Finding a Wub on Total Radio Silence – 23 August 2012
In Philip K. Dick’s short story “Beyond Lies The Wub,” the eponymous wub is an intelligent and sapient Martian creature that an Earth-bound spaceship crew discovers on a supply mission to the Red Planet – though, more accurately, a single crewmember named Peterson purchases the wub for fifty cents and brings it along on the trip back to Earth. The wub is porcine in appearance (and, as the captain Franco assumes, in taste as well), and most of the crew treat it as such. They abuse it, ignore it’s obvious discomfort and unhappiness – all except Peterson, who thinks that the wub could be more than it appears. And it is, as it’s endowed with some sort of telepathic ability. The wub is well-versed on many subjects, and it explains to the incredulous crew that it is a member of an ancient race that was once plentiful on the Martian surface. When the wub first “speaks” – in an attempt to change the topic of discussion from its slaughter to “other things” – the entire crew is present, and they all “hear” it speak, but it is only Peterson who believes that it has spoken; Franco comes to the conclusion that there has to be a Martian hiding within the wub, and demands it show itself. Well, this turn of events serves to scatter the crew throughout the ship, but Franco sits down with the wub and has an unexpectedly deep conversation with it, trying to convince the wub that it is in its best interests to be eaten. The wub disagrees, citing several strong points in opposition to the captain’s ideas, and brings the conversation (and thus, it’s and the captain’s intellectual level) to a temporary stalemate. Franco returns with a rifle as the wub is engaged in deep conversation with Peterson, but Peterson does next to nothing to prevent its slaughter, as it comes by the hand of his captain. Peterson sits in a confused, reflective silence at dinner, and picks at the wub throughout – Franco, having no such moral impediment, digs in with gusto. Afterward, he’s somehow able to pick up the conversation Peterson and the wub were having before they were so rudely interrupted.
As I’ve said before, this is an awesome story.
I spent a few days with my parents recently, my final visit with them before I leave for Japan. For two days we sat together, and talked about lots of things, trip-related and otherwise. They live about forty-five minutes away from Charleston, in a tiny town where there is literally a single stoplight, no library in sight from the main highway that passes through it, and farms dominate the landscape, with the odd farmhouse providing little variation. They have no internet access there, and I don’t have a phone anymore, so there were no distractions, nothing keeping my mind from reeling as I considered everything that this trip would mean to them as well as me. It wasn’t a sob fest at all, far from it – we laughed; we reminisced and then laughed some more; we drank a little then laughed at the silly things the cat did, or the funny thing that my mother heard the other day – it was a good time. But the ride back home was anything but funny. A strange sort of sadness sat on my chest as we (my sister and I) pulled further and further away from my parents for that last time, and that sadness stayed with me for a while. It wasn’t a mental-breakdown bawl-your-eyes-out sort of sadness – it was a reflective sort of sadness, grief-like… a lot like Peterson, you know? Some part of me had stayed behind in that farmhouse with them, as cliche as that sounds. But it’s true.
After I had returned to the city, my mind ran across “Beyond Lies The Wub” again, so I read it. And when I finished, I realized that my trip out there was a lot like the wub in the story and, like Peterson, I was lucky enough to have found one – on total radio silence no less.
The wub was a fount of potential knowledge that the crew could have absorbed, had they been willing. Because everyone had refused to believe what they were witnessing, they let it pass them by – that is, everyone except Peterson. The wub could have taught them something about themselves (arguably it had), much how seeing my parents revealed a lot about myself I’d either forgotten I had or didn’t know I possessed. The wub wasn’t just a wasted opportunity, it was wasted knowledge; and though it possessed Franco in the end and was presumably able to continue passing more of its knowledge to someone who would listen (a theme which returns in another of Dick’s short stories “Not By Its Cover” – which I also recommend – ), a grand opportunity was lost the second the other crewmembers refused to believe that something they perceived as beneath them wasn’t worth their attention, much less their respect.
This is what I found in the middle of nowhere with my parents – my first (conscious) wub. Imagine the wubs to be found in Japan – wubs in class, wubs in the street, wubs on planes and aboard trains and in automobiles, wubs in strangers and wubs in new friends I’ve yet to meet, wubs in forests and on mountaintops and seaside cliffs – wubs galore. But there are wubs here I have yet to find, and wubs I remember as something else and not as wubs, which I’ll have to find and identify as such. A wub can be practically anything – that bit of advice someone gave you; the frog squished flat in the road the day after it has rained; a particularly beautiful bank of clouds reflected in the Ashley River on a clear day in June, the person you said hello to, whether they returned the greeting or not… Anything that gives you insight or focus, and allows you to use that insight or focus to better yourself – that is a wub. Everybody has a few wubs that stand out in their memories, but those you missed, those you have to search for and retcon as wubs – those are the jewels, the important nuggets that show you just what you are made of. Again, cliche, but I stand by it.
Total radio silence isn’t such a bad thing, but a little of it sure goes a hell of a long way, I tell you what.