Friday, 20 June 2014

"The Soul Master" by Will Smith and R.J. Robbins

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

New authors to me! I can't find anything out about them! (Well, not from a quick Wikipedia search, anyway. It's nothing I'm losing sleep over.) And how was the first story by them? Um, okay? Not worse than most. A lot of hilarious things, and a few ethically troubling ones. Evil mad scientists and pretty frail white women who need saving. Pretty much par for the course at this point.

Of course, this story does have a donkey that thinks it's a chicken, so there's that.

The mad scientist is both mad and evil, like most scientists in the stories I've reviewed so far. Man, scientists do not come off well at this point (at least in this publication), do they? They're one maniacal laugh away from supervillainy. Other, more "manly" men must face them down.

You know, like reporters.

Yes, reporters are the heroes here, those stalwart defenders of journalistic integrity and...what? They kill a guy and replace him with someone else's consciousness in this story without any thought that that might be a little ethically dubious? Even the police officer is cool with it? Ah, 1930s science fiction. If there's one thing I've learned here, it's that I would not want to be around these dudes when heavy shit was going down. They're far too quick to leap to the ends justifying the means. Or just "I felt like it."

At any rate, two journalists get sent out on a story to cover a scientist. The scientist doesn't want them there. And after siccing the donkey that thinks its a chicken on them, not to mention the dog that thinks it's a cow, (the snake that thinks it's a cat comes later. I'm not kidding), he invites them in, way too cordially. Having apparently mislaid their skepticism, they go in, and eagerly smoke his cigars!

Surprising no one, the cigars are drugged.

One journalist is killed, and his consciousness is somehow displaced into the other journalist, not that anyone realizes for quite a while, journalists being as interchangeable as they are. So interchangeable that when the alive journalist stumbles back into his editor's office, drugged, saying his partner is probably dead, the editor's first reaction is not to call the cops, but throw another journalist at the problem! If he doesn't report in for 24 hours, then they'll call the cops.

Those journalists. A renewable resource, amirite?

 The new journalist - honestly, I don't remember any of their names - heads back, and also runs into the raving mad scientist. But not before he discovers the obligatory woman in danger, her "beautiful face now so wan and white." Who of course he falls in forever love with, and vice versa. But the scientist has killed her father, who must be avenged! Of course, the new journalist, knowing full well that the scientist has been making people pass out left, right, and centre, finds a small vial and decides sniffing it is the right thing to do.

Journalists! *sigh*

This leads the new journalist, the editor, the old journalist, and a police officer to the lair of the mad scientist, and there, they find out that the mad scientist has been switching minds of different creatures. (Possibly through the power of vibrations? It's hinted, but not really said.) For his last experiment, he destroyed the body of the one journalist, and took his mind and stuffed it into the mind of the second journalist. To see if he could, of course.

When he is captured, he offers to put the mind of the disembodied journalist into the mind of the beautiful young women. Because she's not using it? He seems surprised that they all gallantly tell him he's nuts. But then they start to look around appraisingly, and decide that the aged mad scientist body itself looks pretty good. And who needs arresting, a judge, jury, or legal system? They could just execute him right now! And his body would be alive, so they'd all get off scott-free!

When the police officer's comment on the situation is: “Is the old party croaked yet?", you know it's not going to go well for the mad scientist. So much for due process.

And all's well that ends with killing an old guy, (well, he was a scientist, so that pretty much means evil, right?), transplanting another guy's mind into his body, (for the few remaining years that decrepit old thing will last), and the third reporter riding off into the sunset with the girl, who seems remarkably unfazed by the murder of her father about an hour previously

The END!

I'm exhausted. That was quite the rollercoaster!

So, my topics? Science is still scary. Women are still there mostly to be as pale as possible and need saving. No one of colour. I feel like I'm checking off boxes, at this point.

So, the verdict? It's not a terrible story. It's overwrought and ethically troubling, but not terrible.

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