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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 417 Response

“The Bus to 9th and Waldo”

with Donna Hole

In Larry Strattner’s “The Bus to 9th and Waldo”:
  1. The character names parody those of contributors to philosophy or computer science. What might be the purpose?
  2. What is a “have/have-not intelligence quotient”?
  3. What are “proto-designers”?
  4. At the end, Mr. Newmann’s “amalgam” is due to have its “selfish and greedy markers” removed. What evidence is there that Mr. Newmann is selfish or greedy?

[Donna] I love how this starts off so ordinary. I live in a town that can be completely traversed in a comfortable 10 minute walk, but I’ve talked to people — both in person and online — and who live in big cities where the bus/train is the normal mode of transportation. They read on Kindles, work off net/notebooks, listened to iPods or watch movies on their commutes. They ignore everyone.

The story captures the indifference of humans in regards to one another. Sometimes curious, mostly just going about our own daily lives. The story did not feel like a dream, even with the reference to his usual napping on the ride. I felt the reality shift in the narrative. This line: “This bus ride is more discombobulating than normal.” was excellent foreshadowing that something wasn’t right in our character’s world. Well done. This had such an “Outer Limits” feel to it.

I think the strength of the story is its movement; the timely introduction of technology and its advancements that are so frequently taken for granted. It made the integration of phrases like “have/have-not intelligence quotient” and “proto-designers” seem natural to the setting.

I don’t really follow names of philosophers or computer scientists, but I would imagine the references are to add authenticity to the technological nature of the story. Some readers need those references to ground themselves in the world-building, especially with such an abstract writing, meaning that odd terms are not explained but are picked up by context.

I didn’t recognize any of the name parodies, but I still feel as if I understood the terms “have/have-not intelligence quotient” and “proto-designers.” Have/have-not is a moral indicator, and proto-designers are your basic scientist/creative types working on perfecting society. Socio-political figures of importance.

The evidence of Mr Newmann’s selfishness is in his desire to check out the new family and neighborhood prior to making a decision of satisfaction. There was no thought to what his prior wife and co-workers would experience with the change, only what he would gain personally in the choice. The moral imperative here was subtle yet provocative.

Copyright © 2011 by Donna Hole

[Don] Thank you, Donna, for the lively and insightful feedback you’ve provided in your Challenge 417 Responses. I think this installment brings us to the end, but we hope for more from you in the future. The authors, especially, appreciate that a “real reader” has actually read their work and, best of all, had a reaction to it.

As for the characters’ names, I would guess that Mr. Newmann’s fate is ironic: the namesake of a pioneer in computer science winds up being “computerized” in the end.

We often receive stories that refer — without explanation — to elements of popular culture such as TV shows, films, songs, performers, and brand names especially of alcoholic beverages. As editors, we tend to cringe at such things, because many readers — perhaps even most readers — won’t know what the author is talking about and won’t “get the joke.” As one of our mottoes says, “Any story based on current events is out of date before it’s written.”

As I see it, the names in “The Bus to 9th and Waldo” constitute a kind of “throw-away” joke: if you get it, so much the better; if you don’t, there’s no harm done. Readers can think “Whatever...” and still enjoy the story.

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