Jan 27, 2018

Darin Freaking Morgan

Season 11: Waiting for Godot William
Previously on The X-Files...  I was daunted by the prospect of slogging through six more low-Sci-Fi-content episodes of Waiting for William (also known as Season 11 of The X-Files). However, Darin Morgan provided another episode mocking agent Mulder's mid-life crisis and in so doing he managed to top his own funny Season 10 episode, "Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster".

Recursive Sci Fi
Twilight Zone-like teaser
Lost episode from the 60's:
"How to Serve a Paranoid Schizophrenic"
For me, as a Sci Fi fan, the best part of episode 4, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat", is that it is an amusing type of recursive science fiction story. Morgan's meandering tale begins with a page out of the Twilight Zone; a short teaser scene about evil invading Martians who are altering people's memories.

Mulder can't handle the truth.
The Trump Effect
Episode 4 ends (well, almost) with a Morgan-twisted alternate version of "To Serve Man". A space alien (who would be disgusted by the prospect of having to be near humans, let alone eat them) explains that because Earthlings are such big liars, a solar wall has been built around Earth's star system. Humans are free to explore as far as Uranus, but no further. Even the Voyager spacecraft is returned deported back to Earth in order to prevent anything human from contaminating the rest of the galaxy.

Mulder receives a book from the space alien that contains the TRUTH about everything. Mulder opens the book and starts to read the TRUTH, but he soon cries out in dismay and collapses... HE CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH.

Reggie Who?
Mulder, Reggie and Sugarboobs
This scene in episode 4 where the TRUTH and all alien secrets are revealed to Mulder is played for laughs and viewers have to wonder if the depicted encounter with a space alien is only happening within the insane thoughts of agent Reggie Somebody. The entire episode is presented by Darin Morgan as a Post-Conspiracy Era nightmare in which Donald Trump's penchant for lying becomes the inspiration for a Sci Fi story about Dr. They, a mad scientist who can alter people's memories.

Dr. They develops
mind control technology
Agent Reggie desperately tries to get help from Mulder and claims that he is fighting to not be erased from history by Dr. They.

Could Reggie have actually been Mulder's original partner in the X-Files office? Episode 4 includes several altered scenes from the 1990s The X-Files with Reggie inserted into the cases. In one of these, Reggie shoots Darin Morgan (playing the role of the shape-shifter Eddie).

Parallel Universe
"What if Reggie is from a parallel universe?"
Wrapped in paranoia and oozing with incoherence, Reggie baffles Mulder with tales of how "They" is out to get him. Mulder is unwilling to believe that Reggie's existence could have been completely edited out of the memories of Fox and Dana. Mulder considers an alternative hypothesis: that Reggie is from a parallel universe. In another scene showing an alternative X-Files history as told by Reggie, it is Reggie who greets Dana upon her first arrival in the X-Files basement office. Reggie calls Dana "sugarboobs" and assures her the the X-Files is a guys-only operation.

searching for a lost (or false) memory
Scully, playing the level-headed agent, investigates Reggie's background and discovers that he is an ex-NSA employee who apparently learned about the X-files through wire-taps before snapping and becoming psychotic.

dressed for a night of fun
Then, after viewers are ready to conclude that Reggie's stories of having been on the X-Files investigative team are all lies, Skinner walks by and sees Reggie being hauled off (wearing a straightjacket) to the Spotnitz Sanitarium (he's carted off in a Ghost Bustersesque ambulance).

Mulder's memory of watching
The Twilight Zone and eating
Jiffy Pop popcorn when he
was 10 years old
Through the entire episode, Reggie has had beads of sweat on his giant forehead, and both Fox and Dana have mocked him for his seemingly almost nonexistent grasp on reality (at one point, Reggie claims to have been the 100,000,000th person at Trump's inauguration). But Skinner asks, "Why are they taking Reggie away?" Also, apparently in episode 2 there was an image of Reggie flashed briefly on the screen as part of the mass of digitized X-Files documents. Through all of episode 4, Morgan plays with the idea that none of us can trust our memories... anything might be true. And in the Trump era, it no longer matters if conspiracies are made public because nobody will believe them anyhow.

