here’s a broken link that went to a related story; maybe the website is only temporarily down? (I keep the link here in the hope that it might some day be working again.)


Papers on PubMed regarding filial cannabilism (eating one’s own young).


The idea of the cyclicity of life is reminiscent of the Ash Wednesday incantation: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return”, a quote from Genesis 3:19. Also of the idea of reincarnation.


Huge hidden biomass lives deep beneath the oceans — New Scientist, May 23, 2008.

Ubbo-Sathla lives!


The Tower Of The Mighty God Ubbo-Sathla
— photo on Flickr by Midnight-digital


Mother Nothingness (The Triumph Of Ubbo Sathla)
— heavy metal by The Vision Bleak (2010). Listen to the lyrics. It’s interesting that the non-parenthetical portion of the song’s title is “Mother Nothingness” rather than “Father Nothingness,” suggesting the vegetative goddesses and the devouring mother archetype.


Ubbo-Sathla
— electronic music by Flint Glass (2007)


Ubbo-Sathla
— spooky music by Endura (2008)


Review of Mr. Smith’s original tale, by Dr. Hermes:
Why is Ubbo-Sathla particularly heinous?


I think that Clark Ashton Smith knew about the goddesses who devour their own children, so the similarity between Ubbo-Sathla and these mythological figures may not be accidental. At the very beginning of the original story, the protagonist is browsing in a curio shop and finds a magic crystal that leads to his adventures. Right next to this crystal was a figurine of an Aztec god. Although the figurine doesn’t play any role in the story, maybe, just maybe, it is a very tangential reference to Tonantzin/Coatlicue? (OK, that’s a stretch. More likely, the null hypothesis is true, and it was just chance.)

I think it might have been cooler had Mr. Smith made Ubbo-Sathla female rather than male, to leave open the possibility of equation with the ancient goddesses.

For verisimilitude, it also might have been cooler had he given Ubbo-Sathla a name similar to one of these ancient goddesses, as if it were a corruption of the original name, in the same way that he corrupted the names of Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu in his quote from The Book of Eibon (see quoted text above). E.g., a name similar to Danu or Coatlicue, like Danugah or Kwat-Lagu. (Yes, the names Danu or Coatlicue may themselves be corruptions of original names.) Well, I’m sure Mr. Smith had a reason for settling on Ubbo-Sathla.


Addendum (11/27/11): Here are a pair of recent MetaFilter posts that seem relevant:
My name is LUCA, I live on the ocean floor
Did Life Begin As A Ocean-Sized Lifeform?

The latter post in particular has two comments that reference Ubbo-Sathla.

Realistic Science Fiction and Realistic Fictional Science

I happened upon this online article: Six scientists tell us about the most accurate science fiction in their fields. The article mentions some SF books that might make interesting reading.

The Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth sounds interesting; it’s described as the original version of Idiocracy (2006). Unfortunately, it’s out of print and used copies on Amazon.com are rather costly.

And I’m gonna have to check out Peter Watts’ Blindsight.


As a follow-up to the reference to Peter Watts’ Blindsight, in the Comments section of the online article user tom_blackwell provided a link to a faux scientific slide show presentation on the science of vampires. There’s lots of tongue-in-cheek science humor in this:

Taming the Nightmares of Yesterday for a Better Tomorrow.

Delivered by Dr. P. Watts, Senior Scientific Officer, FizerPharm, Inc., at the Seventh Annual International Conference on Transhuman Science, 2008, Vancouver, B.C.

Whoever composed this slide show — probably Peter Watts himself — has obviously attended scientific conferences and has a feel for the cadence of scientific presentations.


Other science humor in which scientific studies (some fake, some actually not) are presented:
The Journal of Irreproducible Results
Annals of Improbable Research (organizer of the Ig Nobel Prizes)


You might think from the name that The Journal of Spurious Correlations is yet another science humor journal, but it’s not. It’s intended to combat the file drawer problem. Unfortunately, it appears to be defunct.


SCIgen – An Automatic Computer Science Paper Generator. Give it a try and generate a technical paper with yourself and your pet cat as co-authors.

