Bewildering Stories

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Six Characters in Search of a Plot:
The Further Adventures of Mediocre Max

by The Invincible Spud

“Mediocre Max versus the Sludge of the Universe”
appeared in issue 33.

So it begins. Two characters from the prequel to this story now meet again to start a new story, along with some new ones. Having completed (in a fashion) their adventures in “Mediocre Max versus the Sludge of the Universe,” our heroes now set off to address a new problem, a conflict that would serve as the focus of this story had it existed. But alas, no conflict exists, so we shall now move on to the list of characters and a brief biography of each.

The six characters now enter the story:

First we have Mediocre Max, who says his real name is John, which is doubtful. Formerly a hermit living “in a broken-down shack 7,823 kilometers from civilization on a planet known as Ebloiiiiii orbiting a star known as Ebloik in a galaxy far, far away,” as the prequel to this story puts it, Max claims to be a “gallant defender of pineapples and other mundane food products.” Max frequently encounters feral turnips of all shapes and sizes and frequently wakes up as well, which brings to mind the possibility of all the events happening in this story and the prequel being merely a figment of his imagination. If so, the figment has expanded beyond its boundaries and caused the subjective end of the universe, as well as its beginning, as shall be explained shortly. In other words, Max, having served as the protagonist of the previous story, now starts a second term as the protagonist of this story.

Our second character is the former Princess of Planet Flibluor, who goes by the name Zax. Her real name is unknown and irrelevant to the purposes of this story, as shall not be explained shortly. In the previous story, she burst on the scene with the classic line “Come with me, and we shall escape this confounded heck of a whatchamacallit situation,” and she was the current Princess of Planet Flibluor. The change in her status will not be explained in this story, though its relevancy to the plot in this story is questionable. Indeed, there is no plot, for if there were, this story could not have been titled “Six Characters in Search of a Plot” and subtitled “The Further Adventures of Mediocre Max,” though it could have been subtitled thus and been titled something different. Either way, we have our second main character, who may or may not usurp the role of protagonist, as shall be seen in the course of this story.

Next, we have Krobek of Mazmaron, an interesting character wrapped in a Cloak of Mystery, which he purchased for 2.99 galactacredits (50% off discount) in a store in Eastern Mazmaron. As he will not remove his Cloak of Mystery during the course of this story, we shall be unable to know much about him. Regardless, he is our third character and shall join the other five in searching for the plot.

After them is Morrai, a struggling writer who has received more than her share of rejection letters. A third-year undergraduate at the University of Flibluor, she is double-majoring in biochemistry and imaginary languages. She has been submitting stories to publications for two years now and has received a few encouraging remarks from editors. The author may or may not have placed her in this story as a self-reflective gesture, as writers sometimes do, making themselves characters in their stories. Either way, Morrai is our fourth character and may prove instrumental in the discovery of the plot, which may or may not appear in the course of this story.

Our fifth character is Gardner Dozois, longtime editor of Asimov's Science Fiction and numerous anthologies, including the Year's Best Science Fictionseries. At the time of this writing, he has earned fourteen Hugo Awards for his editing and two Nebula Awards for his short stories “The Peacemaker” and “Morning Child.” He is truly perplexed as to why he appears in this story, the reason for which may or may not be explained shortly.

Last, we have ' ' (single quotes, to use the proper notation for a character in C++ and other languages). ' ' is indeed the sixth character in our story, not including the title and byline but including whitespace characters. ' ' is the second space in the story and thus feels insignificant, compared to the first space, the third character in the story (not to be confused with Krobek, who is the third character I've mentioned above). Located between 't' and 'b' in the sequence of characters, ' ' symbolizes the emptiness between the top (represented by 't') and the bottom(represented by 'b') of everything. In other words, the presence of ' ' represents the emptiness of the universe. Alas, the universe is empty, having been reborn at the end of the prequel to this story. But to explain this emptiness, one must read a synopsis of the previous story, which shall appear shortly.

The author at this point has decided that characters 5 and 6 do not truly serve a purpose, and they now conveniently disappear.

We resume our story with a synopsis of the prequel, as follows:

The universe ends, and Mediocre Max is nowhere to be found to save the day. A bunch of philosophical groups then debate the loss of the day so unsaved. Meanwhile, Max is woken up from his sleep by a feral turnip, suggesting perhaps that he has dreamed up the previous events in the story and is now emerging into another dream. The turnip keeps Max from going back to sleep.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the universe, the Sludge of the Universe conspire evilly to overthrow Max, though Max apparently does not hold any enviable position of power. In fact, the Sludge of the Universe do not even know who Max is; however, the title justifies their conspiring.

Somehow, highly combustible deposits of aggravatium-223 gas slowly leak throughout the cosmosphere, rendering all life highly incomprehensible, not to mention dumbfounded with a vengeance.

Suddenly, two mysterious figures appear, claiming to be representatives of the Sludge of the Universe, and abduct Max. The author unfortunately suffers from writer's block, and we resume the plot on Planet Gukmor, where Max and the Sludge of the Universe meet. The aggravitum-223 gas gets to Gukmor and confuses everybody.

