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Riveracre Farms, R. D. #1
Hewitt's Corners, MN
August 18, 1998

Interdisciplinary Genetronics
Transportation Division
100 Bionutronics Drive
Detroit, MI
Attn: Gene-Splicing Dept.

Dear Sirs:

I am once again writing to you, with considerable reluctance, and more in sorrow than in anger, but I believe you will see, if you will kindly read what I am saying, that I have good reasons.

In simple justice, not to mention your own self-interest, I think you should for once read this letter. I am not only a customer, but happen to have been one of your earliest supporters. I was all in favor of giving you a chance when you were just an idea pleading for a hearing. I had, at that time, no premonition that you would turn into a gigantic world-devouring monopoly, and I wrote more than my share of letters on behalf of the New Life Bill that finally enabled you to go ahead and show what you could do. Now all I am asking of you is a hearing, such as I helped obtain for you.

This is my fifth letter of complaint to you, and I think you had better read this one, at least, carefully. You would not be the first idea to turn into a monopoly and then get shrunk back down to size in a hurry.


If I now finally have your attention, I will mention, parenthetically, that copies are, of course, also going to all appropriate state officials, and there are quite a few of them.

Since my four previous letters were answered by routine computer printouts from either your promotion or your legal department, I suppose I had better summarize everything I said in those letters, which have probably long since been shredded and fed to your secretary's cute little lemon-yellow sports coupe.

In chronological order, here is a summary of my four previous letters:

1) "I am a dairy farmer, and recently purchased one of your new model Superbiometal Traction Servalls. As an admirer of your early Biotank models, I want to complain about your phasing out of these models. Their advantage over the usual all-mechanical tractor in times of fuel scarcity was enormous, since at night you could put a stack of hay, corn stalks, straw, wood chips, or what-have-you on the tank-feed mechanism, and in the morning the biotank would have converted the stack into fuel, and the tractor would be ready to go. With one or two supplemental biotanks, most of a farmer's fuel problem was solved. That was good enough, and this new improved series with so-called 'self-repairable modules' represents a complication I don't need and don't want."

2) "I want to again urgently request that you bring back your Biotank model. I could take an ordinary wrench to that model and fix the usual problems. At worst, I could nearly always take it apart and fix it. If, finally, I couldn't do the job, I could get hold of someone who could. But if this present Superbiometal thing, with its 'self-repairable modules,' happens to be set wrong at the factory, and I reset it, it then reresets itself to the wrong setting, and neither I, nor my brother with forty years experience on engines, nor your biobefuddled Superbiometal factory-trained regional representative, can figure out what to do. At present, it insists on running too rich; nothing we do fixes it; it leaves a rolling cloud of fine soot behind it, and drinks fuel like an eight-armed alcoholic; it runs feebly at best and jolts to a stop with a cough and a hiccup if there's any serious work to be done. I am not the only one with this problem. You had better straighten this out, or you will be hearing from our lawyers. P.S. Do you realize that if a sharp rock gets flung up, this Superbiometal tractor bleeds!"

3) "Kindly do not send me any more self-congratulatory press releases, slick brochures on New Superbiometal Products, or threatening legal form letters with enclosures that I am supposed to humbly fill out and send back to you by return mail. Everything non-legal goes straight onto the tank-feed stack. The legal junk goes to my lawyer, who is beginning to wonder whether an actionable case for mail fraud can be built up out of it. Instead of wasting time with all this mulch, kindly clear up the problem I have been trying to call to your attention: Your Superbiometal Traction Servall is a disaster. I am now farming with my old Biotank model, which is in very worn condition, but which works far better than this fuel-eating soot-machine that can barely crawl around the field. There may be someone who admires your Biotechnological Sophistication, but it isn't me. Don't send me any more slick testimonials from your paid admirers. I know what the truth is: The present model is worthless, and all its 'sophistication' won't grow a hill of beans. Bring back the Biotank model! It worked."