Three randomly generated talks were delivered at a satellite session of the 2005 World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI). It would have been very amusing to have attended these talks.

In 2008, a randomly generated paper was accepted for presentation at a prestigious technical conference, and the fake author (“Herbert Schlangemann”) was even assigned to chair a panel. Figures 1 and 2 from the paper are a real hoot. The References section looks “real”.

And then in 2009, a computer-generated paper was accepted for publication by a peer-reviewed (?) journal. Here’s a link to the paper.


There was a recent article on the Chronicle Review that mentioned a 1973 study in which a colorful actor was “programmed” to deliver a fake lecture (“The Doctor Fox Lecture”) to real students and professors, and the fake talk was warmly received. (The paper mentions that the lecture was videotaped. They should post that videotape on YouTube.) How about “programming” a colorful, distinguished-looking actor to deliver a randomly generated talk? Wouldn’t that be great?


Algorithmic Detection of Computer Generated Papers


Here are two books by well-known SF authors that deal with the murky dividing line between science and pseudoscience:

Borderlands of Science, by Charles Sheffield
Kicking The Sacred Cow, by James P. Hogan (died only a few months ago)


Addendum (09/22/10): It occurred to me that I could’ve been clever and entitled this post Realistic SF and Realistic FS, but I think it’s better to spell out “Fake Science.”


Addendum (11/28/10): Changed the title of this post!


Addendum (09/24/11): Video footage of the legendary Doctor Fox lecture.

The Mangler, and The Great Appeal of Horror Fiction

I.K. (and I think his brother F.K.), R.M.B., and my father have asked, why do people like to read horror stories, or watch horror movies? Why would I ever want to be scared?

I think part of the fun is seeing how skillfully a master yarn spinner like Stephen King unfolds (unmangles? see below) a story. In the Introduction of Night Shift, an anthology of short stories by Mr. King, John D. MacDonald writes:

Note this. Two of the most difficult areas to write in are humor and the occult. In clumsy hands the humor turns to dirge, and the occult turns funny.

So, part of the fun is just admiring how well a skilled story teller writes.

But this is only enjoying the horror story as a work of art, admiring a master’s expertise in his craft. I think there is a more visceral appeal of the horror story: the very experience of submerging oneself in a world created by the writer. (And it seems appropriate to evoke viscera when discussing horror fiction. Glistening internal organs sliding past one another…) Mr. King explains it better than I can.

One of my favorite short stories by Stephen King is The Mangler, which I have mentioned previously, and which appears in Night Shift. The Foreword that he wrote for that book is in itself a good read. There, Mr. King writes:

Fear makes us blind, and we touch each fear with all the avid curiousity of self-interest, trying to make a whole out of a hundred parts, like the blind men with their elephant.

We sense the shape. Children grasp it easily, forget it, and relearn it as adults. The shape is there, and most of us come to realize what it is sooner or later: it is the shape of a body under a sheet. All our fears add up to one great fear, all our fears are part of that great fear – an arm, a leg, a finger, an ear. We’re afraid of the body under the sheet. It’s our body. And the great appeal of horror fiction through the ages is that it serves as a rehearsal for our own deaths [italics mine].

I think Mr. King is onto something here. I think that the appeal of horror movies and horror stories, at least in part, is that it allows us a safe way to consider our own mortality, our own funeral, in an indirect and vicarious manner.

(I suppose I.K. might respond, “But that begs the question. Why would I ever want to rehearse my own death?” :-))


Mr. King wrote a book entitled On Writing, subtitled A Memoir of the Craft, in which he recounts his career as a writer. I think that The Mangler is based on some of his real-life experiences with laundries. On pp. 19 and 24 of On Writing, he mentions that when he was a child his mother once worked in a laundry on the “mangler crew,” and hated it.

