Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 6 appeared
in issue 260.
Chapter 7: A Newspaper Workshop
part 1 of 3
Inspired by the German philosopher and science fiction writer Kurd Lasswitz’ novel Bilder aus der Zukunft (“Pictures from the Future”), the Swedish journalist Claës Lundin (1825-1908) created the novel Oxygen och Aromasia, “pictures from the year 2378” — a date exactly five centuries in the novel’s future. Bewildering Stories is pleased to bring you this classic of early modern science fiction in Bertil Falk’s translation.
“Which one? There are twenty-five chief editors.”
“It’s all the same to me. Guide me to one of the twenty-five, but do it straight away.”
“Now, now, take it easy, my dear sir! It’s not that easy, I can tell you, to obtain an audience, and I must necessarily know which one of the editors you want to see. The letter of application must be addressed to a definite person.”
The man, who presented himself before the workshop of the Latest News of the Hour, was Apollonides, the antiquity poet, the author of The Last Locomotive, and Aromasia’s forlorn admirer, as he himself thought, while Oxygen imagined that Apollonides was fortunate.
However, he did not get further than the entry to the antechambers, where the watchman of the editorial staff prevented him from proceeding further.
The newspaper workshop occupied the area of the old square Stortorget with surrounding streets all the way over to the square Järntorget on the one side and, on the other side, the street that runs where the filled-in Norrström river and its formerly rapidly flowing water had its bed.
The Latest News of the Hour was said to be the biggest newspaper of central Scandinavia, but in old Södertälje, one of the suburbs of Stockholm, another newspaper almost as big was published. It only had ten editions a day as compared to our “City-sheet,” which published fifteen editions, all of them fifty pages in length.
Moreover, Stockholm had a great many newspapers. They numbered several hundred. The toughest competitors for the Latest News of the Hour were The Gobbling Wolf and The Tongue of the Snake, two newspapers that were very different but were allies when it came to attacking the City-sheet or defending themselves against it.
Apollonides had entered the northern wing of the newspaper workshop through the big gateway. Above it, trumpet-blowing statues of genies had hovered for six hundred years or even longer, from the times when this part of the building had been erected as a royal abode.
Genies and trumpets were also fitting for a newspaper building. The company that owned the Latest News of the Hour had not only kept them but also gilded them. Their brilliance could be seen all the way along the big boulevard running from the former Norrström and in a straight line passing the shores of Brunnsviken. It was a suitable sign for a newspaper.
The northern wing, called the Tessinian from of old, contained the part of the workshop where domestic politics was covered, as well as the department that did what in ancient newspaper language was called “sensational journalism.” It had become an improper expression for a part of the news, since all the news was considered “sensational.” But the purpose of the department in question was to generate information that no human being previously would have been able to dream of: truly unbelievable monstrosities, but described in a most tasteful way that was not only surprising but also persuasive.
“Our time is valuable,” said one of the watchmen, a middle-aged lady. “Tell me who you want to see? Is it the editor of the first, second or third half-sheet for domestic politics? Perhaps some of the editors of sensation?”
“I want to say something to the one who’s supervising matters of national concern, preferably someone who’s in charge of covering the elections.”
“Why didn’t you say that straight away? The editor is at Svartmannagården.
“You’ve probably heard of the old street Svartmannagatan that existed in the past? Well, the fifth main entrance to Svartmannagården, the first stairs to the right, the third corridor in the vestibule, door number 751... Oh, it’s easy to find. But you may want to be transported by the current of air in one of our corridor tubes? That’s also possible. Please step in.”
“You’re too kind, Madam.”
“I’m just doing my job. But hurry up now, along with the other people.”
The watch-woman opened a door leading to a rather long but narrow, cylindrical room.
Apollonides entered. The room was well illuminated. He sat down in a soft armchair. All the other armchairs were occupied.
“Now, hold on!” the benevolent woman said and she rapidly drew herself back. The poet felt a peculiar vibration in his body and heard some unusual buzzing sound.
A moment later the vibration and the buzzing ceased. The door opened. They had arrived. Those, who in this way had let themselves be blown from the Tessinian wing to Svartmannagården, left the tube and found themselves once more in a vestibule where there were several watch-persons.
“The editor of the parliamentary elections?” Apollonides asked.
“Door number 751, but where is your application?”
“Yes, you won’t imagine that some editor would receive you, if you haven’t submitted an application telling what you want and requesting an audience properly.”
“What a waste of time!” the poet exclaimed.
“Not at all.” The watchman turned to Apollonides to assure him. “Look here, ready-made applications. You just fill in your name.”
“Are the applications printed beforehand? There must be an enormous number of different sets?”
“You’re mistaken. We have very few kinds of applications within every department. For we know pretty well in advance what everyone wants...
“Did you say the parliamentary elections? Then you probably want to recommend someone, either yourself or some other person; or oppose someone; or you want to do both. It’s not very difficult to know. Look, here’s a printed application that probably contains what you want. Isn’t it so?”
“Yes, really,” Apollonides replied. He was to be sure accustomed to red tape in parliament, but he had never before been aware of it in newspaper workshops.
He took the paper, filled in what was needed, and had hardly handed over the application, when it went into an air current box and was sent to the editor in question. The next moment a number was rapped out and the watchman handed it over to the poet.
“This is your number for an audience with the editor,” the watchman informed him.
“Seventy-five,” Apollonides complained. “Then I’ll have a long wait.”
“Oh no! Not more than half an hour. Every visitor gets two minutes. You hear the signal. Number one has already gone. Number two advances.”
“Half an hour! Two and a half hours, our ancestors would have said before the hundred-minute hour was introduced.”
“It’s not a long wait, but if you want to make use of the time in some way, the company has made provision for that. If you want to sleep, we’ve several comfortably equipped bedchambers with good sofas. If you want to work, you can retreat into the work-halls specially arranged for this purpose, where you’ll find most of the tools and working material, paper, ink, pens, presses etc. Time is valuable for everyone.
“You can also see a little play in our company theatre, where the collaborators belonging to the theatre department perform in some of the newer plays presented on public stages in Stockholm. The dramatic critics always preview them here at the workshop before they write their reviews of the plays in the public playhouses. It’s a fairly wholesome arrangement for the critics and often a very amusing experience for people who are waiting here for an audience. Perhaps you’ll want to see a play that is being given right now?”
“It’s a condensed version — we always condense plays in order to find how much is really in them — of a long historical play in seventeen acts called The Academic Trial of Strength. The author is our famous Hedberg IX, and the action takes place in the 20th century.
“In the play, many members of the Swedish Academy of that time appear, all dressed in the romantic costumes of the day with gold-braided, cocked hats, gold on the trousers and all the old knights’ decorations. It’s a gaudy spectacle, and for several evenings it has packed the house at The Violent Sensations Theatre: twenty thousand people. The theatre is the new playhouse by the Traneberg bridge. It is trying to reintroduce a taste for the old patriotic Romanticism.”
“Good!” Apollonides exclaimed. “I must see that play. Why do we not have a Swedish Academy any more? Where are now the mighty champions who protected the Swedish art of poetry?”
He sighed and asked where the newspaper had its theatre.