Saturday, October 3, 2009

16. Sulfur



Oil of vitriol is nothing but concentrated sulfuric acid. But, applied lightly, it can blister the skin, and, when heated, it will eat its way through steel. Loaded into a pen, it can be used to write reviews.

The terrorist organization known as the International Brotherhood of Critics grades its vitriol from one to ten. Grade one vitriol is known informally as "break-down-in-tears." Grade two is called "punch-the-wall-and-kick-the-cat." And so on. Grade ten vitriol—he best there is—is sometimes called "career-killer" and other times "cause-for-suicide." So much depends on the skill with which it is deployed!

Vitriol is distilled by the critics themselves from the embittered blood of writers. A quick kill, therefore, produces a weak vitriol. It is for this reason that a skilled critic will leaven his criticism with small praise in order to keep his victims alive and suffering for as many years as he can. It is for this reason that the critics refer to their distillation as the Great Art.

The vitriol of London is very, very strong. Connoisseurs delight in the vitriol of Paris. But for good old-fashioned ridding the world of talent, there's just no beating the vitriol of New York.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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