One meaning of the word mangle comes from the laundry business, which is “to press fabrics by means of heated rollers” (so a mangler is a machine which presses fabrics). But another meaning is “to mutilate or disfigure by battering, hacking, cutting, or tearing”. In The Mangler, Mr. King is playing on the two senses of the word. This is delicious, delectable; it is fun to toggle back and forth between the two meanings, one mundane and the other gruesome, in my mind.

On p. 58 of On Writing, we learn that as a college student Mr. King himself picked up a job working in a laundry. And then on the next page, p. 59, we read about this creepy incident in the laundry:

On one occasion I heard a strange clicking from inside one of the Washex three-pockets which were my responsibility. I hit the Emergency Stop button, thinking the goddam thing was stripping its gears or something. I opened the doors and hauled out a huge wad of dripping surgical tunics and green caps [apparently, local hospitals used the laundry’s services — M.], soaking myself in the process. Below them, lying scattered across the colander-like inner sleeve of the middle pocket, was what looked like a complete set of human teeth. It crossed my mind that they would make an interesting necklace, then I scooped them out and tossed them into the trash.

Try to imagine if you had unexpectedly been presented with a collection of human teeth, grinning up at you in a disembodied rictus. I think I would have felt a giddy, fleeting fear in the pit of my stomach. It would make me think of somebody being tortured, and getting his or her teeth pulled without anesthesia. And I would think of a dread voodoo that requires human teeth as an ingredient for some black magic spell.

And then on p. 60, we read that Mr. King had a “floor-man” (which I take to be a sort of supervisor) named Harry. Mr. King describes this guy as follows:

Harry had hooks instead of hands as a result of a tumble into the sheet-mangler during World War II (he was dusting the beams above the machine and fell off). A comedian at heart, he would sometimes duck into the bathroom and run water from the cold tap over one hook and water from the hot tap over the other. Then he’d sneak up behind you while you were loading laundry and lay the steel hooks on the back of your neck.

I think it is likely that these somewhat negative or creepy experiences with laundries inspired Mr. King to write The Mangler.


Here’s an academic paper by poet Susan Stewart (now at Princeton University), in which she examines the inner workings of the horror story:

Susan Stewart, The Epistemology of the Horror Story, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 95, No. 375 (Jan. – Mar., 1982), pp. 33-50

Professor Stewart’s article starts:

NOWHERE ARE NARRATIVE’S IMAGES of unfolding, of hesitation, of the step and the key more thematically profound and more clearly worked on the level of effect than in the horror story.

Unfolding. There’s that word again.


Addendum (07/16/09): Cleaner has head cut off in giant meat blending machine. (via Fark)


Addendum (07/22/09): Woman found dead in a machine at a food processing plant. Investigators believe it was accidental. She died from “crushing injuries from a robotic packaging machine.” (via Fark)


Addendum (05/21/10): Man freed after getting hand caught in wood-chipping machine at Buderim. Reminds me of a scene from this movie. (via Fark)


Addendum (05/23/10): N.Y.-Toronto train kills 2 in separate collisions. Reminds me of Stephen King’s evil train, Blaine the Train. (via Fark)

Police: Man sucked into sausage seasoning machine. It “somehow” became activated while being cleaned. Somewhat more reminiscent of the first Mangler movie than either of the two sequels.


Addendum (07/28/10): Missing man crushed in trash compactor


Addendum (07/28/10): Worker dies after being crushed in paper roller machine in Claremont


Addendum (08/13/10): 2 NC men rescued after being trapped in hot dryer. “Authorities say one man got into the dryer to free an item that was jammed and he was overcome by the heat.”

(Recall that the original Mangler story was set in an industrial laundry facility.)


Addendum (09/28/10): Gardener decapitated in freak wood chipper accident


Addendum (01/24/11): Tortilla Factory Worker Killed in Mixing Accident. Sounds more like a Masher or Crusher, than a Mangler.


Addendum (04/12/11): Man dies after falling into pasta machine.


Addendum (05/24/11): Madelia man killed after being run over by his own riding mower.


Addendum (06/19/11): Woman killed in Bellingham steam roller accident.


Addendum (08/22/11): Lawnmower Slips From Jack, Kills Cemetery Worker.


