Letter From Behind The Beyond
To whom it may concern on Earth:
If this reaches you, please note that it comes from the planet Zog. Yes, it is known here that you use that name for any celestial body with which you are not familiar, but this is the real thing. I am currently our designated correspondent for extra-planetary contacts. The incumbency changes once a year. I shall give my name below, though you will probably find it unpronounceable without clarification. We have only one language, the words of which comprise about ninety percent consonants and regardless of the order or number of letters are usually pronounced ‘Zhlykx’. In this respect, I believe our tongue is perhaps somewhat like one of yours, I think an East European one, though I may be wrong about this, as the information we received was severely garbled.
I will not weary you with details of how this missive is to be launched. Suffice it to say that it is the interstellar equivalent of a message in a bottle. I just hope that my primitive effort will succeed. My reason for writing is to let you know that an envoy we sent to you some time ago returned here recently. On his way back, the poor fellow passed through a belt of harmful radiation which, among other things, selectively destroyed his memory and caused his speech to be intermittently unintelligible.
Following touchdown at our space centre, the man lived for only a few days, during which time he told us that your planet is rather similar to ours in size, development and inhabitants. The main difference seems to be that we are much like you were 200 million years ago, in that we have only one continent, taking up nearly a third of our surface area. Sadly, that was about all our man had to say, except that for some reason he was most insistent that we should inform you about the means of communication here. I am trying to respect his wish.
For slow interchange of ideas, we have traditional books. Until recently, more rapid methods were radio, telephone, television, newspapers and something we called the Interweb, which allowed people to keep in touch by computer. Books are still produced, but the position with regard to faster channels has altered dramatically.
Television was suspended to save energy during a recent shortage. As the content was astoundingly banal, nobody wants it back. Telephone and computer systems were destroyed by aliens who dislike us, and we have no means of reinstating the networks. Newspapers are still produced, but not read. After printing, they are conveyed directly to various dumps, from where people recover them for producing paper mash articles, including furniture and even houses.
For instant dissemination of news and general entertainment, we are now left with radio. There is only one organisation of this kind and it operates planetwide. It is called the Big Broadcasting Corporation. Most of us refer to it only by its initials, though a few insist on the nickname, Uncle Beeb. There used to be four universal channels, two of them offering mostly popular music, one classical music and one mainly devoted to speech. The first three fell by the wayside when the above-mentioned energy problem arose, so there is now only the fourth. I cannot go into great detail about how it operates, but will give a few examples of its offerings.