Mutation

by John Holbo on March 8, 2009

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I realize that beaver management jokes are so a fortnight ago. Nevertheless, my wife – because she loves me – bought me a book on the subject.

rodentmutation

(To be fair, she bought a whole bunch of other old paperbacks in the same lot.)

I read it. (Just so you know I have an excuse for not posting or keeping up with my Gerry Cohen reading.) An evil industrialist – who scorns these earnest bureaucrats who want to shut him down – dumps radioactive waste in the river. Result: 20 foot tall telepathic, teleporting beavers terrorize mankind. That’s fairly awesome.

I’ll type out the last page of the book. (Warning: contains plot spoilers!)

“The third possibility,” said Brogan. “The machine has undone the effects of the radiation. He is no longer a genius. He is a normal nine year old again.”

“Sinclair,” said Barney. “I’ve been thinking. I believe he did it on purpose. He wanted to be normal again. He did what he had to do.”

“Now then!” exclaimed Brogan. “That must be it.” He stroked his great beard thoughtfully. “The boy built the machine for us, saved humanity from the menage menace of the radio-active beavers, then decided that he didn’t want to be alone on his pedestal of super genius.”

“He must have known,” broke in Sinclair, “that the machine would neutralise the strange brain powers which the radio-activity had produced. I’m not really sorry though, it would have been a horrible thought to realize that there was a nine-year old child walking around with a brain powerful enough to destroy the universe.”

Discuss. Should the boy have ‘gone Galt’ instead?

{ 26 comments }

1

ffrancis 03.08.09 at 5:44 pm

Please tell me that “menage of the radio-active beavers” is not a typo.

2

Bruce Baugh 03.08.09 at 7:05 pm

If the boy did it without concern for competition, then it was so altruistic a beaver shot as to be gratuitous.

3

Anderson 03.08.09 at 7:06 pm

Wow. That last page would be a great essay question: identify as many ideological presuppositions as you can from the evidence of this passage.

(Are we saved from their menage, or their menace, btw? B/c a menage of radioactive beavers sounds a bit close to joke territory.)

4

Maurice Meilleur 03.08.09 at 8:02 pm

Someone must have told the cover artist that the title of the book was ‘If Beavers Mated with Cassowaries and Started Praying’.

By the way, Jonathan Krohn just turned fourteen, and he looks too young to go Galt. He has the talking down, but I don’t he could pull off the superior chin-jutting and the sexual assault apparently de rigeur for Randian heroism. Nine years must be, by extension, way too young for all that. Even with a very powerful brain. So it really was either world domination or intellectual self-gelding for the kid in the book.

5

JP Stormcrow 03.08.09 at 10:09 pm

Apparently “Bron Fane” was one of many pseudonyms used by this rather interesting fellow, Lionel Fanthorpe.

6

Mary Kay 03.08.09 at 11:00 pm

Thanks, I really needed those giggles today.

Also, science fiction fandom has a sub-cult of Fanthorpe admirers. No, I don’t understand it either.

MKK

7

Righteous Bubba 03.09.09 at 12:28 am

Should the boy have ‘gone Galt’ instead?

From what? Was the beaver taxation scheme more or less communisticalicious?

8

John Holbo 03.09.09 at 1:33 am

Sorry, it is with great regret that I report that ‘menage’ is a Freudian typo for ‘menace’.

9

John Holbo 03.09.09 at 4:30 am

“From what? Was the beaver taxation scheme more or less communisticalicious?”

No, he could have stayed on his perch of genius and let the humans suffer on the (strictly correct) view that a free market in waste management created this situation in which the ‘moochers and parasites’ (i.e. those working for the government rather than the capitalists) are being killed by teleporting giant beavers. In a certain sense, then, it only serves them right that they are being killed by teleporting giant beavers. (Possibly.)

10

Righteous Bubba 03.09.09 at 5:07 am

He could also have invented a machine which makes all people behave like Howard Roark.

11

minneapolitan 03.09.09 at 5:53 am

8: That’s what I was afraid of. Otherwise it would have made a great rollover text for Unfogged.

12

joel hanes 03.09.09 at 5:54 am

A horrible fate, being gnawed to death by yellow incisors like taxicab doors.
And teleporting and telepathic too — I can’t imagine.

The giant beaver of Pleistocene North America seems
to have weighed up to 200 pounds, maybe more.
As to whether it was telepathic, the fossils are mute.

There’s a scene fairly early-on in H.G. Wells’s The Food of the Gods
in which the scientist’s assistant bends over a pond at the end of the garden
into which the lab sink drainpipe has long since introduced the Food.
A giant dragonfly larva lunges out of the water to impale him on pincer jaws.

That, I can imagine.
Have you ever seen a live dragonfly larva up close?
Enough to give a man nightmares
even at a centimetre length. Voracious predators.
We’re lucky they don’t scale up to metres
(althought there were giant dragonflies back in the Permian, I think).

13

Robert Hanks 03.09.09 at 8:01 am

This, I do not believe

That is one of my favourite books, ever. I have been looking for an affordable copy for years.