4) "As you will have found out by now, I have traded in your fuel-guzzling Superbiometal Traction Servall for a new improved even-more-sophisticated Superbiometal Powercat. This is no sign of faith on my part so far as the Powercat is concerned. It is just that the Servall was totally worthless, and it seemed that the Powercat might at least be an improvement. It certainly appears 'more aggressive, lean, and powerful,' as your literature claims, but I frankly don't like the looks of the thing. I also don't care for this proliferation of biometal sports coupes, roadsters, and so on. Though I was one of your earliest supporters, I never expected you to rush all this stuff into production. It is perfectly obvious to anyone who uses your products that you are getting results beyond what you are aiming at. This 'biometal' you talk about is not 'the substance of life itself, shaped and formed to serve Man's every need.' The various manifestations of life always serve their own needs. Man only gets cooperation when a deal is struck, and then you have to make it satisfactory or the other side won't cooperate. I don't really know how to express what I am trying to say here, so I will try to make it simpler: If you've got an axe, a gun, a wrench, or a crowbar, they may not be 'the substance of life itself,' but you at least know what you've got, and you can use it. On the other hand, if you've got a cow, a dog, a cat, or a chicken, it is the substance of life, but again, you've got a fair idea what you've got, and, within reason, again you can use it. But just note that in this latter case, you've got, depending on the specifics, to feed it, pet it, water it, keep it from sinking its teeth into visitors, and shovel out its trough. Now, either category of thing is all right, within its limits, but you are mixing the categories. Do you appreciate what you are doing? Do we honestly want the equivalent of meowing crowbars and guns that can fire themselves? Never mind how sophisticated it all is, and what a tribute to Science that we can make them. Of course, it's wonderful. But do we want it?"

That is the greatly condensed summary of my past correspondence. There is no point trying to summarize the flood of material, all beside the point, that you have sent in return.

What is important is what I have been trying to get through to you, and unfortunately I now have a much clearer idea of that than I did the last time I wrote. I no longer have to try to get it across philosophically. Now I can give you examples.

This new Superbiometal Powercat of yours was no sooner in its shed than it gave a noise like a foghorn, and we discovered in the owner's manual that this 'serves as a reminder to load the tank feed.' It gave this 'reminder' at six that night, at ten, at around twenty minutes after midnight, at quarter of three a.m., and then again right on the dot at six the next morning.

It took us most of the next day to cut and weld new rails and push rods for the tank feed mechanism, so that it would be possible to make it hold feed enough to take this monster through the night. In the hope of getting a little peace and quiet, we were loading up this bigger feed rack when there came a thud and a clang, a noise like thirty pounds of muck squelching onto the ground, and a second clang followed by the sound of a latch clicking into place. There was a strong chemical odor, and there on the floor of the shed sat a steaming gob of what looked like lithium gun grease, with odd bits and remnants of straw, corn stalks, and so on sticking out. Excuse me for mentioning it, but this is a complication I don't need from a tractor. I know what to do with cow manure, but what do we do with this stuff?

Searching through the owner's manual, we found that, "the Powercat not only makes its own fuel from ordinary organic farm wastes, but its high-efficiency processing unit is biomechanically scavenged at regular intervals to eliminate the tedious task of cleansing the conversion tank."

Now, putting this description together with what had actually happened, it began to dawn on us that we were in worse trouble than we'd realized. The most innocuous-seeming passages in this manual could cover who-knew-what actual reality? There was, for instance, on page sixteen, the following:

"To maintain operative functioning efficiency, the Superbiometal Powercat must be maintained with adequate in-tank fuel level at all times."

On glancing over this owner's manual, I had supposed that this meant that you couldn't use the thing without putting fuel in it. But that was obvious to begin with. Moreover, the foghorn reminder was there for what purpose? What did "operative functioning efficiency" mean?

Could it be that this tractor would die if it wasn't fueled?

Just so that you'll have a fair idea what the background was like as we studied this owner's manual, I suppose I should mention that your dealer here took in around twenty of your worthless Servall models, in trade, all in the same week as he sold these Superbiometal Powercats for replacements. So there must have been about twenty new Powercats sold around here.

So, from the distance, as we were reading your manual, we could hear hootings, fire-siren howlings, low keenings and moanings—all these things have "individualized aural recognition coding for owner convenience"—and there must have been around a dozen different kinds of this noise to add to the way we felt ourselves.

Well, we finished the manual finally, and we were in none too sweet a mood as we went back to the shed amidst the moanings, hootings, and howlings from the distance, moved the Powercat to the barn and got it positioned so the glop from the conversion tank could at least land in the trough, made sure there was plenty of hay and corn stalks in the tank feed, and then we went to bed still trying in the backs of our minds to work out some of the passages in this owner's manual.

