I need a pan-galactic gargle-blaster…

Well, I am just lying here in front of this bulldozer… We’ll see who rusts first. Life resembles art, but not in a good way. The local council have indeed threatened to demolish my house. No, they didn’t tell me right up front, but they didn’t quite wipe a couple of windows and charge me a fiver (no, a lot more than that), but yes, they did threaten to demolish my house. On Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. For what it is worth, I was supposed to produce a document, which required a lot of other paperwork – plans, permits, fire certification etc. I’ve done my level best to get all the bits I had to try and get before the deadline from private certified experts – at considerable expense and hassle, we’ve at least got something – but… the two documents I need from the very people issuing the threat… have not been finished by them. They had a time in which these are supposed to be done by law, and I submitted in time for that… but well, it’s not even saving their grandmother from the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal. I’ve appealed, for what good that may do. It’s rather like the mouse appealing to cunning old Fury, to give you another literary allusion (Lewis Carrol, the Mouse’s Tale).

Seriously, one of the things that this experience has done for me is to teach me that Douglas Adams must have been writing from life. I have, from experience, a deep distrust of government and especially bureaucrats — but I have met a few who do their jobs, and one who makes the rules work for you, instead of against you. I am now closer to understanding the true nature of Vogons – and why they make the ideal villain – like Dolores Umbridge (a bureaucrat, imbued with power by bureaucracy, because she really was pitifully inadequate.) Vogons of course are ‘not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous.’ — and their ‘constructor fleets’ only actually ever destroy things. Everyone has experienced them, and, across the spectrum of backgrounds and differences of the people who might read your books… well, some of us have experienced evil, and some of us have experienced cruelty, but we’ve all had to deal with Vogons.

It was in a way why I have made them villains in the PYRAMID SCHEME books, as well as having delightful aspects of their nature pepper other books I have written… and it is a large part of what immediately bound me to the HITCH-HIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. It was an extremely funny (and very popular) series. It is, conceptually, pretty damn ridiculous. So: what makes it work?

Well, at least in one part, the Vogons, and the fact that Douglas Adams sticks his quill into so many things that annoy all of us and gives us a chance to laugh at them. That, to me anyway, is the greatest joy of the books. They do allow us that weapon against the untrammeled power of ‘authority’: laughter, which is a fifth dimension to them.

Next week I may be living in my car, but I promise I will write up the ridiculousness of the entire performance. From the outside it is very funny, full of the most ludicrous absurdities and futilities you could imagine (they are, for a start, supposed to already have the most of the documents they demand of me – the house was moved 350 yards, and all of that documentation had to be created and turned into them when it was built. So: they’ve got it (or are supposed to have), but I must re-create it. I’m a statistician, and the real probability of the ‘danger’ that guv’mint is protecting me from – I can calculate for each incident. Most of them are virtually impossible. I think they’re trying to build an improbability drive.

Sadly, the Vogons are costing me a lot of writing. I’d say my readers are down four books they’ll never get, because I am not Wowbagger.

Well, Nil carborundum illigitimi.

Nil desperandum.

23 thoughts on “I need a pan-galactic gargle-blaster…

  1. I haven’t heard of pan-galactic gargle blasters in ages.
    There’s not much I can do from here except pray, but that’s been done and I will try to keep on doing it. FWIW, I was a bureaucrat (US Department of Defense) and it’s not a ton of fun from the inside.

  2. I’m praying as well. I hope your appeal gets heard, and this entire [rude adjective] nightmare ends in your favor.

  3. Oh, and I concur on the bureaucrats and Adams. Having tangled with a few bureaucratic systems (“we can’t tell you the requirements until you sign up for the program and start paying the fees, then we’ll tell you what you need to do and what classes you will need for the alternate certification to do what you’ve been doing for the last decade and more”), I now laugh in different places than I did the first time I read the books.

  4. I don’t think I could handle it as well as you seem to be doing. I’ve been waltzing with the bureaucracies around health care for my brother. They have mostly been trying to be helpful and I’m still having to fight not to channel my father. (Turning purple and issuing ultimata is not going to help).

  5. Bureaucrats really need to be tarred and feathered on a more frequent basis.
    But the FBI would call the effort “a conspiracy to kidnap a public official”.

  6. Bureaucracies are intrinsically inhuman. When working properly they must behave with regard only to the rules and no regard for the people. When working improperly they are entirely unpredictable and irrational.

    Neither is humane.

    Which is why all bureaucracies are supposed to have an Executive at their head, whose entire job it is to make those human moral judgements, and to be the one who accepts the moral risk of being in error. Which means they must be run by true martyrs, which is also a rather inhumane thing to demand in a day job.

    So it is no small wonder, after they reach any real size, they create Vogons to run them. How could they not?

    1. Back in 2021, I did some online thinking about the problem of bureaucracy. I drew some basic conclusions: that bureaucratic structures appear whenever an organization becomes too large for the members to know one another personally, so it becomes necessary to formalize rules and expectations in order to prevent pernicious favoritism. But once it forms, the formalized rules often become an end unto itself, rather than a means, with a variety of unpleasant results, including a moral disconnect between actions and their consequences, to the point that otherwise decent people can do horrible things on the basis of the assumption that, because someone with legitimate authority told them to do so, there must be a legitimate reason to do so.

