Who wrote the book of love, and what is its call number? (Tomes and Talismans, Concluded)

The really remarkable thing about Tomes and Talismans is that, aside from the stilted dialogue, this show isn’t really all that different from my memories of pretty much all science fiction of the period. Cheaply made, exposition heavy, absolutely certain that the future was going to consist of people in brightly colored polyester fighting people in filthy rags.
Abacus escapes the sewers just in time to hold up the amulet, which reflects the Wiper stun gun rays back at them. They collect a dropped gun and head for the library.
Now, I want to point out that the previous episode was about maps. They showed us a map, and indicated on it where Dad was, where the library was, and where the base was. Dad was not between the two. He was in the opposite direction.
Back at base, Athos and Variant sort out what Mythology is all about. This has got to be a tough concept for them, since fiction is a new concept for Users, and Mythology is, according to this show, a sort of mixture of fact and fiction, being true stories which had been passed down over the years having pieces forgotten or invented. They decide to try skimming.
Colonel Hogan (Hogaaaan!) and Abacus make it back to the library, where he and Bookheart share a “I would like to reindex your card catalog,” look with each other, but then quickly regroup over the MacGuffin. Here, Bookheart teaches Athos to scan, rather than skim, to find a specific topic. They talk quite a lot about the importance of scanning, looking quickly for specific keywords. This turns out to be a wasted effort, since they’re scanning for the keyword “battle” which is the first chapter of the book.
Bookheart next gets to explain notetaking, another topic the Users have no knowledge of. The basic gist here is that while the Users are intelligent, even obsessive over fact-collection, they come from a culture that uses computers and databases, and therefore have no cultural understanding of the need to organize information for sequential access.
Of course, the best thing about this is that Tomes and Talismans neatly destroys its own point. In just twenty short years, real life has taught us that the Users have it right: their system won. Computers, random access of data, they’ve basically obsoleted most of these library skills. As it turned out, library skills aren’t valuable in and of themselves, they’re useful as a way to overcome the fact that pressed dead tree is a terrible way to store information for easy access. This is basically what I said about the demise of newspapers. There’s nothing inherently good about traditional print media (It still edges out computer screens in terms of suitability for reading large amounts of text, but that’s a limitation of display technology, not some kind of universal inherent good about ink-in-tree-carcass), and it basically takes The destruction of human civilization to render those library skills really relevant. While the Users back at base are starving to death, these kids are running around pulling out encyclopedias and almanacs and dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?). If they’d had a local mirror of Wikipedia in the library’s computer instead of a musical montage about how to use the encyclopedia, this series would be about nine episodes shorter.
I’m pretty sure that this show was made to early for it to be a reactionary fantasy, but I could totally see it as one: Think your precious computers will save you? Well you’ll regret forgetting about the Dewey Decimal System when the apocalypse comes! Frankly, if it takes the Eschaton to make traditional library science relevant again, I think my time would be better spent taking a class in how to grow my own food.
(And I say all this despite being quite fond of libraries.)
Anyway, the Wipers are getting worried, because first they saw a horse, and now the ones who got stunned are reporting that the Users are armed with a blood-red stone, and their leader, Homer Simpson Humbuckler (Humbucker?), orders the destruction of the User base.
Meanwhile, thanks to their new skill of Skimming, Scanning, and Notetaking, the library gang has discovered that Wiper legend tells of a great battle in Alpha Centauri, where a giant half-man-half-Clomatt waving a blood-red stone emerged from a cloud and scared off all the Wipers. Alpha Centauri is the Users’ home star system, so they suspect this is the ancient battle where their people somehow defeated the Wipers, via a method which modern Users don’t know, because a generation or two ago, they removed the article from their database for lack of Notability. They find a Wiper-English dictionary to look up what a “Clomatt” is, but the audience doesn’t need one, since the Wipers have been using the term to refer to horses for eight episodes now. Athos realizes that a half-man-half-horse is a centaur, and as they’re from the Alpha Centauri system, this must be the redacted chapter from their history.
Since there’s a book on holograms in the Wizard’s Reading List, Colonel Hogan (Hogaaaan!) realizes that their goal should be to create a hologram of a centaur holding a ruby, and project it on a cloud. Unfortunately, their book is a few years out of date, so the kids rush off to learn how to find information in the Periodical section, which fortunately points out an article on holographic animation from a late issue science journal.
Athos studies the Vertical File, the weird bit of the library where you stick random stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else (Seriously, does anyone know what the hell a vertical file is for?), and also finds a card catalog entry for a newspaper, so we get to learn the most useless of the library skills taught in this series: how microfilm works. This really impresses Athos.