The Darin Morgan Effect
Do you remember me being smaller?
I'm thankful that for this episode there was no fist fight for Mulder and no lamentations from sugarboobs Scully about her imminent spinsterhood. In fact, at the start of the episode, Dana and Fox have a dinner date planned. However, they end up having to deal with the mystery of Reggie and the Men In Black-like guys who keep popping up and trying to grab Reggie. Anyhow, Dana should know better than to try to distract Fox from important matters such as hunting for Sasquatch.

Don't you remember GOOP-O?
Finally, one of the dudes chasing Reggie chastises Mulder for having become completely irrelevant and useless. Mulder shouts, "Do you know who I am? I'm Fox Freaking Mulder!".

Two big reveals
I remember you being smaller
While Mulder gets to fondly remember Jiffy Pop and a non-existant episode of The Twilight Zone, Scully is enthralled by an old childhood memory of making Goop-O A-B-C, an alternate universe brand similar to Jello 1-2-3.

the danger of disappointing
X-Files shippers (see)
2 Big Reveals
Thank you Darin for yet another reminder that we should not take science fiction too seriously. Fun is number one. And as for snarky meta-narrative, the idea that we (and the almost-over X-Files) are in a post-conspiracy era (where the Truth no longer matters) feels like a fitting bookend for the entire X-Files saga.

Next: episode 5 and the power of telepathy
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Jan 24, 2018

Wanted: Vestal Robots

cover art by Arnold Kohn
In this blog post I report on my journey back in time to the year 1939 for an investigation of the first story published by Isaac Asimov. I'm actually more interested in Asimov himself and how he developed into a famous writer than that particular old Sci Fi story. What kinds of stories did Asimov read as a boy?

Venus Attacks
Asimov was apparently intrigued by "Tumithak of the Corridors" when he first read it (1932). Of course, we are now far past the days of the previous millennium when people could still imagine cities on Venus populated by Venusians. Charles R. Tanner called his imaginary Venusians the "shelks".

When humans built a spaceship and went to explore Venus, it was discovered that the shelks were fairly sophisticated technologically, but due to the cloudy conditions of their world, they had never developed their own science of astronomy and had never even tried to develop their own space travel technology.

in the Ekcolir Reality
Of course, as told by Tanner, these shelks who had evolved without any exposure to sunlight, upon learning about spaceships, immediately went and conquered Earth. The defeated humans, in turn, had to move underground and start living in their caves of steel, the titular corridors.

In addition to the caves of steel themselves, Asimov was probably impressed by Tanner's insistence that the underground dwelling humans had a technology for converting rocks into food. Asimov would later write his own stories about sub-surface yeast-growing facilities, such as those of the planet Trantor.

The Venusian vampires fatten their pet humans.
Interior art by Leo Morey
There is also a scene in "Tumithak of the Corridors" where our hero, Tumithak, is surrounded by dogs. Asimov put a similar scene into his Foundation Saga.

Heaping biological implausibility upon scientific nonsense, readers of "Tumithak of the Corridors" learn that the Venusian masters of Earth are blood suckers who keep a herd of tame humans near the surface so as to provide a continuous source of human blood.

Tumithak fighting his way through the corridor's.
"Tumithak of the Corridors" was reprinted in Amazing Stories, February 1967 (download), an issue of the magazine that also held "Born Under Mars" (Part 2 of 2) by John Brunner. The juxtaposition of Tanner's story from 1932 about imaginary Venusians and Brunner's more modern Sci Fi story makes me glad I grew up when I did, reading what I did, and makes me reflect with a profound sense of wonder on the fact that Asimov read so much nonsense as a child, yet he still grew up to write relatively level-headed science fiction.

in the Ekcolir Reality
I'm happy that I grew up reading more up-beat stories of encounters with space aliens. For example, "Encounter in the Dawn" (Amazing Stories the June-July issue of 1953) is a short story by Arthur C. Clarke in which contact between two humanoid species from different worlds is peaceful. "Encounter in the Dawn" is actually an "ancient aliens" story in which human civilization gets a boost from alien visitors to Earth.

