Friday, 14 March 2014

"Mad Music" by Anthony Pelcher

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?

Magazine: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, February 1930

It shouldn't surprise me that my favourite story so far from this issue comes from the pen of the author of my favourite story from last issue. To wit, Anthony Pelcher. This guy is definitely the best contributor so far. His story this time has some genuinely excellent turns of phrase. I love this description of newspapers after a building collapsed in New York:

"The newspapers devoted solid pages in attempting to describe what had happened. Nervously, efficient reporters had written and written, using all their best adjectives and inventing new ones in attempts to picture the crash and the hysterics which followed."

In this story, a building that is a marvel of engineering expertise collapses in the middle of the night. Just trembles, and collapses. The engineers of the project are on the hook, and liable to go to jail for negligence, even though they can find no way in which they skimped in the construction.  The youngest engineer on the project ends up at the theater one night to see "The Mad Musician," who can create emotional states with his music, and falls in insta-love. Okay, so the insta-love is a little cheesy, but at least the female character is fun. Not, you know, autonomous. But fun.

But this starts the engineer thinking, and that thinking leads him to the Mad Musician's next target - another huge building, wherein he has set up a diabolical music vibration machine that is slowly weakening the building. Finally, something vibrations might actually do! You know, in theory. More plausible than vibrating you to another dimension, anyway. This leads to a showdown with the Mad Musician on the roof of the building while it sways beneath them.

Like the story in the last issue, this is really more of a mystery with science fiction murderous implements. I'm making no claim for it as great literature, but it's by far one of the best stories, best written, and most entertaining.

There is one female character in this story, but she's there to be an insta-love interest for the young engineer, brought together by the public performance of the Mad Musician's powers. Of course, she ends up being the daughter of the older engineer with whom the younger engineer doesn't get along that well. She's fun, but pretty much an appendage. But at this point, an appendage is about as good as it's getting.

No non-white characters.

This is another story where we have the heroic industrialists (well, owner of an engineering firm) who is humane and would never do anything wrong, and the evil outsider/artist/circus performer who is the bad guy. Actually, it's that way in both of Pelcher's stories. So, the class politics circle around the heroic wealthy and unstable outsiders.

 But because of that, the scientists get a break from being the villain. They are fine, upstanding young men, who run a company that would never skimp on the construction of a building, but are unfairly held accountable. It's a strange tradeoff.

As far as sheer writing goes, though, it's one of the best.

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