Thursday, 6 February 2014

Spawn of the Stars by Charles Willard Diffin

Hey guys! Did you realize that the Gutenberg Project has old science fiction? It does! (I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.) So, hey, why not read some of them and review them? Not to poke fun at the old science fiction, although there might be a little of that. No, I'm more interested in looking at what this old science fiction tells us about the worlds that were being imagined at the time. What did they think about science? Gender? Race? The eventual fate of the world?

From: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, February 1930

Oh, and this one is an entertaining one, complete with the attack of the Giant Brains in Lightbulb-Shaped Ships! It's only one Zoidberg away from actually being an episode of Futurama. Except I don't remember the Giant Brains on Futurama killing and eating cows in gruesome detail.

 At any rate, the hero is a young millionaire who owns a plane. He and his buddy are flying in their plane when they are attacked by, you guessed it, giant brains. Not just any giant brains, though. Giant brains that can grow, extrude, and then pull back into their bodies and dissolve, human-like hands. And maybe eyes, if I'm remembering the start of the story. The young heroes catch them in mid-cattle mutilation, and think no one will believe them. Until they get back to a city and find out the giant brains have bombed the fuck out of a major city.

The millionaire seems to be awfully chummy with the military generals right away, and is brought right into their plans, as more and more cities are decimated. With the earth on the edge of collapse, a scientist comes up with a last-ditch theory, one which will kill the person who delivers the fatal blow, and might not work at that. As humanity cowers, about to perish, the millionaire's friend (notably more working-class and military) dies heroically, saving the planet.

Unless, of course, there are more of those things out there than the four we see in the story. But that's not discussed.

I feel at this point, like I should just have a checklist, for the things that are notably absent from these stories.

Women? Check
Race? Check
Queer sexuality? Check

Class? Well, there's not much, but I think there's enough to write about. It is notable that the millionaire volunteers for the suicide mission, but defers to the former military pilot, now quite working-class, who claims more flying experience, and a deeper emotional connection to the other pilots who are regularly dying under the death rays of the Brains.

What about science? The scientist himself sacrifices himself in a test to see what they can do to stop the Brains. But he doesn't really believe it will give them victory. Still, it's a more heroic science than we have seen in most of the stories so far.

And aliens. I've been thinking about the aliens I've encountered in these stories so far. Most have been animals from beneath the earth, with as much mind as, well, an animal. These are the first from outer space, unless I'm blanking on something. And they look like giant brains, and yet they are thoroughly evil, bent on exterminating us without ever attempting contact in the first place. The enemy is inhuman and cannot find any common ground. I'll see if this theme holds true in other stories.

"Spawn of the Stars" is entertaining, but is mostly an adventure tale. On the other hand, it's an adventure tale that threatens imminent human extinction, and a last minute save.

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