Mars Attacks
One of the joys of looking back at old Sci Fi magazines is discovering unexpected surprises. "Raid from Mars" by Miles J. Breuer was this type of surprise waiting for me when I finally went to read Isaac Asimov's first published story. Breuer had also helped write "The Girl from Mars", published in 1929.

Martians on Earth - 1929
In "The Girl From Mars", several Martians are born on Earth, with a plot similar to the story of Superman arriving on Earth from Krypton. The Martians grow up on Earth and eventually two male Martians battle for the girl from Mars.

in the Ekcolir Reality
I feel that "Raid from Mars" could have been used as the basis for an episode of The X-Files. The FBI must investigate the sudden disappearance of all radium from the U.S.A. The investigation leads to a high school student who is pals with the local Mad Scientist, Doc Brown Dragstedt.

Dr. Dragstedt has been secretly in communication with Martians, arranging to trade radium for the Martian secret of immortality. The story ends with Dr. Dragstedt blasting off from Earth in a martian spaceship, headed for Mars...

Vesta video
interior art by Robert Fuqua

Amazing Stories, March 1939
Isaac Asimov's first published story "Marooned off Vesta" appeared in Amazing Stories, March 1939. In addition to "Raid from Mars" there was also an autobiographical blurb from Asimov in that issue. in which he mentions his favorite story: about an off-shoot of Atlantis, "Drums of Tapajos".

Space Walk
"Marooned off Vesta" reminds me of Asimov's Donovan and Powell stories, which I read long before reading "Marooned off Vesta". What the Donovan and Powell stories had going for them were their robots and some problem arising from the way that the robots had been programmed. In the case of "Marooned off Vesta", the problem of the story is a technical one related to space travel. Rather than show Donovan and Powell struggling with a robot-related problem, "Marooned off Vesta" involves the plight of Moore, Brandon and Shae, three men trapped in the remains of a spaceship after it was hit by a meteor while flying through the asteroid belt. Moore saves the day by getting into a spacesuit and going outside for a spacewalk. In this story, Asimov included details of space travel technology such as an artificial gravity device.

Richard Clayton; interior
art by Julian S. Krupa
"Raid from Mars" is not really concerned with the details of space travel, but in the same issue there was also "The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton" by Robert Bloch; the "flight" is supposed to be a trip to Mars. Compared to "The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton", "Marooned off Vesta" presents an imagined situation on a spaceship that successfully meshes with what we know about space travel from our perspective here in the 21st century. In contrast, "The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton" reads more like fantasy than science fiction.

I won't try to argue that Asimov, writing in the late 1930s managed to get everything right about space travel and Vesta. Asimov even has one silly scene in which he forgets that sound waves can't be transmitted through the emptiness of outer space. However, "Marooned off Vesta" has the feel of a science fiction story that was written by a nerdy budding scientist. He wrote a warning to the world in his autobiographical blurb: "More stories are on the way!"

Only a few years older than Asimov, Bloch was a writer of fantasy and horror. It might be argued that Asimov's story with a wrecked spaceship and only three survivors from the crew is more horrific than the death of one man in Bloch's story, but I'm not convinced. Bloch was trying to write a horror story while Asimov was writing a futuristic technopuzzle.

I only became interested in the life of Asimov after I decided to include him as a character in the Exode Saga. In trying to understand how Asimov managed to become a scientist and a writer of hard science fiction, it is informative to learn what kind of stories he read and enjoyed as a boy. But also of importance were the stories that he read and disliked.

Future Science Fiction 1955
cover art by Rudolph Belarski
Asimov was appalled by the many stories he read in which robots were depicted as evil clanking destroyers. He came to believe that his positronic robot stories were his greatest contribution to science fiction. Early science fiction stories like "Marooned off Vesta" completely failed to anticipate the role that computers and robots would play in space exploration.

In some sense, Asimov's stories about positronic robots as artificial life helpers of we humans provide science fiction fans with a more satisfying "alternate history" version of the space age than what we actually got in reality. "Marooned off Vesta", as an early Asimov story, feels like it is dull, lifeless and contrived; written to the specifications of an editor who believed that the formula for science fiction stories is to depict something going wrong with technology in the future, something that the clever hero can fix. I suppose Asimov had to write and publish some conventional pulp stories before he could strike out in new directions. Asimov began writing his first robot story three months after "Marooned off Vesta" appeared in print.

