Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Beetle Horde, Part Two by Victor Rousseau

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

The first part of this story was the first I read as part of this old SF review series. It was not the most auspicious start. But hilarious, as two intrepid explorers fell through the world into the clutches of a mad scientist, out to destroy the world with beetles because they did believe him that there were monotremes before the Pleistocene. That seems a rather petty reason to me, but I guess I haven't been invited to the best scientist knife-fights.

In this second installment, the two heroes and the beautiful subterranean woman they discovered in "Submundia" emerge in Australia, mere minutes before Bram and the Beetles! (Oh, please, someone make that a band name.) The beetles lay waste to Australia, killing millions. But in the end, they have to molt their shells, and in that time, the humans strike back! And the evil scientist is killed.

I seem to be creating a sideline in hilarious prose, so here are a few of the best:

"If we are attacked, you must sacrifice your life for me, Tommy, so that I can carry back the news."

My reaction, if I were Tommy? Fuck you, Dodd. And the horse you rode in on. Why should you be the one to survive? I can warn of a beetle attack as well as you can!

And this one, which is about the main argument that is causing the end of the world:

"No monotremes before the pleistocene! D'you get that? That's my slogan now and for ever more!" 

This makes me want to sarcastically answer back "Are you running for office on that platform?"

And the last line of the whole thing about the evil mad scientist. What I love most is how totally unjustified it is, based on the rest of the story:

"He was a madman and a devil, but he had the potentialities of a god, Tommy,"

Based on what, exactly?

The science is sketchy, including the thirst-quenchingness of saline water - enough to really help, anyway! And when Dodd the scientist is trying to explain stars to his subterranean love, he tells her "Those are stars. They are worlds—places where people live."

A) No. Stars are not planets. And b) what? When was there precedent for this?

And this dicey pseudo-science/gender role essentialization. Apparently, when Dodd finds a minister, his to-be wife knows instinctively what marriage is, even though she has lived beneath the world for her entire life. He doesn't bother to ask her, she "understood, by some instinct that belongs exclusively to women, for her cheeks were flushed as she turned and smiled into Dodd's eyes." 

Now, understand, this is the lady who two pages earlier didn't understand questions, and no amount of explaining would make her understand what questions were, but she gets what marriage means through some kind of female genetic magic?

That is not the end of the gender problems. When Dodd is earlier explaining what wife means to him to his friend, what he really means is "slave." He gushes: "Did you ever see such a girl as that?" demanded Dodd ecstatically. "First she saves our lives, and then she thinks of everything. Good lord, she'll remember my meals, and to wind my watch for me, and—and—"

I feel like it's becoming a trope that were I Dodd's intended, my response would be, yet again, "Fuck You, Dodd!" Dodd's kind of asshole. Do all my work for me. Wind my watch. Die for me, Tommy, because reasons.

Fuck you, Dodd.

Oh, and race here too. Because they came out in Australia, they immediately run into aborigines, and wow, is that painful. They're all horribly killed minutes after they're horrible stereotypes, so that's better? No, not really. Just, ugh.

And as we've already seen, the scientists come in two varieties: Crazy Madman Out To Destroy The Earth Because They Won't Accept That There Were Monotremes Before The Pleistocene, and Assholes. And I don't think I can overestimate how many people die in this story! That's the second where huge swatches of people are killed in an invasion. So, this was a worry, apparently. Science was not only sketchy and dangerous, it could be genocidal.

Well, I guess it could be, only a few short years down the line.

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