The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Cordle to Onion to Carrot" by Robert Sheckley: An Appreciation by Georgiana Lee

Do you ever find yourself wondering why people like to fight online? Do you ask why the argumentative threads get the most hit counts? Have you ever been in a flame war and been baffled by the fact that you just couldn't stop with the witty insults even though you knew your mother would frown on your behavior? Although it was written in 1955, well before the internet became popular and takes place in meat space, Robert Sheckley's Cordle To Onion To Carrot does an excellent job explaining the motivation behind the art of the snark.

It's the story of the thrill that comes to Howard Cordle who learns to be obnoxious and aggressive after years of "being pushed around by Fuller Brush men, fund solicitors, headwaiters, and other imposing figures of authority." The hyperbole used to describe his encounters is wonderful and makes this story even more of a pleasure to read. I particularly enjoyed the escalating pressure brought to bear on a Milanese businessman who makes the mistake of honking at Cordle because he isn't stepping on the gas fast enough at a traffic light in Rome. "Traffic was now backed up as far south as Naples. A crowd of ten thousand had gathered. Carabinieri units in Viterbo and Genoa had been called into a state of alert." And moments later, "There was a thundering sound to the east: Thousands of Soviet tanks were moving into battle formation across the plains of Hungary, ready to resist the long-expected NATO thrust into Transylvania. The water supply was cut off in Foggia, Brindisi, Bari. The Swiss closed their frontiers and stood ready to dynamite the passes." It's beautiful stuff.

But my family's all time favorite line, oft repeated when we want to make a ludicrous point about how manly (and womanly) we are, comes when Cordle dons his girlfriend's raincoat in an effort to circumvent a butler who won't let them into an exhibition unless he's wearing a coat and tie. When the butler points out that the new attire isn't quite up to snuff, saying "You are wearing a woman's waterproof and a soiled handkerchief . . . I think there is no more to say." Cordle responds by saying, "A woman's coat, you say? Hombre, when I wear a coat, it becomes a man's coat." And who can argue with that?

Link to story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the funniest thing I've ver read. A true classic like so many of Sheckley's stories are. The man was a genius.

6:51 PM  

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