First in a monthly series of excerpts from The Book of All Cities.
The principal products of Bellur are: tensor equations; scarlet parrots; censorship; critiques of all sorts; and fine hats of pressed, dark-green moss. Its citizens are proud and haughty; they take Bellur gravely.
The Censors' Building is in an olive grove gone wild (olive oil is no longer among the principal products of Bellur), and during their afternoon break and their evening break the censors wander the groves, picking and nibbling on the bitter olives, searching for inspiration. Censorship in Bellur is an art, it is the Queen of the Arts. Other cities celebrate their poets or sculptors, offer the world their playwrights and clowns; Bellur, its censors. The censors of Bellur can censor the twentieth part of the thickness of one serif of the letter h in 10-point Garamond type, and alter the meaning of a poem entirely; they can censor four thousand pages of a four thousand and fifty page novel, and leave its meaning intact. But this is not the extent of their art; these are mere parlor tricks, mere editorishness. Censorship is a dance with history; by censoring the right word at the right historical moment, the gifted censor can unleash or throttle a revolution.
In the olive grove one tree stands alone, dedicated to the greatest of censors, Albigromious, who came to the Queen of the Arts late in life, after distinguished careers in mathematics and parrot-farming. In his tenure as Grand Censor, he omitted not a line, not a word, not a letter, not a speck of ink from any of the manuscripts that crossed his simple olivewood desk; yet every poet and clown who visited his office went away chastened and subdued, and many an artist grew terrified and burst into tears at the time of his review, even if she was safe in a far distant city. The censors say of Albigromious that in the heyday of his genius not only the artists, but the common people as well, learned to censor themselves.
Copyright © 2001 Benjamin Rosenbaum
Image © 2000 Lee Moyer.
Benjamin Rosenbaum lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife and baby daughter, where in addition to scribbling fiction and poetry, he programs in Java (well) and plays rugby (not very well). He attended the Clarion West Writer's Workshop in 2001 (the Sarong-Wearing Clarion). His work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Writer Online. His previous appearance in Strange Horizons was "A Gardener Betrayed by Roses." For more about him, see his Web site.