My best writing has never been published: until I published it “myself” online, and then I’ve posted mostly merely synopses. Meantime, Piers Anthony is one of the most successful writers in the public world: and he says his best writing has never been published. Unless there’s a Judgment Day with an all-knowing, truthful God at the helm, humans will never know what the best of anything can be. We’ll never know what we’ve buried till we dig it up.
I started writing to amuse myself, to fulfill myself, and to save us. Now I struggle on only to help make a bit of our slip show, so we’ll have no excuse to pretend we didn’t know, once that Judgment arrives, and exposes us.
I want to tell just a bit of one of Piers Anthony’s great science fiction short stories, one that finally did get published, God only knows how. His fame, his wealth, is principally from fantasy, clever bullshit; not from science fiction. I want to introduce you to the story that triggered me to begin writing as a novel an idea I’d initially sketched as a short story. I’ll go to the shed where my library gets mildewed and nibbled by roaches and mice, and hope I can find the remains of that Piers Anthony short story collection, and return with the bibliographical data: the story title, the book title …
Piers Anthony, science fiction short story: early Anthony:
A work crew supervisor is introduced. He’s a sadistic son of a bitch, abuses every micron of power he’s given: and he’s given plenty. His superiors call him onto th carpet not to reprimand him, not to fire him, but to solicit his help in a project. He volunteers. He’s to go to a planet the Federation want to do “business” with that thus far has resisted all attempts to set up a deal. No diplomat has ever returned from the mission.
The guy goes. He arrives on the planet. The reception committee tells him that if he leaves now, he can; if he doesn’t, he’ll be sorry. He stays. They show him torture apparatus. Now it’s too late, but still he stays: the guy dishes it out, but he’s no coward, he can take it too. He notices that his hosts are all torture victims themselves: there are not any not missing an eye, fingers, a hand … breasts, balls … His hosts point out a cup of poison. They are going to torture him. He will retain the option at any time of drinking the poison: the moment he surrenders, his torture will cease: he’ll drink the poison, and die.
They torture him. He never reaches for the poison. Occasionally they pause. With what ever little remains of his ability to communicate with them, he asks: Now are you ready to trade with my Federation? And they resume the torture.
Finally, the guy has no tongue left, no fingers … no balls, no eyes … but they’ve devised a message method. Again he asks, Now are you ready to trade with my Federation? This time their answer changes. We don’t know, they say, that’s up to you.
Only then does he learn the story, and we learn it along with him. The guy’s Federation (that is, us) had sent diplomats to negotiate trade. The diplomats had tortured the planet dignitaries. That planet had no knowledge of torture until we showed them. No matter how tortured, their dignitaries had still declined trade with the torturers, until they died. The planet selected new leaders according to their ability to withstand torture. No one in their history has ever withstood as much torture as he now has: therefore, he is their leader, their absolute dictator. If he wants trade with the Federation, trade there shall be.
The guy has no sense organs left: no eyes, ears, nose, tongue … no fingers to feel with. But he has power.
He’ll summon more diplomats from his Federation. He’ll summon his girl friend whom he hasn’t seen in decades. He knows an ancient Persian torture, something in the sun, under a canoe, that ought to be perfect for her …
Cruelty propagates. Cruelty wins.
I wrote the first few pages of my story The Golden Rule in the mid-1980s. I had a dentist’s appointment the following day. I read the Anthony collection to get to sleep. I didn’t get to sleep. I was awake late, thinking of torture. Then I went to the dentist. If he didn’t know how he was torturing me, he should have.
Back from the dentist I was ready to expand The Golden Rule into Dark Beacon!
I’ve been tortured all my life, but I still haven’t been made ruler of the planet.