It is fun to imagine that in another Reality, Asimov's story about Vesta was one of his robot stories.
Related Reading: Asimov's 1959 sequel to "Marooned off Vesta"
More 2018 Retro-Reading: 1953, 1934, 1929
Retro-Reading from 2017

Next: exploring the fragility of memory in Sci Fi
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Jan 21, 2018

Y in the... ?

sleeping together, but interrupted by Langley
I was pleasantly surprised that episode #2 ("This") of  The X-Files season 11 was almost a science fiction story. Rather than science fiction, "This" is a typical X-Files conspiracy fantasy with some Hollywood pseudo-science crammed into the plot by Chris Carter.

Golden Braid: Struggle to Kill the Shark
"This" continues an old X-files Sci Fi theme that was revived in "My Struggle III": some remaining members of the Syndicate are trying to arrange for a select few humans to escape the imminent END OF THE WORLD.

artificial Langley
In "My Struggle III" we were introduced to Mr. Y and Erika Price. Erika shows up again in "This", running some sort of hi-tek think tank, a virtual reality system in which a digital copy of Langley's mind has been kept since Langley's death (see "Jump the Shark"). "This" will remind X-Files fans of the old episode, "Kill Switch".

Jump Again
still got some scoot in her boot
"This" is silly and goes over the top with absurd action scenes that I'll try to forget as soon as possible. The worst part of the episode comes when we are told that Erika Price's mysterious mind-snatching organization can use smart phones to suck the contents of peoples brains into their virtual reality-generating server array. Viewers of the episode are told that inside that virtual reality, the minds of Steve Jobs and assorted rock stars function as digital slaves, solving tough problems for Erika, presumably getting her close to being able to escape from Earth, go into outer space and live happily ever after on a Dyson sphere.

Plus One
in bed together
During The X-Files season 11 episode #3 I kept hoping that they might tie the telepathic powers of the perps to the telepathic powers of William or the characters in Season 10's "Founder Mutation" episode. However, there was little effort made towards having this episode make sense. One hint of logic: maybe these perps were born with the ability to telepathically "push" people towards suicide, but Scully had the power to resist (three cheers for alien DNA).

Karin Konoval
Watching this episode (and all of Season 11 so far), I felt transported back to the 1960s when Captain Kirk had to have a fist fight in every episode of Star Trek. Now in every X-Files episode Mulder has to fight someone and Scully has to lament becoming an aging spinster. Every episode now also has to show Scully and Mulder sleeping together.

a telepathic connection
Did Mulder just get lucky when he stumbled upon the first of the two twin perps? For an agent called "spooky", I'm willing to believe that Mulder has some kind of telepathic ability, maybe an ability to receive telepathic signals from folks like the perps in "Plus One".

I have to believe that Mulder and Scully had exactly what it took to defeat the two telepathic perps, telepaths who have been killing people since they first became murderers by killing their parents. Scully, in particular, was able to summon her rationality (just like Spock in Star Trek) and so defend herself (and Mulder) from the two perps. And we have to believe that it was the smokey fire of the Mulder-Scully relationship that ignited a feud between the two perps, distracting them and ultimately making them kill each-other rather than the two stars of the show.

Mulder and Scully are not getting any younger, and it seems like Chris Carter wants us to believe that they are now (finally) both ready to turn to each-other for comfort. The shippers go wild.

The Y-Files
The Y-Files
I previously fantasized about ways that The X-Files might morph into a new existence as some sort of "X-Files the Next Generation" science fiction television series. It looks like Season 11 is stumbling towards a "My Struggle IV" final episode that will show William's struggles and which could easily set the stage for a "Next Generation" X-Files continuation. The rest of the Season 11 episodes might just continue to show Mulder and Scully getting ready for retirement. Yawn.

