Sunday, October 21, 2007

Jack Vance's "Meet Miss Universe": When "feminine beauty" needed to be defined with mathematical rigor!

What a way to get introduced to an author! Good humor - a galaxy-wide multi-species female beauty contest. And my first story by Jack Vance.

Story summary.

This is a world where interstellar travel is common, & human diplomatic representative are posted on many alien worlds.

Hardeman Clydell is a wealthy man; he is also the General Director of forthcoming California TriCentennial Exposition. His assistant, Tony LeGrand, gets this brainwave of a "Galactic Beauty Contest".

Which worlds should participate? Only those known sentinet worlds are chosen that meet these criteria:
  1. "Is the race socially organized?"
  2. "Can we adequately communicate? Are interpreters available?"
  3. "Is the race's environment easily duplicable on Earth?"
  4. "Is there an element of the race which reasonably can be spoken of as female?"
  5. "Is the race notoriously short tempered, vicious or truculent? Are they able to check any habits or instincts which might prove offensive or dangerous to visitors at the Exposition?"
That cuts down the candidate worlds to 33. "eight of which were humanoid, classes A to D. Class A comprised true men and close variants; anything less man like than Class D was no longer really man like."

Some more cutting, & invitations went to 31 worlds. 23 worlds agreed to participate. "Think of it! ... Twenty three worlds confident enough in the beauty of their women to pit them against ... the galaxy!"

How do you measure inter-species beauty? "how in the world could I compare some cute little Earth girl with ... one of those Pleiades dragon women?" Well, "Each contestant will be rated by the standards of beauty of her own world." That should make it fair.

"We do some research, get the ideal of every race. A set of specifications. Whoever most closely approaches the ideal specifications is winner. Miss Universe!"

Specifications are interesting. E.g., "Diameter measured from agrix to therulta", or "Ganglionic orgotes ... should number 43", or "indexes of hardness, viscosity, temperature and color of the orgotes - which, by the way, should give off no perceptible odor"!

Prize for the winner is another problem. E.g., "We offer a yacht. A girl from Deserta Delicta wins. She's never seen more than a mud puddle. What does she do with the yacht?" Eventually, they decide to let the girl name her prize, within reason - upto a million US dollars.

Introduction to individual candidates is interesting - to put it mildly. Among the candidates is a telepath, an electrically charged one ("Miss Gomeisa... Charged electrically. Care! Don't touch!"), & one that physically shoots out fire ("Miss Grglash... Basic chemistry siliconic. Skull is a furnace, flames shoot out of holes in scalp. Looks like beautiful orange hair. She's hot. Don't touch!").

After much fanfare & jokes in earthy newspapers, the judges announce the winner. She is Miss Magdalipe, of the world called Mel. During her interview after winning, we get the real scoop: "The letter comes in from Earth asking measurements of most beautiful woman. They measure me. I permit nothing else. I am most beautiful woman. In fact I am only woman. I lay eggs for whole planet."

And there is a surprise still awaiting - when she names the prize she wants!

Fact sheet.

"Meet Miss Universe", short story, review
First published: Fantastic Universe, March 1955.
Rating: Time well spent A