Thursday, 7 November 2013

"The Beetle Horde" by Victor Rousseau

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?

Some of what they have are old Astounding Stories of Super-Science from the 1930s. The first story I read (well, read at least the first part of) was "The Beetle Horde" by Victor Rousseau from the January 1930 issue.

In "The Beetle Horde," Antarctic explorers discover the world below the world. It's a Hollow Earth story, complete with mad scientists and, you guessed it, hordes of beetles! A previous scientist on an Antarctic expedition (addicted to opium no less, although it's unclear who his supplier has been these long months under the surface of the earth) found the way into this strange land, and once there, used the power of FIRE (aka his cigarette lighter) to rule over the five-foot long beetles who live there, and to help them enslave and eat the humans who live in the Hollow Earth, before, of course, launching a mass beetle attack on the surface world to establish a new age of the beetle.

Question - since the entry to the subterranean world seems to be at the South Pole, how does the scientist plan on getting his beetles to any place that has a large human population? Can they swim?

He's mad as a shithouse rat, obviously, and when a pilot and another scientist crashland and are taken captive by the beetles, he spends most of his time ranting at the other scientist about how his theories are wrong wrong wrong, and once he's the ruler of Earth surrounded by beetles that will have eaten the human population, people will finally realize his genius! (This is not the best plan to prove your not-craziness to scientists, let alone the general population.)

The first half of the story (it's continued in the next issue) ends with our intrepid heroes and the large and beautiful white female who has fallen in love with the scientist and quickly learned English have escaped! They are nearing the earth's surface.

This is, obviously, a bit goofy. It's a little heavy on the scientific jargon - the fights between the scientists are unintentionally hilarious At least, I think it's unintentional. If not, good work Mr. Rousseau!

The one beautiful woman, Haidia, who falls in love with the hero (although notably not the pilot) is a fairly common trope - every barbaric human group seems to have one woman who conforms to our beauty standards and who is just dying to fall head over heels with the Western interlopers. She's smart, and large, and they keep referring to her as an Amazon. She doesn't have a lot to do except scoff when our heroes eat fruit (she eats five-foot long shrimp).

Race is not really covered except for an offhanded reference to the people under the earth being related to Australian aborigines, which then is not borne out by the quite white Haidia.

As for the science, it's mostly about insects. Hilariously, though, the author doesn't seem to know how hair grows. The subterranean people all wear clothes, but the clothes are woven from their hair while their hair is still on their heads. I would like to point out that hair grows from the roots and not from the tips, and therefore, once you had the shoulders of your dress woven, you might have a problem.

And, of course, there is the mad scientist, whose mad lust for glory, or at least for being right, has led him to actively plot against the entire human race. There is a sane scientist for contrast, but science and human nature and addiction make nothing good.

The author also wrote more generic pulp fiction, says Wikipedia, and that shows in this story. Good pulpy insane scientist fun. With beetles.

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