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Temple, William F. – “The Two Shadows” (1951)

02/14/2013

Not time travel or robots, so it must be about the end of the world (in 2003), rather clumsily described as:

“A divided Earth, struggling with a divided mind to preserve itself, had fallen into the desperate error of preventive war. The disease germs, as thick as clouds in the atmosphere, were proving to be the conquerors of both sides. Earth, quivering under the impacts of countless atomic missiles, many darted into its side by its own satellite and human colony, flung out a seed.”

Said seed, though, crash-lands on Mars, leaving only two survivors: the cultured and urbane (and whiny) Johns and the brutish, self-centered industrialist Malatesta. Mars is livable but drab, covered with sickly grass and populated by hairless rabbit-mouse things (with a Schiaparelli reference dropped into the discussion of the lack of artificial structures), so the stage is set for endless arguments between Ayn-Randisms (“You only believe in a system of equal shares for all because you’re weak–too weak to fight for your share. So you invent this thing you call social justice to get your share for you, so that you don’t starve.”) and Johns’s Frasier-esque whining about culture and history (He felt a certain sense of loss but it was for the Acropolis, for the Uffizi Galleries, the Louvre, the Sistine Chapel, the Taj Mahal–not for the lately living people of Earth. The hills that Shakespeare had walked on around Stratford-on-Avon, the City of London, redolent with history…).

This goes on until they fortuitously find an amnesiac nurse from the ship who had been comatose up until this point. As she functions as nothing more than a tiebreaker to be swayed to one side or the other, they name her Madge… for “majority.” Malatesta wins her affections handily, and Johns is banished to live on his own… until he finds what appears to be a carved head. Returning to camp, he finds Malatesta burning books (In Earth’s dark history there had been many a “burning of the books.” This, the last, could never be surpassed. It was a funeral pyre and no Phoenix would arise from the ashes.), each man accuses the other of being the snake in the garden of Eden, and Johns hits Malatesta in the head with the carving, killing him. Madge, about to shoot Johns down in retaliation, decides that her desire to have children outweighs her desire for revenge, and spares him. Johns thus learns the value of selfishness. They continue burning some books for fuel (like Income Tax Accountancy, because bureaucracy always gleefully dies with the old order in these stories), while saving others – specifically, Obstetrics. Oh and the head carving turns out to have circuits in it or something.

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