ccfinlay

With Apologies to James Thurber

« previous entry | next entry »
Feb. 21st, 2008 | 11:42 pm

The Secret Life of Walter Burty


"We're going through!" The Commander's voice was like a diskette cracking. He wore his programming uniform, with the heavily laden pocket protector bulging manfully upon his chest.

"We can't make it, sir. It's spoiling for a flamewar, if you ask me."

"I'm not asking you, Lieutenant Scalzi," said the Commander. "Throw on the power verbs! Rev up the blaming! We're going through!"

The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the flames licking the pilot window. He walked over and pecked at a row of complicated keys. "Dispute every single fact!" he shouted.

"But, um, they're facts," said Lieutenant Scalzi.

"Issue a call for courtesy!" shouted the Commander.

"WTF? Who was being discourteous?"

The loyal crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined SFWA hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. "The old man will get us through" they said to one another. "The Old Man ain't afraid of Hell!" . . .

"Not so fast! You're writing too fast!" said Mrs. Burty. "What are you writing so fast for?"

"Hmm?" said Walter Burty. He looked at his wife, in the SFWA lounge beside him, with shocked astonishment. She seemed grossly unfamiliar, like a strange woman who had yelled at him in a crowd. Then he realized that's exactly what she was.

"You were posting fifty-five messages a day," she said. "You know I don't like to read more than forty. My eyes start to bleed."

Walter Burty wrote on toward the Presidency in silence, the roaring of the SN202 through the worst flamewar in twenty years fading in the remote, intimate airways of his mind.

"You're tensed up again," said Mrs. Burty. "It's one of your elections. I wish you'd let some story doctor fix your prose so it seemed internally consistent and avoided wince-worthy phrases like 'Greetings gentlebeings!'"

"Whatever," said Walter Burty.

"Hey, that's mine!" cried Scalzi. "Are you pirating me?"

Ignoring Scalzi, Walter Burty parked his election platform on his website, where all the urls ended with just an "ht" because "ml" reminded him too much of mailing lists, which he couldn't control.

"That reminds me! Remember to get verification that those stories are actually pirated while I'm having my hair done," Mrs. Burty said.

"I don't have time for verification," grumbled Walter Burty.

"We've been all through that," she said, getting out of the newsgroup. "Do you really want to piss off Doctorow?"

He raced the CPU a little and surfed the internet aimlessly for a time. Then he drove past the bank on the way to one of his business projects. . . .

"It's the million-dollar SFWA warchest," said the pretty accountant.

"Yes?" said Walter Burty, wadding up the tissue and discreetly tossing it aside. "Who has the keys?"

"The president and the treasurer, but there are some other officers here as well."

A door opened down a long, cool corridor and the SFWA president came out. He looked remarkably like Burty would look, if Burty were president. "Hello, Burty," he said. "We're having the devil's own time with these millions of dollars. Calcification of the interest. Tertiary. Wish you'd find a good business investment for it."

"Glad to," said Burty.

In the back room of SFWA headquarters there were whispered reservations: "It looks like a conflict of interest."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Burty. "I'm a doctor."

"But the conflict of interest here is black and white."

"No, dammit, it's Shades of Gray."

A huge, complicated machine called the internet, connecting the members of the organization to one another, began at this moment to go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.

"They're talking to one another!" shouted an intern. "There is no one in the world who knows how to stop them!"

"Quiet, man!" said Burty, in a low, cool voice. He sprang to the machine, which was now going pocketa-pocketa-qwerty-pocketa-qwerty. He began fingering delicately a row of glistening keys. "Give me a fountain pen!" he snapped. Someone handed him a fountain pen. He scribbled a series of hasty apologies, shifting blame to the villainous enemies intent on ruining his brilliant investments. And then he wadded up the pages and shoved them in the mouths of everyone who spoke against him. "That will hold for about ten minutes," he shouted. "Get on with the loan!"

