From Harry Turtledove, bestselling author of the Worldwar series and The Guns of the South , a collection of nine stories and three essays that illuminate his broad storytelling range Harry Turtledove earned the title “master of alternate history” from Publishers Weekly for his thought-provoking novels that turn historical facts into gripping tales of possibility. But his writing talent goes much further. We Install offers a showcase of styles, from humor—in “Father of the Groom,” a scientist with a penchant for wild experimentation helps his love-struck son by synthesizing a wedding ring out of two carrots—to classic science fiction, as in the Hugo Award–winning “Down in the Bottomlands” and “Hoxbomb,” in which a regular guy just trying to make a living selling scooters has to deal with some very odd competition. The alternate history tale “Drang von Osten” begins on a bloody battlefield in World War II and ends somewhere quite different. In the brand-new “Logan’s Law,” a man discovers that sometimes, second chances really do work out. The book’s three essays tackle the diverse subjects of how to write alternate history, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings , and the history of Chanukah. We Install will delight longtime Turtledove fans and new readers alike with its rich offerings from one of the finest craftsmen writing today.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Harry Turtledove is an American novelist of science fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy. Publishers Weekly has called him the “master of alternate history,” and he is best known for his work in that genre. Some of his most popular titles include The Guns of the South , the novels of the Worldwar series, and the books in the Great War trilogy. In addition to many other honors and nominations, Turtledove has received the Hugo Award, the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and the Prometheus Award. He attended the University of California, Los Angeles, earning a PhD in Byzantine history. Turtledove is married to mystery writer Laura Frankos, and together they have three daughters. The family lives in Southern California.
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And Other Stories
By Harry Turtledove
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Harry Turtledove
All rights reserved.
FATHER OF THE GROOM
One of the quaint and curious tribal customs of the United States is that, when there's a wedding, the bride's family makes the arrangements and foots the bills. As the father of three girls, I have had occasion to ponder this custom. The groom's family has an easier and more relaxed time of it. That, obviously, was part of what went into "Father of the Groom." Since it is a mad-scientist story, there are also a few echoes of Theodore Sturgeon's classic "Microcosmic God" running around loose. And let me state for the record that when our dear Rachel got married, she didn't go even slightly Bridezilla.
No, it isn't Professor Tesla Kidder's name that marks him as a mad scientist. It isn't the ratty, chemical-spotted lab coat or the shock of uncombed gray hair or the gold-rimmed glasses or the electrically intense blue eyes behind those glasses. It isn't even the fact that he has an assistant named Igor (who'd been in grad school at the University of Moscow when the Soviet Union imploded, and who'd split for greener pastures right afterwards).
No, indeed. It's none of that. By his works shall you know him.
Consider, if you will, the stop light. Perhaps I should say, consider if you can. The stop light plunged an area with a radius of 1.378 miles around his Tarzana laboratory into darkness illimitable, absolute, and — it rapidly transpired — unrelieveable. That circle might be a black hole yet if the cheap AAA battery with which he powered his gadget hadn't run out of juice after a couple of hours.
Or consider his room-temperature super conductor. Professor Kidder was convinced the world would beat a path to his door (now that it could see the way again). Better he should have stuck to mousetraps. No matter how super his conductor was, who needed the poor android in an age of automated trains?
Then again, you might — or, if horror disturbs you, you might not — want to contemplate his motion censor. It did just what it was designed to do, and froze the Ventura Freeway into utter immobility at morning rush hour. Once people noticed (which, given the usual state of the Ventura Freeway at morning rush hour, took some little while), an irate CHP officer pounded on his door and demanded that he turn the goddamn thing off. Traffic eventually resumed the uneven baritone of its ways.
I'm not even going to talk about his microcosmic green goddess. That's a whole 'nother kettle of sturgeon. And some things are better left to the imagination.
I will tell you that lately Professor Kidder has got more and more interested in DNA and genetic engineering. This worries you? Let me tell you something — it even worries Igor.
You might imagine that, with such splendors on his curriculum vitae, Tesla Kidder lives alone, cooking in Erlenmeyer flasks over a Bunsen burner. You might, but you would be mistaken. He is happily married to Kathy, a smashing blonde, and has been for lo these many years.
