The Bird of Crime

a ramble by Donald Simpson

I suppose that the main reason for my deep and enduring interest in Thrush is that there is something fascinating about taking over the world. Not that I would study them just because they want to take over the world. After all, who doesn't?* The thing they have going for them is that they are a little less crude than their competitors.

Casually watching the Man from U.N.C.L.E. television show, you might not agree with me. There, whole towns are destroyed or depopulated in routine Thrush weapon tests. Mr. Elom comes within an inch of sinking San Francisco into the Pacific Ocean. Incredibly powerful devices are developed or stolen for the purpose of blackmailing the entire Earth into submission. Bystanders are incinerated, disintegrated, or just gassed. "Where," you might ask, "is the subtlety."

Well might you ask. The fact is that Thrush comes in several versions, varying with the author of the particular script, from (a) pure nastiness tempered with perversity to (z) The Rand Corporation of modern supranational crime. What I had in mind was, (of course) my version.

And the reason that my version is only a little less crude? Why don't I just design a polished, super-powered organizational mechanism that could squash the U.N.C.L.E. like a cockroach, if it decided to bother with it? Well, for one thing, that would take all the fun out of it. I much more enjoy the Baker Street Irregulars sort of extrapolation-consistent-with-works-extant. That means that in designing my own version of Thrush, I have to take into account all of those wiped-out towns and disintegrated bystanders, and the official M.G.M. Writer's Handbook for U.N.C.L.E., and what the viewing public should be able to fit into their suspension of disbelief. This is not as difficult as it sounds. For one thing, there are plenty of other fanatics to trade ideas with. For another, you can cheat.

Thrush is run by the Ultimate Computer. This is received dogma and is forever unchanging. In the early days of the show, one of the writers destroyed the "Ultimate Computer," a poorly-protected Xerox-machine-sized gizmo. Everybody ignored this, it being contrary to dogma. On the other hand, to assert that the Ultimate Computer is in triplicate, that the three parts alternate between running Thrush, standing by on instant call as a total replacement, and being shipped in disassembled form from one site to another around the world, and.... Well, that is what Dave McDaniel and I did. I strongly doubt that the creators of the show had anything like that in mind, but....They never said otherwise.

That's fun. On the other hand, Thrush is also run by a council. Not much is said about the council, though a lot of Thrush activity seems to be directed toward getting a seat on it. I prefer to have the computer be the Chairman of the Board, but that's too unbelievable.* But also fun.

* Yes, yes, but outside of that....

Now we get to the hard part. The disintegrated bystanders and all that.

To begin then, it is given that Thrush is not just an International Conspiracy," but a nation in its own right. Let that run around in your mind. Fires up the imagination, doesn't it? First you carefully select the most talented people you can find anywhere. (Thrush is the world's most equal-opportunity employer--they can't afford to be picky). Second, you screen out those whose loyalties are already too fixed elsewhere, and the others whose price you can't pay. (The price varies, but your ideology and/or your material benefits must seem to them to be superior.) Third, fit your organization around these people. (Top-quality people "fit in" only partly or not at all. On their own they either fit organizations to themselves or are loners. So, cut the hole to fit the peg.) Now you have a nation of talented, loyal, effective, and therefore enthusiastic volunteers. With a group like that I could--dare I say it?-conquer the world.

But, alas, Thrush seems to have done too much of its recruiting from the ranks of the brilliant but flawed. Some are too nutty, like the San-Francisco-sinking Mr. Elom. Others have a one-sided stupidity, like the otherwise well-run Satrap that put time-bombs in their retiring executives' gold presentation watches. (I am sure that the writer intended this to apply to all Thrush. I shall ignore him.) A Thrush policy of autonomy for many Satraps in their treatment of members and non-Thrushes would explain how these lapses can occur. Certainly, it can be a productive system when the Satrap leaders are well-chosen; but it seems to be involved in choosing the leaders also. You would think that they would have some simple guidelines, such as "Don't bug your future subjects unnecessarily." And "Don't cheat your own crew" (old pirate axiom). But no, it's wiped-out towns and earthquake machines. Melting the icecaps....

I finally came to the conclusion, presented at length by Ted Johnstone in issue #82: Thrush does not always presume to be able to judge the sanity or stupidity of their leaders, but submits all Satraps to an impartial testing agency for the sink-or-swim acid test. The testing agency, if you missed issue #82, is called the U.N.C.L.E. There you have it. Crude. Wasteful, but, not that crude.

Actually it's a bit more complex than that, and the whole Grand Design fits into a few file folders in my file drawer under "GAMES." You can play this sort of game with any created universe, like Oz or Middle Earth or your own. It's a pleasant diversion from trying to figure out the rules of this more subtle and intricate Universe we are all in. One of the best fields current is The Prisoner. The Village offers less freedom for speculation than Thrust, but their internal consistency is amazingly good, and they are most diabolically uncrude.

Be seeing you.