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Space Science Fiction Magazine

AUGUST 1957

A PRACTICAL MAN'S GUIDE

by Jack Vance

Ralph Banks, editor of Popular Crafts Monthly, was a short stocky man with a round pink face, a crisp crew-cut, an intensely energetic manner. He wore gabardine suits and bow-ties; he lived in Westchester with a wife, three children, an Irish Setter, a pair of Siamese cats. He was respected by his underlings, liked not quite to the same extent.

The essence of Ralph Banks was practicality—an unerring discrimination between sound and sham, feasible and foolish. The faculty was essential to his job; in its absence he could not have functioned a day. Across his desk flowed a tide of articles, ideas, sketches, photographs, working models, each of which he must evaluate at a glance. Looking at blueprints for houses, garages, barbeque pits, orchidariums, offshore cruisers, sailplanes and catamarans, he saw the completed project, functional or not, as the case might be—a feat which he similarly performed with technical drawings for gasoline turbines, hydraulic rams, amateur telescopes, magnetic clutches, mono rail systems and one-man submarines. Given a formula for weed-killer, anti-freeze compound, invisible ink, fine-grain developer, synthetic cattle-fodder, stoneware glaze or rubber-base paint, he could predict its efficacy. At his fingertips were specifications and performance data for Stutz Bearcat, Mercer, S.G.V., Doble and Stanley Steamer; also Bugatti, Jaguar, Porsche, Nash-Healey and Pegasco; not to mention Ford, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Packard, Chrysler Imperial. He could build lawn furniture, hammer copper, polish agate, weave Harris tweed, repair watches, photograph amoeba, lithograph, dye batik, etch glass, detect forgeries with infrared light, and seriously disable a heavier opponent. True, Banks farmed out much of his work to experts and department editors, but responsibility was his. Blunders evoked quiet ridicule from the competitors and sardonic letters from the readers; Banks made few blunders. Twelve years he had ridden the tiger, and in the process had developed a head for his job which amounted to secondsight; by now he was able to relax, enjoy his work, and indulge himself in his hobby, which was the collecting of freakish inventions.

Every morning his secretary sifted the mail, and when Ralph Banks arrived he would find the material arranged by categories. A special large basket was labelled SCREWBALL ALLEY—and here Editor Ba...

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