An accountant hurried over and whispered to the treasurer, who, surprisingly, looked like Burty would look if Burty were the treasurer, and Burty saw the man turn pale. "Due diligence has set in," said the treasurer nervously. "If you would take over, Burty?"

Burty looked at him and at the cowardly figures of the ordinary mortals who doubted his fiduciary genius. "Glad to," he said. "As you know, I'm a doctor."

They slipped him a blank check and . . .

"Back it up, Mac! Look out for those checks and balances!" Walter Burty jammed on the brakes. "Wrong kind of check, Mac," said a group of officers who didn't look like Burty at all.

"Gee. Yeh," muttered Burty. He began cautiously to back out of the venture.

"Hey, better give back the money."

"Oh," said Burty, handing the officers their bucks. The treasurer vaulted into the spreadsheets, backed up with insolent skill, and put the money where it belonged.

They're so damn cocky, thought Walter Burty, perusing the members fiction section of the SFWA website; they think they know everything. I could be a best-selling author if I had more time. But no! If I'd used traditional publishing routes, Noontide Night would never have seen the light of midnight day. I sacrifice and sacrifice, nurturing young writers, volunteering on every committee, building consensus after consenus. And they have absolutely no idea at all how much time it takes to fight the misconceptions, exaggerations, and falsehoods that my enemies unjustly spread against me! He kicked at the slush in his trunk.

"Overshoes," he said to himself, and he began looking for a shoe store. "If they're going to start slinging mud at me, I'll need overshoes."

While he searched through overshoes.com for a pair of rubber waders, Walter Burty began to wonder what the other thing was that Mrs. Burty had told him to get. And why did he call her Mrs. Burty when she was really just the voice of reason on sff.net...?

Focus! he told himself. She had told him to get something. Ear plugs, he thought, new printer cartridges? No. Toothpaste, toothbrush, bicarbonate, cardorundum, initiative and referendum? He gave up. But she would remember it. "Where's the what's-its-name," she would ask. "Don't tell me you forgot the what's-its-name."

He chanced upon a bakery website selling pies....

"Perhaps this will refresh your memory." The pirate captain suddenly thrust a heavy laptop at the quiet figure on the quarterdeck. "Have you ever seen this before?"

Walter Burty took the laptop and examined it expertly. "This is my Dell Inspiron 2112," he said calmly. "I got it from the future."

An excited buzz ran around the deck of the pirate ship. The captain banged the hilt of his sword for silence. "You are a crack shot issuing DMCA takedown orders, I believe?" said the pirate, insinuatingly.

"Objection!" shouted SFWA members lined up as prisoners against the railing.

Walter Burty raised his hand briefly and the bickering SFWAns were stilled. "With any known make of computer," he said evenly, "I could have killed Cory Doctorow's story at three hundred feet with my left hand."

"OMGWTFBBQ!!!11!" shouted one SFWAn as he leaped overboard into the shark infested waters.

There was a pocketa-pocketa-pocketa sound of elected officers running off the plank after him.

Burty's hand went to his chest. "I could swear I had a pocketa protector here just a minute ago." A woman's scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly the lovely, dark-haired Mrs. Burty was in Walter Burty's arms....

"Your plank?"

"Yes," said Burty, snapping to his senses. He was back in the SFWA lounge and Mrs. Burty was talking to him again.

"You're running for president of SFWA--what are the planks of your platform?"

"Ah," said Burty. In an uncharacteristic fit of brevity, the author decided to summarize the next two thousand words. "To protect authors... mostly from themselves, since I know what's good for them better than they do. Also, to avoid internal tar pits. Because SFWA members are like the Pleistocene megafauna, and may sink without me. And finally to jump ahead of the singularity. So I can charge it money on its way into the future."

"Puppy biscuits!" said Mrs. Burty....

But her voice had already faded into the signal-to-noise ratio. Burty had a platform to stand upon. He put his shoulders back and his heels together. "To hell with the handkerchief," said Walter Burty scornfully.

With a faint, fleeting smile playing about his lips, he faced the firing squad; erect and motionless, proud and disdainful, Walter Burty the Undefeated, inscrutable to the last.

