Bertha and Alfred, married for twenty years, enjoy a truly science fictional life in the twenty-first century. But in spite of all the technological marvels surrounding them, an argument about sharing a dessert at an upscale restaurant escalates and threatens their friendship with their neighbours, the Hoppenstedts.
This parodistic piece is a mundane short story of 6000 words or approximately 20 print pages, written in the style of science fiction’s “golden age” of the 1940s and 1950s. With bonus recipe.
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Some background information:
- The Three Quarters Eaten Dessert is a short story of 6000 words and part of the series Alfred and Bertha’s Marvelous Twenty-First Century Life. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
- This story was written in response to the Not Really SF Short Story Challenge by writer E.P. Beaumont. The idea was to write a completely mundane short story in the style of science fiction’s “golden age” of the 1940s and 1950s, complete with clunky overexplanation of every single piece of technology with which the characters interact.
- The challenge was a response to complaints by some more traditionally minded science fiction writers and fans that science fiction had been invaded by literary writing and that the virtues, values and scientific rigour of science fiction’s so-called “golden age” had been forgotten. In response, E.P. Beaumont proposed launching a counter invasion of literary fiction by science fiction.
- Like the other stories in the Alfred and Bertha series, The Three Quarters Eaten Dessert borrows its plots from a classic 1970s comedy skit by the brilliant German comedian Vicco von Bülow a.k.a. Loriot. In this case, the skit in question is “Kosakenzipfel” (Cossack’s Prick). I stick pretty closely to the original skit here down to such details as the yodeling diploma and the insults flung about at the end.
- Cherries Jubilee and Pear Belle Hélène are real desserts, but the Cossack’s Prick was actually invented by Loriot who had a knack for inventing weird food items (Steak Florida, anyone?). However, enterprising chefs and homecooks quickly came up with a dessert to match the skit and by now there are several recipes for Cossack’s Prick out there. This one from a Loriot book comes closest to the actual description in the skit IMO. You can also find an adaptation in the back of the book.
- Vicco von Bülow a.k.a. Loriot also has a skit in which he reads some rather eccentric recipes such as cream of elephant, hippo simmered in red wine, dried fruit with armadillo dumplings, whale steak, Tyrolean style and my personal favourite, the cannibalistic classic huntsman on a bed of rice. “Only intended for festive occasions”, Loriot reminds us, “since huntsmen are an increasingly endangered species.”
- Alfred and Bertha’s neighbours Carl and Irene Hoppenstedt as well as their son Ricky are mentioned in The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree, though this is the first – and given the outcome, presumably last – time we meet them.
- The Build You Own Particle Accelerator kit, which Alfred gave Ricky Hoppenstedt for Christmas is also mentioned in The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree, and is a reference to the (rather explosive) Build your own nuclear power station kit, which features in a Loriot Christmas skit.
- The wine consumed at the restaurant is another Loriot reference to the skit Vertreterbesuch (Salesmen’s Visit) where Mrs. Hoppenstedt is visited by several salesmen, including one who sells wines of rather dubious origin and quality, including the Oberföhringer Vogelspinne (Oberföhringen Tarantula). An enterprising wine merchant recently offered actual bottles of the wines mentioned in the skit.
- The paragraph near the end, which discusses the concept of value-added tax or VAT, is specifically dedicated to science fiction writer Charles Stross, who recently lamented in his extensive taxonomy of space opera clichés, that science fiction, particularly space operas, never mention VAT or sales tax. And so I decided to oblige Mr. Stross and not just mention, but explain VAT in true Alfred and Bertha fashion.
- The name of the restaurant, Quercus robur germanicus, is a actually a play on the fact that “Zur Deutschen Eiche” (German oak inn) is a very common name for pubs and country restaurants in Germany. Alas, since this is an Alfred and Bertha story, every biological organism is tagged with its scientific Latin name.
- The cover is a stock photo by jirkaejc. I chose it, because it resembles the abstract science fiction paperback covers of the 1960s, even though it’s actually a close-up photo of a chocolate dessert (not a Cossack’s Prick, though, this one looks like rum balls).