Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder

New Tales of Space and Time

    The Old Space Ranger was never seen to leave his home planet or to come back again.  But sometimes he was there and sometimes he wasn't.

    When he was a youngster, the Old Space Ranger was a member of the Big Beavers.  One day his lodge went on a camping trip.  They put up their tents, dug their pits and laid their fires.

    The lodgemaster set the Old Space Ranger to chopping wood.

    He chopped wood while the food was being prepared.  He split more while it was being eaten.  As darkness fell, he continued to chop wood.

    Just as he was about to keel over from exhaustion, the lodgemaster approached.

    "Why are you still chopping wood?" he asked.

    The Old Space Ranger said, "Nobody told me to stop."

    One day, the Old Space Ranger was standing by the river when someone called to him from the opposite bank.

    The man shouted, "How do I get to the other side?"

    The Old Space Ranger called back, "You are on the other side."

    They say the Old Space Ranger learned so much in kindergarten that he wanted to take it a second time.

    During his travels around the Nashuite Empire, the Old Space Ranger discovered a wonderful dish unknown on his home world.  It was called Interstellar Chili.  He liked it enough to ask for the recipe.

    When he went back to his native planet to live, the Old Space Ranger thought he would show people who he was now and share a taste of the wider universe with them.  So he threw a party, invited all the neighbors in and made Interstellar Chili for them.

    But he lacked the time to cut and trim the meat and then simmer it for days steeped in rare spices in the way the recipe called for.  In order to feed so many, he had to use ground meat and cook it for just a few hours.

    He made other adjustments, as well.  The powdered tree bark he needed wasn't imported to his planet.  And he was unable to find the herb no one knows because it was called by another name and thought of as decorative ground cover.

    The Old Space Ranger tried to make up for the substitutions and omissions.  He knew that people here liked beer, so he threw in two bottles where the recipe only called for one.

    While it was cooking, the Old Space Ranger's wife snuck a taste.

    "What do you think?" the Old Space Ranger asked.

    She said, "It reminds me a little of Interstellar Chili.  But it's not Interstellar Chili."

    "Well," the Old Space Ranger said, "we'll tell them it is, anyway.  They won't know the difference."

    One of the students of the Old Space Ranger was asked what the sage had taught him.

    "Nothing I can recall," he said.

    "Then why do you stay his student?"

    The boy said, "Because when I'm around him I learn a lot."

    Once the Old Space Ranger said something so preposterous that even he didn't believe it.  It was so outrageous that one of his listeners reached out and tweaked his nose.  

    But the Old Space Ranger didn't react to this criticism of his veracity.  Instead he said, "Fortunately I wear a false nose for just such occasions."

    The Old Space Ranger was very difficult to pin down.  He had a reputation for being impossibly clever and knowing things by mysterious means that other people didn't.  But at the same time, he often appeared to act like a fool.

    One day, someone who thought he was a fraud and wanted to show him up asked him outright whether he was in fact a wise man.

    The Old Space Ranger said, "I won't say yes and I can't say no."

    "Why not?"

    "Well, if I were to claim I was, that would be arrogant and presumptuous.  However, if I said no, there's always a possibility that I could be wrong."

Tales of the Old Space Ranger  -  How to Crack Eggs from the Inside

Other Related Material  -  Return to Contents

Written May 2005

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