And here is a true story: in 1982, I went for interview at one of Britain’s more august institutions of higher education. I was confronted by a trio of dons, who took me through some of the answers I’d written in my exam papers, then asked me what I had been reading lately. Rodent Mutations, I told them (I’d been lent a copy by a friend). Ah, they said, looking intrigued, is that some sort of scientific treatise (I was an arts candidate)? Not exactly, I said: it is about giant radioactive beavers who teleport themselves about the country and smash things with their huge flat tails. Ah, they said, and passed on to other subjects.

They sent a report to my school saying – so I was told by a teacher – “This candidate was rather strange.” But they gave me a place anyway.

The best part – if a 26-year-old memory isn’t playing me false – is the long monologue in which a canal boatman explains the etymology of the word “lighter”, just in time for a beaver-tail to punch his ticket.

14

Robert Hanks 03.09.09 at 8:18 am

P.S. I accepted the place, and that’s where I met my wife and everything, so it is arguably the single most significant book of my life.

On the wider subject of beaver jokes, there is a series of children’s picture books about “Little Beaver” – the author has also written “Rachel Fister’s Blister”, which makes me suspect she’s on a mission.

On the other hand, Karen Wallace and Mick Manning’s “Think of a Beaver” – a title apparently designed to invite a smirking response – is a seriously lovely book, a poetic description of a beaver’s life in Hiawatha-style trochaic tetrameter, with drawings in gorgeous subdued colours.

15

yabonn 03.09.09 at 9:55 am

“Now then!” exclaimed Brogan. “That must be it.” He was so clever he saw he best option was a lobotomy! Aren’t we glad we’re normal, not too clever people, dear reader?

Is there somewhere on these interwabs a compendium of these figures? I saw the evil revolutionary one (“look at how the ideals I speak of are dicredited, because of me being an asshole”) on Battlestar Galactica. There are quite a few of them, and they’re lots of fun.

16

kid bitzer 03.09.09 at 10:42 am

but you missed the real inter-genus battle here, john.

this entire book was a vicious blow against the rodents, dreamed up by the mustelids.

there it is, up in the left corner: “badger books”, with a picture of a giant mustelid mammal gazing down on the defamatory spectacle it has published.

there are no giant beavers, john. this is just anti-rodent propaganda spread by the mustelidae to stick it to the rodentia, to denigrate them, belittle them, disadvantage them, and lower them in the eyes of their fellow mammals. it’s a weasely thing for them to do, and they otter be ashamed of themselves for being such skunks, but then again their opponents are rats, and pretty squirrely ones at that.

17

jholbo 03.09.09 at 12:35 pm

This thread has grown awesome. Glad to be of service, Robert Hanks. But I’m not willing to part with my copy for a reasonable price.

You are so right about the hilariously over-long, irrelevant barge and other river-craft-related infodump by the barge folk, concluding with them all dying.

18

Ginger Yellow 03.09.09 at 1:48 pm

“As to whether it was telepathic, the fossils are mute.”

Of course they’re mute. They’re telepathic.

19

ajay 03.09.09 at 2:58 pm

Relevant to Fanthorpe, this classic essay:
http://www.ansible.co.uk/writing/rlfintro.html

“To set the seal on his fame, our author even has his own lightbulb joke … paying loving homage to the thesaurus-bashing which helped him through those mindboggling feats of dictation against time. ‘How many Fanthorpe pseudonyms does it take to change a lightbulb, to replace it, to reinstate it, to substitute for it, to swap it, to exchange it, to renew it, to supersede or supplant it, to provide a proxy, to put another in its stead, to …?’ There is no recorded case of an audience having stayed around long enough for the answer.”

20

Robert Hanks 03.09.09 at 6:54 pm

Oh no, I wasn’t trying to emotionally blackmail you into relinquishing your copy, John. I understand only too well how precious it is.

BTW, information about the schoolteacher I mentioned can be found at http://mfarrell.typepad.com/ukrainestudytour2006/2006/10/about_me_john_l.html, which shows what a small world it is.

21

Kaveh Hemmat 03.10.09 at 4:32 am

#12 you are not kidding about dragonfly larvae. I had one in an aquarium once, a few cm long, and it was an awesome sight to see it just glide through the water without visibly moving any of its limbs (they seem to use jet-propulsion, like squids). Awesome until we discovered it could catch and (partially) eat things several times its own size.

22

weserei 03.10.09 at 6:58 am

@15–Here you go:
http://tvtropes.org

You probably don’t want to follow that link if you have anything important you need to do in the next few days.

23

bad Jim 03.10.09 at 7:58 am

I bemused my father by going into a paroxysm of laughter on encountering a box of Beaver brand steel wool. He didn’t ask for an explanation, and neither did I when I found what he was up to.

24

professor fate 03.10.09 at 6:51 pm

I realize two things – One I need to read this book, Two – I am hediously jealous that someone else wrote this.

25

yabonn 03.10.09 at 7:35 pm

Thanks for the link weserei. The “well intentioned extremist” over there matches pretty well. The site is a little frustrating, though : it describes the trope, but not the function of the trope in the book/fiction. We have over there “what is the tickling apparatus” but not “what is tickled”, so to speak.

26

capelza 03.11.09 at 6:40 pm

“Result: 20 foot tall telepathic, teleporting beavers terrorize mankind. That’s fairly awesome.”

As a graduate of Oregon State University, I can only wistfully wish we’d had these fellas on our football team.

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