Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Power and the Glory by Willard Diffin

First published in Astounding Stories, July 1930.

This story is in the public domain. You can download it from Project Gutenberg by following this link.

 I have to say, I would not normally touch a story with a name like ‘The Power and the Glory’ unless it was an obvious piss-take. I guess it felt sombre and deep to the author at the time, but today it just seems ridiculously portentous, the sort of meaningless thing that Jeffrey Archer or Ken Follet might call a novel – in fact a google search reveals a Graham Greene novel of 1940 and a Spencer Tracy melodrama from 1933. Yeah, that fits.

The title fits this story, too. Like in The Eternal Man, we’re being talked down to here, given a good stiff talking to about important stuff.

So, here we have Professor Eddinger, ‘weary and old’ and one handed after a mysterious accident many years before. A young colleague comes to him with an amazing new invention – a remarkable power source that will provide unlimited energy to mankind forever.

Professor Eddinger shakes his head. He too made an astonishing invention many years ago and – horrors! – he lost his hand. With a small adjustment of his young colleague’s invention, he disintegrates a rat. The lesson still unclear, he explains:
A death ray. You have dreamed, Avery – one must in order to create – but it is only a dream. You dreamed of life – a fuller life – for the world, but you would have given them, as you have just seen, death.
So, it’s another ‘things man was not meant to know’ story. Eddinger puts young Avery’s invention in a draw with the other free energy machines that promise a heaven on Earth and sighs ‘The saviours of mankind!’ Like the immortality formulae in The Eternal Man and the shrinkingray in Out of the Sub-Universe, the amazing power source is lost to humanity forever. 

It’s an amazing distrust in technology combined with faith in the patrician wisdom of scientists. There’s references to the Great War here, too, Eddinger being part of killing men with poison gas.

On reflection, the war must have hung over these early years of SF. It was only just over a decade before this story was published, after all, and it was the first war to really be fought on an industrial scale. Long range artillery, aerial combat, Zeppelins dropping bombs and poison gas. These were also the products of science and they clearly still hung heavy over the technological imagination.

If you’re interested, incidentally, this issue is of Astounding Stories is available onProject Gutenberg. There’s a real beauty coming up next, though, so maybe wait for that one. 

Themes: Power that humanity cannot be trusted with, lost technology, death rays, war, irredemable humanity.

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