WHAT DO YOU READ?
By Boyd Ellanby
Illustrated by Malcolm Smith
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Other Worlds March
1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Writers have long dreamed of a plot machine, but the machines in Script-Lab did much more than plot the story—they wrote it. Why bother with human writers when the machines did the job so much faster and better?
Herbert would have preferred the seclusion of a coptor-taxi, but he knew he could not afford it. The Bureau paid its writers adequately, but not enough to make them comfortable in taxis. In front of his apartment house, he took the escalator to the Airway. It must have been pleasant, he thought as he stepped onto the moving sidewalk, to be a writer in the days when they were permitted to receive royalties and, presumably, to afford taxi fare.
On the rare occasions when he was forced to travel in the city, he usually tried to insulate himself from the Airway crowds by trying to construct new plots for his fiction. In his younger days, of course, he had occupied the time in reading the classics, but lately, so great was the confusion of the city, he preferred to close his eyes, and try to devise a reverse twist for one of his old stories.
Today, he found it harder than usual to concentrate. The Airway was crowded, and he had never heard the people so noisy. Up ahead half a block, there was a sharp scream. Herbert opened his eyes and peered ahead to see what had happened. Someone had been pushed through the railing of the Airway, and as his section rolled on and passed, he could see lying on the pavement below the body of a young cripple, his hands still holding a broken crutch.
Herbert shuddered. He felt sick, and closed his eyes again.
"Wonder how that happened?" said the man in front of him.
"He probably got in the way," said a girl, callously.
The man ahead made no comment, and Herbert dismissed his own puzzlement. Could he make a plot out of this incident of the crippled boy? he wondered.
He shifted to the slower track, descended the escalator, and stepped onto the street across from the Bureau of Public Entertainment. He had to wait a moment, for an ambulance was clanging down the street; then he crossed to the stone-faced building.
As he rode up the elevator, he wondered again why John had ordered him to come to lunch. He realized that he was no longer a young man, but he certainly did not feel ready to be pensioned. And in the last year he had actually written more fiction than in any other year of his life. Very little of it had been used, for some reason, but story for story he thought it matched any of his previous output.
Ludwig received him with little ceremony. "Sit down, Herbert. It was good of you to come. Miss Dodson," he called through the intercom, "this is strictly off the air. Nothing is to be recorded. Is that clear?"
"Well, John," said Carre. "You're looking harassed, if I may say so. Are they working you too hard? Or are you just faced with the unpleasant job of firing an old friend? I realize, of course, that AFE aren't using much of my stuff just now."
Ludwig smiled unhappily and shook his head. "I'm not planning to fire you, Herbert. But you know, of course, that you're in the same boat with the other Writers, and that boat is in choppy waters. Frankly, I'm not very happy about the situation. The five-year experimental period is coming to an end. This Bureau has the job of providing entertainment, and that includes, among many other categories, literature. Books, articles, and stories. And I'm faced with a difficult decision: shall we employ Writers, or use Script-Lab? You are only one of the many people we support, of course, and both you and Script-Lab furnish material to Adult