Addendum (08/26/11): FDA warns of strangulation with massage machine.


Addendum (08/29/11): Worker’s leg crushed at Pepsi plant in Tampa. “The St. Petersburg Times reports this was the third major casualty at the plant in six months.”


Addendum (08/30/11): Sky Harbor worker gets trapped under baggage carousel. “The cause of the incident is not known.”


Addendum (09/21/11): Company fined over worker killed while cleaning blender.


Addendum (11/13/11): Child Saved From Washing Machine. “Surprisingly, that machine was out of order. ‘And I haven’t been able to run it since, and I haven’t been able to run it just before.’ ”

Spooky.

Have you ever wondered if that laundry machine you told me about is haunted, Johnny?

— Quote from The Mangler, by Stephen King

(12/18/11: This one was so striking that I was compelled to give it its own post.)


Addendum (11/18/11): Alton man dies in wood chipper accident in Belleville.


Addendum (11/27/11): Worker’s hand minced in Swedish meatball mishap


Addendum (12/18/11): Woman dies in freak NYC elevator accident


Addendum (12/18/11): Man dies in horrific accident after getting stuck in food grinder at hummus plant


Addendum (5/8/12): Horror as boy, 12, is crushed to death by automatic gate while playing game of chicken with friends

Machines Versus Biologics

A machine that eats organic creatures; there’s something unsettling, disturbing, wrong about that.

It reminds me of one of my favorite Stephen King short stories, The Mangler. To my delight, they have made a movie based on this short story, and there’s even a sequel. I haven’t seen either movie yet, but they are in my Netflix queue. (As an aside, the Netflix Prize may have been won! Via MetaFilter.)

I just remembered — some years ago, there was a report about a robot that eats slugs, and uses the energy from the slugs to power itself. It was called the SlugBot. Maybe they can revamp one of those robot lawn mowers so that it is powered by its own grass clippings; it would be a sort of robot cow, so maybe they could paint it with the “cow spot” pattern.

Man versus machine is a recurring theme in science fiction. SF author Gregory Benford wrote a sequence of books called The Galactic Center saga; I think there are seven books in the series. In Benford’s universe, there is an epic galactic war between all mechanical life (the Mechs) and all biological life, spanning thousands of years. In the Matrix movies, you have the sinister machines that enslave humans, using them as a source of energy, as if they were living batteries. The Matrix scenario was very reminiscent of a short story by Dean R. Koontz entitled Wake Up To Thunder which I read back in the 80’s, in an anthology of SF short stories; here, enslaved humans were used for computational power, which seems more plausible than using humans as a source of energy (but I note that we already have robots that use flies and slugs as sources of energy!). SF author Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series also pits machines (the TechnoCore) against humans; I might be mis-remembering, but I think the machines used humans for computational power every time humans used teleportation technology that the machines provided. In Battlestar Galactica, you’ve got the Cylons. And of course, in the Terminator movies there’s Skynet.


Addendum (07/16/09): Biomass-Eating Military Robot Is a Vegetarian, Company Says (via MetaFilter)


Addendum (07/17/09): Company Denies its Robots Feed on the Dead (via FARK)

Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath

For S.J.F.:

From Wikipedia:

“Despite his notoriety, Cthulhu is not the most powerful of the deities, nor is he the theological center of the mythos. Instead, this position is held by the demon-god Azathoth, an Outer God, ruling from his cosmically centered court.”

Another Lovecraftian entity that I mentioned last night was
Shub-Niggurath, a.,.a. “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.” (For some reason, I remember the name being slightly different, Shub-ish-Niggurath, but that seems to be incorrect.)

According to my copy of Deities & Demigods (James M. Ward with Robert J. Kuntz; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Games, Inc., 1980), Cthulhu has 400 hit points, is armor class 2, has 30 attacks per melee round, doing 1-10 HP damage (times 30!), is 100′ tall, and is chaotic evil. And he also has the powers of a 20th-level magic-user/illusionist.

See also: A Lovecraftian Bestiary.

