365ink #289 April 20–May 3, 2017 - Page 39

Columnists  WELCOME HOME, SORT OF BY BOB GELMS I had just finished reading three heavy books in a row. They were all dark, foreboding and I couldn’t put them down. It was time for a change. I was look- ing for something light and airy, all plot and clever twists. One dimensional characters were fine with me, and it had to be funny or at least witty. I was on the hunt. Happily, it didn’t take me long. I read the title and I knew I had found my next read: Welcome to the Galaxy: or, How I Learned to Appreciate the Importance of a Good Flocking by Martin Tabat. It turns out to be one of my favorite kinds of book. It is about first contact with an alien race and Mr. Tabat turns it inside out, upside down, and back- wards. It is great fun. The twist on the typical first contact plot is clever and witty. It was just what I was looking for. I had an absolutely grand time read- ing it and I found myself laughing out loud – a lot. The astronauts on the International Space Station have been there a while. Their duties, with mind numbing repetition, have gotten deadly dull. Even the novelty that they are among only a handful of humans who have ever been in space has worn off. One day, as if out of the blue, in fact, literally out of the blue, there appears what is obviously a spacecraft about 50 yards from the space station. It’s a very odd looking one but what else could it be and where did it suddenly materialize from? The crew and everyone on Earth, because it is being broadcast all over the world, are abuzz with anticipation. There is the “aliens want to harm us camp” and there is the “aliens come in peace” camp. All of that speculation vanishes when the alien craft starts streaming a message of peace and welcome on the side of their ship much like the crawling sign in Times Square. The alien message is broadcast repeat- edly in every language spoken on the planet. It was time for a member of the crew to make contact. Our attention shifts to the alien craft. There is only one alien on board and his name is Quane. His computers have collected much informa- tion about Earth’s culture and races. He knows that his normal appearance will scare the wits out of the people of Earth so he has devised a dis- guise and sewn himself a raggedy dog costume. It turns out that humans look exactly like a race of humanoids back home near the cen- ter of the galaxy. They are called the Smez and they are very nasty and dangerous and once almost murdered Quane. He is deathly afraid. The Milky Way Galaxy is a spiral galaxy and our solar system sits way out on the far reaches of one of the arms. All the action takes place much nearer the center of the galaxy. There are 10,000 inhabited planets with a fairly large chunk popu- lated by humanoids who, it seems, are nowhere near as rare as earthlings think they are. Now comes the piece de resistance. The first con- tact Earth has with an extraterrestrial being, the final confirmation we are not alone in the universe, this greatest event in human history is with an alien who is a junk dealer. He has come to Earth to sell, illegally, a reconditioned stardrive engine. This engine will allow you to make the trip to the center of the galaxy, which would take 40,000 years with a propellant- driven engine, in about four months. His sale pitch is, to describe it accurately, out of this world. But there is a catch. He will not sell it to one government. The owners of the engine will be all of the people of Earth and Quane requires a payment taken from the whole Earth. I guarantee that you will think about what it is that we think is valuable because Quane does not want money, gold, or precious stones. Quane leaves and all the scientists of Earth chip in to figure out how the engine operates from the schematics he left. It involves our old buddies quantum mechanics and dark matter. Other scien- tists construct the capsule to which the engine will be attached. A crew is picked and off they go. A byproduct of operating this new engine is a substance called Flock. It is the most dangerous sub- stance in the universe. Even just a few molecules will kill everything it comes in contact with. There are two exceptions. Immunity seems to be granted to a race of lobster-like creatures who have a monopoly on manu- facturing the engines. And the other race with immunity is the human race. You will be delighted at the outcome No stretching your bra in cells on this one just pure unadulterated fun. Enjoy! n HOW NOT TO LANDSCAPE Like all art, creating a landscape that appeals to everyone is virtually impos- sible. However, here are a few pointers that will lead you towards a beautiful yard for all to enjoy: DON’T choose plants that require aggressive pruning for the space. DO use trees and large shrubs to create balance. n DO use natural contours… not every- thing needs to be a kidney bean! DON’T create over exaggerated bed lines DON’T use all the same shapes of plants DO mix textures DO use effective groupings of plants DON’T choose landscape materials that take away from your home’s architecture. DON’T use plants that cover too much (remember, they do grow!) DO disguise utility boxes using organic shapes. DUBUQUE365.COMIssue #289 April 20–May 3, 2017 365INK MAGAZINE Columnists  41