How? you ask. How? you in fact, cry. Well, to put it as simply as possibly, Kathy is a bit mad, too, or more than a bit. Proof? You want proof? She breeds Weimaraners for a living. What more proof do I need?
They have a son. He looks like Tesla Kidder, except his shock of uncombed hair is brown and he wears contact lenses instead of mad-scientist specs. His name is Archimedes. Some people would get a complex about that. Young Kidder just goes by Archie. He smiles a lot, too. He's the most normal one in the whole family — not normal, mind you, but the most normal.
He majored in physics and minored in chemistry at UCLA. Maybe they'll issue him those gold-rimmed glasses when he starts going gray. Or maybe not. He's head over heels in love these days, not trying to cypher out the best way to turn the moon into a giant economy-sized bowl of guacamole for God's next Super Bowl party.
His beloved is a smashing blonde named Kate. Like father, like son? Well, yes and no. For one thing, Kate is allergic to Weimaraners — and other dogs, and anything else with four legs and fur. For another, she's about as far from mad as you can get. While Archie's doing the research for his doctorate, she's finishing her MBA.
But she sure said yes when he popped the question. The two-carat rock in the engagement ring he gave her didn't hurt, no doubt. And if Archie didn't explain that his father had synthesized it from two carrots, well, can you blame him? When the wind is southerly, he knows which side his bread is buttered on.
Kate and her folks (he does real estate; she's an investment banker) immediately started planning the wedding. The German General Staff may have worked harder planning Hitler's invasion of the Low Countries and France. Then again, they may not have. This was going to be The Way Kate Wanted It To Be.
You might think such elaborate — even anal — preparations would put Professor Tesla Kidder's wind up. Mad scientist, after all, is traditionally a (small-L, please) libertarian kind of job description. For the longest time, he just smiled and nodded and went along.
And why the hell not? All he was was the father of the groom.
At a wedding, the father of the groom is as vestigial as your coccyx (unless you happen to be the non-baboon sort of monkey, anyhow). All he has to do is show up at the rehearsal and the ceremony and drink. That's it. He's not even drinking booze he's bought, because the bride's family foots the bill.
Oh, he has to get a tux, too, in case he doesn't have one or eleven hanging in a closet. But that's okay. Mad scientists tend to look dashing and distinguished in formalwear. Here, for once, Professor Kidder conforms to a rule. He'll try not to let it happen again.
Sadly, Kate also conforms to a rule. The daughter of a real-estate whiz and an investment banker is much too likely to think she has the world wrapped around her finger. Sure as the devil, dear Kate owns a whim of iron.
Archie Kidder has noticed this, proving he isn't quite blind with love or some other related four-letter word. He labors, however, under the delusion that getting away from her folks and alone with him will cure her of this, proving he is as near blind with love or some other related four-letter word as makes little difference.
His cousin Stacey has also noticed this, since she is going to be one of the bridesmaids. She is not blind with love or some other related four-letter word for Kate, even though she introduced her to Archie (which is why she is a bridesmaid). In fact, now she is rather regretting that. The more Kate issues diktats about bridesmaids' dresses and suchlike wedding arcana, the less in love (or some other related — oh, hell, you know) with Kate she becomes. She's starting to get pissed off instead.
Now, bridesmaids' dresses could piss off a saint. And if you are currently visualizing a pissed-off saint in a bridesmaid's dress, you are indeed the kind of person for whom this tale is intended, you poor sorry sod, you. But I digress. Bridesmaids' dresses have the twin virtues of being expensive and, more often than not, wearable only once, because bridesmaids' dresses look exactly like, well, bridesmaids' dresses, and like nothing else under the Andromeda Galaxy. Most bridesmaids' dresses come in one of two categories: the Bad and the Worse.
In Stacey's opinion, Kate was innately oriented toward the Worse. What's more, since it was her wedding, she was damn well going to ram the Worse down everybody else's throat come hell or high taxes. Attempts to reason with the daughter of a real-estate hotshot and an investment banker went the way you would imagine: into a stone wall at high velocity.
Stacey was not pleased. Which is putting it mildly. "She's going Bridezilla on us, is what she's doing," she said at a family gathering.
Now, Stacey is, all things considered, a sweet kid. She made a point of not saying this where Archie could hear it. But she didn't make a point of not saying it where Professor Tesla Kidder could hear it.