Related Reading: The X-Files Season 11 Episode 1
Anti-yawn: Season 11, Episode 4
Next: Retro-reading 1939; Asimov's first story.
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Jan 20, 2018

A Lost Flame

cover art by Edmund Emshwiller
Theoretically, this blog post is a retro-review of a Stanley G. Weinbaum story called "The Black Flame". However, I'm most interested in the role that Weinbaum played as a link between older style adventure stories and the new literary genre of science fiction that was being created during the short period of time when Weinbaum was actively publishing his stories. "The Black Flame" is a story that was rejected by publishers during Weinbaum's lifetime, but it was eventually published after his death. It is fun to imagine reasons why editors originally refused to publish "The Black Flame".

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame
Weinbaum is famous for his stories such as "A Martian Odyssey" that include alien creatures from other planets. I suspect that I first read "A Martian Odyssey" in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (although it may have been in this anthology). I don't think I bought that book, but I probably read just the first story (which was "A Martian Odyssey") while standing in a book store. I've previously mentioned some stories that I first saw in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame volume IIA and IIB.

on Mars in 1934, click to enlarge
I still (more than 40 years later) remember my distaste for "A Martian Odyssey". I felt that Weinbaum's depiction of Mars and life on Mars was absurd, silly and at the outer fringes of science fiction. Of course, opinions of what constitutes science fiction vary from person to person. What did people think about science fiction back in 1934?
An editorial from the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories that included "A Martian Odyssey"

July 1934
This editorial (above) suggests that science fiction is educational and it introduces new ideas that can lead to scientific advances. I'm not sure that those lofty ideals apply to the works of Weinbaum, a man who apparently began a pursuit of an engineering education but dropped out of college. Weinbaum's 1934 imagined account of life on Mars was completely unbelievable by the time I read it 30 years after its publication.

I found "The Black Flame" the be an odd mixture of fantasy, romance and science fiction. It would be interesting to know which pulp magazines rejected the story; it was finally published after his death when fans were lamenting Weinbaum's loss and publishers were willing to alter their standards and publish anything that Weinbaum had ever written.

"A Martian Odyssey" begins with the crew from the first ever expedition to Mars learning about the alien beings who reside on the surface of Mars. After landing on the planet, it is their job to fly around and do aerial photography. In contrast, for "The Black Flame", Weinbaum imagined a future in which giant Earthly telescopes had been able to obtain high resolution images of the surface of Mars long before an expedition was ever sent from Earth to Mars.

includes "A Martian Odyssey"
Of course, Weinbaum, living in the pre-computer age, never imagined that automated spacecraft would be sent to Mars and obtain high resolution images of the surface by means of digital photography from orbit. And certainly "The Black Flame" came closer to reality than did "A Martian Odyssey", which reads just like some old-fashioned adventure story in which white explorers go to deepest darkest Africa, find a man Friday and plunder the precious jewels of the native tribe. I have to say, I feel that "The Black Flame" is a better science fiction story than "A Martian Odyssey", so I need to explain why it was that "A Martian Odyssey" got published and "The Black Flame" got rejected.

I feel that "The Black Flame" is essentially an early story about what we call the "technological singularity", the idea that scientific discoveries and technological advances are coming at increasingly fast rates and sometime soon we will reach a discontinuity after which the world will be completely transformed by technology and will then exist in a new domain, distinct from all previous human history. Today, most people who predict the imminent arrival of such a "technological singularity" usually predict that humans will produce super-intelligent artificial lifeforms who will then dominate Earth and be cognitively as far above we humans as we are above ants. Weinbaum imagined a different kind of future for human advanced technology development, one that I find more interesting than the current craze for shouting "Super-intelligent A.I. is coming; it is the end of the world!".

I believe that the likely reason for why editors rejected "The Black Flame" is that Weinbaum did not have an original idea for how to get his story started. In fact, I can understand if pulp magazine editors thought Weinbaum had inexcusably stolen too many plot elements from other authors. Rather than just write a story about an imagined future of Earth with advanced technologies, Weinbaum wanted to provide a direct connection between his readers in the 20th century and the world that he imagined existing 1000 years in the future. He did this by putting the hero of the story (Thomas, a man from the 20th century) into suspended animation.

