Friday, 7 February 2014

"The Corpse On The Grating" by Hugh B. Cave

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


Checking out the irresistible source that is Wikipedia, I see that Hugh B. Cave was a prolific pulp writer, wrote two stories connected to the Cthulhu mythos, and many books. And died only ten years ago, in his 90s. This particular story would have come from very early in his career, when he was only 20.

Well, I hope he got better. This one afforded me quite the hilarity and a few lines I had to tweet, including:

"Professor, have you ever played with the dead body of a frog?"

and

"You are cynical, Dale...because you do not understand!"
"Understand? I am a doctor - not a ghost!"

Huh?

And this is now the second story I've read in this magazine where the story centres around bringing the dead back to life/regeneration. But whereas in the previous stories, vibrations got hauled in again, this time, the scientific explanation afforded me great hilarity:

"I have tried, gentlemen, with acid combinations of my own origination, to bring that body back to life."

I am not sure you understand how acids work, sir.

But at its core, this is really more horror than science fiction. The whole set-up, with the hilarious quotes, is all to prepare us all for finding a body dead from horror, and instead of calling, I don't know, the police or the morgue, this doctor uses it as an opportunity to accept a bet from a more credulous friend to go into the deserted building himself and try to survive what scared the other guy to death.

And man, does the scientist take a beating for believing in science! Both the "Professor" and the scientist's friend mock him unmercifully for only believing in things if they're proved to him. And it turns out the Professor was right, and did manage to reanimate a body, but dumped it in the abandoned building too soon, and the friend knew it, and....

Wait, he knew? And instead of, I don't know, informing the professor that his weird acid experiments had worked, used it as a chance to teach his rational friend a lesson? To win money in a bet? What?

 Okay, so everyone in this story is an asshole.

Let's go into the checklist:

No women, no non-white characters, no mention of sexuality at all. The scientist is mostly there to be shown up and commit the unpardonable sin of demanding proof. This is a weird one, folks.

But man, those acids, huh? Or should it be the singular?

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