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
This story, you guys. This story. There may not have been a story I've read that led to my husband and friends being peppered with as many insane quotes as this one. It's not that the story was particularly out there, but oh, layered into it was some outrageous stuff.
I will try to make this review not all quotes, but it may be difficult.
Let's just start with the main character's name. I feel like it requires a bigger font, somehow...
Introducing Dirk Vanderpool!
He's a brilliant millionaire scientist, natch. Who is horrible to his servants. But we'll get to the class issues later. Because boy, are there class issues! Along with gender issues and some sort-of veiled racism! But the class stuff, it's a peach.
So, brilliant millionaire scientist. At least I think he's a scientist. And a pilot, and a financier, and maybe one of the five men who control the world. Benevolently, of course. Dirk is at home one night, with his butler, when a mysterious ship hovers over the city. I think it's New York. It hangs around for a bit, moves around, causes some damage, but then eventually comes to rest and disgorges its inhabitants, who say that they're representatives from a galactic empire, and Earth is their newest conquest.
The guy in charge is blond and, as is usual in these type of stories, that means he seems to be a good guy. He wants Earth as his own private fiefdom, and that'll keep it safe from the evil galactic overlord. Good deal, huh? Except, did I mention that his son has black hair? Can we all guess what that means? It means evil, of course. You can also tell he's advanced, because he has the most complex expression on his face ever:
"His expression, however, was petulant
and haughty and it contained more
than a suggestion of rapacity and evil."
That's some expression!
(This keeps recurring in this story. Not only the father/son duality, but Dirk and the other man who wants to date his girfriend are described in similar terms:
"He rose to his feet, a short man in
his forties, stocky in build and somewhat
swarthy in complexion. He contrasted
very unfavorably with Dirk,
who was tall and well-built and who
had abundant blond hair and steady
The girlfriend herself appears to be both blond and dark, in a truly stunning mingling of physical and emotional traits:
"She was perhaps twenty years old,
and she had the golden hair, the light
complexion, and the blue eyes which
still were characteristic of the women
of northern Europe....The slender lines of her exquisite
figure and the supple grace which she
displayed when she moved toward
Dirk were evidence, however, of the
Latin blood which was in her veins.")
Anyway, the son wants the woman, Dirk vows to stop them, the father gets killed, the son tries to take over earth, but Dirk and the other rulers of Earth fight them off! And all is well! Well, except for the part where there's apparently still an evil galactic empire out there out to enslave them all, but that's a fine detail, right? I mean, at least they have the ship to dissect and learn from? No? It sank into the depths of the ocean? Bugger.
The story, it's not that complex. Underneath it, though, there are some truly stunning politics. Other than the bits mentioned, race is pretty much non-existent. Gender? Well, Inga is mostly there to be desired. And to make it so Dirk gets mad when other men look at her:
he knew, was very much inclined
to look with favor on Inga, and his
presumption annoyed Dirk because,
while he and the girl had not declared
their intention of living together, they
were very much in love with each
Which this guy should obviously have known, amirite? And that would mean no one else can look at her!
And apparently these gender politics reach even unto the stars, as the bad guy almost immediately states to her:
pleases me. I have walked on many
worlds but never before have I seen
one as lovely as yourself. Of the spoils
of this world, all that I crave possession
of is you. When we return to
Lodore,” he added with an air of finality,
“I will take you with me and place
you with my other women in the Seraglio
of the Stars.”
Oh, and this reminds me of the one hilarious "science" bit in this story. Otherwise, I make no comment. I don't expect old science fiction to correctly predict the future, although I do think it's funny when everything is because of "vibrations."
No, this is the social sciences. Apparently, get this, the invaders speak English. Because:
"Life grows out of the
substance of the universe and language
comes out of life. The speech of mankind,
in your state of development,
varies but little throughout all space
and I have heard your English, as you
call it, spoken among those who dwell
in many, many worlds.”
So all over the universe, English is a sign of being at a certain stage of development. What does that mean for French? Or Chinese, or, anything, really? Nope, English. That's the language. Not just the international language, the interstellar language.
Let's get to the part I really wanted to talk about. Benevolent dictatorship by those who hold all the money. I'm not kidding. This future world is ruled by five men who have all the money, and decided to take it over. And that's great, according to the author!
"It was in the early part of the twentieth
century that wealth had commenced
to concentrate into a relatively
few hands. This was followed by a
period in which vast mergers and consolidations
had been effected as a result
of the financial power and genius
for organization which a few men possessed.
A confederation of the countries
of the world was brought about
by industrial kings who had learned, in
one devastating war, that militarism,
while it might bring riches to a few,
was, in the final analysis, destructive
"Absolute control of all of the necessities
and luxuries of life, in fact, were
in the hands of the five men, who used
their vast power wisely and beneficently. "
And there are all these snide comments about the servants - Dirk's an absolute asshole to his butler. Man, the invaders from outer space I can handle without a blink. But that the five richest men in the world would do a great job of ruling it, and not be ruled by their own self-interests? That strains my credulity far beyond the snapping point. Also, the decisions they come to, and the suggestions of regular use of knockout gas for crowd control in their cities? But that it's a good thing?
Man, this world was already a dystopia. It didn't need invaders from space for that. But the author doesn't seem to realize it.
Because rule by the powerful and wealthy is bad if they're not from around here (even if they speak English). But if they're homegrown petty dictators, they obviously have pure motives. Huh?