Jul 6, 2014

Zoromes of Zor

July 1931
Isaac Asimov suggested that the elements of his science fiction stories could be traced to the pulp science fiction magazine stories that he read as a boy.

In the July 1931 issue of Amazing Stories was "The Jameson Satellite" by Neil R. Jones. Jones wrote about the Zoromes, artificial life forms from the distant ("millions of light years") planet Zor. Legend has it that Asimov read the story and was favorably impressed with its presentation of "mechanical men" who could have interesting adventures. I've previously described Asimov's dislike for stories that depicted robots as murderous, clanking evildoers.

April 1938
The Human Zorome Project
For the next 20 years, Jones turned out more Zorome stories. "Jameson" was an Earthling who, having preserved his brain inside a radium-powered spaceship for 40 million years, was assimilated as a Zorome, eventually rising through the ranks to become captain of a Zorome spaceship.

The Zoromes were telepathic, having no need for spoken language. Poor old Jameson woke up from his 40,000,000 year long sleep and noticed, "strange ideas which seemed to be impressed upon his brain" (Chapter 3). Quickly, Jameson's brain (his body having been discarded) adapts to telepathy and control of his new metalic body.

April 1936
Finding humanity long gone and Earth lifeless and after contemplating suicide, Jameson decides to "live" on as an immortal Zorome and join them in their "most popular passtime" of exploring the universe.

The Zoromes were willing to share their advanced technology with the residents of other planets. Apparently their "brain in a box" system could assimilate any humanoid brain and place it in control of a robotic body. 

The clanking metalic Zoromes, as depicted in the art work of Amazing Stories, are stuck in the early 20th century. Other science fiction authors like Asimov would later explore the possibilities of "humaniform robots" who could not be distinguished from humans.

1906, The War of the Worlds
Jones depicted Jameson as the last surviving human. Apparently Jones was influenced by The War of the Worlds and I suspect that he preferred writing adventure and discovery stories rather than stories about evil alien invaders. The choice by Jones to set his Zorome stories in the far future allowed him to avoid writing about how human civilization would react to aliens.

Jan 1928, source
Additional inspiration for the Zoromes came from Edmond Hamilton’s story “The Comet Doom”. Hamilton's stories such as "The Man Who Evolved" were another strong influence on the young Isaac Asimov. I wonder if Hamilton's story "Devolution" was a source of inspiration for Asimov's stories about the radioactive elements of Earth making it possible for life to mutate fast and evolve quickly on our planet.

From Ancient Earthlings to Ancient Aliens
Book 1 of the Exode Trilogy
I previously mentioned At the Mountains of Madness in a footnote... I don't accept the idea that Howard Lovecraft's 1931 story brought to science fiction the idea of aliens visitors reaching Earth at a time far in our past. Lovecraft was writing fantasy or horror, not science fiction. I'm more comfortable with placing folks like Hamilton and Ed Smith at the foundation of the "ancient alien" sub-genre within science fiction.

However, I must confess that I've never been a fan of placing a Good vs Evil theme at the heart of a science fiction story. "Doc" Smith imagined human history being tied to a billion year battle between the "good" Arisians and the "evil" Eddorians. Lovecraft, like Carl Sagan, found it easier to imagine more stand-offish aliens who would have little interest in we primitive Earthlings. This is also the tone of the Exode Trilogy, but a strange technological fluke forces the alien Huaoshy to pay attention to planet Earth. Given their advanced technology, the Huaoshy (actually, just their minions, the pek) can spend millions of years on Earth without we humans noticing.

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