Saturday, October 3, 2009

23. Vanadium



Vanadium is an extremely dull element. It is God's own couch potato. It doesn't do much, and it rarely goes out. Vanadium never shows up at your door in fabulous drag with a rental tuxedo in your size and invites you to go out dancing with it in exclusive nightclubs into the wee hours of the morning. Vanadium never snaps a tendon while climbing the Matterhorn and falls twenty feet into the empty air, only to be saved by a well-pounded piton and the skill of its companions. Vanadium never wins the Nobel Prize for its work on behalf of refugee children and standing before the King of Sweden breaks down in tears at the thought of how many lives the prize money will save.

Vanadium is a nonferrous metal. Big whoop.

It's not as if all nonferrous metals are underachievers. Look at platinum! Look at silver! Gold is, for Pete's sake, a noble element! These are polished, achiever metals. They're welcome everywhere. They can any one of them be seen dining with Sharon Stone in St. Croix, while Jack Nicholson leans over the crisp white tablecloth with that signature leer of his to make a sly joke. British cabinet members confer with them in darkened Jacobean rooms redolent of single malt whisky, Cuban cigars, and treason. They keep company with smugglers, with sheiks, with beautiful women, with women who are almost beautiful but distinctly intriguing, with women who were once beautiful and now have deliciously scandalous pasts.

Not vanadium. Vanadium is the twenty-second most abundant element in the Earth's crust, neither rare enough to be interesting nor common enough to be ubiquitous. It was first commercially mined in Peru, which is promising, and is used in producing rust-resistant steel for high-speed tools, which is not. Vanadium foil is employed as a bonding agent for cladding titanium to steel, and that pretty much says it all.

It does not burst into flames upon contact with the air.

Nor does it act to block gravity waves—a sphere covered in retractable panels of vanadium will not shoot off into space, making interplanetary travel swift and economical, even for Victorians. Nor does exposure to it cause Superman to suffer unpredictable never-to-be-repeated side effects, such as morbid obesity, or a compulsion to dress in women's clothing, or turning into a vampire plant. It will give nobody the heightened senses and disproportionate strength of a spider.

There is so little to be said in vanadium's favor! It is a soft and ductile white metal. So what? Its boiling point is 3,450° Centigrade. Who cares? It has no desirable properties and, worse, no ambition to achieve any. There it is, and there it will stay. I've wasted more than enough time on it already. I wash my hands of it forever!

Vanadium is an essential element in the diets of chickens.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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