Colonel Hogan (Hogaaan!) shaves, and awkwardly indicates to Bookheart that he would very much like her to inspect his audiovisual section, but he is cardstock-blocked by his daughter, who has found a magazine article indicating that they may be able to lure a horse to them by tossing the Colonel’s dirty laundry nearby. He takes Athos out to do this, and they happen upon the Wipers, who are preparing their final assault on the base. Which is still in the opposite direction.
Athos and the Colonel return to find Bookheart tracing a slide image of a horse (Tee hee. Slides in the future.), and Hogan (Hogaaan!) utters the best line ever: “Athos and I spitted Wipers outside while planting my underwear.” Since episode 12 is about audiovisual media, Bookheart explains that some libraries catalog those separately, but not this library. As this is the last existing library on earth, her statement is not strictly accurate. She also teaches the kids the difference between film and videotape, a useful skill in the twenty-third century.
Hogan (Hogaaan!) needs her to show him how to handle a film camera, and for once this is not a euphemism. Except that they do have a moment during which he totally wants her to handle his film camera, but the fat kid places a hold on the book he wanted to check out. The Colonel gets very annoyed at him. Abacus wanders off to look at clouds, carrying on the tradition of really stupid, reckless children in television. She finds the horse, and the Wizard appears to her, giving her another clue — a sort of terrible one that they resolve to “the secret word is Athenium (It’s Greek for “Library”)”. Bookheart has gotten snippy and irritable, because she has become aware that she hasn’t gotten any in over a century. As they prepare to make their hologram, the kids also find a camcorder, and decide to film a documentary about their adventures, in case they fail and die, in the hopes that future visitiors to the library might learn from it, and do better than they did. You know what that means: recap clip show.
On the way up a nearby mountain to project their hologram, God The Universal Being appears to them again, this time giving them a copy of the script properly cited research report on their work. They get set up, and there is nothing left to do but wait. Which they do. No one will be seated during the thrilling “waiting” sequence.
At last, they fire up the projector, and a 2-D video toaster matte shot of Hogan (Hogaaan!) moaning “Athenium” appears in the clouds. The Wipers watching the magnetic shield controls freak out and run away. letting the controls overheat and crash, and the advancing Wiper army (six drunk fat dudes) run like hell.
With the shield down, they re-establish communications with the rest of the galaxy, and announce that the Wipers are defeated, because apparently, this dozen or so drunk angry rednecks are the entirety of the force that invaded earth.
They take Grandmother Nikola Tesla back to the library, where they recap the entire series again to he over a slice of watermelon. Then, after that, they watch hilights from their documentary again. This is why you really need to have approximately the same amount of airtime as story. The plot of this episode was about four minutes long.
They sheepishly discover that “The implosion of the magnetic shield must have caused a dematerialization vortex at their headquarters,” which wither beamed the Wipers randomly to other planets, or just killed them. It’s not really clear.
At the last minute, a conference call from the Human descendants, who thank the users for getting rid of the wipers, and are therefore coming home. They are so greatful that they promise not to obliterate the Users from orbit. Bookheart says that Humans and Users have already started in on a beautiful friendship, and gives a longing look to Colonel Hogan (Hogaaan!) indicating that she’d like him to help her shelve something in the stacks…
You know, despite the fact that this series was, frankly, shit, it holds a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons. Firstly, so far as I know, it was the only Science Fiction Single-Topic Educational Series that aired in my youth — there were a lot of series in this general format, shows about reading (the seminal Canadian series “Read All About It”), and about math, and about anatomy (I think it was called “The Body Electric” and the main character worse a body stocking printed with a cutaway view of where all the organs go), and about economics (I can’t remember the show about economics very well, but I know that there was one. I didn’t like it) and about art, but unless you count Read All About It (Which was really closer to Fantasy), none of them would qualify as science fiction. And on rewatching as an adult, I’m really struck by some of the thought that went into it. There’s some things that seem strange for a kids’ show. In a thirteen part series about library science, there’s some very real and candid threat of death, the implied genocide of the Wiper race at the end, heck, the freaking Eschaton, even a hint of romance. Were the writers really cleverer than I thought? Maybe, or maybe, as someone on ifMud once pointed out, the writers are just human beings, and as such will occasionally hit on something authentically human just by virtue of the fact that we humans think like humans.
Still, “Post Apocalyptic Library Adventure.” There’s a tagline for you.
And don’t call me Shirley.

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