Max wakes up and wonders if it has all been a dream. Two giant turnips appear, and the plot becomes entangled within itself.

Zax, Princess of Planet Flibluor, appears suddenly and helps Max escape. They both become confused by the plot's convolution. A turnip appears, more stuff happens, and finally they reach the climax of the story. They enter the Realm of Great Fuzziness. The aggravatium-223 gas tears apart the universe, and so the universe ends, and then it starts over again.

So here we are, everything having started over again. Only this time there is no aggravatium-223 gas to destroy the universe.

Having left for a lunch break, the author now returns to find that the story has already begun, and is truly disappointed to have missed the events in the beginning of the story.

“What have you done?” Zax, who has now changed her name to Blob 83, exclaims and wonders why the prequel's past-tense narration has become present tense in the current narrative.

“He needed disposing of,” Morrai says, wiping her hands on her pants. She chuckles evilly. “Hey, author, I like your choice of words up above, how you said, 'After them is Morrai.' Ingenious, that. You don't even begin to understand what you mean by 'After them.'”

Krobek of Mazmaron stares in disbelief and shock. Mediocre Max utters one final cough and is silent.

“Hey, this isn't funny,” Krobek manages to say. “We're supposed to be in search of a plot here.”

“Well, we've failed, haven't we?” Morrai says.

“No...” Blob 83 says. “We couldn't have failed. We're not done yet. If we are, that would be a pretty lame story.”

“Yeah,” Krobek says. “Why don't we start over?”

“Yeah, good idea.”

“Darn,” Morrai interjects. “I was just beginning to have some fun.”

The story now starts over. The universe is reborn. This time the author succumbs once again to writer's block and has no idea how to begin the story. Therefore, we now zoom ahead in the storyline to encounter Krobek and Morrai conspiring to overthrow Blob 83, formerly known as Zax, Supreme Dictator of Planet Flibluor.

“Wow!” Krobek remarks. “We're plotting to overthrow Blob 83. There's our plot! We found it!”

“Huh?” Morrai asks.

“The plot! The title of the story is 'Six Characters in Search of a Plot.' We have our plot! Our mission is accomplished!”

“Uh... what?”

“The plot!”

“But... but... it's 'SixCharacters in Search of a Plot.' We're only two characters. What if the story's about the other characters in search of our plot to overthrow the Supreme Dictator?”

Meanwhile, the University of Flibluor is hosting a conference on the purpose of the plot device in literature. The discussion panel consists of four philosophers, representatives from the Kal-Mukraists of Planet Vedon, the Morclottians of Planet Nodev, the Emlodes of unknown origin, and the Emlode-Kelmags, a sect of the Emlodes.

The Morclottian philosopher speaks first. “A plot is to a story as a fish is to water. The water can survive without the fish, but the fish swims through the water. Likewise, a story can survive without a plot, but the plot swims through the story.”

“Your analogy makes no sense,” the Emlode-Kelmag representative says. “Fish have nothing to do with it. And how can a plot swim through a story?”

Sitting in the front row is Blob 83, attending in disguise. Next to her are Mediocre Max, Krobek of Mazmaron, and Morrai the undergraduate. Since this conference takes place at the same time as Morrai and Krobek's conspiracy, one of two things is possible: either Krobek and Morrai are conspiring while attending the conference, or this story contradicts itself. In either case, they do not recognize the true identity of Blob 83, who is sitting between them.

“I concur with this judgment,” the Kal-Mukraist philosopher says. “Fish can swim; therefore, they exist. I swim; therefore, I am. It stands to reason.”

“Does it? How do fish stand?” the Emlode-Kelmag representative says.

The Emlode philosopher is conspicuously sleeping and snoring very loudly.

“I would like to extend my analogy further,” the Morclottian says. “A fish needs water to survive; likewise, a plot needs a story to survive. Without a story, a plot is nothing.”

At this, the other three philosophers, except the Emlode, who is still snoring, nod in agreement.

“But I still say a plot cannot swim,” the Emlode-Kelmag says.

“Shut up, you,” the Kal-Mukraist says.

“Please!” the Morclottian says. “We are trying to have intelligent discourse here. You must not resort to such insults.”

“I apologize.”

“I believe another analogy exists to describe the relationship between plot and story,” the Emlode-Kelmag says. “A plot is to a story as a quark is to a proton. You have to have three of them. And gluons to hold them together. Three is the magical number. Each quark is an individual plotline. The gluons are the characters. The proton is the story. It's a proton because stories are positively charged. You have characters holding together three separate plotlines, and that is what makes up a story.”

At this point, the story draws to an ending since the author has grown rather bored with the story and cannot think of anything else to write. It seems that Mediocre Max does not have much of a part, yet somehow his name appears in the subtitle. It is not fair to the other characters, but alas, there are many injustices in the universe, and this one does not amount to much. If there is a sequel to this story, and there may or may not be one, the title shall be justly worded.

Copyright © 2004 by The Invincible Spud

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