Thursday, 30 April 2015

"The Untouchable" by Stephen A. Kallis

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: Analog, December 1960

This is a fun little story. There's not a whole lot to it, and it's quite short, but as a bit of page-filler, it's quite enjoyable. I can find little about the author, except that as of 2000, he wrote a webpage about secret decoder rings on a website about old-timey radio.

Of course, it centers around the idea that the military really wants a certain new technology, and while everyone in the story seems to agree, I, for one, am quite happy that they can't have it. Of course a new and wonderful technology should be given right to the government for its future wars. Eep.

At any rate, an army general calls in an old scientist friend, wanting him to figure something out for him. The story he tells seems a little like he's gone round the bend - the other night, an insubstantial figure walked through the walls of his office. But far from Marley's ghost, this was a real person, the best friend of another scientist who had recently died. The best friend is a writer who knows nothing about science, but was given the task of delivering the experiment to the military.

It's a miraculous device that makes its wearer intangible, and impervious to harm, as both radiation and force pass right through. There's some science doublespeak about how you can still walk on the floor and not pass right through, but I'm fine with that. My worldview depends on Kitty Pryde being able to walk through solid matter, so I'm not going to push that aspect too hard.

Hilariously, the reason that no one knows how it works or how to duplicate it, without taking the original apart, is that apparently the scientist who invented it had "a childlike fear of putting anything into writing that had not been experimentally verified.”  

I am pretty sure that is not how you science.

Notes, man, they're invaluable. For pretty much every experiment.

So the kicker to this story, where the author brings in his classical allusion about what this is really about is that the writer friend who was delivering it to the general tosses it carelessly onto the desk and the switch flips...and now the desk and the device are intangible, and it'll never run out of power because science.

The General gets to sit there and contemplate his intangible desk and how he'll never have the next great weapon for making intangible soldiers. Which, quite frankly, is how I prefer the military. His friend says he's pretty much fucked, and compares him to Tantalus. And he didn't even kill and cook his own son, unless you're extending the metaphor to the soldiers under his command. Which, hey, would make this even more subversive, but I think the author is referring to the punishment and not the sin.

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