Clark is an unusually perceptive cat. Thus it did not take him more than a few seconds to discern that his friend Buttercup was distracted. Buttercup’s nose was a little more squashed and his fur a little more rumpled than usual. His hurtling headlong into a bush was a dead giveaway.
“Buttercup!” Clark yelled. “Watch out! What is the matter with you? Is something amiss?”
Buttercup extricated himself from the bush.
“Oh, you noticed, did you?” he said. “Well, I’ll tell you. It’s this book I’m reading. The Hunger Games. There’s something about it that…that…well, I just don’t know. It’s not the killing, the lottery, and all that; I mean, I know it’s a work of fiction. It’s something else.
Clark shook his head and scratched his left ear.
“I’m sorry, but I have no clue what you are talking about. Please explain.”
For the next several minutes Buttercup told Clark all about Panem with its twelve districts ruled by the Capitol. He described the war and its outcome, including the Hunger Games held every year for the last seventy-four years. He shivered as he explained the rules of the Hunger Games and the tribute lottery. When he was done, Clark thoughtfully coughed up a hairball.
“So you’re saying that the names of all boys and girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen go into two bowls, and whosever names are drawn from each bowl participate in these Hunger Games?”
“That is correct.”
“How large are these bowls?”
“Oh, I would say about the size of a large fish bowl.”
“And the name cards?”
“I imagine about an inch and a half. Why do you ask?”
Clark made no response; instead, he whipped out his calculator and jotted a few numbers on a piece of paper. After a few minutes, he looked at Buttercup.
“My friend, I think I figured out your problem. The fantasy you are reading is too unrealistic.
“See here,” said Clark. “A large fish bowl is ten inches wide; a sphere with a radius of five inches has a volume of 523.6 cubic inches. Each name card has a volume of 0.28125 cubic inches, which means that each bowl could hold 147 names. Multiply that by two, and you have 294 children between the ages of twelve and eighteen years of age.”
“Okay, I get that. So what?”
“In a normal distribution, that age group is about 7.8% of the population, giving you a maximum population of 3,782 humans in District Twelve.”
Buttercup looked puzzled.
“I still don’t understand,” he said.
“Look,” said Clark. “In a given human population, the workforce comprises about 62.4%, which means there are about 2, 360 humans working in the coal mines. See the problem? You are trying to wrap your brain around the idea that approximately 2, 400 adults are supplying the coal for an entire country? Come now, Buttercup. Surely the illogic of that must have occurred to you.”
“No buts about it, B.C. The mind can process only so much fantasy before it wobbles.”
“But…but…after all, the book is a fantasy. You’re not supposed to believe it.”
“That’s true. But every book, however fanciful, has to be grounded in some elemental reality to make it believable. Your problem is your mind is trying to make unsupportable allowances for unreality.”
Clark flicked his tail.
“I have found that there is always some measure of real-life unreality posing as real; right now, there seems to be an excess of it. I recommend you give your brain a rest now and then and read books that are real. Why participate in someone else’s unreality if you don’t have to?”