First published inScience Wonder Stories August 1929
|First appearance, August 1929|
Some of these stories succeed despite their slightly corny and old fashioned ways. The stagey monologues, the weird willingness to self-experiment, the slab of mad science that justifies some arbitrary set of so-called scientific laws rules for the protagonists to fall foul of or all now the corniest of SF cliches. But sometimes it all works – Out of theSub Universe and The Machine of Ardathia are both pretty good.
When it doesn’t work, though, when the story’s po-faced and static, the quaint temporality of the writing shows through. It doesn’t help that this is a classic idiot story.
The tone is set by the opening paragraph.
‘Herbery Zulerich was a big, heavy-framed man with a tangled mop of shaggy hair which lay back from his sloping forehead and clustered about the collar of his dark coat. His nose was big and prominent, swelling like a huge peak upon his face, and his mouth was a deep-lined canyon between the peak of his nose and bulge of his chin.
It paints a picture of the kind of over-the-top character you might see in a silent movie – all dramatic haircut and expressionistic make up, the sort of character played by Conrad Veidt or Lon Chaney.
|Here it is again, in 1950.|
He’s a classic mad scientist with a ‘formidable array of test tubes and retorts’ in his well-equipped laboratory.He’s been experimenting with ‘uni-cellular organisms’ and discovered that they don’t act like inorganic matter. ‘They did not resemble any known chemicals, for they reacted as individuals and not as mere materials.’
This unedifying insight leads him to develop a formula that extends life indefinitely but leaves the recipient entirely inert. He tests the process on a rat and by accident spills soda down the rat’s mouth, which brings the rat to life! It scampers around, revivified but with its physical processes apparently halted. Naturally, Old Zulerich’s next step is to give it a try himself. He gets a glass of soda ready and takes his magical formula. Alas, before he can get to his soda, though, he’s frozen in place!
He could have set up some contrivance to release soda a after certain amount of time. He could have taken a mouthful of soda with the medicine. He could have had a friend over to hand him a glass of soda. He could have written down what he was doing so when he was found and ended up – inevitably – in a musuem, someone might have had a chance of figuring out what was wrong.
But he didn’t do any of that and instead he stands in various dusty corners through the centuries, attracting
|And again, in 1968.|
curious onlookers and disparaging the continued history of the human race. We don’t get much detail, just enough to know that people remain brutish and cruel, and Old Zulerich learns some kind of deep lesson that I never quite grasped. It’s written in a supercilious tone, the kind of hectoring manner taken by SF writers – and particularly non-SF writers when they dabble – when they’re sharing something jolly important and we should be paying attention.
Themes: Immortality, the terrible price of science, vastness (the gulfs of time), misanthropy.
Note: I confess to swiping these images from the entry on D D Sharp on this excellent blog.