Another Golden Opportunity Frittered Away

by Steven Utley


Ever so many years ago, before many of you reading this were even born, William Rotsler doodled up a cartoon illustrating the crucial difference between a science-fiction writer who’s just starting out and a mature veteran of the trade: the thought balloon above the eager young tyro’s head is a riot of little ¢ symbols, while that above the seasoned old pro’s head contains a single, very large $ sign.

I used to admire this cartoon, but it has long since become as gall to me, yes, and bitter, bitter wormwood. I stand before you, a broken man, haunted by a golden opportunity which I let slip through my fingers.

Consider a bit of prose I knocked out in five or six or at the outside seven minutes in 1973 and sent off to market with every expectation of its being snapped up for as much (because I dared to dream) as three cents per word:

CARING FOR YOUR EDAPHOSAURUS

One of the most popular clone-resurrectee pets in recent years has been a species of pelycosaur known as the Edaphosaurus. Though unsuited for cold-climate conditions, the Edaphosaurus has enjoyed tremendous favor in the warmer zones ever since tissue samples of specimens living in the Permian Period, millions of years ago, were used to re-introduce the breed into our own day and age.

Thousands of happy, satisfied Edaphosaurus owners attest to the utter lovableness of these placid, yet fascinating, animals from out of Time’s dimmest recesses.

Selecting Your Edaphosaurus

When you go to select the Edaphosaurus that is just right for you, there are certain things to bear in mind.

Little Edaphosauri come from eggs, as do lizards, alligators, playtypi, and most other reptiles, and are fully capable of taking care of themselves almost immediately after they break through their shells. Most prospective owners prefer to obtain young Edaphosauri, as it cannot be denied that much of the joy of having one of these charming and remarkable animals lies in watching it grow from a six-centimeter-long “lizard” with a rudimentary spinal ridge to a three-meter-long adult with a sail as colorful as any peacock’s tail feathers.

Some people even go so far as to buy Edaphosaurus eggs in order to witness the miracle of hatching. However, if you choose to buy an unhatched Edaphosaurus, it is strongly suggested that you obtain it from an authorized dealer of unquestionable integrity, as the eggs of the Edaphosaurus are virtually indistinguishable from those of certain North American vipers.

Preparing a Home for Your Edaphosaurus

When you get home with the Edaphosaurus of your choice, you should already have prepared a place for it. Pet owners with large houses often assemble prefabricated glass cages complete with temperature regulators, a basking rock, a belly-slide, real dirt, and a wallowing pool with simulated pebble-lined bottom and artificial stagnant water. These materials are obtainable from your local pet dealer.

The apartment dweller can, on the other hand, do just as well with some plastic boards, wet newspapers, and a sunlamp. But it must be remembered that prolonged exposure to the rays of the sunlight is harmful to your pet. The Edaphosaurus, by virtue of its less sophisticated heart, is at the mercy of external temperatures, and you must take pains to see that it is neither too hot nor too cold.

CAUTION: If there are young people in your household, do not permit them to paint the Edaphosaurus’ sail, as this organ is vital to the radiation of excess body heat.

It is not likely that you will succeed in house-breaking your Edaphosaurus. However, your pet’s living space can be kept fresh and scrupulously clean by certain Permian insects, available at your local pet store.

Feeding Your Edaphosaurus

Edaphosauri of the Permian Period generally subsisted on a diet of bulrushes, cattails, and ferns. If you can get these or have the time to grow them yourself, do so. Otherwise, substitute celery, lettuce, cauliflower, and melon in season.

Your pet’s appetite will begin to slack off noticeably by the time it is six months old. After this, it is recommended that you feed your pet as much as it wants whenever it wishes to eat. Do not be alarmed if your Edaphosaurus falls asleep after such feasts and remains dormant for a day or more. It is merely digesting its dinner.

Feed your Edaphosaurus several pebbles each month; these are for its gizzard.

Do not be alarmed if your pet’s teeth keep falling out. As its teeth are worn down, they will be shed automatically, and new teeth will grow in to replace them. This will go on for the life of the Edaphosaurus.

Breeding Your Edaphosaurus

If you choose to mate your Edaphosaurus, it is strongly suggested that you consult an authorized breeding service. It is of utmost importance that a qualified expert handles this important matter, as the unknowing pet owner may otherwise attempt to breed his Edaphosaurus with a Dimetrodon. The Dimetrodon is another Permian Period pelycosaur that looks very much like the Edaphosaurus. The Dimetrodon, however, is carnivorous, as can be seen from an examination of its teeth, and is given to surliness. This species is known to have preyed upon Edaphosauri millio ns of years ago.

Now that you have become one of thousands of Edaphosaurus owners, you can look forward to years of fun and fascination with your pet, for there is surely no more touching love than that which exists between a person and a pelycosaur.

© 1975 by Mankind Publishing Corp.

* * *

Next, consider a letter to me from the anthologist Terry Carr, dated Nov. 15, 1973, which begins, "Thanks for sending CARING FOR YOUR EDAPHOSAURUS, but no thanks. It’s clever, but I think you waste a good idea doing it in this fashion. Surely there’s a story idea in clone-resurrectee pets..."

But did I listen? No, I peddled my little fribble and figured I had the laugh on Carr when a science-fiction magazine offered me $60.00 for First American Serial Rights, which worked out to more than six cents a word.

And then, some few years later, Michael Crichton wrote a best-selling novel called Jurassic Park, about a scientist who effectively resurrects dinosaurs by cloning them. And Stephen Spielberg made a hugely successful movie based on that novel, and a mini-Mesozoic Era of merchandizing ensued, encouraging Crichton to write a best-selling sequel that became another hugely successful movie and triggered another franchise frenzy, and so forth, and so on, lost world without end.

It could have been me.

I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum — which is what I am.

But my head was just too full of pennies.


Copyright © 2005 by Steven Utley

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