# # #


My wife, the lovely and sensible raecarson, thinks it's a mistake for me to post this. For one thing, she says, it hits too close to the mark. For another, it's sure to bring me trouble.

But in reading all of Burt's defenses against his critics in this election, it strikes me that he is the hero of his own story. I don't think he believes that anyone could have an honest problem with his record. He is the victim -- misrepresented and maligned -- heroically struggling to do right while ill-intentioned enemies try to tear him down for no legitimate reason. His versions of events and their connection to reality made me think more and more of Walter Mitty. I realize posting this will throw fuel on the fire that is this SFWA election, but I couldn't help trying to see things from Burt's point-of-view. And this is what Burt's point-of-view looks like to me.

Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {59}

Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>

Comfort me with Apples

(no subject)

from: tanaise
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 05:25 am (UTC)
Link

on the one hand, I think Rae's right. On the other hand, I'm really glad you didn't listen to her so we all get to read it. :)

Reply | Thread

drlaurac

(no subject)

from: drlaurac
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 05:49 am (UTC)
Link

Bingo, perhaps put it under a filter so that we can read an enjoy, but those with less humor cannot. It's FABULOUS!!!!!

Reply | Parent | Thread

Marsha

(no subject)

from: msisolak
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 05:26 am (UTC)
Link

Ohmigod!

I have SO MISSED the snark that only you can write. This beats *sniff* the Pee-Arrrr-Eeeeee-Zee's adventures, and maybe, *MAYBE*, E's wedding --although it's hard to beat that wedding, believe me.

*high fives*

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 12:25 pm (UTC)
Link

E's wedding was just in good fun, I hope. I am very fond of her.

Reply | Parent | Thread | Expand

Julie Frost, writer

(no subject)

from: agilebrit
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 05:50 am (UTC)
Link

*dies laughing* You. Are a genius. *bows in a totally "I'm so not worthy" manner*

Reply | Thread

Stephanie C. Leary

(no subject)

from: sleary
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 05:53 am (UTC)
Link

Sir, I salute your snark.

Reply | Thread

Arachne Jericho

(no subject)

from: arachnejericho
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 07:46 am (UTC)
Link

I think trouble is worth it in this case. :) Nicely done!

Reply | Thread

rcloenen_ruiz

(no subject)

from: rcloenen_ruiz
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 09:10 am (UTC)
Link

I thought this was brilliant. Thanks for sharing this post.

Reply | Thread

Wendy S. Delmater

(no subject)

from: safewrite
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 10:07 am (UTC)
Link

Aaaah...oh my. Perhaps you should warn readers to set all beverages down before reading. It might save their keyboards if they laugh enough to spit drinks.

As to posting this? Ridcule was called for here, and you got it right.

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
Link

Perhaps you should warn readers to set all beverages down before reading.

I hope that's a standard understanding coming to this blog. If it isn't, I'm not trying hard enough.

Reply | Parent | Thread | Expand

HominySnark

(no subject)

from: hominysnark
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 11:22 am (UTC)
Link

You know, I'm not involved in any of this, except for the most extreme peripheral way. But my god, it's entertaining.

Reply | Thread

barbarienne

(no subject)

from: barbarienne
date: Feb. 23rd, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
Link

Exactly!

The whole mishegoss makes me glad I'm not qualified for SFWA. If I were, I might actually have to give a damn and make a choice. Instead, I can just sit back and eat cookies.

Reply | Parent | Thread | Expand

silk_noir

(no subject)

from: silk_noir
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 12:44 pm (UTC)
Link

OMG my face hurts. Charlie, really, you should be president. Or something.

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
Link

C'mon! Be realistic! I don't I have nearly enough publishing qualifications to successfully lead a professional writers' organization.

Reply | Parent | Thread | Expand

Lioness

(no subject)

from: elisem
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
Link

You win every single internet that there is.