Here’s a Lovecraftian MTG card: Cosmic Horror.

Published in: on 25 January 2009 at 6:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Lovecraft is Missing

Comic strip about H.P. Lovecraft going missing; click on the “Next” button to start. Via MetaFilter.

Lovecraft Bestiary.

Why We’re Here (Lovecraft Cosmology).

Published in: on 14 January 2009 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sinister Carnivals

For S.F. and I.K. Follow up to the topic of (evil) carnivals, which arose last night over coffee. I forget how our thought chain arrived at this topic; do either of you remember?

I haven’t read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but my understanding is that it’s about a sinister carnival that comes into town. I’ll put it on my list of things to read.

I mentioned that there’s a Philip K. Dick short story that involves an evil carnival. The short story is entitled A Game Of Unchance, and it’s one of my favorites. Martian colonists are visited by a sinister carny ship that promises to entertain them with “FREAKS, MAGIC, TERRIFYING STUNTS, AND WOMEN”. The (male) colonists are strangely drawn to the show, as if they’re being beckoned by the Song of the Siren. They become entranced, and allow themselves to be swindled by the carny. The story may be an allegorical comment on manipulative advertising, which can cause people to do things contrary to their best interests; e.g., the old lottery tag line, “You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play”, encourages people to bet their money on an outcome with a negative expectation, which (it can be argued) is especially harmful to poor people. You can find this story online via this web page; go to the bottom and click on the link “Show full text: 990,314 characters”. Then search the resulting page for the second occurrence of the word “unchance”; this places you right at the beginning of the story.

There’s also a short story by H.P. Lovecraft entitled The Festival.

And then there’s the Festival of Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky. Yeah, it’s not truly “evil”; it’s a totally different way of organizing a civilization, more like an ecology, or even a living creature (like James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis). But before I read far enough into the novel to find out what it really was, the Festival seemed kind of sinister. They promise to give you anything you like, as long as you entertain them. It sounded fishy to me, too good to be true; there must be a catch somewhere, it must be a Faustian bargain! Maybe I had the PKD short story in mind. Maybe that’s exactly the impression that Stross was hoping to get across; perhaps he has read PKD’s Game of Unchance.

And have you noticed that a lot of carnival music is downright creepy? E.g., check out this YouTube video: Creepy Carnival Music. Or check out this music. Also consider the theme from Gremlins (1984).

The Perfect Match

For S.F.

Maybe in the future one can make an exact duplicate of oneself for a spouse, complete with life experiences and cultural/academic tastes? Maybe using a matter duplication device? Might not work for heterosexuals though. 🙂

Check out this humorous poem about clones.

In Rudy Rucker‘s 2001 book Saucer Wisdom, there’s the case of the Thousand Ang Ous. Some guy in the far future named Ang Ou used “femtocloning technology” to create a whole army of himself! The authorities eventually rounded up the army of Ang Ous and exiled them. (You can use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to check it out yourself — see p. 265.)

Kind of like the Marvel supervillain Flashback, who’s able to summon copies of himself from the future, to create a whole army of duplicate selves.

Published in: on 21 December 2008 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Mule

For S.F. (“Science Fiction”?)

You were right — Asimov’s mind-controlling galactic conqueror was called “the Mule” because he was sterile. I guess that Asimov wrote this in so that the character couldn’t have progeny with the same mental powers (and thus perpetuate the threat).

The Mule reminds me of Larry Niven’s Thrintun race, with the power to control other creatures’ minds. Don’t play with the Sea Statue! Like Asimov’s Mule, this was a unique threat — the last surviving member of a now-extinct slaver race.

Also reminds me of the story about King Croesus (as in “rich as Croesus”) asking the Delphic Oracle whether his reign would last long. The Oracle’s answer was that he should beware the day when a mule was king of the Medes. Since it seemed unlikely that such a thing would come to pass, Croesus took this as a green light to attack the Persians. Unfortunately, Cyrus, King of the Persians, was half-Mede and half-Persian, and thus could be considered a “mule” (though not sterile). Cyrus defeated Croesus!