I realize you have to sell your products to keep from going broke. But would it be too much to ask that you put the Biotank model back in production and sell it? Progress isn't necessarily making things more complicated, and Progress isn't everything, anyway. If the only way forward is to progress downhill into a swamp, you may be a lot better off to stay where you are, or even back up. The "Tank" model we could understand, at least.

Anyway, around two in the morning, there was a noise outside, and a frantic barking from the dog—not a warning, and not a threatening bark at an intruder, but the kind of desperate bark that signifies some kind of disaster that scares the dog himself.

Outside, we could see a kind of vague unrecognizable huge moving shape in the very faint moonlight, with low dark clouds passing across the sky so that, from time to time, it was impossible to see anything at all.

Our car was parked beside the house, and our daughter-in-law's car was parked beside it. Our car is a standard model, four years old. Our daughter-in-law drives one of your new "Biostreaks." This huge shape, whatever it was, was moving toward the cars.

About the time this much was clear, the dog let out a frantic yelp in a higher pitch, there came a rumbling from back toward the barns, and a sort of low hoot from around the cars at the side of the house, and then a threatening foghorn rumble from beside the big barn. I say "threatening" because that was what it was.

Thanks to the noise, we were all up by this time, and things happened so fast it's hard to say what came first.

Someone turned on the outside light by the house, the phone rang, a shot went off somewhere, a horn beeped, and the looming shape by the cars turned out to be one of your competitors' "Nucleogenic Workhog" tractors, with no one driving it. This monstrosity was wheeling itself around the Biostreak car, which was no longer beside our car, but about fourteen or fifteen feet away. From the direction of the barn came the Powercat, which was now emitting a noise like a fire siren on the prowl, and if that isn't clear to you, come on out here and we'll do our best to clear it up.

The Powercat now went for the Workhog, the Biostreak coyly went beep-beep, our dog decided which side was which and got the Workhog by the tire, and Ed Cox asked me over the phone if I'd seen his Workhog tractor, which he said had a tendency to "start up and wander off at night."

It's to your credit, at least, that the Powercat ran the Workhog off the place, but what this necessarily involved was that this expensive piece of biomachinery was now running around loose, at night, on what errand we didn't know, and for all we could tell, it might end up wrecked. Naturally, we had to go hunt for it.—Besides, the Workhog could have been laying for it somewhere along the road, and the Workhog is a vicious-looking piece of machinery if we ever saw one, and we didn't care to have that thing win the fight.

Naturally enough, considering the circumstances, we saw no sign of the Powercat, got back worn out, and finally found the Powercat back in the barn contentedly connected up to its feed mechanism; the Biostreak car was demurely parked where it had started the night, and the whole shambles obviously was a figment of our imagination—if it hadn't been for the tracks all over the ground.

Now, that was some time ago, and since then we have kept our eyes and ears open, examined these biogenetically engineered machines, further studied the owners' and so-called "shop" manuals, and come to certain conclusions.

First, we don't think you know what you're actually doing.

Second, you may think you've got "the substance of Life itself" warped into the "Service of man," but we think the "substance of Life" is using you, not the other way around.

Third, we think we can live with this present generation of Powercats, etc., but there are plenty of disadvantages to a tractor that gives a noise like a foghorn when it's hungry, tomcats all night, and, last but not least, chooses a car to mate with.

Fourth, kindly do not tell us there is no possible way a farm tractor can mate with a sports car, as we are bringing several dozen reporters out here tomorrow to see what results. And we further want to advise you that neither we nor anyone we have talked to can think of any use for a low-slung streamlined tractor with four bucket seats and a power take-off.

Fifth, we want to advise you to kindly watch out in your gene-splicing-and-altering to keep your civilian and military applications separate, as, between the lot of us out here, we have had to have no less than six different military tank, groundcrawler, and doomsday-type hybrids "humanely put to sleep" shortly after "birth" (what else can we call it?) because there was no possible way we could let these things grow to full size. And I might mention that these are not exactly the easiest kinds of things to "humanely put to sleep," either.

Lastly, let me once again ask you to kindly inquire of yourselves, do we really want all this wonderful progress?

Faithfully, but frankly worn-out,

J. J. Wildner
Riveracre Farms

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