Reply | Thread

paulmelko

(no subject)

from: paulmelko
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:03 pm (UTC)
Link

I'm sorry. Pastiche and satire are not qualifying markets for SFWA. Your application for membership has been denied.

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
Link

Burt sits on that committee too, doesn't he?

Reply | Parent | Thread | Expand

Ken Woods

(no subject)

from: kendwoods
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
Link

Awesome!

Reply | Thread

Stone of stumbling and rock of offense

(no subject)

from: wordweaverlynn
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC)
Link

Brilliant.

Mr. Burt does seem to be a Thurber character, doesn't he?

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
Link

Only less plausible and not as sympathetic.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Chris Coen

(no subject)

from: clarentine
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
Link

Huzzah!

Reply | Thread

S.K.S. Perry

(no subject)

from: sksperry
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)
Link

I think maybe I'll write espionage thrillers instead. Less drama.

Reply | Thread

PixelFish

(no subject)

from: pixelfish
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
Link

Speaking of power verbs, I say we call this a right good Thurbering.

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
Link

Just be careful: if you Thurber too much, you'll go blind.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Autopope

(no subject)

from: autopope
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
Link

Confession time:

This is the first of your fiction I've ever read.

But on the strength of it, it certainly isn't going to be the last.

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
Link

Charlie, this comment made me laugh. Thanks.

My story "An Eye for An Eye" is written in a similar voice to this piece. It was in F&SF last June and will show up in Rich Horton's Best of the Year SF very soon. I'd be happy to send you a copy.

But I should confess that I borrowed one or two words from Thurber for this: hopefully they are not all the good ones.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Nick Mamatas

(no subject)

from: nihilistic_kid
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
Link

That was funnier than I thought it would be, but it would be even funnier without the disclaimer at the bottom. Thurber would never do that! He's just blink innocently behind his huge glasses and say, "SFWA? What's that?"

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
Link

Yes, you're absolutely right about this as a piece of writing. But I wanted to make a point as well as make fun of Burt, and since the last time I used satire in this blog, several astute readers, including pnh, intitially missed the point, I decided to add the disclaimer. Thurber had his glasses; I decided to lean upon a crutch. Maybe someday I'll be less lame.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Jeremy Tolbert

(no subject)

from: the_flea_king
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
Link

Yay, more mileage from the funniest controversy to hit SF in my short time in the field! Totally awesome.

Reply | Thread

C. C. Finlay

(no subject)

from: ccfinlay
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
Link

Have you seen this yet: http://pats-quinade.livejournal.com/99447.html

Reply | Parent | Thread

Rae Carson

(no subject)

from: raecarson
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
Link

And yet, I can't help but laugh. A lot.

Reply | Thread

Comfort me with Apples

(no subject)

from: tanaise
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
Link

You're just encouraging him!

(please, keep encouraging him.)

Reply | Parent | Thread

Cat Rambo

(no subject)

from: catrambo
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC)
Link

Tapocketa tapocketa tapocketa!

Made me smile, thank you.

Reply | Thread

loquacious_lad

(no subject)

from: loquacious_lad
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
Link

If you had guts, you'd post this on Critters. (hee hee)

Reply | Thread

Rae Carson

(no subject)

from: raecarson
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)
Link

That's what I said!!

Reply | Parent | Thread

dragonet2

laughed my

from: dragonet2
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
Link

ass off.

since between the weather (snowy-we've had the most snow this year that we've had in a while) and job hunt (frustrating) I needed it.

And completely to the point.

thanks.

Reply | Thread

crimini

(no subject)

from: crimini
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
Link

LOL

Reply | Thread

stillnotbored

(no subject)

from: stillnotbored
date: Feb. 22nd, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
Link

Ohmigod, Charlie. I laughed so hard my stomach hurts.

My hero. *g*

And as far as drawing trouble--if no one calls Burt on the bullshit he's trying to bury the truth under and the way he kicks leaves over the whole mess, than all that will remain of SFWA is bullshit with leaves stuck to it.

Oh...wait....

Reply | Thread