Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2004/5

Who better than Jeeves to pass along


Terry Jeeves

 

When in a masochistic mood I used to dig out one of my slowly decomposing pulp magazines and wallow in what used to be a feast of nostalgia. Now in my dotage I find the magic has almost gone and what were gripping, exciting and highly thought-stimulating yarns have decomposed along with the pulp pages. What happened?

In the early days of SF, if an author sat down to write a story he generally needed a hero, a heroine and a villain to keep things moving by pinching some invention or kidnapping the girl. It was also almost mandatory to include a mad, or at least eccentric, Professor. We never heard what he professed. To simplify things it was handy to fix him up with a daughter who also had to double as the heroine. She was "A true brick" (i.e., a bit of a square) and probably created by parthogenesis, polyandry or even polyfilla, as we never heard of any Mrs. Professor lurking in the background.

The hero (usally named "Chuck), had to be seven feet tall, have muscles of steel (iron could be accepted), and was always a handsome college boy down on his luck and ready to accept any stupid or dangerous job if it paid off well. He also possessed "piercing blue eyes," whereas the villain had "gimlet eyes" which presumably made different sized holes. The baddy often spoke with a foreign accent, had greasy black hair, a thin moustache and no muscles to speak of; taht is you like speaking of muscles. Here again, to keep things tidy, it was customary to make him the Professor's laboratory assistant. Returning to the snow-white heroine, she was a tall, slim golden-haired brunette with pearly white teeth, mostly her own, no brains and given in moments of high emotion to using words such as "spiffing," "whizzo," "anyone for tennis," "How does it work, Professor?" or "Sod it!" Which one depended on the circumstances.

Having met all the characters, we can now get on with the story. Chuck is sitting on his usual seat in his temporary home - a bench in the park. He is reading an interesting ad in a paper which he found ina trash can. Chuck isn't a proud man. The ad says, and I quote, if I don't, you won't know what it's all about ... "Half-witted ex-college boy required to undertake a hare-brained experiment which is almost certainly deadly, if not utterly fatal. No insurance supplied, if you fail, you couldn't collect it and if you succeed, you won't need it."

Chuck thumps one fist into an open palm, and winces in pain, he forgot his steel muscles. "By golly, that's for me," he ejaculates or says empathically in his deep brown baritone voice. Immediately, or even quicker and without further delay or dallying, he springs to his feet and sets off to the address given in the paper. This proves to be a dilapidated old mansion boasting an East wing and a West wing. Given a good engine and a decent runway, it could probably get airborne.

Chuck raps firmly on the double doors and is busily sucking the splinters out of his knuckles when they creak slowly open (the doors, not his knuckles). An ancient Professor and his hunchbacked assistant, Igor, stand revealed. Henchmen are always hunchbacks; it comes with the job. The Professor is bent double, something like this

U

but the other way up. He's a little stiff from hiking, whereas Igor is a big stiff from Tooting. He blows a trumpet in the local youth orchestra under the false name of Rogi, he's a very backwards chap.

"Come in," says the Professor. "I'm professor Ben Tova, and that is my assistant Igor Stravinsky Skivar. Come to my laboratory. Please walk this way." He sets off. Always eager to oblige, Chuck bends over and hobbles after him.

They descend to a basement room crammed with huge retorts, flashing sparks, strange machinery and all the paraphernalia of the standard Hollywood horror film. The click-click of high heeled shoes comes from behind a giant transformer (it transforms giants). It is the Professor's daughter, Doolally, practicing on her castanets as she waits for a beaker full of a strange brown liquid to come to the boil.

"Anyone for coffee?" she asks giving Chuck a winsome smile. (You winsome, you lose some.) But the Professor is in no mood for dallying, he sets out to explain his invention to Chuck (but really, for the benefit of the reader, so that he'll know what is going on.)

"By means of negatively polarized quanta particles I feed genetically modified sunlight into my multi-dimensional accumulator and give it three seconds at F.8. When all is ready, you stand on that platform, press the green button and in a flash you will be transported to another dimension." He hands Chuck a belt studded with highly technical-looking gadgets. "Wear this and press the red button to return."

At this point, the author can choose from two possibilities:

(A) Doolally steps up on the platform, says, "Is this the button Chuck has to press?" She puts her finger on it, and naturally, touches it too hard. There is a flash and she vanishes.

(B) Igor grabs Doolally round the waist (he has long arms), sweeps her up on the platform, presses the button and they both vanish.

The way ahead is now clear. Chuck snatches the return belt, jumps on the platform and heads off to the rescue. This involves fighting off vicious aliens in the other dimension, or knocking the stuffing out of Igor. Either way, he returns with Doolally. At this point the machine explodes, Doolally goes into Chuck's embrace, then makes coffee for everyone - unless they fancy a game of tennis.

 

They don't write stories like that anymore. Somehow they have lost their magic.


 

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