Sunday, 2 March 2014

Into Space by Sterner St. Paul

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?

Huh. This is, according to wikipedia, a pseudonym of an author, one of whose stories I've already reviewed. And if I'm not mistaken, has another story, under his own name, in this very issue. Prolific, ain't he? He's otherwise known as S.P. Meek, who wrote "The Cave of Horror", which I pointed out had some very problematic things to say about scientists and their sense of responsibility to the societies in which they live.

That actually comes up here, again, but in a much smaller way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In this one, a journalist, who is also an electrical engineer (more about that later too), is summoned to the ranch of his former professor, who has made an extraordinary discovery, and will talk to no other reporter about it. After talking his way past the surly Indians (sigh) guarding the property, he makes his way to the professor's side, and is given an incredible insight!

Are you ready?


'Cause it's a big one!

Gravity is really just magnetism.


Is your mind blown yet?

So yes, despite the fact it doesn't feel like my feet are sticking to the ground, and that I'm pretty sure the amount of metal in my body in no way is enough, gravity is just magnetism. And if you stand on your head, you aren't repelled because...electromagnetism? There's an explanation, but I don't know enough to know if it's crazypants or not. I'm guessing crazypants.

So, because gravity is just magnetism, flight is easy. And interstellar flight? Well, the professor thinks he's got that one licked. And the reporter is here to see it in action.

Of course, when he gets halfway between the earth and the moon, the magnetism of both is equal, and so he perishes up there, another victim of bad science.

There are, naturally, no women in this story. There are Indians, though. And they are stereotypically surly, single-minded, and terse. They're just there to be a momentary impediment in getting to the professor's ranch.

It is the in the science, however, that there is another major ethical lapse by the professor. His former student took his classes because he gave everyone As, and then he never attended, and audited a journalism course instead. And yet, he graduated as an electrical engineer. Now, engineers are not people on whom nothing depends. The shit they design has to, you know, not electrocute people. And I don't want an electrical engineer who got through because the professor passed everyone!

Of course, the professor then died in space because his own calculations were wrong, so...karma's a bitch?

But this is the second story by this guy (supposedly himself a scientist!) where scientists are acting in thoroughly unethical manners. In other stories, that's the point, about the scariness of power out of control. In Meek's stuff, it seems more like the way things are done. And that's even scarier.

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