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Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual
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Enlarge: Lew Stone's rocket pack carries him out of debt, and out of this story

Any system, including systems that are made up of people, behaves like an animal. A system wants to continue living, like an animal; it wants to reproduce itself, most often in the form of committees, subcommittees, and task forces; it wants to continue in its own form and be part of a continuum of systems that look and act the way it does, itself. That's how systems survive.

A system's thinking organ is distributed among its parts so that none of them will feel that they're to blame for what the system does in its efforts to survive and reproduce itself. 'That's just the way it works,' these parts repeat to themselves, even when 'That's exactly the way it doesn't work' is so much more accurate. This is why systems are so easily manipulated and diverted. The thinking parts, in fact, don't think.

So even though all the marchers in the Annual Hoteliers and TavernKeepers Association Parade knew their parade route, and even though they all knew that the Street of Wings ran North to South and never, in all its length, made a right-angle turn, they followed the signs instead of following what they knew to be true.

While Lew flew back up to what would be his last day's work as a window washer the entire parade - which stretched for eight long blocks - obediently followed the street signs and, they thought, the Street of Wings in its new, East to West path.

If any one of them had been walking alone down the street they'd have known that the street signs were wrong. In fact if four or five of them had been walking along they'd have noticed it, talked about it, and come to the right conclusion. But fifteen thousand of them did what they knew they were supposed to do, and they did it to the sound of a marching band, and in step, the way systems like best.

Bonnie Scarlet didn't know any of this. You could argue that her crew on the Revenge was a system, too, so that she should have had an intuitive understanding of what had just happened. But a ship's Captain acts as a reality check on the ship's system. This is the whole point of belaying pins. All Bonnie knew was that when she set out to go anywhere but the Experimental Research District she found herself facing down fifteen thousand people who approached her, headed just that way, in a gigantic, surging, enthusiastic wave, and with musical accompanimen

Reader Comments
There are 4 reader comments on this page.
Thalia says:
January 19th, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I used to date a sailor and so I actually know what a belaying pin is, and I know that they are good for bonking people over the head. Ha!

Bradley W. Schenck says:
January 20th, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Well, my experience doesn’t include sailors and their belaying pins, but there was this huge bowl of guacamole that I don’t like to think about. It’s really hard to get that stuff out of your hair!

dmaestro says:
January 24th, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Nice reference / tribute to a pioneering sci-fi publisher! Maybe there ought to be a special Hugo award for serial fiction on the web, eh?

Bradley W. Schenck says:
January 24th, 2012 at 7:10 pm

As far as I can tell, that’d be a pretty small category… but I’m glad you enjoyed the street sign!

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