Bewildering Stories discusses...
The Ending of “Karat Cake”
with Terry L. Mirll
A previous discussion
appears in issue 663.
[Terry L. Mirll] Actually, I agree with the assertion that the ending feels rushed. I’m currently working on a screenplay adaptation of “Karat Cake” which will depict one last IFF, this time in the so-called “IFF-free zone” of D17, just after Frank destroys the Shmeat data.
Although Frank and company have transport to get themselves to safety, Frank stays behind in a desperate and seemingly futile attempt at stopping the IFF, which will destroy thousands if not millions of lives. Dippy remains as well, though I’m undecided as to how the others will act, especially Hildy.
It is here that Dippy will reveal his divine nature, as Razhdha-ka intervenes to stop the IFF from freefall. But this only occurs once Frank finally understands the divine spark within himself.
His willingness to sacrifice himself reflects Christ’s assertion, “Greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for a friend.” This is a theme common to all major religions, that the notion of self is to some degree illusory. We share a connection with the divine which can only be realized once we stop thinking of ourselves and instead think of others.
[Don Webb] Thank you for the considerations, Terry! Of course, they go far beyond Bewildering Stories’ version of “Karat Cake” and take the idea of sacrifice to its logical conclusion: if any, then all. But means and ends are inseparable, and any ending is fraught with theological implications. Is Razhdha-ka an image of the Judeo-Christian God, or is he an Olympian god?
The ultimate predicament you suggest for Frank reminds me of an early work of Isaac Asimov’s, The Currents of Space (1952). The hero, who is called “the Townsman,” a minor official on the planet Florina, atones for a criminal act that has had unintended consequences. It has revealed that the planet’s sun will go nova very soon. At the end, all the inhabitants are being evacuated, but he will stay, because “he doesn’t want to leave Florina to die alone.”
I have problems with Asimov’s novella, but the Townsman’s penance is not among them. Primarily, Asimov was pursuing a major theme in social criticism ten years in advance of the Civil Rights Movement:
Publishing an ironic critique of slavery and racism in John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction, of all places, was a virtue that swept away all faults. (cf. a review of Asimov’s science fiction)
Likewise, “Karat Cake” engages current political issues, for example:
- race and anti-immigrant prejudice (Frank and Dippy, at the beginning)
- oligopolies (Ouroboros and Nutrisynth)
- the “1-percent” sucking money out of the economy (the Old Man. And the 50th-century historian in a review of 1177 B.C. makes the same point.)
- the exploitation of women (Hildy)
- secret police surveillance (Lohman and the Grunts)
In an “unrushed” ending, must Frank perform a “Christ act” by literally sacrificing himself? Of course, that’s the acme of nobility and selflessness. Does “Karat Cake” require it?
In the current version, Dippy, as Razhdha-ka, reflects Frank’s new understanding and enlightenment as a glimpse of the divine. And that’s where it ends. In the proposed ending, Frank would accept death in order to forestall an anomalous IFF event that threatens to kill a lot of people. But he doesn’t do it himself; Razhdha-ka intervenes arbitrarily, almost capriciously. If the object is to reiterate the Crucifixion story, Razhdha-ka must remain self-consistent, and Frank must avert a world-destroying catastrophe on his own.
Frank is already at the center of an apocalypse in its original sense of revelation. As it stands, “Karat Cake” makes the point that the pursuit of wealth for its own sake causes more trouble than it’s worth. Why go further? At a human level, Frank can sacrifice ill-gotten gains and settle down to egg farming with Hildy.
Returning to the story in Luke 18, we find: “For it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” The bystanders ask, reasonably, “[By that standard,] who then can be saved?” Jesus answers, in effect, not to worry about it; let God handle it. The point I take is that the Kingdom is open to people, not to freight trains; it’s the person and what the person does that count. “Karat Cake” makes that point; what more do we need?
But, as Augustine says, Dilige, et quod vis, fac, ‘Love, and do as you will.’
by Bewildering Stories