Suspended animation
Suspended animation has long been a popular plot element of stories. I was first exposed to the idea of a "long sleep" by the story Rip Van Winkle in which a man drinks something magical and falls into a long sleep.

Han rocket and
disintegrator beams
The story "Armageddon 2419 A.D." (published in 1928 in Amazing Stories) by Philip Francis Nowlan (1888 - 1940) introduced Anthony Rogers, who eventually became Buck Rogers. Anthony miraculously "arrives in the future" just when the Americans are ready to revolt and get rid of the "Han Airlords" and their leader (who is known as "the Most Magnificent"). The "Han Airlords" are invaders from Asia who reside in 15 cities while the defeated Americans still have most of the land in North America. Rogers arrives in 2419 A.D. through accidental suspended animation. The magical mechanism: he gets trapped in a mine with radioactive gas that puts him into suspended animation. In Nowlan's story, Rogers has to fight the Second Revolutionary War in order to liberate the Americans from the Han invaders. I suspect that when editors received "The Black Flame" as a new story from Weinbaum, they could not publish it due to its many plot similarities to Nowlan's famous "Buck" Rogers saga.

big hair in 1953
The closest I've come to buying a magazine so that I could read a Sci Fi story was when I bought a few issues of Omni magazine back in the late 1970s during the period of time when Ben Bova was the fiction editor for Omni. These days, we can download PDF copies of the old Sci Fi magazines like Amazing Stories.

When I first saw the drawing in Amazing Stories of an immortal Jules Verne coming out of his grave (see below), I was creeped out. I suspect that Weinbaum was inspired to sit down and write the first few pages of "The Black Flame".

For "The Black Flame", Weinbaum imagined that an electrocuted man could be inadvertently put into a state of suspended animation. He wakes up 1000 years later, at which point he has been reduced to little more than a dried-up walking skeleton.
the immortal Jules Verne in Amazing Stories
future war: 2419 A.D.
I Died, But I Got Better
The version of "The Black Flame" that I've read is the one published in 1939. I've never seen another version, apparently some 18,000 words longer.

At the start of "The Black Flame", we are provided with a sickening account of the near-skeletal body of Thomas being eroded out of an old cemetery, a thousand years after his death. Thomas Connor was electrocuted as punishment for killing his soon-to-be wife's lover in a fist fight. Weinbaum did not expend much effort providing a fictional science explanation for how someone could survive being buried for a thousand years.

"A Tribute to the Late Stanley G. Weinbaum" by Otto Binder
In the 1939 issue of Startling Stories where "The Black Flame" was first published, there was also a tribute article written by Otto Binder. Binder wrote that "The Black Flame" might be Weinbaum's masterpiece.

Since 1920 when Arthur Eddington proposed the idea that stars might get energy by fusing hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei, there had been speculation about fusion power. One of  Weinbaum's imaginary future technologies in "The Black Flame" is fusion power, both for industrial use and for powering spaceships. I'd be interested to know if there was any earlier fictional account of using hydrogen fusion as a power source.

In the first page artwork for "The Black Flame" (shown below) there is a triangular fusion-powered spaceship just below the "L" in "FLAME". Also visible on the coin that partially covers the "B" in "BLACK" is the Black Flame herself, who becomes part of a love triangle with Thomas (image to the right) and Evanie (image to the left).

Evanie and Thomas fight to depose The Master (click image to enlarge). Interior art by Hans Wessolowski
Ruler of Earth
The Black Flame is the sister of The Master, ruler of Earth. The Black Flame gives Thomas a ride in her spaceship, but since she only has an hour to spare out of her busy schedule, they only get into Earth orbit. However, readers learn that humans have visited the Moon. Given the availability of fusion-powered spaceships, I was left wondering why there had been no trip to Mars or even more distant destinations.

The center of the universe
St. Louis is the center of the universe. Not only does our hero, Thomas, get buried there, but he "wakes up" at exactly the right time to join Evanie in her revolt against The Master. Evanie's father previously tried to lead an insurrection against The Master, but he was killed for his attempt to depose The Master. AND, as further proof that St. Louis is the center of the universe, one day while Thomas is recuperating from his death and walking on the outskirts of town, the Black Flame, out randomly slumming in the wilds (and first seen gazing lovingly at her own reflection in a pond), bumps into our hero.
Thomas tries to kill The Master.