Oops. Major oops, as a fatter of mact.
Up till then, Prof Kidder had been occupying himself the way he usually did at family gatherings: comparing and contrasting the flavors of various single-malt scotches. After comparing and contrasting enough of them, he could forget he was at a family gathering. And Kathy could pour him into her van and drive him home. He'd get hair from Weimaraners' coats on his own coat, but there are worse things. A few, anyhow.
If he'd done a little more comparing and contrasting, he wouldn't have notice Stacey's snarking. If he had noticed, he wouldn't have cared. But he did, and he did, respectively.
You could see his ears quiver and come to attention. (No, he hasn't genetically engineered himself. Mad scientists like being mad scientists, except when they turn themselves into giant tarantulas or something. This is a mad writer's trick called hyperbole — I think.)
"Bridezilla?" he murmured in tones that spread nervous indigestion from Woodland Hills all the way to North Hollywood and beyond. "A metaphor perhaps worthy of reification. Yes, indeed." He's not the kind of mad scientist who goes in for mwahaha, but if he were he would have thrown one in there.
At most family gatherings, he would have been the only one there who had any idea what the hell reification meant. And the terror that, uh, terrorized the Northridge Mall might have been averted. But Igor, who was along because the story kind of needs him to be there (and also because he kind of has the hots for Stacey), hadn't learned English halfway. Armed with his rich vocabulary, he proceeded to ask precisely the wrong question: "Are you sure that's a good idea, boss?"
It was precisely the wrong question because mad scientists are always sure their ideas are good ones. It's part of what makes them mad scientists. "Of course I'm sure that's a good idea, dammit," Professor Tesla Kidder declared, at something over twice his usual volume.
"Well, I think we'd better be going," Kathy said brightly. She could tell when the comparing and contrasting might be getting a touch out of hand.
But all the way home Prof Kidder kept muttering "Reification" under his single-malt breath. Since his smashing blond wife didn't know what the hell it meant (she rather thought it had something to do with East and West Germany getting together not long before Igor escaped the XSSR), she didn't worry her pretty head about it. She didn't worry about Weimaraner hair, either. She likes Weimaraners, remember. Nope, Tesla isn't the only mad Kidder running around loose.
A bride and a bunch of bridesmaids constitute a giggle, which is something like a gaggle but shriller and squeakier. You can recognize giggles because they descend on bridal shops and malls with open credit cards. They are going to have fun, and somebody else is going to pay for it. But, to quote from the Gospel according to Theodore, don't worry; I'm not going political on you.
Instead, I'm going to the Northridge Mall with Kate and Stacey and the rest of the girls. And at the same time, thanks to the miracle of narrative, I'll also go to Professor Tesla Kidder's laboratory.
Kate is saying, in a voice that puts some of the bridesmaids in mind of a slightly off-center grinding wheel working its slow way through a fat nail, "No, you're not going to use those handbags. You're going to use these over here." These over here are larger and homelier and cost more. One of the bridesmaids has the gumption to point this out.
Kate's face curdles into an expression that would make even love-addled Archie think twice if he were there to see it. She wheels out the heavy artillery: "It's my wedding, and we're going to do it the way I want to."
Stacey's mouth forms the word "Bridezilla" once more, silently this time. Two other bridesmaids read her lips and ... giggle. What else?
Professor Kidder reads her lips, too. Hooking his laboratory up to all the surveillance cameras in the mall is child's play for a mad scientist. Hell, Igor handled half the design work on the device that lets him do it, and Igor isn't even a mad scientist. He's just an Igor. (And of course Professor Kidder reads lips. Read lips? Professor Kidder practically writes lips. He's a mad scientist's mad scientist, Tesla Kidder is.)
He frowns. "Someone should do something abut this personage," he says. No, he's not talking about Stacey. "Something ... instructive." He nods to himself, liking the word. "Yes. Instructive." And he remembers another word he likes: "Reification."
"You shouldn't take too much on yourself, boss," Igor says quickly. "Once the strain of the wedding is over, she'll be fine."
But Tesla Kidder isn't listening any more. Not listening is another hallmark of mad scientists. Professor Kidder thinks. Then he explodes into experimentation. No, no, not literally. It has happened to a mad scientist or three, sure. Not to Prof Kidder. He's a carefully mad scientist.
