Tuesday, January 18, 2011

12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Day 10

“The Scorpion Temple” by S.G. Cardin

Nicky has misspelled the name of this story in the Table of Contents, where it is listed as “The Soorpion Temple”. This story is supposedly “In Memory of Barbara Malenky”, but I can’t figure what the story has to do with her or her style of writing. The story opens with a quote from Lovecraft. Ms. Cardin has also posted elsewhere that this is a Lovecraft influenced story, and that I can see.

Most of the story takes place in 1961. A young archeology student, named Barbara Dugan, and her professor travel to a remote island in the Caspian Sea to investigate a temple protected by scorpions. The professor’s brother discovered the island in 1911, journalled extensively about it, and just before the story opens, died and left his estate to the professor. The professor sees a way to make a name for himself, and after setting Barbara to researching the brotherr’s journals, he obtains a sponsor and away they go. Of course, the trip ends badly for young Barbara, the professor, and the two other students taken along to help.

I can appreciate what Ms. Cardin was trying to do, but several issues plagued the story. First, I didn’t really get much of a sense of Barbara as a person, despite the story being told in the first person. There were also some factual errors, such as the professor’s brother writing about genetic mutation by radiation in a 1911 journal; gene research (and our understanding of radiation) was in its infancy in 1911. Another example is jars of formaldehyde left open for over 40 years with the contents not evaporating.

But the largest problem for me was the true nature of the scorpions and how that was discovered. Since this is key to the story, it needed to be well-thought out. Turns out aliens  crash-landed a long time ago on the island, were stranded, and bred with the scorpions because that was the closest life-form to theirs. OK, so far so good. Then they forced the local populace to build the “temple”. And then the scorpions/aliens wrote the whole story across the temple walls in heiroglyphics. Errr? A space-faring creature would write in heiroglyphics rather than a complete and mature language?  There are other issues with unique light from a particular star, etc. Overall, I thought the science fiction-y aspect of this story very weak.

Grade: C+

“Hex” by Larry M. Harris

If you want to read this story, don’t look in this anthology. Nicky has screwed up yet again and only included only about 40% of the story. Yes, that’s right, folks, this story just suddenly…stops. I Googled it, found it on-line, and read the rest of it.

This is actually a delightful little story from 1959. It first appeared in “Astounding Science Fiction” and was subsequently published at least four other magazines/anthologies. Nicky has lifted not only the text, but the original illustrations, which is legal as far as I can tell, but no credit is given to the original publication.

The story, which I really wouldn’t call science fiction, follows two characters – a young social worker with a very special “talent” for helping people, and an older Russian immigrant woman who doesn’t want to be helped and is resistant to the social worker’s talent. Despite the very spare style of writing, the two characters are well-developed and are wonderful foils for each other – the earnest do-gooder and the staunchly stuck-in-her-beliefs widow who recognizes what the young woman is doing and tries futilely to stop her.

Grade: A-

“Elegy” by Charles Beaumont

This story was originally published in February 1953 in “Imagination” magazine. It was also adapted into a script for an episode, also called “Elegy”, of The Twilight Zone. This is probably where it came to Nicky’s attention.

A group of astronauts who have been drifting through space, lost, suddenly come across an uncharted asteroid with what appears to be a city. They land their rocket (yes, a rocket) and upon exploring find that all of the occupants of the city are unmoving, like statues. Except for one man, who greets them and serves them wine while telling them a bit about the place they have discovered. Unfortunately, he doesn’t consider them acceptable additions to the city while they are still living. This story has a tragic ending.

It is always interesting reading science fiction stories written before the modern age of space travel. It requires a certain suspension of disbelief, or our current knowledge of space travel, planetary physics, etc. Yet I liked the story. Like the previous story, the writing is spare, but an overload of description was not necessary to convey the eerie nature of the city. Likewise a lot of character development is not necessary to the story. The key is in the nature of the city.

Grade: B+


Anonymous said...

so near and yet so far... only 6 stories to go...

Jenny said...

Yeah, yeah, hold your horses... :) Actually it's five more stories, and I have the next day just about finished. I just needed a break from Nicky-drama for a while.