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Long, Frank Belknap – “Two Face” (1950)

07/10/2012

I associate Long more with Lovecraftian horror than with science fiction, and this story could just as easily have been a pulp-era example of the Weird as a mid-century SF thing if you switch out the unexplored planet for an uncharted island. The key difference, I suppose, is the jubilation at the beginning: an expedition of 12 men (including one who lost a leg in World War IV) has landed on a “green planet” orbiting Alpha Centauri, and find, pleasantly enough, that the “air is just right” for colonization: “We’ve crossed space to another star, and we’ve proved that it could be done, and now it belongs to every man, woman, and child on Earth.” This mood quickly dissipates when one of the men finds a giant statue of a hideous simian-human monster. My own mood quickly followed suit when it was revealed that the planet was inhabited by a bunch of human “barbarians” who were “carrying themselves with the natural, easy grace of barbarians everywhere.” Of course they were.

The barbarians set about pampering the astronauts for some reason, with the men patting their backs and the women hugging their feet, and it’s only when the women exhibit no jealousy towards one another that some of the Earthlings realize things are amiss: “Sex antagonism is pretty basic with us. Just about rock bottom basic.” To add insult to injury, Freudianism is invoked again: the statue must represent the barbarians’ subconscious, through which “they’ve purged themselves and attained real nobility” and given up malice and jealousy. This theory is partially dashed when one Earthling inadvertently figures out that the rear-facing side of the statue is a youth of great nobility… surrounded by skeletons. Realizing that the statues are false idols created to represent the “cyclical mental divergences” of the natives, he tears back to the others yelling “Two-faced! The friendly people are two-faced!” just as the divergence begins. The astronauts escape with much bloodshed.

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