He pulls a mouse out of his lab-coat pocket to test the genetic recodifier he's cooked up. You don't keep mice in your pocket? Too bad. I already told you the lab coat was ratty.
Everything works at least as well as he hoped it would. Igor has the privilege of hunting down the recodified mouse. A fire extinguisher keeps him from suffering anything worse than second-degree burns.
He passes on to Professor Kidder a piece of advice from his student days in the vanished Soviet Union: "Make sure they can't trace it back to you."
"Interesting," Tesla Kidder replies. "I don't believe they know I'm working on a long-range genetic recodifier."
"Urk," says Igor. He hadn't known that himself. He hadn't imagined such a thing was possible. He is, after all, only an Igor.
"I didn't plan to field-test it so soon. Still and all, under the circumstances, no doubt it's justified. No doubt at all." As I've mentioned before, Prof Kidder doesn't come equipped with doubts. It's ... a lodge pin, like.
Being only an Igor, Igor does have them. "What about Stacey?" he asks. He also comes equipped with the usual male ductless glands. Anything happening to Archie Kidder's cousin would be a great waste of natural resources, as far as he's concerned.
"Tcha!" Tesla Kidder says, which may mean anything or nothing — he's a master of mad-scientistspeak. He pulls from a shelf not anything or nothing, but something, definitely something. To Igor, it doesn't especially look like a long-range genetic recodifier, but who the devil knows what a long-range genetic recodifier is supposed to look like?
Prof Kidder flicks a switch on the something. He adjusts a dial, then another one — fussily, till they're both just right. Then he punches a button. The something makes a noise. It isn't a great big noise. Then again, it isn't a great big something. A beam of light shoots out. Professor Kidder scowls. That isn't supposed to happen. He pushes another button. The light vanishes. He checks the rest of the instrumentation. By his satisfied grunt, the something still works.
Which means we return to the mall. Kate and the giggle of bridesmaids are in Bed, Bath and Beyond, discussing scented soap. (Testing the recodifier on the mouse and calibrating the long-range version do take a little while, you know.) To be precise — which we'd better be, in a story involving a mad scientist — Kate is discoursing about scented soap. A bad habit, discoursing. Kate is firmly convinced of the superiority of lime to frangipani, sandalwood, or any other scent in the explored universe. Very firmly convinced.
One of the other bridesmaids whispers to Stacey, "She's even starting to look like a lime."
"It's just the fluorescent lighting." Stacey, after all, has spent time around a mad scientist. She's tried to explain impossible things before.
But it's not just the fluorescent lighting, and things keep right on getting impossibler. Kate's complexion goes from lime to Hass avocado: dark green and bumpylumpy. More and more bumpylumpy. Scaly, even. Where has that muzzle come from, with all those sharp teeth? To say nothing of the tail? No, we have to tell some kind of tale of the telltale tail, but not much.
Kate starts to say something else, presumably more about the magnificent wonderfulness of lime. What comes out, however, isn't exactly English. It isn't even approximately English. It's a bubbling shriek of about the volume you would use if you wanted to set Mount Everest running for an air-raid shelter.
What else comes out is a blast of fire. It's Kate's very first one, so it's not a huge blast of fire. But it's plenty to set several cardboard boxes burning, and it's plenty to make the giggle of bridesmaids stop giggling and start running. Running like hell, if, once more, you want to be precise.
The Bed, Bath and Beyond sales staff also opt for Beyond, and at top speed, too. Their customer-service training does not involve dealing with dinosaurian monsters, even ones that just stop in for soap.
Kate follows them out of the store. She hasn't fully figured out what's happened to her. Well, neither has anyone else but Professor Tesla Kidder, and he's off in another part of the narrative somewhere. She tries to complain. More bubbling shrieks come forth. So does more flame. Lots more flame. She's getting the hang of it.
Excerpted from We Install by Harry Turtledove. Copyright © 2015 Harry Turtledove. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsFather of the Groom,
Alternate History: the How-to of What Might Have Been,
Drang von Osten,
The Ring and I,
Down in the Bottomlands,
Perspectives on Chanukah,
Under St. Peter's,
It's the End of the World As We Know It, and We Feel Fine,
About the Author,