"A Pail of Air" (Fritz Leiber) + "Out In The Country" (Three Dog Night)

posted Mar 31, 2004

There is a Fritz Leiber story entitled "A Pail of Air", a story that despite its hopeful ending always strikes me as spectacularly bleak. In it, Earth has been ripped out of the solar system by a wandering black hole, and story is set in the aftermath, where the average temperature of the Earth is the Universe's average temperature of 3K. The atmosphere of Earth has frozen out.

The story centers on one family scratching out a precarious existence in the face of global, complete, utter catastrophe by keeping a fire going. (As it turns out, the atmosphere freezes by gas, so the ground actually has highly refined sources of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc. in it, so getting oxygen is as easy as going outside and scooping it up... if you can deal with the temperature of the gas, that is.) Two children in the story have been raised in this world.

"Out In The Country" by Three Dog Night, despite not being about this directly, always reminds me of this story. You know how you can listen to a song and you only really hear the chorus, since they repeat it, and often sing it more clearly then the verses? You can download the chorus here.

Despite being about escaping to the country from an oppressive city, it always seems to me to have perfectly captured a part of Fritz's story that he only touches on, those last manic days where everybody must have known the end was coming, and at least some of them would have tried to experience as much of the Nature that would soon be gone as they could. If they were going to write music, this seems like what it would be, the tone, the words, right down to the phrase "before the sun is just a bright spot in the night sky" where of course Three Dog Night means that it is buried behind pollution, but in my scenario it is the literal truth. (In fact, I admit when I just heard some snippets on the radio and didn't hear the whole thing, I wondered if the Leiber story had directly prompted the creation of the song! Having heard the whole thing I know better know, but you have to admit the part I gave you alone certainly makes that theory believable.)

It helps, of course, to hear the whole song and read the whole story, but copyright laws are copyright laws, sorry.

I know it's a strange connection, but those are the most fun. I recommend the Fritz Leiber story if you can find it. Of course, it won't be out of copyright until the Sun consumes the Earth, a more likely end to Earth, so I can't post it here, but it's worth it if you can find it.

(Note to any IP lawyers: This clearly qualifies as fair use, a small, quality-reduced snippet of a larger work posted to provide an editorial comment on the work that can't really be duplicated without the snippet. Please hold the threatening legal letters.)


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