Evanie is the first woman that Thomas meets in the future and he thinks she is "gloriously beautiful". However, Evanie has a dark past: she is part mutant. While trying to genetically engineer immortal humans, several types of mutated humans were created, and Evanie carries some mutant genes. Evanie's mutant genes are supposed to explain why such a gloriously beautiful woman is single and available to become Thomas' girl friend.

The Black Flame and The Master are also mutants: two of the Immortals. There are only about 50,000 Immortals, most of them the nerdy scientists who The Master has deemed worthy of being made immortal. The Master became ruler of the world when his friend, an uber-scientist, discovered the secret of immortality. With his cadre of immortal scientists working for him, The Master has the technological power to rule the world. In this technological singularity story, it is not an evil A.I. that takes over Earth, but the Immortal Master.

The Black Flame takes Thomas for a ride in her spaceship.
Thomas thinks that the Black Flame is endowed with "goddess-like beauty". Eventually Thomas ditches Evanie and hitches up with the Black Flame. Sadly, one limitation of immortality is that it causes infertility. However, (as Weinbaum patiently explains to readers) Thomas and the Black Flame must mix their superior genes and make a batch of babies, so she will allow herself to become mortal again, for a time. The plan: after they've had children, both Thomas and the Black Flame will be given immortality.

drone attack
What about the dumped girlfriend, Evanie? After her revolution against The Master fails and her attempt to kill the Black Flame with a nuclear weapon fails, she decides to live happily ever after with her long-time admirer, Jan Orm, who is willing to ignore her mutant genes.

Why does the Black Flame fall in love with Thomas? After a few good meals, Thomas recovers from his death and regains his normal manly proportions. But "normal" for the 20th century is unusual compared to the small, effeminate men of the future. Also, the Black Flame tries to intimidate and scare Thomas, but unlike the men of the future, he acts tough and unafraid; The Black Flame swoons. So much for the "triangles", both nuclear powered and romantic in Weinbaum's story.

artificial life
In my view, what makes this an interesting science fiction story is the "technological singularity" depicted by Weinbaum. Yes, The Master rules the world, but he is actually a benign and enlightened dictator.

One of the Master's hi tek tools for keeping control of the world is his drone surveillance system. When Evanie and Thomas and their gang of incompetent revolutionaries attack The Master's palace, they discover that their lame plot is known to The Master and their actions have been anticipated. When the revolutionaries storm The Master's palace, the palace guards are safe behind a hi tek deflector field. Evanie and Thomas run off after their coup fails, but they are tracked down by The Master's drones and returned to the palace. There, Thomas tries to shoot The Master as he sits on his thrown, but The Master is also safe behind a deflector screen. By this point, The Master is losing his patience and is ready to kill Thomas, but the Black Flame intercedes to save Thomas; after all, she's bored with her endless life and views Thomas as a manly man from the ancient past who might enliven her tedious existence.

Most people in this futuristic, post-scarcity Earth are happy. Advanced technologies have been used for projects such as irrigating the Sahara desert (image to the left). Nuclear-powered factories provide enough Stuff to meet everyone's material needs. Only a few malcontents like Evanie want revolution, for reasons that she has difficulty expressing. Thomas eventually develops a man-crush on The Master and decides to move into the Palace and live forever with The Master's sister. It is easy to imagine that Weinbaum, had he lived longer, might have written a sequel to "The Black Flame" in which Thomas and his wife would go off together in a fusion-powered spaceship to explore outer space.

The funniest part of "The Black Flame" comes when Thomas must divulge what he knows about lost knowledge from the 20th century. Here, Weinbaum's engineering education shines through and he has Thomas carefully explain logarithms to an enthralled Black Flame. She gushes, "We must have ten-place logarithm tables worked out".

Related Reading: Weinbaum in an alternate Reality
Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1939 includes the S. G. Weinbaum story "Dawn of Flame"

Next: telepathy
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