Thursday, 9 April 2015

"The Door Into Infinity" by Edmond Hamilton

 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?

From: Weird Tales, August/September 1936

Just look at this cover. I mean, look at it. All the things I've been talking about, about covers, about gender, about race, and in this case, weird pseudopodinous cities that devour humans. Okay, that last one is new. Other than that, this cover so encapsulates a lot of things about old science fiction.

Also, having read no Lovecraft at all, but having played my fair share of Call of Cthulhu until I realized how upsetting I find that world to be, my first reaction to the story was go to downstairs to my husband, describe the plot, and ask if this Hamilton guy would have been ripping Lovecraft off. Bill explained about the whole group who wrote Mythos stuff. On some surface research, while Hamilton doesn't seem to have been formally part of this group, he was certainly around them, and was one of the main contributors to Weird Tales at the time.

Back to that cover. It's interesting, not so much because it shows a sinister Indian man (spelled "Hindoo" in the story, because of course) sexually assaulting a scared white woman while her clothes are torn. What's more interesting is that that's not how the story goes, at all. Which is not to say this a bastion of progressive fiction - the Hindu man is definitely the evil sinister bad guy, and the pure white woman is definitely the sacrifice the stalwart white male heroes are trying to rescue. What's wrong is the sexual predation. I mean, maybe those pseudopods that come out of the portal have illicit designs on this woman, but the humans don't seem to.

The other part, where gender comes in even more, is that she is actually in a hypnotic trance through the whole story until the last three paragraphs. So there would be no recoiling. Or tearing of clothes. She's a zombie, until she wakes up enough to murmur her husband's name. That is all she gets to do in this story.

But to the plot. A young man comes to the police in England, looking for his missing wife. The police inspector says that a lot of people disappear around this time of year in England, and he knows just the Hindoo who is behind it. (*sigh* Racial profiling always works in fiction that wants to prove that it works, just like torture always gets accurate information on 24.)

They track him down, and chase him on boats, and finally make their way to an underground cavern, where there is a door to another universe, which they open every year and give a whole bunch of humans to a slimy green city with pseudopods on the other side, in return for hidden knowledge. (I swear to god, my first reaction was "Cthulhu is actually the Emerald City?")

Our heroes interrupt the horrifying ceremony, rescue the one guy's wife, abandon the rest of the sacrifices to their doom, pull out a pocket watch that is filled with "the most concentrated high-explosive known," and proceed to blow the living shit out of the cavern, collapsing it beneath the waves forever.

The part that kind of gets me, and I realize this is a weird part to get stuck on, is the part where this evil portal to another dimension is in England, and every year, since the dawn of history, these evil men (mostly non-white) have travelled to England to perform this rite. I mean, how did they discover it? And how did they travel there every year before planes and boats? India's not exactly around the corner. We couldn't have English men be the bad guys, right?

So, there's that. The story is well written, as far as it goes, but chock full of disturbing racism, racial profiling, and women who get delegated to being the victim who needs rescuing. The unconscious victim who needs rescuing. I'm not surprised, I'm just pointing it out.

But hey, slimy green city that eats people!

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