  7. The more you ask for mercy, the more a nuisance you are, and the greater their desire to get your whole affair out of the way. They’ve got too much to do as it is, and to be saddled with dealing with the affairs of real people, well, that’s really too much, isn’t it?

  8. I do not know that part of the world, my experience limited to a cruise from Sydney to Auckland, bookended by trans-Pacific flights. I have the impression from Heinlein, who passed that way in the 50s, that New Zealand bureaucrats loved ramping up the war-time restrictions, to the point that the USSR might die of envy.

    I pray for your peace, comfort, health, and healing.

  9. On a separate topic, I’m trying to find the right era of war to use as a template for the wip and wondering how folks go about that?

    From a story standpoint it just needs to be infantry centric rather than heavily mechanised, and needs to be believable in the context, but is not the core plot thread, so it’s pretty open ended.

    Core setting is back water scifi. I’d figure anything you can make in a machine shop they have access to, but most scifi grade hardware is extremely rare/valuable. I.e. they use a mix of steam, diesel and fusion powered trains, but mostly steam because they’re technologically simple to build and run.

    What I’m sort of seeing is a conflict between peers who are both limited in advanced technology, but aware it exists the same way most countries know F-16s exist, but don’t have any. Also one faction does have the capacity to manufacture untrained people to be cannon fodder.

    So probably heavy on infantry and artillery, minimal to no airpower, and maybe light armored vehicles?

    I don’t think it would fit anything before the first world war, but I also don’t think it would have the sort of issues that caused that war to turn into the trench warfare stalemate that one did.

    On the other hand, because it is a peer conflict, it doesn’t fit the various police actions either. It is a war to the knife, and the only reason we aren’t seeing some of the truly horrific things biotech could be used for is they tend to be the equivalent of priming a nuclear hand grenade and sitting on it.

    I’m almost thinking it may end up being more like the Ukraine war seems to be turning out, or possibly the Mexican civil wars?

    So, yeah, what do you all do when you need some sort of major system for your fantasy/scifi universe and don’t have one yet? How do you figure out what would work/be believable for a given setting or story?

    1. “Core setting is back water scifi.”

      First question for almost any scifi: “Can they call for off-planet help, and if they can, are they likely to get any and what kind will it be?”

      Hammer’s Slammers would fall apart pretty quickly without interstellar comms and travel…. unless they have the tech to stage their own, which from your description, they might. Does “fusion powered trains” mean an onboard reactor? Then they might be able to figure out how to make it road worthy.

      1. This particular conflict is pretty isolated. I know the region got pretty deep into making people, probably because raw population was a major issue early on, and given biotech is extremely dangerous and unreliable, it has more or less be regulated out of existence in the core worlds, and in the periphery, getting to edgy with it is a pretty good way to end up dead for many reasons, so the whole region is more of less seen as icky to the core powers.

        Sure a lone space-jack might decide to go buzz things, but probably not. Think of them more as space truckers with space trucks.

        And you could probably make a fusion bottle mobile. But when you have about a dozen between both factions, and, at most, three weapons grade lasers to run with them, they are probably a concern, but losing even one of them would likely be decisive.

        Which may answer what happened with them; they’ve all vanished into hidden industry/tech centers lest someone make them go pop. And does make them handy as potential macguffins.

      1. How much of a bloody mess we talking about?

        The way I see the region is going through re-industrialization after being reduced to the stone age. Large regions are simply forest with nothing resembling logistics yet. I figure desiel is mostly either cracked or synthesized at the few space ports and shipped out, but I’m also thinking the ground fill us largely crushed asteroids so there are likely various coal like deposits surround as well.

        My thought on steam is, if it burns you can use it to run a boiler, and add in a limited amount of electronic measurers, you could make it work without much more advanced industry, but by the time you can use desiel in heavy use, you’re probably past the industrial revolution level of development.

        1. The thing about coal-powered steam is that it probably HAD to start in the UK because they used coal for heat, and in a coal mine, it really doesn’t matter how inefficient your steam engine is. It took quite a bit to get it efficient enough to make it worthwhile to ship coal to power it.

          For instance, artillery was the path way, because it led to precision boring. If you can make a cannon consistently the same width so you can have standardized cannonballs, you can make a piston. (Indeed the first industrial use of it outside mines was in the artillery shop of the guy Watt went to to get precision pistons.)

      2. I am open to changing it if it is reasonable for everything to be desiel first and largely skip steam. I’m aiming more for a very rural/remote living situation. Sort of the way Africa was still using steam engines on a lot of routes for long after the rest of the world had switched to desiel electric trains.

  10. The American Civil War seems to meet your specs, especially if trains are the main transport for logistics.

  11. Bad words, bad words, bad words!!!!!!

    If it comes down to demolition, will you have enough notice to strip the house? Can you find a place to store things? That beautiful counter top! Cabinets, doors, windows?

    This is infuriating.

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