Sunday, 20 April 2014

"Cold Light" by Capt. S.P. Meek

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, March 1930

We're back to Capt. S.P. Meek, military chemist and erstwhile science fiction writer. This from the scientist who brought you the revelation (under a different pen-name) that gravity is just magnetism, and apparently your feet are made of metal, or something. Are you ready for the newest scientific discovery he's made? Are you sure?

Here it is: That cold is not a lack of heat, it is "negative heat." That is, it is a separate substance, that cold, and can be added to things to make them cold. With the help of a reflector dish that can made spots approaching absolute zero. On the surface of the Earth. With, apparently, no long-term repercussions of creating absolute zero in the wild. Yeah, I don't know either.

Oh, but we do have an utterly unethical scientist again! But he was suborned by a Russian agent, and although he thought it was perfectly cool to kill the passengers of one plane in order to steal jewels, he balked at bringing down another plane that witnessed the first falling out the sky. So he's a good guy? As long as he's only okay with some murder, not all the murder?

I suppose I should go back to the plot, so you know what I'm talking about. This is another story about Dr. Bird and Agent Carnes, scientist/FBI team par extraordinaire! Carnes interrupts Bird on his vacation, weaving a story about being in a two-plane convoy crossing the States. In the front plane were agents, jewels, and the U.S. government's defense plans. No, I'm not sure how the jewel merchants bought space on the secret government plane. Apparently it happens all the time?

Oh, I know! It's to make it easy for the Russians to convince a money-hungry scientist (oh, those scientists!) to bring down the plane so they can steal the plans! Wow! The American government is really accommodating to evil plots!

Carnes sees the first plane go down, and when he gets to the ground, he finds shattered passengers. Not smushed, shattered. Frozen solid. Do they melt? Wait, I don't really want to know. He brings Bird in to check it out, and Bird advances his theory that cold is negative heat, and they're looking for a scientist who has figured out how to make it.

On the way, the science talk is so dry I felt parched. Maybe someone with a stronger science background might find it interesting, but for a layperson, it makes the story grind to a screeching halt. Fortunately, the science is broken up by gunshots, as Bird, Carnes, and two luckless men they hired to guide them out into the wilderness fight it out with the scientist and the Russian. (The Russian shoots the scientist, in the end.)

The scientist tells his tale of discovery and betrayal. He shows no remorse for killing the people on the first plane, because jewels, but seems to expect that they'll believe he's a good guy because he didn't go in for wholesale slaughter. Weirder, they pretty much seem to agree with him. He dies, taking the secret of negative heat with him. Dr. Bird is angry.

So let's see - utter lack of women, yes. Lack of non-white characters, yes. Unethical scientists, check. The poor schmoes who guide them are the cannon fodder. So, a fairly typical style for this magazine, and particularly for this writer. 

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