Cannibalism in the Cars

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It must out now! That thing which had been growing up in every heart was ready to leap from every lip at last! Nature had been taxed to the utmost—she must yield. Richard H. Gaston of Minnesota, tall, cadaverous, and pale, rose up. All knew what was coming. All prepared—every emotion, every semblance of excitement was smothered—only a calm, thoughtful seriousness appeared in the eyes that were lately so wild.

“Gentlemen:—It cannot be delayed longer! The time is at hand! We must determine which of us shall die to furnish food for the rest!”

This was my first major typesetting undertaking. It was to explore the depths of what I could do with the TeX typesetting system (plain TeX, not LaTeX). I did this sometime in 2002. I updated it it for use with XeTeX in 2007.

The text is a short story by Mark Twain, Cannibalism in the Cars. It appeals to my morbid sense of humor; it’s a delightful bit of black comedy fiction.

It’s basically the tale of a passenger train that becomes trapped in the snow, miles from anywhere. After a week’s time, the passenger’s succumb to the need for food, and thoughts turn to cannibalism as a necessity. However, the discussion thereof is extremely formal, and parliamentary; “Robert’s Rules of Order”-style. The comedy lies in the elections and debates and caucasing, for who shall be elected to become the next meal. Some of the arguments seem to rely upon the qualities of character possessed by the “candidates”, as much as upon their nourishing qualities.

Things I like about the job I did with this work… I like the work I did with the text justification, and the use of small caps for things like am or pm. I also used small caps for the names of the speakers that appear in the dialogues, as well as for the first time a name is seen in the text (this was also done in the original). An addition of my own was the setting apart of the parliamentary discussions in a different (smaller) type, to distinguish it from the narrative.

In my original version, I had very much desired to use text figures (old-style digits, some of which hang below the base, rather like lowercase letters), but the version of Times that is available by default in PDF does not include them, or several other things that would’ve been helpful. At the time I was restricting myself to the basic Adobe fonts available to all PDF documents without embedding, as this was what I could comfortably use from ΤeX. As of 2007, however, I discovered a new extended implementation of TeX, called XeTeX, which supports OpenType Fonts (which is the format used by all the best fonts I currently possess), and Unicode; so I was able to redo the work using a much better-suited font–Adobe Caslon Pro–which (among other things) gave me access to the text figures.

I did some rather advanced things with the ΤeX pagination macros; and support for output versions that have two pages to one sheet, or skipping odd- or even-numbered pages was included (I didn’t have access to PSUtils at the time). Available for download is a PDF version with two pages to a side of paper; the idea is to print it in duplex mode (or, if duplex support isn’t available, you could print the odd pages, and then refeed the output to the printer and print the even pages on the reverse sides).

At any rate, it’s a decent bit of typesetting (I think), though not particularly advanced or difficult; and if nothing else, it’s a great story that’s a little hard to find.

The current ΤeX source files are specifically intended to be run by the XeTeX program, and rely particularly upon Unicode support; they will not work on other ΤeX systems without modification.