Wednesday, 9 April 2014

"The Thief of Time" 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, February 1930

This is the second story by Meek in this issue. The other was under a pseudonym, the story about the discovery that gravity was just magnetism, and ended in the death of a scientist. This is definitely a better story - maybe that's why he kept this one under his own name. The science is less ludicrous, and the scientists less hopelessly corrupt than they have been in either of the two stories I've read by him.

It's the same scientist back, though, along with his secret service buddy. When last we saw them, Dr. Bird and Operative Carnes found an underground carnivorous monster, and then covered it up. This time, they're investigating a bank robbery. I'm halfway surprised they weren't perpetrating it.

This is perhaps too cynical. I don't think Meek is trying to give us examples of corrupt scientists. I think they're supposed to be the heroes. But boy, do they ever engage in some ethical lapses! But not this time. Bird and Carnes are investigating a forgery case when there is a bank robbery. But no one saw the robber. The money was simply gone.

A ham-fisted detective comes in and tries to arrest people willy-nilly, despite lack of evidence, and the fact that the clerk doesn't have any of the money on him. He thought he saw a shadow, though. Nah, just a trick of the eye. Naturally, this is a case for Bird and Carnes!

The scientist immediately knows what he's doing, but in Sherlock Holmes fashion, keeps his deductions from his compatriot, leaving him a lesser Watson stumbling around as they go to a track meet to see a very fast varsity athlete, and later, as Bird's scientific lackey sets up an extremely high-speed camera while Carnes is bewildered. One theft later, and voila! A genuine drawing-room unmasking of the villain!

Turns out it's a professor, one of those gosh-darned scientists, who created a pill to speed up all metabolic processes for a fraction of a second - which, of course means SUPER-SPEED! And bank robberies. Case solved, they wash their hands of it, turn the guy over to the ham-fisted detective and leave. Hope he doesn't get any ideas!

The scientists in all of Meek's stories seem to have no sense of responsiblity to the larger society, even though they're supposed to be the heroes. The ethical lapses are not as large this time, but they are still remarkably cavalier.

No women.

No people of colour, thank goodness. I'm not sure I could deal with another one of Meek's takes on Native Americans. While I'd like to see non-white characters in some of these stories, I'm quite sure I don't want to see his take on the issue.

"The Thief of Time" is a better story than the last two I've read by Meek, in that it didn't leave me aghast. And the science, while sketchy, is less over-the-top crazy. 

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